Chapter 1 – Adam and John Go Exploring

Adam Dillon wanted to be treated like the big boy he knew he was. Why should he still have to take naps like his baby sister? His mama already paid more attention to her and she didn't do anything but eat, sleep, make stinky messes and cry. Oh, she was walking but she didn't seem to get anywhere fast. Soon he'd be going to school in town like his big brother and big sister. Meanwhile at five he had things to do besides chores. He went to the barn to get his pony.

Albert Goode, who was busy mending the corral fence where a half-broke stallion had knocked down some of the rails, paid no attention to the small, red-haired boy. It was clear the boy, who was tall for his age, took after his father. Everyone around Dodge City said so. His hair color may have come from his mother, but there was no mistaking that face. He stood on a box and put the halter on the pinto Chief John Eagle Wing had given him for his birthday. It was a small yet sturdy real Indian pony. His mama and pa had given him the rigging and saddle and seen to it that his horse was shod.

If he was going to get away before he was expected back for dinner, Adam had to meet up with his friend John O'Brien, who lived just over the hill, right soon. He pulled the blanket off the stall's rail and put it over Painted Pony's back. Then he grabbed the small saddle that was next to it, placing it on top of the blanket. He tightened the cinch the way his pa, brother and Albert had shown him and then gathered the reins to lead his horse into the open, grabbing his fishing pole from the corner where he'd placed it earlier as he passed. The child-sized rod was a present from Doc Adams, his godfather, or godpa, as he called him, whom Adam believed loved fishing more than anything else. Adam figured it was his way of helping his younger grandson come to love fishing as much as he did. He was just pulling himself into the saddle, using the lowest rail of the corral as a boost so he could reach the stirrup, when Albert looked up from what he'd been doing.

"Where ya off to, Adam? You don't want yer mama to be worryin' 'bout ya, do you?"

"Albert, tell mama I'm gonna play with John. I'll be back for dinner and maybe bring her some fish to cook up."

"I'll tell her. Just you be sure you take someone bigger along with you if you plan to go to the crick," Albert added as Adam started to ride off, knowing Miss Kitty didn't want him straying beyond the hill between the two houses with just John, who was only a few months older.

John met Adam at the bottom of the hill on the O'Brien side. His father, Doc Newly, as he was known, had ridden off to see a patient. He'd parted ways with his older son at the foot of the hill under the impression that John was riding over to the Dillon house where he knew Kitty was at home with Maria, the toddler that had nearly killed her by being born.

"Let's go over toward Saw Log Creek before our mamas find out we're not where we're s'posed to be." I got a hunch there's a great fishin' hole we ain't found yet."

"You sure we should, Adam?" Didn't your brother almost drown in that creek a few years back? I think it was when we were both real little but I heard ma and pa talk about it 'cause there was a big party right after at my house for your pa's birthday and that's all the grownups talked about then and for weeks after. They bring it up every year 'round that time."

"Ah, don't be a scardy cat. It's been dry so the creek's not fast or deep. Our folks need never know."

"Yeah, they will when we bring those fish home," John replied as he rode with Adam toward the water.

The two small boys rode along the shore until they spotted a shady spot around a bend. In addition to the trees, there were handy rocks to lean against and what looked like a deeper pool. It was the farthest either boy had ridden from his house without someone older along. They settled in, baited their hooks and threw their lines in the water. Sure enough, the fish began biting and they soon had a dozen trout to bring home.

They were happy and unaware of anyone watching from across the stream or of any rider approaching on their side. Therefore, as they gathered up their gear and fish to head home a familiar voice startled them.

"Hey, Squirt, John, what are you two doing out here alone?" Adam's big brother Nat asked. "Don't worry, I'll cover for you when we get back. I'll say, even though they'll know there's not enough posts if they stop to think about it, I finished adding barbed wire to the east fence early and decided to take my little brother and his friend fishing with me. You caught enough that we could claim the three of us caught them without arousing suspicion."

None of the boys were aware of the watcher on the opposite shore, but he was close enough to hear them and watch them head home. He now knew the red-haired boy and the tall, gangly youth were brothers and that the other boy was their neighbor. Perhaps one day soon the two brothers would come alone, which would be just perfect for his purposes. He watched as the older one used his knife to clean the fish before they mounted their horses to head home.

The first stop was John's house. All three boys walked into the kitchen and handed half the fish to John's mother Paula O'Brien.

"Nat, I didn't know you'd taken the boys fishing. I thought they were playing by your house."

"Sorry Aunt Paula, I reckon I shoulda let you know. It was kinda a spur of the moment thing."

She accepted the older boy's explanation, but gave him a look that told him she thought he was old enough to know better than to take young boys off to the creek without letting their mothers know.

Leaving John with his mother and little brother Liam, Nat and Adam raced out the door to their horses. In no time they were over the hill and in their own barn. Albert was nowhere to be seen. His horse wasn't in his stall so the boys knew the ranch foreman was busy seeing to his job and would miss eating whatever their mother was cooking. They saw to their horses, grabbed the fish and walked toward the kitchen door. It being summer and a hot day, the inner door was open. The screen door was closed, but unlatched, so they walked inside.

Their sister Abby was at the table shelling peas while their mother put a pot on the stove filled with water to cook them in. Both turned at the sound of the closing door.

"Hi Abs, Ma, Adam and I brought you a mess of trout. Could you fry them up to go with those peas and maybe some taters?"

"Did I hear you say trout?" their father Matt Dillon asked as he strode into the kitchen. "Where did you boys catch trout?"

"Over toward the northeast section where that bend in Saw Log Creek is, Pa. Adam found it."

"Yeah, me and Nat and John spent the morning there and Nat cleaned them before we came home."

"Well, Kitty, looks like we're having trout for dinner thanks to our sons. Boys you'll have to show the rest of the family where this great fishin' spot is."