Raul's Victory
Fan Fiction


Note:  This story was written for a Bonanza Fanazine.  I blatantly used some of the plot from my favorite Magnificent Seven story, "Inmate 78". 

Heart of the Ponderosa
By Victory

As the stagecoach rumbled across the dry earth, the passengers inside wondered how much longer this dry spell would last. The heat of the day was oppressive with only a small breeze entering the windows of the coach. Ben Cartwright was trying unsuccessfully to doze. He felt every bump, so he finally decided to stop trying to sleep. Across the seat from him sat another man. The gentleman was dressed in a suit and looked like a man of business. The man had short brown hair with slight graying on his temples. Ben figured he was probably in his late forties. The stranger brought Ben out of his observations.

"Hard to sleep on these bumpy rides. I would imagine that someday someone would develop a more comfortable mode of transportation. Mr.?"

"Cartwright. Ben Cartwright. You headed for Virginia City?"

"Yes I am. Names Phineas Walker." Both men shook hands.

"Business Mr. Walker?" Ben asked.

"Perhaps." Phineas simply smiled.

"What kind of business are you in?"

"I solve problems, Mr. Cartwright. When I was back East I was with the Pinkerton agency and found I really enjoyed solving mysteries. I came out west to see if I could help people. I have helped many an influential person find loved ones who have either run away, were kidnapped, or simply disappeared. I am quite good at it, if I do say so myself." Phineas was quite sure of his skills.

"Sounds interesting. Are you passing through or staying in Virginia City?"

"I haven’t thought that far ahead Mr. Cartwright. I will have to check around and see if I am needed." They both paused in companionable silence. Finally Phineas asked, "So what do you do Mr. Cartwright?"

"I own a ranch just outside Virginia City." Ben had to smile at the obvious distain that swept across Phineas’ face. Phineas probably assumed Ben’s ranch was a small farm and wasn’t worthy of his discussion. Ben wasn’t in the mood to set him straight.

"Does ranching make much money out here?" Phineas asked out of curiosity.

"We get by." Ben was actually very pleased with the results of this last business trip. The contract that was signed would ensure profits for the Ponderosa for at least the next five years.

Conversation ceased with the sound of the driver slowing the coach as they entered Virginia City. Ben was happy to be almost home.

"I’m early Mr. Walker and my sons won’t be arriving for about an hour. Would you allow me to buy you a drink?"

"That sounds very refreshing."

"Good. I’ll have Sam keep my bag and we can head over after your situated at the hotel."

"Lead the way Mr. Cartwright."

After the luggage was settled and Mr. Walker was settled at the hotel, both men headed for the saloon.


Joseph Cartwright was not a happy camper. At 15, Joe honestly believed he shouldn’t have to go to school. His oldest brother Adam, had convinced their father that Joe should stay in school at least until he was 16. If Adam had his way, Joe would be furthering his education in some stuffy college. It wasn’t that Joe was dumb, he simply wanted to work with the horses on the ranch and saw no reason to go to college when he could already outride most of the men on the Ponderosa. Adam disagreed.

However, Little Joe was mad at Adam right now. His father was on a business trip and for the last two weeks, Adam had been bossing him around. Deep down Joe understood how he came to be in this position, but he would never admit it. He knew that sooner or later Adam would find out he had been cutting school. The tanning had been bad enough, but the humiliation of being escorted to school by his oldest brother was, in Joe’s mind, cruel and unusual punishment.

"Adam, please. I promise I’ll go directly to school, just don’t come with me." Joe knew pleading wasn’t going to get him anywhere, but he had to try.

"Joe we already went over this. I am at the end of my rope with you. Ever since Pa left for Sacramento and Hoss went to Carson City, you have been cutting school, slacking off on your chores, and more than once have disobeyed me about something. I am taking you to school and I will be by to pick you up afterwards. And Little brother, you had better be there too, because I will have Pa with me."

"Pa’s coming home today?" Joe smiled for the first time in a couple of days.

"Yes he is." Adam sighed. "And not too soon for my liking either. I’ll be glad to give the responsibility of you back to him."

"Hey!" Joe stopped his horse to look at Adam. Adam didn’t even turn around or stop.

"Keep moving Joe. School’s awaitin’." Adam smiled to himself.


Joe stayed in school until Miss Jones had had enough of his antics and sent him home early with a note. Joe wasn’t about to go home and face Adam or his Pa so he figured that he would hang out in town until the time school would get out and meet his brother and father then. Joe walked to the saloon and decided to go in and check it out.


Ben and Phineas were about to walk into the saloon when the doors were pushed open and a young boy was thrown out into the street. Ben saw Sam the bartender wipe his hands and say, "Come back in a couple of years." Ben then turned to the boy and his amusement turned to anger as he saw the "boy" wiping dirt from his pants.

"Joseph Francis Cartwright!"

Joe spun around with real fear in his eyes. There was his Pa with fire in his eyes and his hands on his hips. He was dead.

"Pppa?" Joe stammered.

"You care to explain to me why I just saw my 15 year old son thrown from the saloon. A saloon he knows he is not allowed in without his father or oldest brother?"

"Um. Nothing happened Pa. Sam threw me out before I was there ten minutes."

"Good. That means Sam is doing exactly as I asked. Unlike my baby son."

"I’m not a baby!" Joe yelled.

"No? You certainly act like it. Why aren’t you in school?"

"Miss Jones sent me home." As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he knew he had made the wrong move.

"Sent home? All I want to know is why she sent you home and why you didn’t go home as you were told?"

Joe just shrugged his shoulders. Either way he was in deep and he knew he could possibly avoid digging himself deeper if he shut his mouth, if his Pa would let him.

"I want an answer Joseph."

"I don’t know."

Ben was about to ask for a better answer when he heard someone clear their throat. He sudden became aware that he was shouting at Joe in the middle of the street and Phineas was watching the whole thing.

"Mr. Walker. I’m sorry. This young rascal is my youngest son. I’m afraid I’ll have to give you a rain check on that drink. You will be around for a few days?"

"Certainly Mr. Cartwright."

"How about lunch tomorrow?"

"Sounds good. Until then." Phineas tipped his hat and walked into the saloon leaving Ben and Joe alone in the street.

Ben turned to Joe and put his hand out, palm up. Joe knew what he wanted and it would only be harder on him if he argued. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the note from Miss Jones and put it in his father’s hand. Ben read the note quickly and when he finished he took Joe by the upper arm and lead him back toward his horse. Ben took Cochise’s reins and lead them both back to the school.

When Ben and Joe arrived at the school, they met Adam who looked angry enough to chew nails. He was surprised to see his father.

"Pa. When did you get in?"

"About 30 minutes ago. I was going to the saloon to get a drink and saw Sam tossing Joseph out the door."

"That explains why I didn’t see him on the road when Miss Jones told me she had sent him home. I’m really glad you’re home Pa. I’m about done in with Little Joe’s behavior while you were gone."

Ben tightened his grip on Joe and said, "His behavior will improve. Starting now." Ben dragged Joe back into the schoolhouse and made him apologize and promise to behave in the future.


Phineas approached the bar and ordered a whiskey. After downing the first shot he asked, "Does Mr. Cartwright’s boy try to sneak in here a lot?"

"Little Joe? He’s in such a hurry to grow up. Ben just wants him to learn responsibility before he can take over parts of the ranch."

"How hard could it be to run a ranch?"

Sam looked at the stranger. "A ranch the size of the Ponderosa? Quite a bit."

"Ponderosa? What is that?"

"The Ponderosa is the Cartwright’s ranch. They raise the best beef this side of the Mississippi. They also provide horses, timber for the mines, and are very generous to people in need."

"Sounds like a big operation." Phineas was beginning to become interested.

"The biggest in the state. Some say that the Cartwright’s don’t own all of Nevada, but they do own the prettiest part."

"I’ll have to look into this." Phineas started to scheme.


The ride back to the Ponderosa was subdued. Joe didn’t say a word as Adam told their father about all of the trouble Joe had been into since Ben left. Ben was not happy with Little Joe, and Joe knew it.

As the threesome rode into the yard, Ben spoke to Joe. "Joseph. I expect you to get all of your chores done and then meet me in my study. We are going to have a long discussion on how to behave when I am gone. Understood?"

"Yes sir." Joe took the horses to the barn and started on his chores while Ben and Adam went to look over the books and discuss Ben’s trip.


The next morning, Ben took Joe to school in the buckboard. Joe had been restricted to the ranch and forbidden from riding his horse for two weeks. Joe wasn’t concerned about the riding part. After the lecture, Ben gave him the hiding of his life. He wouldn’t find riding comfortable for at least a week anyway.

Ben dropped Little Joe off at school and headed for town. He did some errands and then met Phineas for lunch. They both had a pleasant afternoon. Ben said his goodbyes and went to get Joe from school.

Went Ben got to the school, he saw Miss Jones frowning. He approached her.

"Mr. Cartwright. Joe’s not here."

"What do you mean he’s not here?"

"Well, he was behaving all morning and I was very pleased. He asked permission to go to the outhouse and he never came back."

"If that boy ran off I’ll…"

"Mr. Cartwright. I don’t think he did. At first I thought that was a possibility and didn’t say much about it until Mitch came to me about ten minutes ago. He told me that he saw Joe walking away with several men. Mitch said he thought it was odd at first and the more he thought on it the more he thought it looked like Joe was being forced. I honestly don’t think he would have run off again, not after the tanning he obviously received last night."

"Is Mitch still here?" Ben asked.

"Yes. I asked him to wait for you."

Ben went and spoke to Mitch. Mitch couldn’t be sure, but being Joe’s best friend, he could tell Joe wasn’t happy about going along with the men from the schoolyard. Ben thanked him and headed straight for Roy Coffee’s office.

Little Joe was missing!


Every available ranch hand and citizen of Virginia City was out looking for clues about Little Joe’s disappearance. For two days the mood at the Ponderosa got darker and darker. No one was sleeping or eating, even though Hop Sing tried. Ben refused to stop searching even to eat or sleep. He had to find Joe.

At the end of the third day, Roy called an end to the search and told Ben that they needed to wait. If Joe had been kidnapped, they would hear from the kidnappers soon; he hoped. The morning of the fourth day, Ben was sitting staring into the fire with his coffee in hand, when there was a knock at the door. Ben quickly moved to the door hoping it was something about Joe. He opened it to find Phineas Walker standing there.

"Phineas? What brings you way out here?" Ben motioned him into the house.

"I came to offer my services with the disappearance of young Joseph. I have been involved with the search from the beginning, and I may be able to find the boy. I do love a mystery."

"Yes you said that. If there is anyway you can find my son, I would greatly appreciate it. Money’s no object if it brings back my son."

Phineas was glad to hear that. He always got paid extremely well for his successes. "Then I will start immediately."

There was another knock at the door and Hop Sing answered it this time. He opened the door and no one was there. As he looked down, there on the porch was Little Joe’s hat, and a note. At Hop Sings gasp, Ben ran to the door and picking up the hat and note. Phineas approached and asked to look at the hat while Ben read the note.


If you want to see your boy alive again, you will place $20,000 in some saddlebags and leave them in a hollow tree at the entrance of Red Rock canyon by sunset in two days. Send a stranger to deliver the money and we will give him directions to find the boy. If the sheriff shows up, your boy is dead.

Ben turned to Phineas. "Phineas. You’re a stranger to these parts. Would you make the delivery for me and then find my son?"

"Ben. You can’t pay these people off. $20,000 is a lot of money."

"I told you that money was no object. I would gladly give up the entire Ponderosa for my sons. They are why I consider myself a rich man, not because of money."

"If you are sure Ben. Then I will deliver the money and try to find your boy after the kidnappers leave directions. You have to understand, sometimes the kidnappers don’t give the victim back alive or at all."

"Do your best. I want my boy back."

"Very well. Get the money together and I will make the journey to this Red Rock canyon and find your son. Shall we meet in town tomorrow morning?"

"Yes. I’ll bring the money. If you need supplies just charge them to my account at the general store."

"Then I will see you tomorrow morning. Good day Ben."

"Good bye Phineas and thank you."

"Just doing my job." Phineas tipped his hat and left. Ben went to find Adam and to bring him up to date on what the plan was. Hopefully within the next several days, Little Joe will be home; safe and sound.


Joe woke up with a huge headache. He felt like he was floating and couldn’t get his arms or legs to move properly. He thought maybe he had been hurt in school or at home so he called out, "Pa?" It came out a small whisper.

"Shhh. Take it easy young man. The ether is wearing off and you will feel a little disconnected for a while."

Joe didn’t recognize the voice, so he tried to open his eyes. When he did, he saw a tall skinny man with grey hair that was dirty and matted. His confusion must have shone because the man smiled and spoke kindly to him.

"Do you remember who you are?"

"Joe. Cartwright. Who?" The question was clear even if Joe didn’t think so.

"My names Donald Swift. Friends call my Swifty. I help out with the new kids."

"Where…?" Joe whispered.

"Work camp for wayward boys. What kind of trouble did you get into? You look too clean cut to be a ‘bad boy’."

"…Was…stolen…" Joe couldn’t think straight. He knew he hadn’t broken any laws.

"You stole somethin’?"

"No. …Was…kidnapped." Joe was fighting not to cry.

"Well then son. You belong to the small group of boys here that are waiting for their rich pa’s to pay off the kidnappers."

"Why?" A single tear rolled down Joe’s cheek and Swifty wiped it away.

"Money boy. Some men are smart though. The ringleader of this little scam is smart. None of the kids see who he is and if after they are released and they manage to find this Work camp, the warden just tells the law that he didn’t know the boys were missing just that they had papers saying they were to be locked up."

Joe’s head was starting to clear. He wasn’t seeing double anymore and he was able to keep his terror to a minimum. As he was going to ask another question, the door to the infirmary opened.

"He awake yet Swifty? The warden wants to see him."

"Yes Mr. Sperger. He’s still a little dizzy and may puke if he’s dragged or pushed, but he could make it to Warden Washburn’s office."

"Good." The man approached Little Joe and asked, "What’s your name boy?"

"Joe Cartwright. Why am I here?"

"My name is Eric Sperger. I’m a guard here. I don’t know why you are here, but I’m sure the warden does. You address the Warden as sir or Mr. Washburn. Trust me boy, he doesn’t tolerate insolence or back talk. Do as you’re told, and it won’t be so bad. You may even get out for good behavior."

"I’m not a criminal." Joe protested.

"They all say that boy. Ain’t you heard? Prisons are full of innocent people." Mr. Sperger took Joe firmly by the upper arm and helped him up. "Let’s go see the Warden."

They walked out of the infirmary into the sun. Joe immediately closed his eyes against the harsh son. How long have I been gone? Joe wondered. He stumbled into another building and found himself standing before a clean-shaven, round, middle-aged man. He was dressed in a white suit and looked at Joe with distaste.

"Boy. I’ll say this once, and only once. This is my camp and what I say goes. You do your share and you eat. If you slack off, you don’t eat. You misbehave and I will whip the skin right off your back. Am I clear?"

"My name’s Joe Cartwright, not boy."

"Insolence will cost you three days in solitary confinement. I don’t care who you were on the outside, but you will answer to Boy 78. You will address myself and the guards with the proper appellation."

"Appell…what?" Joe asked.

"Five days solitary. Mr. Sperger? Take Boy 78 away. I’ll see you in five days."

Joe was dragged off to a small wooden box in the middle of the compound. Now that Joe’s eyes had adjusted to the sun, he looked at his surroundings. The compound wasn’t very big, but a high fence surrounded it with guards posted everywhere. Joe started to plan his escape as the guard pushed him into the box and locked the door.


A week turned into ten days; ten of the longest days in Ben Cartwright’s opinion. Ben had delivered the $20,000 to Phineas and left five days ago to find and bring Joe home. As each day passed, it was harder to hold onto hope. Yesterday, Adam had set out to find Joe and Phineas. They had argued but in the end it made Ben feel better that Adam was looking also. So here he sat waiting and praying.


Mr. Sperger unlocked the box and dragged Joe out. He squinted against the harsh sun and looked right at the Warden.

"Do we still have a problem Boy 78?"

"No sir."

"Good. Get him cleaned up and put him to work Mr. Sperger."

Joe was lead to an area with other boys who were moving dirt around with shoves and picks. Mr. Sperger handed him a shovel and told him to move the pile of dirt in front of him over to where other boys were mixing it and making bricks.

Joe worked hard all day. When the guards ordered dinner break, Joe just wanted to collapse. He knew he needed to eat though in order to escape. He collected his meager meal and sat down out of the sun. He drank and ate slowly, remembering what Adam had always told him about heat and lack of food.

"If you ever go without food and water Buddy for a long time, drink and eat slowly afterwards to keep from getting sick."

Joe could hear Adam now. He quickly brushed away a tear as he thought about his family. He knew his pa would pay the money. It was just a matter of whether the kidnappers would let him go afterwards.

As Joe finished his food, Mr. Sperger approached him.

"Boy 78. The warden wants to see you."

Joe got up and followed the man to the warden’s office. He was made to sit and wait in the outer office. Joe didn’t mind though. It was cooler in the office. Mr. Sperger stepped out for a minute and Joe heard voices in the warden’s office. He moved closer so he could hear what was being said.


"Here’s you half of the money Washburn. You can count it if you want, but all $5,000 is there. Just like the others."

"Huh. I figured you would get more for the Cartwright kid. His pa’s worth a lot of money."

"Yes he is, however, the reason this scam works is because we never ask for too much money. We did only give him a little over a day to raise the cash."

"Are we returning the boy?" The warden sneered.

"Yes. In this case, I find it prudent to deliver the boy alive. Mr. Cartwright could get the army to help search if need be. If we want to stay in business, we must return the boy. I will return tomorrow morning. Please make sure the boy is properly sedated. I don’t need him telling his daddy that I was here. He must believe that I am his rescuer."

"Fine. Come back at 9:00AM and he will be ready. I would have like to try to break him though."

"Maybe another time Washburn. We could always kidnap him again when he becomes a man. Good day sir."


Joe quickly moved away from the door. He would have to try to remember that voice or get a look at his ‘rescuer’.

Mr. Sperger returned and brought him before the warden.

"Boy 78. It seems you will be leaving us tomorrow. If I had my way, you would stay here for the rest of your life. With your smart mouth, it wouldn’t be a long one." The warden turned from Joe. "Mr. Sperger. Take boy 78 back to the box. We wouldn’t want him to try to escape before he goes home."

"Mr. Washburn. If we put him in there he may not survive the night. I’ve been watching him and he appears to be sick."

"So he goes home over a saddle instead of sitting in one. I don’t care either way. Take him away."

Mr. Sperger took Joe out and put him in the box. However, before he went to bed, Mr. Sperger took Joe some bread and water.

The next morning Joe is dragged from the box and a cloth is placed over his face. Without thinking he inhaled and fell into oblivion.


Adam was tired. He had been trying to follow Phineas’ trail but wasn’t having very good luck. Last night he had decided to stop and head home at first light. Now he was sipping a cup of coffee and trying to make himself follow through on that decision. He was startled out of his thoughts when he heard another horse. What he saw made his heart skip.

Coming down the trail, was Phineas Walker and in the saddle with him was his baby brother. Adam ran to Phineas’ horse and stopped him. Forgetting about Phineas, he reached for Joe.

"Joe!" Adam checked for a pulse and found one. He sighed with relief, and then looked at Phineas.

"Where did you find him?"

"I found him right where the kidnappers left him. He hasn’t woken up though, I’m afraid they may have sedated him somehow. He is alive."

"Thank you Mr. Walker for finding my brother. My pa will be pleased. The heart of the Ponderosa is back. If you wouldn’t mind going to Virginia City and getting the Doctor, I’ll take him home."

"Sounds good to me. I will fetch the doctor and return post haste. Good day sir." Phineas rode off toward town.

Adam carefully packed up camp, put his baby brother in the saddle in front of him and headed for home.

A mile from home Joe began to stir. Adam stopped Sport and dismounted with Joe.

"Shh, Buddy. It’s okay. I’ve got you."

Joe heard the voice and hoped he wasn’t dreaming. "Adam?" He whispered.

""Yeah Buddy. It’s me. How are you feeling?"

"Sick," was all Joe said as he threw up. When Joe was finished, Adam wiped his face clean and hugged him close.


"Yeah Joe. I’m still here. We’re almost home. Do you think you can make it a little further?" Adam stroked Joe’s face and noticed the tears. "Shh. Buddy, what’s wrong? Are you hurt somewhere?"

Joe pointed weakly to his heart and whispered, "Missed ya," and sobbed in Adam’s arms.

Adam didn’t notice his own tears running freely down his cheeks as he hugged Joe even tighter. "I’ve got you Joe. We missed you too. Let’s get you home, okay?"


Adam helped Joe back into the saddle and headed home.


Ben was dozing in his chair when he heard a horse entering the yard. He was up and to the door instantly. He opened it and saw his oldest son holding his baby son cradled in his arms.

"Adam? Is he…?"

"He’s alive Pa. I sent for the doctor."

Ben took Joe into his arms and hugged him close. Joe woke to the smell of tobacco and bay rum. PA!

"Pa?" Joe whispered.

"I’ve got you son; your Pa’s here." Ben carried Joe up to his bed and cleaned him up. By the time the doctor and Phineas had returned, Joe was bathed and sleeping peacefully in his own bed. The doctor examined Joe while everyone but Ben waited downstairs.

The doctor told Ben that Joe was dehydrated and malnourished. Good food and sleep was what he prescribed. Ben was grateful to have his son home safe and sound.

He was sitting by Joe holding his hand when Adam and Phineas entered.

"Pa. Phineas is the one who found him. I came upon them both on the trail about 30 miles from here."

Ben shook Phineas’ hand. "Phineas. I don’t know how I can thank you. We never agreed on a price but what ever you want, it’s yours. You brought my heart back. Thank you."

"No problem my good sir."

‘Good sir’? Where did he hear that before?

"It is always my pleasure doing business with good people. If I hadn’t found him though I’m sure you would have had the army out searching."


"I would have Phineas. My boy is worth everything to us." Ben said.

"Well, I found it prudent to find him for you. I am pleased I was successful."

‘Prudent’? Then it all came back to Joe.

"Are we returning the boy?" The warden sneered.

"Yes. In this case, I find it prudent to deliver the boy alive. Mr. Cartwright could get the army to help search if need be. If we want to stay in business, we must return the boy. I will return tomorrow morning. Please make sure the boy is properly sedated. I don’t need him telling his daddy that I was here. He must believe that I am his rescuer."

"Maybe another time Washburn. We could always kidnap him again when he becomes a man. Good day sir."

Joe moaned.

"Phineas. Why don’t we move downstairs and I can get your money. That way Joe can get some rest."

"Sounds good to me." Phineas headed downstairs. Ben turned to Adam, "You coming son?"

"No pa. I’ll sit with Joe for a while."

"Okay. I’ll be back in a little while." Ben left and closed Joe’s door.


Joe moaned again. I have to tell them that that voice belongs to the man who kidnapped me.

"It’s okay Buddy. You’re home and safe. Just rest." Adam absently stroked Joe’s forehead.


"I’m here Joe. Just rest."

"No. Have…to…tell." Joe was becoming agitated.

"Joe you don’t have to tell us anything right now. You just rest."

"NO!" Joe needed to make them listen.

"Okay, Joe. Calm down and tell me what you need to. I’m listening."


"I don’t know what you’re trying to ask Joe."


"Just now?"

"Yeah." Joe opened his eyes and looked at his brother.

"His name is Phineas Walker. He helped us find you."


Adam giggled. "I guess you could call him that. He delivered the money to the kidnappers and then followed their directions to find you."


"WHAT?" Adam thought he heard wrong.

"Don’t…let…pa…pay. He…scammed…whole…plan." Joe was exhausted. The lack of sleep, food and water were taking its toll. He was beginning to loose his battle to stay awake.

"Joe. Are you saying that Phineas was the person behind your kidnapping?"

Joe just nodded and fell asleep.

"Rest Joe. Let big brother take care of this."


Joe woke sometime later feeling better. He opened his eyes and found his father resting in a chair. Joe smiled. How he loved his pa.

"Pa?" Ben woke and smiled at his son.

"Well, sleepyhead. It’s about time you woke up."

"How long…"

Ben helped Joe with a glass of water, who eagerly drank the cool fluid. "You’ve been asleep for over 24 hours. Doctor Martin says its exhaustion. You should feel better once you are rested up and we get some food into you. How are you feeling?"

"Better. Where are Adam and Hoss?" At that moment Adam and Hoss walked into the room.

"Right here Buddy. How are you feeling?" Adam sat down next to Joe on the bed to his left and Hoss sat down on his right.

"Better. What happened?" Joe asked Adam.

"We were hoping you could tell us."

"I was coming out of the outhouse at school when these guys ‘insisted’ I come with them. I was gonna scream but they put something over my mouth. Then I blacked out. I woke up at some work camp for wayward boys. The man in the infirmary told me that the warden was running a kidnapping scam. They locked me in a small box for almost a week. Then they barely fed us and made me shovel dirt to make bricks. One of the guards helped me that last night, or I would have died."

"What was his name Punkin?" Hoss asked.

"Sperger. Eric Sperger. He helped when the others weren’t looking. I don’t think he knew some of us were waiting for our ransoms."

Then Joe remembered again. "Pa! That man that was here, he was part of it. I overheard the warden talking to another man about their kidnapping scam. I think they’ve done it before too. I recognize his voice."

Ben and Adam smiled. "What’s so funny? I know that he was the same man." Joe protested.

"We know Joe. Adam told me as soon as you fell asleep. I had Roy lock Phineas up and then check around. Roy found out about a lot of people Phineas kidnapped and ‘found’ afterwards. Not all of them alive either."

"The warden wanted to break me pa. Phineas wouldn’t let him ‘cause he said you would call in the army and blow everything. The warden was mad that he only got $10,000 from you."

Ben exchanged looks with Adam and Hoss. They had found the work camp and the warden had testified against Phineas because he had been shorted all these years of his share of the ransoms.

"Son, we found the work camp. All of the boys have been returned to their families. Phineas is going to hang for murder and the warden is going to jail for the rest of his life."

Joe relaxed. "That’s a relief. They said they would kidnap me again when I go older."

"Little Buddy, you can relax. Neither of those men will ever hurt you again."

"That’s right Punkin. You’re home and safe and we love you." Hoss hugged Joe.

Ben, Adam and Hoss embraced their ‘heart’.

Joe hugged them all back. "I love you all too."

The End

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