Summary: Our very own, “Suffering Joe Syndrome” story.
Word Count: 2600
“It’s serious, Ben,” Paul Martin announced, turning away from the bed where Joe lay. “I don’t know if he’ll pull through this time.”
Ben reached forward and pushed back a stray lock of hair from Joe’s forehead. On the edge of the set, the hairdresser gave an anguished sigh. Didn’t he have any idea of how long it took to arrange those curls? The time and effort to achieve just the perfect degree of tousled perfection? Mind you, with the other three members of the Cartwright family, all he had to do was wash the rugs at 40 degrees on the gentle cycle and then give them a gentle shake. Ah, the wonders of modern synthetic fibers.
The Giggly Sisters moaned softly. Much as they loved maimed Joe (and their Bonanza tapes were decidedly worn at certain part of My Brother’s Keeper, Second Chance, The Gift, The Friendship, Bushwhacked and The Deadly Ones) this was a tad more serious. The blonde clutched Paw, their pet bear, and sobbed gently into his ruff. As if in sympathy at her distress, Joe’s legs twitched piteously. This was always a sure sign that he was in deep distress and/or incredible agony. Nevertheless, being a man of the old west (and a Cartwright to boot), only the smallest of moans escaped from his perfect lips. A few beads of sweat dotted his forehead, but this only added to his overall gorgeousness.
“What do you mean?” Ben demanded. Really, his tones were a little strident for a sickroom. “Joe always recovers! He has amazing powers of recuperation!”
“We all do!” Adam interjected. “Remember I had that bad fall in Triangle? There I was, confined to a wheelchair one moment, right as rain the next! He’ll be fine, Pa, don’t worry!”
Sometimes, Ben felt that Adam was just a trifle inconsiderate where his little brother’s well-being was concerned. Adam had never satisfactorily explained just why he had felt compelled to shoot Joe. All that nonsense about thinking his brother was a wolf! And, by his own admission, he’d stood by and watched Joe get beaten to a pulp in The Julia Bulette Story, before casually slinging him over his shoulder. Sometimes Ben wondered if it wouldn’t be best if Adam moved away from the Ponderosa for a while. That way, Joe might just conceivably live long enough to grow into his ears.
Paul stood patiently as those thoughts ran through Ben’s mind. When the furrowed brow unknitted itself, the doctor judged it safe to continue.
“He’s running a high fever and that wound is badly infected.” Paul looked at the bed, where his patient tossed restlessly. Always a consummate professional, Joe was careful to keep his legs slightly bent, so that his feet did not hang totally over the edge.
Automatically, Ben twitched the scabby pale-blue camberwick bedspread a little higher, covering as much of Joe as was possible. He didn’t want to offend any maiden-lady viewers of a certain age, after all. Or dispirit teenage boys who would probably never attain the glory that was Joe. Although all that might prove irrelevant, if Joe was as dangerously ill as Paul Martin said
The scary Indian picture glowered down on the pitiful scene, as Adam glowered at the Giggly Sisters, who were busily uncovering Joe, so that as much of his lean, golden body as possible was in shot. “And no respectable young lady would be in a gentleman’s bedchamber!” he stated sanctimoniously.
“Then why did you keep sloping off to spout Thoreau and leave that awful Reardon girl alone with Joe?” demanded the redhead.
“Were she the one with the mouth like a cat’s bottom?” Hoss asked innocently.
“A young lady? Alone with my son?” Ben looked horrified and Adam turned to inspect the curtains in great detail. “She could have done anything to him!”
Paul decided it was time to intervene, before matters got too nasty. “I’d better stay the night, Ben.”
It was not that Ben Cartwright was mean. Or even parsimonious. But he had not become the richest man in Nevada without watching the pennies. “I’ll charge you the out-of-season rate, Paul!” he said, in a friendly manner. The hapless doctor sighed. Trips out to the Ponderosa always seemed to leave him out of pocket and it was becoming increasingly difficult to make ends meet.
“I hardly think he’ll be sleeping,” the redhead protested. You had to keep on the right side of the doctor when there wasn’t another one within a hundred miles. There again, if the need arose, the redhead wasn’t going to hesitate to put Paul Martin right. You didn’t want the doctor getting a big head after all! “He’ll be keeping a vigil here by Joe’s bed with the rest of us. Won’t you?” she added pointedly and Paul nodded weakly. He was terrified of the redhead, having heard stories about her from other members of his profession.
“Do you really think it’s as serious as that?” Adam protested. “We could just do as we usually do and take turns sitting by the bed, wiping his fevered brow.” The thought of doing this made Adam yawn hugely. He always fell asleep when it was his turn to watch over Joe.
“It’s a good thing I made lots of cloths when it was raining last week,” Hop Sing said, popping into the room, bearing a huge pile of neatly hemmed cloths.
The redhead solemnly handed her sister one of the cloths, took one herself and they soaked them in the basin of cold water sitting there very conveniently. Together, with infinite tenderness, they began to wipe down Joe’s body.
“Hold on!” Ben protested. “This isn’t the way it’s done! That’s my job!” He flourished the fringed yellow duster that had somehow survived and made its way from the ghost town of Martinville in Twilight Town to Lone Pine in Bushwhacked. Yellow wasn’t the redhead’s favorite color (along with green, but that’s another story) but she had to admit that Joe wore the cloth with great aplomb. “You’ve got to cover him up!” he cried. “It’ll help break his fever.”
“Fiddlesticks!” cried the redhead, who’d had similar discussions with her mythical husband on many occasions. “You need to strip him off, let the air get to him.” She eyed Paul. “Isn’t that right?”
Now, truth be told, Paul wasn’t too sure. He couldn’t quite remember doing fevers in college. Was that the term he’d been billiards champion? Or the term he’d spent mastering satin stitch and Algerian eyes before winning the ‘All-comers’ class at the summer show? Or had he simply slept through that lecture? “Err,” he said. In theory, Ben paid his bills, although as a myriad of attentive viewers can testify, no money was actually ever seen to exchange hands. However, the redhead was fiercesome and kept subjecting Joe to increasingly inventive maims in her stories. In desperation, he looked to the blonde for succor.
“My husband’s a doctor!” she said cheerily, whipping the bed clothes down to hip-level, having a keen sense of propriety. She did wonder why the nice patchwork quilts were relegated to the bunkhouse, leaving poor, darling Joe with the rather threadbare bedspread. Or perhaps the ranch hands actually made the quilts, during those periods when the bunk house simply disappeared for several weeks on end? Well, it would give them something constructive to do.
Paul was getting rather hot and bothered. Dealing with a dangerously ill patient was one thing, but add Ben, his elder two sons, the Giggly sisters and a bear into the mix – his temperature rose several degrees just thinking about it! How he wished the girls would mop him off with one of those handy damp cloths that abounded on the Ponderosa!
“Don’t forget about me!” Hop Sing hissed. Goodness, the hours he put in, slaving over a hot stove, just to ensure there was enough calf’s foot jelly on hand, just in case Joe indulged in yet another accident. Although Ben was finding it increasingly difficult to explain to would-be cattle buyers why so many of his beeves were slightly deficient in the foot area.
Patting Joe’s shoulder lovingly, Ben moved over to Joe’s desk, which had cunningly located itself next to the window. Sighing deeply, he took out the current volume of “Joe’s Big Book of Danger” and began to annotate the details of this latest life-threatening injury. Thank heavens he’d started to cross-reference all his youngest son’s many and varied maims! Otherwise, he would simply have lost count of the number of times Joe had lain dangerously ill with pneumonia. Never pleura-pneumonia, interestingly enough. Automatically, Ben rapped the wooden surface of the desk with his knuckles. No sense in tempting fate after all! There were enough fanfic writers with vivid imaginations out there and they certainly did not need any encouragement.
“Aren’t you all over-reacting just a little?” Adam asked. “After all, I managed to drag Cain half way across the desert in The Crucible, after being abused and seriously debilitated. And I managed just fine!”
“I hope you’re not suggesting we put a ridiculous headband on Joe?” the blonde said firmly, giving him a look that struck fear into the hearts of onlookers at fifty paces.
“What else was I supposed to do?” Adam protested. “It was boiling hot and all my Toupee Toffee had melted! It was the only way I could keep my rug on!”
For some time, Hoss had been sitting quietly in a chair, watching as Joe suffered bravely, wincing as the occasional agonized gasp burst out.
“You’ve gotta do something, Doc!” he pleaded. “What about that marvelous medicine I rode all the way to Genoa for?”
Paul looked mortified. “That was another Doctor altogether!” he hissed.
“Doc Hickman,” elucidated the redhead. “Good medicine, dreadful bedside manner.”
“Called away by one of those frightfully convenient childbirth emergencies!” added the blonde. “Doc Martin invented the Wonder Salve TM. You know – heals all known maims without a trace!”
Paul flashed her an appreciative smile. His amazing salve that allowed Joe to return to his devastating good looks, no matter how many times he was cut over the left eyebrow. “It’s nothing,” he murmured modestly.
“Why not dissolve it in some water an’ give it to Punkin?” Hoss suggested. “Iffen it works on the outside, why it seems to me it might work on the inside too?”
Everyone stood in stunned silence for a moment as they translated this into English. And then the room was a hive of activity. “Good thinking, Batman,” the redhead muttered, and the blonde shook her head. Her sister did tend to get her shows a little confused when she was seriously stressed.
In no time at all, a pot of the Wonder Salve TM was found in the depths of Paul’s Gladstone bag and its contents decanted into a pan of boiling water. It smelt heavenly, unlike most medicinal brews and they all drew in deep, soothing breaths. “You could sell this as an inhalant, too,” the blonde told him. “You could start the craze for homeopathic medicine all by yourself.”
Smiling broadly, Paul nodded. The only part of that statement that he’d understood was the bit about a craze, and he understood that well enough. Why, look at the way his new footwear was selling. It was just a pity his supplier had spelt his name wrongly…
Once the Wonder Salve TM was dissolved, Paul took a cup and eyed it dubiously. The sisters could understand why. If it did happen to be poisonous, they didn’t want to try it on Joe. “Here, Adam,” said the redhead, holding his nose firmly. “You try it.” The blonde, in a movement so well coordinated that it might have been rehearsed, tipped the brew down Adam’s throat.
Naturally, he coughed and choked and complained vigorously, but after a short time, Adam was still alive and well (“better luck next time,” the blonde consoled her sister) so they decided to chance it on Joe.
The Cartwrights looked surprised as the redhead appropriated a syringe from Paul’s bag and filled it with the new drug. However, they could quite see why she’d done it as she gently squirted it, bit by bit, into Joe’s mouth, so he didn’t choke. It was clear she had done this more than once! Well, her oldest daughter did have a life threatening condition that required her to do all sorts of things she’d rather not.
Slowly, but surely, Joe came around. Ever mindful of the fans, he knew what was expected of him and wasn’t about to disappoint. If ever a situation called for a touching Joe/Pa moment, this was it!
Opening his eyes slowly, Joe gazed up into his father’s face. “Pa?” he whispered gently and the sound engineer frantically twiddled the dials on his recording equipment. Clearing his throat slightly, Joe managed a slightly louder “Pa!” this time enthused with a little trill of wonder and happiness.
“Everything’s alright, Joseph!” Ben soothed. “You’re going to be just fine!” And I’ve got a long evening ahead of me, updating your Big Book of Danger. Never know when we’ll have to use the salve again.
Joe tugged urgently at his father’s sleeve. “Pa!” he demanded urgently and his father bent down.
“That Reardon girl? The one that was left alone with me when I was delirious?”
“What about her, son?”
Joe looked embarrassed. How could he possibly tell his father about his deepest, darkest fear? The one that returned to haunt him night after night? Better just forget about it, he told himself. The Cartwrights were good at that, after all. It wasn’t every family that cheerfully strode out each morning over the very ground where their mother/wife had been tragically squished.
“I think Joe’s a little concerned about who took care of his, err ‘personal needs’!” Adam said, trying very hard to keep a straight face. His top lip disappeared completely as he watched the look of horror on Joe’s face. The girls shot Adam a look that promised retribution sometime very soon, and Paw growled.
Patting Joe reassuringly on the shoulder, Ben said, “Not to worry, son. It wasn’t her. I looked after your personal needs.”
“Wow,” commented the redhead. They all looked at her. “For the first time on screen, someone mentions going to the loo on Bonanza.”
Joe looked stunned. This just wiped out one memorable remark he’d made about that very subject, a few years hence. Now what was he going to say instead?
However, Joe needn’t have worried, for continuity was on the job. For once. “Sorry, boys,” the director called from off the set. “We seem to have missed that last bit and we don’t have time for a re-take, so we’ll just leave it there, okay?”
“You can always rely on continuity,” Joe commented. “They make everything right.” He settled back on his pillows, secure in the knowledge that although his bedroom might move around, his bed would always be too short and the scary Indian would forever scowl down upon him. And although his little green jacket had been hopelessly mangled, Joe knew that next week it would be restored to its pristine state. Yes, continuity was a wonderful thing.