Summary: Joe gambles with his life to give his Pa something precious.
Word Count: 900
When Dr. Paul Martin saw Joe Cartwright standing in front of his office that morning, the thought that something was amiss skipped across his mind like a stone across water . . . and sank out of sight just as fast when Mrs. Canfield stopped to ask about her husband’s gout.
Advice dispensed, the disquieting thought resurfaced, but he decided it was because Joe—who was now leaning nonchalantly against his office door—was wearing a brown shirt instead of his usual tan one. Any further pondering of the unusual outfit, however, vanished from his mind when a freight wagon nearly ran him down. Safe at last on the other side of the street, Paul turned his full attention to his morning visitor. He was about to shout a greeting when he realized with horror that it was blood coloring the shirt and he broke into a run. When Paul was just feet away Joe’s knees buckled and he collapsed into the doctor’s arms.
“Thought I’d save you a house call,” Joe mumbled before passing out.
Paul yelled for Manuel, the lad who swept up for him. Together they were able to get Joe into the office and onto a table in the surgery. “Manny,” Paul said calmly, “Find Dr. Lee and tell him I need him immediately, then go tell the Sheriff what’s happened. Hurry!”
By the time Clem Foster showed up, the doctors had stabilized Joe, but he had refused treatment until his Pa got there.
“What happened?” Clem asked Paul.
“I don’t know. I found Joe covered in blood on my doorstep about an hour ago.”
The Sheriff frowned, “I saw Joe down on C Street just before a bunch of drovers from the Bar D started whoopin’ it up, guns a-blazin’. Stray bullet maybe. Will he be all right?”
“He’s refusing to let us remove the bullet until Ben gets here.”
“Candy went to find him. Why won’t Joe let you operate?”
“I have no idea,” the doctor said, exasperated, “But we can’t wait much longer; he’s lost too much blood already.”
Joe was drenched in sweat and Clem could see how much pain he was in. “Your Pa’s on his way, Joe, but you need to let the Docs operate now.”
“No,” Joe grunted between clenched teeth. “See Pa first.”
“At least let Paul give you something for the pain,” Clem begged.
“No!” he panted. “Stay … wake. See. Pa.”
Paul shook his head. “It’s not like Ben doesn’t know how Joe feels. I’ve never seen a more demonstrative son than Joe.”
“Not me. Him,” Joe managed to get out before another wave of pain overtook him.
Just then, there was a loud crash as the outside door was thrown open.
“Thank God!” Paul exclaimed as Ben rushed into the surgery pushing past Clem and proceeding immediately to the bed where his son struggled to remain conscious. Wiping the sweat away from Joe’s brow with one hand while gripping his son’s neck with the other, he whispered a few words to Joe, saw the acknowledgment in his eyes, then moved away so the doctors could operate.
It was hours before the door into the waiting room opened and Paul motioned his friend inside. Ben didn’t need a second invitation.
“Doc?” asked Candy, who stayed behind.
“It’s over,” Paul said wearily, collapsing in a vacant chair. “Dr. Lee was amazing, his hands nimbly tying off one blood vessel after another faster than I could count. All I could do was mop up,” Paul said, raising his arthritic hands in frustration.
“You did the right thing, Doc, calling for Lee, but it was you Joe came to see.” Candy knew it was hard for Paul to admit he wasn’t the doctor he once was, but he was still the Cartwright’s physician and neither Ben nor Joe would have it any other way.
“When Joe wants something his way, his will is as hard as iron,” Paul said. “There’s one thing I still don’t understand though.”
“Why he wouldn’t let us operate until Ben got here. He had to know how close we came to losing him.”
“He gambled,” Candy surmised. “Joe knew he might not make it and he wanted to give his Pa a chance to say goodbye.”
“But that’s just not rational. The odds of his survival were less the longer he waited.”
“It was an easy call for Joe,” Candy explained. “Ben never had the chance to say goodbye to Hoss; couldn’t remember what his last words to his son were; the last time he embraced him; the last time he told him he loved him. It nearly destroyed Ben. Joe wouldn’t let that happen again, no matter what the cost–not if he could help it.”
Paul nodded slowly, understanding at last the choice Joe had made.
“Besides, doc,” Candy chuckled, “when has Joe Cartwright ever been rational when it comes to injuries?”