Resolution from Despair (by Rona)

Summary:  A WHN for the episode Shanklin, tying up some of those loose ends.

Rated:  T   (10,215 words)

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.


Shanklin, a former Confederate officer, arrives at the Ponderosa with the intent to take $25,000 from Ben Cartwright. In trying to stop him, Hoss is shot and seriously injured. Shanklin, while constantly threatening to kill Hoss, allows Ben to summon a doctor for him. Ben gets the money as asked and while Doc Ingram is operating on Hoss, Joe and Jamie return to the ranch with the intention of freeing their family. When they burst into the house, Shanklin himself is operating on Hoss, fed up with Ingram’s incompetency. Shanklin is angry that Joe killed one of his men and tells Joe that he must retrieve his gun and kill or be killed. Shanklin’s bullet hits Joe in the chest; Joe’s bullet ricochets off a mirror and hits Shanklin in the back. Shanklin dies. At the end of the episode, we see Ben, Joe and Jamie gazing down on the dead man. There seemed to be a lot of loose ends…

For Janet – I hope this lives up to your expectations. And as ever, for Claire. Who can tell where you find your family?


The shots fired almost simultaneously. Ben Cartwright flinched as he saw his son, Joe, get hit in the right side of his chest. And yet, even in the moment that he was hit, Joe fired back at Shanklin. The outlaw looked surprised and staggered forward a step before collapsing to the floor. Ben snatched up the shotgun Irons had dropped and aimed it at the man. “Hop Sing!” he hissed and the Chinese housekeeper hurried forward to take the gun. Ben immediately hurried over to Joe.

“Joe!” Ben pushed aside the desk chair to reach his injured son. “Joe!”

“I’m all right, Pa,” Joe panted, despite the fact that the force of the bullet had knocked him over the top of his father’s desk, where he had crashed off the chair to the floor. He groaned as he allowed Ben to help him to his feet. Somehow, Joe sensed that Ben had taken all he could for that day and he got to his feet.

Looking over, they saw that Doc Ingram was kneeling beside Shanklin. Joe frowned in perplexity. Shanklin had, by his own admission, shot Hoss, and yet when Joe and Jamie had burst into the house, he was operating to save Hoss’ life. Even so, when Shanklin discovered that Joe had killed one of his men, he insisted that Joe should try and retrieve the gun taken from him, so that Shanklin could kill him. It made no sense at all to Joe. Why was Ingram so worried about Shanklin?

“Joe?” Glancing down, Joe tried to smile into Jamie’s eyes. He wasn’t sure he had succeeded very well, for his newly adopted younger brother snuggled close into Joe’s side, ostensibly to offer his adored older brother physical support, for Jamie had seen what Ben hadn’t – Joe was anything but all right – but also to gain some comfort on this confusing, never-ending day.

“I’m… all right,” Joe assured him, but he was feeling less all right by the second. The shock was hitting him now; the shock of learning that Hoss had been gunned down in the doorway of their own home, that Ben was giving the outlaws $25,000, seeing Hoss stretched out there, unconscious and being operated on. It was all becoming too much for Joe, as he stood there. His knees buckled suddenly and if Ben and Jamie hadn’t been supporting him, Joe would have fallen to the floor.

“Doctor!” Ben hissed, suddenly realizing that Joe was not all right. He helped his son to sit in the nearest chair, horrified as Joe’s head lolled on the back, his eyes barely open. “Doc!” Ben’s faith in Richard Ingram had been badly shaken that afternoon, but there was no one else around.

Lifting his head, Ingram focused his gaze on Joe, but his heart quaked at the thought of performing more surgery that day. If Shanklin hadn’t been such a great surgeon, Hoss would surely have died. Ingram swallowed, suddenly desperately wanting another whiskey to steady his hands and nerves. Rising to his feet, he tottered over to Joe.

“Did… did the bullet go through?” he asked.

“I don’t think so,” Ben replied, frantically searching for an exit wound. There wasn’t one. “No, it’s still in him.” Ben stroked the curls off Joe’s forehead. He glanced at Ingram. “What are you going to do?”

“I… I don’t… don’t know,” Ingram admitted.

Horrified, Ben stared at him. He could feel his hands shaking and he sat down abruptly beside Joe. He didn’t think he could take any more that day. Hoss was still unconscious from his surgery and now Joe needed an operation, too. Could he allow Ingram to operate on another member of his family? After the man had carelessly applied too much ether and stopped Hoss breathing?

Unaware of the difficulties that Ingram had faced, but not wanting him to do the necessary surgery, Joe forced open his eyes. For all that Ingram was Paul Martin’s partner, Joe didn’t like him. He had seen him in the saloon, worse for drink, too many times to want him to be the man wielding the scalpel. Unwittingly, he solved Ben’s problem. “Jamie, go into town… and get Doc Martin… and Clem.”

For a moment, the ginger-haired youth blanched. He was exhausted by the events of the day, but he knew that there was no one else to go. “All right, Joe,” he agreed and hurried out of the door to go and get his horse.

“I tie this one up,” Hop Sing offered, clearly getting tired of holding the shotgun on Irons.

“There are others…tied up in… the barn,” Joe explained. He saw Hop Sing shepherd Irons out. His eyes dipped closed again.

“Joe.” Ben’s low voice made Joe open his eyes again. “There were a lot of men with Shanklin. Did you…?” He couldn’t quite bring himself to finish the question.

“I took… all of them… out,” Joe replied. He tried to ease his position, but moving hurt. He groaned unintentionally and saw his father’s weary face pale. “Pa, I’m all right,” he insisted, knowing that he was lying. He glanced at Doc Ingram and saw that the little man was gazing at him with a glazed expression. Joe didn’t want him going after the bullet, but he had rather hoped that perhaps he might have stopped the bleeding or given him something to help with the pain. Joe had no idea how he was going to cope with the pain until Doc Martin arrived, but recalling what Jamie had told him about Hoss, he vowed that he would bear it as bravely as his brother had, although Hoss’ injury had been much more serious.

As though Joe’s thoughts had called to him, Hoss moaned and moved slightly. Ben sat up straight, as if stung, and he exchanged a glance with Ingram, who also seemed more alert. Then, as Hoss moaned again, Ben leapt to his feet and hurried over to where Hoss was lying. “Hoss?”

There was another groan as an answer. Hoss was not yet awake, but was coming out of the anesthetic. This was a huge relief for both Ben and Ingram, given that Hoss had stopped breathing earlier. Ben bent over Hoss, murmuring something softly to his son.

It suddenly occurred to Joe to wonder what on earth Hoss was lying on, and he glanced carefully around the room, blinking the sweat out of his eyes. Almost all the furniture had been moved and every mirror in the house seemed to be here in the great room. Looking at the lamps placed in front of each mirror, Joe guessed that they were there to shed more light on Hoss for the operation. The room was a mess and there was a drum – a drum? – sitting on the sofa. Joe frowned. He could vaguely remember seeing the drum in the attic. Had the men even gone there?

The dining table. Hoss had to be lying on the dining table. Joe’s breath hitched in painfully as he twisted a little too far. A fresh wave of blood spilled over the hand he had clamped to his injured side. Why wasn’t the doctor doing something? “Doc, I’m… bleeding,” Joe whispered, but Ingram didn’t seem to hear.

On the table, Hoss began to move. Ingram hurried to his side and lifted the sheet that covered Joe’s older brother. Ben looked across anxiously. “How’s he doing?” he asked.

“It looks good,” Ingram replied. “Shanklin sure knew what he was doing.”

There it was again, Joe thought. Why did Ingram sound as though he admired Shanklin? Yes, the man had saved Hoss’ life and for that Joe would be forever grateful. He shot a glance at the dead man on the floor. But Shanklin had shot Hoss in the first place and from what he could piece together, had continually threatened to kill Hoss. Joe was confused.

The front door opened, causing them all to tense, but it was just Hop Sing returning. “Bad men all tied up tight,” he assured them. He looked around the room in disgust and started to tidy things up. Joe watched him in a desultory manner. Suddenly, Hop Sing stopped and looked right at Joe. “Lil Joe – you all right?” he asked and hurried over. He began to cluck worriedly as he saw the spreading stain on Joe’s shirt front. Turning, he snatched up one of the cloths left for Ingram to use and gently placed it on the wound. Joe winced.

“Joe?” Ben was back at his side, peering worriedly into Joe’s face. “That bullet needs to come out.”

“Not… by… him,” Joe panted. The room seemed to be growing very warm, and yet he was shivering. “I’ll wait… for… Doc Martin.”

“That bullet needs to come out!” Ben repeated, allowing his worry to masquerade as anger as he saw Joe shiver. Ben suddenly found himself facing the horrifying prospect of maybe nearly losing another son to one of Shanklin’s bullets. “Joe, please!”

Before Joe could say anything in response, Hoss moaned loudly and said, “Pa?”

Ben was torn. Much as he wanted to go to Hoss, he knew Joe needed him too. Seeing the indecision on Ben’s face, Joe made it easy for him. “Go to him, Pa,” he breathed. “I’m fine.”

“You’re a liar,” Ben told him lovingly and rose to go back to Hoss. “I’m here, Hoss. Just take it easy. You’re going to be just fine.”

“Shanklin,” Hoss mumbled. “Pa, don’t. Don’ give him… the money.”

“Shh,” Ben soothed. “It’s all over, Hoss. The money’s safe and you’re going to be fine.”

Opening his eyes, Hoss stared at Ben, confused. “How?” he slurred, still groggy from the anesthetic. “Shanklin…”

“Shanklin is dead,” Ben told him. “Joe and Jamie took care of his men.”

“Good,” Hoss grunted, with decided satisfaction. His eyes drifted closed for a moment. He felt a little better than he had before; well maybe not better exactly, but not as bad. Then it fully registered with him what Ben had said and his eyes opened again. “Joe an’ Jamie. Is they… all right?”

It was the hesitation that told Hoss that they weren’t. He made a move to sit up, but discovered, to his shock, that he was too weak. “Joe?”

“Right here, big brother.” Joe peered down at Hoss, hoping that the older man wouldn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. Getting up from the chair had cost him a great deal in pain and further blood loss, but if it prevented Hoss getting anxious, then it was worth it to Joe.

The groggy blue eyes turned towards Joe and a smile flitted across Hoss’ face. “Ya all right, little brother?” Hoss asked and Joe nodded.

“Just fine. You get some rest now.” Joe smiled, although stabs of pain were rocketing through his chest. He watched his brother’s eyes close before he turned away.

Instantly, Ben was at his side, supporting Joe as he stumbled back to the seat. “What were you thinking?” Ben hissed, keeping his voice low so as not to disturb Hoss. “Joe, you’re bleeding heavily!”

“I know.” Joe squeezed his eyes shut against the pain as Ben took the cloth and put pressure on the wound. “But if Hoss rests easily, then it was worth it.”

“Joe!” Ben scolded, but the pride in his voice spoke louder than his annoyance. Trust Joe to think of Hoss before his own comfort. It was quite true. Hoss would have worried if he hadn’t seen Joe and there was no way the big man was going to be getting up any time soon. “You stay put this time,” Ben went on in a low voice. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Ingram taking a good solid slug out of the whiskey bottle.

“That’s why I won’t let him touch me,” Joe commented. His hand involuntarily gripped Ben’s wrist as the pain increased for a moment. Ben didn’t let up the pressure at all. “He’s a drunk.” Joe’s hand slid off Ben’s wrist. His black glove left a sticky, bloody handprint on Ben’s wrist. “Don’t let him… touch me.”

For the first time, Ben realized that Ingram hadn’t saved Hoss’ life. Shanklin had. Ben frowned. Ingram hadn’t even looked at Joe and Joe was bleeding badly. Everyone could see that. Ben glanced over his shoulder at the table of blood-covered medical implements and wondered, sickly, if he would have to perform surgery on Joe.

“Hop Sing,” he called. “Boil some water and put those instruments in it, please. Doctor Martin will need them when he comes.”

At once, the Chinese cook scurried away to put the water on. Ben returned his attention to Joe, who had his eyes closed again. It hurt Ben’s heart to see his son sprawled there so pale and still. This was what Ben had been afraid of – that Joe and Jamie would burst into the house to save him and Hoss and be hurt. That was why he had asked Clem to arrest them and lock them up until this was over. And yet Ben couldn’t find it in himself to be angry. Joe had managed to save them a whole lot of money and he himself wasn’t facing the prospect of a long ride as a hostage. How could Ben be angry? He couldn’t. Yet he wished fervently that this had all been accomplished without Joe and Hoss being hurt.

Cautiously lifting the cloth, Ben peered at the hole in Joe’s side. The bleeding had almost stopped and Ben resumed the pressure on it. Joe groaned deeply and writhed in the seat. Desperate to have his mind distracted, Joe asked, “Pa, how come… Shanklin was… operating on Hoss?”

Quickly, Ben explained how Ingram had wanted to amputate Hoss’ leg because of the damage to his femoral artery. Joe’s eyes opened wide at that. “Oh, Pa!” he breathed, horrified. His eyes raced to look at his older brother, lying so still on the table. At that moment, Hoss issued a very reassuring snore.

“I know,” Ben replied, also looking at Hoss. He then carried on with the story, explaining that Shanklin had seemed affronted by Ingram’s incompetency and had taken over the tricky surgery, retrieving his bullet almost casually at the end. “I don’t understand him at all,” Ben admitted. “I know his experiences in the Civil War saved Hoss’ life, but they also warped Shanklin.”

“Why did he come to you for money?” Joe asked. He was beginning to feel quite light-headed.

Shaking his head, Ben replied, “I don’t know, son. He must have heard that I have money – and sons that I love enough to sacrifice anything for.” Ben smiled as Joe’s eyes slit open, but he was concerned that Joe didn’t lift his head from the back of the seat.

“You must be… exhausted,” Joe commented. He was worried about his father, but the worry was muted and distant. Joe recognized the signs of shock and blood loss.

“I’m fine,” Ben assured his son, untruthfully. He was exhausted – emotionally and physically.

Joe glanced at the clock, but time had lost all meaning. He didn’t know what time it had been when Jamie left, so he had no idea how much time had passed. Not enough, he suspected, for Jamie to have reached town, never mind be on the way back.

So it was a complete surprise when the door opened a minute or two later and Jamie staggered in. Joe simply blinked, unable to believe what he was seeing. Ben had whirled, regretting that he didn’t have a gun close by, but relaxing slightly when he saw his youngest, adopted, son.

Rising, Ben exclaimed, “Jamie!” He was suddenly terrified that Joe hadn’t managed to take out all of Shanklin’s men.

Behind Jamie a shadow moved. Ben’s heart started racing at three times its normal speed and he glanced around frantically for a weapon, but there was nothing to hand. But then the shadow came into the light and Ben recognized Clem Foster, sheriff of Virginia City and behind him came Paul Martin.

They were truly safe now.

“How…?” Ben asked, unable to articulate his question.

“Clem and I decided not to wait for you to ask for help,” Paul Martin replied, brushing past Jamie and Ingram to crouch by Joe’s side. “We decided, as friends, that we didn’t have to wait for you to come to us. We decided that we would help you regardless.” He took Joe’s pulse and peered into his face. “Joe, what happened to you?”

“Shanklin,” Joe replied. “He shot me.”

“Have you lost consciousness at all?” Paul went on. He pried Joe’s hand away from his side and lifted the bloody cloth.

“No,” Joe breathed. He suddenly felt that he might pass out right there and then and wondered why he had to do it now that they were safe. He didn’t realize that the adrenaline had exited his body, leaving him feeling weaker than he had before. He began to shake again.

“That bullet has to come out right now,” Paul declared. He glanced around at the makeshift operating table. “I’d better do it here,” he decided, giving Ingram a hard look. “Hoss might need some attention. Ben, could you rig up something to cover the sofa with? I’ll operate there.”

“Of course,” Ben replied, looking round rather wildly. But the faithful Hop Sing was there, rushing up to strip the sheets off one of the spare bed and placing them on the sofa. He brought more boiling water from the kitchen and showed Doc Martin the instruments, still in the tub of water. They didn’t look as clean as Paul preferred, but time was now beginning to be of the essence and he didn’t quibble.

“Come on, Joe.” Paul carefully helped Joe to his feet and Ben hurried over to take his other arm. Joe could barely shuffle now and he could hardly believe that a little while before, he had been able to get up and walk over to reassure Hoss that he was all right.

The bustle around him disturbed Hoss, who grunted as he moved slightly. “Pa,” he called, weakly.

Half turning, Ben hesitated, still supporting Joe by the arm. “Go to him,” Joe breathed. A wordless apprehension was now gripping Joe and he desperately wanted Ben’s loving support, but Hoss needed their father, too, and Joe wasn’t selfish enough to deny Hoss anything that would help him in his long fight back to health. “Go on,” he added, when Ben hesitated.

Still torn, Ben did as Joe urged and hurried back over to Hoss. “I’m here, son,” he soothed. “It’s all right.” He touched Hoss’ cheek, not only to give some comfort, but to determine if Hoss was running a temperature. He glanced at Paul anxiously. Hoss was warm to the touch.

“What’s happenin’?” Hoss mumbled.

This time, Ben was torn between telling Hoss the truth and telling him something that would allow him to go back to sleep. This time, the lie won out. “We’re just tidying up a bit,” he replied. “We didn’t mean to disturb you, Hoss. Go back to sleep.”

“Where’s Joe?” Hoss asked. “An’ Jamie?”

“Joe’s busy right now,” Ben told him evasively. “Jamie’s helping Hop Sing.” It was quite true. As Clem dragged Shanklin’s body out of the house, Hop Sing had taken Jamie under his wing and given him a few small jobs to do to stop the boy brooding on what had happened. “You just rest now and let us clear up, all right?”

“All right,” Hoss sighed. His eyes, which had never fully opened, drifted shut again and his breathing deepened almost once. Ben stayed another minute, making sure that Hoss was soundly asleep before hurrying back over to Joe.

During those few minutes, Joe had been divested of his shirt and jacket and Ben could see the red, angry, bruised wound on his chest. To Ben’s inexperienced eyes, it seemed to be perilously close to one of Joe’s lungs and the grim expression on the doctor’s face told Ben that Paul was not happy with the situation either.

“Joe.” Ben took Joe’s hand as Paul produced the ether. He felt a moment’s panic, remembering Shanklin coolly telling Ingram that Hoss had stopped breathing, but this wasn’t Ingram, he reminded himself. This was Paul, whom he had known for many, many years. He trusted him and his own words came back to mock him. ‘I trust Doctor Ingram’, he told Shanklin, only for Ingram to announce that he was going to amputate Hoss’ leg.

Giving Ben a weak smile, Joe closed his eyes as the ether mask was applied. “Just breathe, Joe,” Paul told him and again, Ben was assailed by memories. When Joe began to cough, Ben’s heart skipped a beat. But after a few moments, Joe was laying peacefully, his breathing and pulse regular. “I don’t think you want to help me with this, Ben,” Paul commented. “Richard will assist me.”

It was true Ben didn’t want to help, but he wasn’t sure that he wanted Ingram to help either. “But…” he began.

“No.” Paul put his hand on Ben’s arm. “You’re exhausted, Ben. Rest while you have the chance. Talk to Jamie and make him rest. It’s been one hell of a day for all of you and I suspect it’s not over yet. Now rest. I’ll hear the full story later.”

Seeing the sense in that, Ben nodded and relinquished his position by Joe’s side. After a final glance, he went to find Jamie.


The teenage boy was understandably upset by the day’s events. He had seen first Hoss and then Joe gunned down in their own home, had had a gun shot out of his own hand and Jamie was about at the end of his tether. He was sitting on the porch rocker, shivering with cold, but reluctant to return inside. The great room of the house had never, in his short experience, looked the way it did now and Jamie didn’t know what to make of it. He had heard the stories from Joe and Hoss about the things that had happened to them over the years, but he hadn’t entirely believed them. He had never been able to picture the Ponderosa any way but the way it had been since he’d arrived. Now, he could all too easily picture the way the house had looked after General Diaz and his Mexicans had broken in and shot Joe in the back, or the way it had looked when Joe, Hoss and Candy, the foreman, had been kept prisoner overnight by a group of bank robbers. Would it have made any difference if Candy had been home at the moment and not away on a cattle buying trip?

Watching as Clem prodded the prisoners out of the barn, Jamie shivered again as he remembered Joe fighting with these men. His admiration for his big brother rose, but Jamie was now realizing how dangerous a situation it had been for Joe. If something had gone wrong, they could both have died.

“Jamie?” Ben was looking down on the youth with compassion. “Are you all right?” Ben had barely seen the boy since he had ridden into town to tell Ben about Shanklin.

“Yeah,” Jamie replied, unconvincingly. “How’re Joe an’ Hoss?”

“Hoss is asleep,” Ben replied. “Doc Martin is operating on Joe right now.” Ben drew Jamie to his feet and gave him a hug. “Come on, let’s get you something to eat and then you can go to bed.”

“I’m not hungry,” Jamie replied, horrified to find himself near to tears. While all had been mayhem and trouble, Jamie had been coping. Now that things were almost back to normal, kindness had him crying. Jamie didn’t understand.

“You should eat something,” Ben coaxed. “Try, for me. I’m going to need your help over the next few days, son.” He put his arms around Jamie’s thin shoulders and drew him towards the kitchen door. “It’s good to know that I can rely on you. That takes a weight off my mind.”

“Really?” Jamie gasped. He frequently felt quite inadequate compared to Joe and Hoss, although he had never admitted it. He comforted himself with the thought that Joe and Hoss had once been young, but the age gap between them was such that Jamie felt he would never grow up, never know as much as his brothers. Jamie didn’t resent the fact that Joe and Hoss seemed to know much more than he did. He idolized both men and was striving to be just like them, although he didn’t think he would ever know as much about nature as Hoss, or ever be such a good rider as Joe.

“Really,” Ben assured him. He looked down into the boy’s wide eyes. “Jamie, you kept your head today. Although I might wish that you and Joe had stayed out of this mess, you did what you thought was right and it’s turned out for the best. Hoss is going to be fine, and so is Joe. You acted to save your brother’s life and I’m proud of you.”

Suddenly, Jamie felt about a foot taller and his stomach rumbled loudly. “Thanks, Pa!” he exclaimed, his face alight with new-found pride. “I guess I am hungry after all.”

Laughing, Ben was surprised to feel his own stomach rumble and realized that he hadn’t eaten anything since that morning. “I think I might join you in supper,” he smiled.


“Joshua, I’m not sure that this is a good idea,” Ingram whined.

Already sweating, Paul gave Ingram a black look. “I wish to heaven I’d never told you what the ’J’ stood for in my name,” he grated. “Everyone round here was quite content knowing me as Paul!” The worst bit, he reflected, as he paused to draw in a calming breath, was that Ingram had had ‘Joshua’ painted onto their shingle and now everyone in the town knew of his hated first name.

Leaning over the somnolent Joe once more, Paul followed the path of the bullet with care. It was indeed resting very close to Joe’s lung. In fact, Paul was beginning to fear that it was actually in Joe’s lung and was the only thing preventing the lung from collapsing. Despite the fact that the entire contents of his office appeared to be in the Ponderosa’s great room, Paul wasn’t sure that he was equipped to deal with a punctured lung that night!

There was silence while Paul probed further. Ingram was now convinced that the bullet had passed into Joe’s lung and was rattling about in it. That meant a certain death sentence for Joe, although quite when the bullet would move enough to kill him was another matter. Paul was praying that the famous Joe Cartwright luck would hold out.

And suddenly, there it was. The squashed piece of metal had chipped a bit off Joe’s top rib, but that had slowed its travel enough that it hadn’t quite reached Joe’s lung. However, it was still in a dangerous position. Without saying a word to Ingram, Paul took the forceps and reached for it.

For a horrible moment, Paul thought it was going to spring out from his grasp and enter Joe’s lung. Holding his breath and consciously steadying his hand, Paul reached for it again. This time, he got a solid hold on it and began to draw it out of the wound.

He almost had it out when Ingram leant over him and jostled his elbow. The bullet slipped from Paul’s grasp and went back inside the wound. Stifling a curse, Paul glared at his colleague, wondering why on earth he had asked this man to be his partner. “Richard! Get out of my way or so help me…” He couldn’t finish the threat, but the look on his face was enough to get his point through. Ingram retreated and when Paul glanced up a minute or so later, he saw Ingram was ensconced in the whiskey bottle.

It was harder finding the bullet second time around, since there was a much larger incision for it to get lost in, but patience and perseverance won the day and at along last, Paul Martin triumphantly drew the bullet out of Joe’s chest.

There was no one to share his triumph with immediately. Ingram was frankly drunk; Hoss was sleeping and Hop Sing was in the kitchen with Ben and Jamie. Dropping the offending bullet into the dish beside the one retrieved from Hoss, Paul sighed and patted Joe’s shoulder. “Joe, I don’t blame you in the least for waiting for me,” he admitted quietly. “And let’s just hope that you make a quick recovery.”

Reaching for a needle, he began to suture closed the incision.


When Paul went through, Jamie was drowsing at the kitchen table. Ben was nursing a cup of coffee and looking as weary as Paul had ever seen him. He sat down next to Ben and gratefully accepted the cup of coffee Hop Sing handed him.

“Well?” Ben’s voice was low, but the intensity roused Jamie to full wakefulness.

“I got the bullet out and stitched him up. His lung was intact, but I had to remove some slivers of bone off one of Joe’s ribs. His flesh looked rather inflamed, but he had a bullet in him and I had to dig quite deeply for it. I’ll stay tonight, of course, and keep an eye on both him and Hoss. But I fully expect Joe to be all right. He’s lost a lot of blood, so he’s going to be weak for a while.” Paul drank deeply from the cup. “Hoss’ fever is climbing right now, but that’s no surprise.” He sighed and rolled his head around his shoulders. “You’re in for a hard time of it, Ben. Both the boys will be off their feet for a good while, Hoss particularly. And with him being so big…” Paul made a face. “He’s going to find it hard to get back on his feet, I fear.”

“What are you telling me?” Ben asked, while Jamie’s face blanched, leaving his freckles standing out in stark relief.

“I’m telling you that Hoss is going to find it hard to get back on his feet,” Paul returned, mildly. “I’m not suggesting for a single minute that he’s going to become an invalid, or even lose that leg. All I’m saying is that Hoss is not going to get over this and be fine in the morning, Ben. He’s older and heavier and that’s going to make it a bit harder for him. Even Joe might take a day or two longer to bounce back this time.”

“But they’ll be all right?” Jamie asked, his voice sounding young, thin, high and scared.

“Yes, I’m pretty sure that they’ll be all right in time,” Paul agreed. “Now, young man, I think you ought to get a good night’s sleep, as your Pa here will need your help in the morning.”

“I can help now,” Jamie insisted.

“Yes, by going to bed,” Ben agreed. “Jamie, you’re tired and I’ll most likely be up all night. If you get a good sleep, then you can help Joe and Hoss in the morning while I sleep.”

There was logic there, even if Jamie was initially reluctant to see it. But he could hear the iron in Ben’s voice and he knew better than to argue. Rising, he made his way out of the kitchen to go to bed.

Left alone, the two old friends sat on. Ben was bone weary, his thoughts flitting from one son to the other. Paul was thinking that he would have to find another partner. Ingram was not fit to doctor animals, he thought. Right now, he was passed out, snoring, in the great room.

Abruptly, Paul said, “I’m sorry about Ingram, Ben. I don’t know exactly what he did today, but I’m sorry I ever clapped eyes on the man. No wonder Joe didn’t want him to get that bullet out.”

Quietly, Ben told Paul exactly what had happened that afternoon and evening. He kept his eyes on his coffee cup and his voice dispassionate, as though that would take the pain out of the recitation for him. It didn’t work and Ben blinked back tears of anger.

“Well, I suppose we ought to be grateful to Shanklin for the surgery he performed on Hoss,” Paul commented softly after Ben had finished speaking. “But that doesn’t make up for what he did initially.” He shook his head. “Where is the money now?”

“Still through there, I think,” Ben replied. It hadn’t occurred to him to wonder about the money when he had his sons to worry about.

“Why don’t you put it into your safe and in the morning, Clem can take it back to the bank.”

“Yes, I should,” Ben agreed, but it was only when Paul rose that Ben heaved himself to his feet. He felt old. Keeping that disquieting thought to himself, Ben went back through to the great room.

The money was sitting where it had been left, on the round table by the foot of the stairs. Ben glanced at Joe first, then Hoss, before going over and putting the coins back into the bags. One by one, he carried them over to the desk, then knelt to open the safe. Thinking back, he remembered one of Shanklin’s men trying desperately to break into the safe and he wondered why Shanklin hadn’t asked for the safe to be opened.

Shanklin was such a mass of contradictions that Ben didn’t think he would ever be able to understand his motivations.  He had wanted $25,000 from Ben, yet didn’t want the money from the safe. Looking at the small pile of bills in there, Ben guessed that it was because he thought the currency might well be US paper dollars, not gold and silver coin.

Securing the money at last, Ben straightened wearily, feeling his joints popping. He turned round to see Paul leaning over Hoss and a momentary panic touched Ben’s heart. “Is something wrong?” he whispered, moving closer.

Smiling, Paul shook his head. “No. Look.” He gestured to Hoss, who turned his head and looked at Ben.

“Hi, Pa.” The big man’s voice was weary, but somehow stronger than it had been the last time he had spoken. His eyes looked brighter and his color had improved, although he was still pale from blood loss. But there was an air about him that suggested now that he would live – something Ben hadn’t been too sure of up until that point.

“Hi yourself,” Ben smiled. He cupped Hoss’ cheek in his hand and felt that the fever had gone down. “How do you feel?”

“I’m plumb wore out,” Hoss replied. “But it don’t hurt so much as it did.” He glanced around. “Where’s Joe? I thought I spoke ta him afore…” Hoss big blue eyes turned up to Ben, beseeching his father to tell him that Joe was all right.

“Joe’s sleeping,” Ben replied, steadily. “Which is what you ought to be doing, too.”

“Ya need ta git some sleep, too, Pa,” Hoss murmured in return, but obediently closed his eyes and drifted off.

Wearily, Ben sat down in the nearest seat and closed his eyes for a moment. He fell asleep at once.


“Ben!” The hand shook his shoulder again and reluctantly, Ben Cartwright opened his eyes. For an instant, he couldn’t remember why he was sleeping in a chair, but as he straightened his stiff limbs, his eyes fell on the shambles in the room and memory flooded back.

More awake now, but still feeling tired, Ben looked at Paul. “What is it?” he asked. “Joe? Hoss?”

“Joe’s still asleep,” Paul replied. There were dark circles under his eyes, testifying to his sleepless night. “But he’s pretty hot, Ben. It looks like there might be an infection started up. Hoss is awake. I thought it might be an idea to get him into his own bed. He’ll be more comfortable there.”

“We can’t carry him alone,” Ben replied. “I’ll go and get some of the men…”

Shaking his head, Paul put up a hand to stem the flow of words. “We need to get Hoss on his feet as soon as possible, Ben. Now is as good a time as any. Between us, we can manage. Then, when Joe wakes up, we can get him settled into his own bed, too.”

Quaking at the thought of causing his son pain, Ben protested, “I don’t know if their rooms are habitable.”

“Don’t worry, Hop Sing took care of that before he went off to bed.” Paul looked exasperated. “Come on, Ben, quite stalling. Yes, it’s going to be uncomfortable for Hoss to get up, but if we don’t get him moving now, it’ll be much harder later. And don’t tell me you like the room like this?”

Smiling at how well his old friend knew him, Ben got to his feet. “No, it’s not my first choice of furniture order,” he agreed. He followed Paul over to Hoss and smiled down at his middle son. “I hear you’re going to your own bed instead of taking up the table,” he teased.

“An’ right good it’ll be, too,” Hoss smiled. “This here table’s all right fer eatin’ off, but it ain’t so comfortable fer lying on.”

It took a bit of doing to get Hoss onto his feet, but once there, he limped carefully towards the stairs, leaning heavily on Ben and Paul. Given how much blood he had lost, Hoss felt remarkably good, but by the time he had reached his bed, he was exhausted. He managed to stay awake long enough to eat a plate of broth, then snuggled into his pillows contentedly and fell asleep again.

Back downstairs, Ben was surprised to see Jamie starting to put the room to rights again. Paul was sitting on the coffee table by Joe, listening to his heart. Ben smiled at Jamie and gave the youth a hug before going over to see Joe.

It was plain to anyone with eyes that Joe was very ill. His face was deathly pale and his breath came in gasps. Ben felt a renewed stab of worry. “Is it an infection?” he asked.

“Yes.” The one word answer was not the reassurance that Ben wanted.

“But why Joe?” he demanded. “Hoss had the bullet in him longer.” He blinked and realized what he’d said. “Not that I want Hoss to have an infection, but Ingram said last night that there was some gangrene in his leg.” He bit his lip, remembering Joe’s nasty brush with gangrene a couple of years before.

Knowing what Ben was thinking, Paul put his hand on his friend’s arm. “The gangrene in Hoss’ leg is gone, Ben,” he soothed. “It went when the artery was repaired and the blood started getting through again. Hoss is fine; you saw that for yourself. But the instruments that I used on Joe weren’t as clean as I would have liked. I had no choice but to use them, but I think that’s where the infection came from. I’m sorry, Ben.”

Looking at his friend’s contrite face, Ben forgave him without any hesitation. “It’s not your fault, Paul,” he assured him. “But… Is Joe going to be all right?”

“I hope so,” Paul sighed. “I’m doing everything I can.”


It took remarkably little time to set the room to rights again. Ben and Jamie worked steadily and quietly, so that they wouldn’t disturb Joe, but it seemed to Ben that every time he looked at his son, Joe was so deeply unconscious that he wouldn’t have wakened if they’d dropped everything.

After a time, there was little else to do but wait. Ben knew he would have to take the $25,000 back into town, but he couldn’t leave while Joe was so ill and there was no way he could entrust that amount of money to a youngster like Jamie. He took over bathing Joe’s head with cool water, allowing Paul some much-needed rest.  Ingram had roused from his drunken stupor and tottered outside earlier and hadn’t returned. Ben hadn’t spared him a single thought.

Hooves outside suddenly snapped them all to attention. Clem had taken Shanklin’s men into town, but he had been alone and it might just be that they were returning. Snatching up his holster, Ben drew his gun, noting that Jamie had a shotgun. He motioned the boy back as he rose, watching the door intently.

There was a brisk rat-tat-tat on the door which opened to show Clem Foster and the banker. They both looked rather startled to see Ben and Jamie so obviously on the defensive and froze in place for a second until the weapons were lowered.

“Everythin’ all right, Ben?” Clem asked.

Sighing and relaxing, Ben shrugged. “I suppose so,” he agreed, sitting down to tend to Joe once more.

Concerned at the fatigue he saw on Ben’s face, and wondering who was lying on the sofa, Clem exchanged a glance with the sleepy Paul Martin and walked across the room to look down on Joe. What he saw was not reassuring.

When Clem had first come to Virginia City as deputy to Roy Coffee, he and Joe had not got along particularly well. When Joe’s erstwhile girlfriend, Ann Wilson, had been raped and murdered, Joe had thought that Clem – alone since Roy was out of town – wasn’t doing a good enough job. Later, once everything had calmed down, Joe had apologized to Clem, but it had been a while before they really grew to be friendly.

But they were friends now and Clem was shocked to see how ill Joe looked. When he had last seen him the evening before, Joe had been bleeding, shot, wounded, but essentially all right. Clem was saddened by Joe’s decline but it wasn’t really a surprise to him. He had seen too many men laid low by gunshot wounds and knew that general good health before such an injury meant nothing. Infection was always a danger and killed a vast number of men. Clem just hoped that Joe wouldn’t be one of them.

“Is Richard out there?” Paul asked and received a nod in reply. He got to his feet and went outside to talk to his colleague.

“Ben, we came to take the money back to town,” Clem explained. “And to see how the boys were. Where’s Hoss?” As soon as the words left his mouth, Clem regretted asking. What if Hoss had died during the night?

“He’s upstairs, asleep,” Ben replied. “He’s much better, thanks.” He soaked the cloth he had in his hand in a basin of cold water and put it on Joe’s forehead, then rose. “I’ll get the money. It’ll be much safer back in the bank than here in my safe. I’m sure half the county knows what happened here last night.”

“Quite likely,” Clem agreed. He knew the gossip-spreading propensities of the neighborhood as well as Ben did. “How’re you doin’, Ben?”

“I’m all right,” Ben replied, kneeling wearily in front of the safe. In truth, he was exhausted, despite the sleep he had had. Once he knew that Joe was going to be all right, he would be fine, he knew. Until then, he was only going to shut his eyes when he had to.

“If ya need any help, jist holler,” Clem advised him, as he hefted the bags of coins that Ben handed to him.

“Thank you, I will.” Ben stood watching as Clem and the banker loaded the money onto a buckboard and then rode off cautiously. Now that the cash was gone, Ben was relieved to have it off his hands and he felt less tense.

As he turned to go back inside, Ben saw Paul and Ingram standing over by the corral. Paul was talking and Ingram was listening and Ben guessed that Paul was ending the partnership. Ben had wondered how long it would last when he saw the new shingle outside the office. He had known for many years that Paul’s never-used first name began with a ‘J’, but until the shingle went up, he had never discovered what that name was. Ben could see nothing wrong with the name Joshua, but clearly Paul didn’t agree with him. It was something that Ben would keep in his memory to tease his friend with on a later date. But not now. However Paul and Ingram’s partnership ended, Ben had more important worries – Joe and Hoss. Turning, he went back into the house.


Lunch appeared and was eaten and still Joe writhed in fever’s grip. Ingram had gone back to town to cover anything that arose there. Paul had elected to stay on the ranch until such times as he knew how Joe was going to be. He dozed in Ben’s red leather chair, rousing every now and then to check on Joe, administer the quinine he was hoping would break the young man’s fever and going up to check on Hoss.

The only plus was that Hoss was making a good recovery. He was still weak from blood loss and would be for some time to come, but he was already sitting up and eating well. The most difficult time for Hoss would come when he was getting back onto his feet. The damage to his leg was fairly extensive and Hoss was no light weight. The muscles would need a lot of work before they were back to normal. Hoss might never lose his limp.

“Why don’t you go and sit with Hoss?” Paul suggested, meeting Jamie lingering at the foot of the stairs. “He’s awake and could use the company.” He patted Jamie on the shoulder. “Take the checkers board and let him win a game or two.”

“All right,” Jamie agreed, but his tone was listless and he moved slowly as he found the gaming board and started climbing the stairs. He paused at the top and looked down and Paul knew that he was another who would suffer badly if Joe died.

If Joe died. It was the first time Paul had allowed himself to think that. He had known at the time that he was taking a risk using dirty instruments. Unlike many of his profession, Paul firmly believed in the relationship between dirt and infection. But needs must when the devil drives, and Paul had had to operate, or Joe would have bled to death. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Paul thought. He grimaced and tried to shake the gloomy thoughts from his head. But they, like the guilt, refused to leave.


Night time came again. Joe still fought, but his struggles seemed to be getting weaker. He had taken water regularly from Ben, but in his stupor, they had been unable to get anything nourishing into him. Now, he no longer moaned or thrashed about. His face was deathly pale, his features waxen, his skin clammy and burning to the touch.  As Joe deteriorated, Ben also went down hill, his eyes becoming sunken, the lines around his mouth deepening. He had not been talkative all that day, but he was completely unforthcoming now.

Paul knew that the loss of any of his sons would be a blow that Ben would be hard pushed to recover from. But there was a special bond between Joe and Ben, one that no one could deny. It wasn’t that Ben played favorites with Joe, for he treated all his sons fairly and equitably – some even said he was too fair, in that Adam still stood in line to inherit a share of the Ponderosa, when he had been gone for years. But there was just something about the relationship between Ben and Joe that lifted it out of the ordinary. Paul had seen evidence of it many times over the years as he treated Joe for this illness or that injury, but he still didn’t know quite what made that difference. If Joe should die, Ben might never recover. For that matter, Joe’s death would leave Hoss and Jamie utterly devastated. Would any of them recover, should Joe die?

Lifting his head, Paul saw Ben’s anxious face only inches away from his. “Ben, we need to pack Joe in ice,” he told him. “We’ve got to get his temperature down. If we don’t, he might have seizures.”

“I’ll get the ice.” Fear shortening his breath, Ben went into the kitchen, grabbed a bucket and the ice axe and hurried off to the spring house.  Paul, meanwhile, stripped the blankets off Joe and removed what was left of his clothing. The sweat glistened on Joe’s naked body, highlighting his impressive musculature. Grabbing the sheet, Paul took it into the kitchen and soaked it in cold water.

Packing the ice around Joe’s body, Paul took especial care to make sure there was some put into his arm pits and around his groin, two areas where the ice would work even more quickly. Then he placed the soaked sheet over Joe and tucked it in firmly.

As the cold hit his fevered body, Joe let out a great shout. His back arched as he bucked, trying to rid himself of the painful, penetrating cold that seemed to burn hotter than the fever did. This was the most dangerous moment, Paul knew. This was the moment when the shock of the cold could stop the heart. He held his breath, crossed his fingers and prayed as hard as he could.

Up and up Joe’s back arched until Ben was forced to reach out and hold him down so that he wouldn’t tumble off the sofa. “Easy, son, easy,” Ben whispered, his heart rising to choke him as he finally faced the prospect of losing his son.

Abruptly, shockingly, Joe’s eyes sprang open, but there was no recognition in those fevered depths. In fact, Joe’s green eyes seemed to be blind as he looked through his father and let out another inarticulate shout. He twitched once, then collapsed limply to the sofa, unmoving, his head dangling grotesquely off the side.

“Joe!” Ben’s eyes filled with tears as he groped for Joe’s pulse, sure he had just seen his son breathe his last. “Joe.”

Other fingers were there before him, resting on Joe’s exposed throat. Ben could only stare at them, wondering whom they belonged to. It wasn’t until the fingers gripped his arm painfully tightly that Ben was able to move his stricken gaze from his son’s body and face Paul Martin. Paul’s lips were moving, but Ben couldn’t hear what he was saying.

Trying to swallow down the lump in his throat, Ben forced his ears to work and then wondered if he could believe what he heard. “He’s alive, Ben! Alive!”

“Alive?” Ben echoed, still unwilling to believe, lest the doctor be wrong in his diagnosis.

Realizing that Ben was in shock, Paul grabbed his hand and guided them towards Joe’s throat. The pulse beat was actually visible at the base of his throat, but Ben was too shocked to notice that. But the reassuring beat throbbing under his fingers, steadying down to a regular rhythm, brought Ben to overflowing tears.

For a time, it was all Ben could do just to sit there and hold Joe’s hand. But he was made of stern stuff and soon gathered himself together, ready to face the next challenge thrown at him, whatever it might be.

Sensing the change, Paul put a hand on his shoulder. “Let’s get Joe upstairs to a dry bed, shall we?” he suggested. Hop Sing had the room aired and the bed turned down and ready.

Stripping off the wet, clammy sheet, Ben brushed the melting ice onto the floor and gathered his son into his arms. Joe was no longer the skinny kid of Ben’s memory, but he was still light enough that Ben could carry him with little trouble.

Standing, he met Paul’s gaze. “Lead the way,” he ordered.


Opening his eyes, Joe looked around his bedroom with surprise. This wasn’t where he last remembered being and he frowned. How…? Joe tried to sit up, but discovered two things; that he was too weak and his right side hurt. He let out a grunt of mingled pain and disgust.

“Easy, Joe, just take it easy,” Ben soothed, leaning into Joe’s line of sight and putting a big warm hand onto Joe’s chest. “Don’t try to move about too much. You’ve had a hard time of it and you’re not quite out of the woods yet.”

“Pa?” Joe breathed and wondered at how raspy his voice was. His mouth was dry and he licked his lips, trying to find some moisture. “What…?”

Sliding his hand under Joe’s shoulders enough to lift his head off the pillows slightly, Ben tilted a glass towards Joe’s mouth. Joe wanted to gulp the water down all at once, but he was too weak. So he sipped instead, holding the marvelous liquid inside his mouth for several seconds before swallowing. It tasted great.

When at length Joe was finished drinking, Ben put the glass aside and picked up a cloth, which he used to wipe Joe’s face. That his son was exhausted was clear to see. Ben smiled at him. “How do you feel?”

“So… weak,” Joe replied, sounding puzzled. “What happened… to me? I remember being downstairs…” Joe frowned again as he tried to piece his memory together. “Hoss! How’s Hoss?” Joe tried to sit up again, but once more failed, the pain shooting across his chest. Joe tried to lift his right hand to touch the sore spot, but his right arm wouldn’t move. “What?”

Seeing that Joe was getting upset, Ben put his hand on Joe’s arm and began to rub his thumb in small circles. “Easy, Joe. Let me explain. Hoss is fine. He’s sitting up and eating well. His leg is healing nicely. Now, as for you.” Ben fixed him with a mock glare. “What do you think you’re doing, scaring me like that?  Getting shot and refusing the doctor? Getting a nasty infection? Being so ill and then sleeping for another two days straight? Joe Cartwright, no wonder I’ve got grey hair!”

“I remember being shot,” Joe replied, his eyes wide. He lifted his head slightly and squinted down at himself, but his body was hidden beneath the blankets. “But I don’t remember the rest.” He frowned as he once more tried to raise his right arm, and failed. He winced as pain once more flashed across his chest.

“Let me explain.” Ben lifted the covers so that Joe could see down the length of his nude body. His chest was wrapped in bandages and his right arm was carefully bandaged to his side. “The way the bullet went, inside your chest, it ended up chipping a bit off your rib.” Ben lightly touched Joe’s chest. “The wound got infected, Joe and for a while, we didn’t think you were going to pull through. You lost a lot of blood.”

“Did I hurt my arm?” Joe asked, still confused.

“No.” Tucking the covers over Joe again, Ben smoothed them down. “You were so restless during the night that we packed you in ice. When we brought you upstairs, you were bleeding again, having torn the stitches. So Paul decided that the best way to stop it happening again was to bandage your arm down.”

“I don’t remember any of this,” Joe said, flatly. He dropped his head down, exhausted by that small effort.

“Well, no, you wouldn’t,” Ben remarked. “You see, you went off to sleep, Joe and although we’ve fed you regularly and you’ve been mighty cooperative in other ways,” a blush rose in Joe’s cheeks as he realized what Ben meant, “we just haven’t been able to waken you completely.”

“How long since I was shot?” Joe asked, trying to get his head around what had happened.

“Three days. If you count the night you were shot, this is the fourth night.” The teasing was gone now. Ben’s sober tone and somber face told Joe exactly what his father had been going through while he slept seemingly endlessly.

“I’m sorry, Pa,” Joe muttered. “You’ve had enough to do with Hoss being laid up without me copying him.”

“You’ve nothing to be sorry for,” Ben chided him. “It wasn’t your fault.” He didn’t want to admit to Joe that he had barely closed his eyes for the last few days, still terrified that Joe somehow would slip away from them if Ben wasn’t watching over him personally. Hoss had also needed a lot of help, although he was fast regaining his strength now.

“Still,” Joe persisted. “I know how tough it is when one of us is stuck in bed without both of us being ill. Are you all right?”

“I’m fine, thank you and your little brother has been a great help.” Ben smiled. “How about I get you something solid to eat and see how you feel after that? The doctor should be out later.”

“All right,” Joe agreed slowly, although he wasn’t sure he was that hungry.

However, when the smell of scrambled eggs and newly ground coffee wafted in through the door, Joe’s stomach gave a healthy rumble of hunger. He made a vain attempt to sit up by himself, but given that one arm was strapped down and he was as weak as a kitten, he didn’t get very far.

Ben helped Joe sit up as Hop Sing arranged a tray on his lap and Jamie came in to visit while Joe ate. The only person missing was Hoss – Joe had long ago schooled himself not to think of Adam at these times – but Joe knew that his older brother was making progress and they would see each other soon.

As Joe ate, Ben brought him up to date on what had been happening. “Clem took the money back to the bank the next day,” he began. “He had those men you’d tied up in his jail, although there had been some excitement in getting them there in the first place, I hear. Apparently, from the stories they’ve been telling Clem, they’ve done this sort of thing quite regularly. They come to an area, find out who the richest men are and take them for a lot of money. We’ve been lucky, Joe; they’ve killed hostages before now.”

“We were lucky,” Joe agreed, thinking back to Hoss lying so still and pale on the table. “Did they really think they could revive the Confederacy?”

“They really did,” Ben replied.

“But… the war’s been over for years,” Jamie blurted.

“Not in Shanklin’s mind and he had convinced his followers that it could happen.” Ben quickly sketched in the details that Shanklin had confided to him about the death of his wife and child. “I think that warped his mind forever,” he concluded sadly. In a way, he could understand it; in another way, it was a totally alien concept to him. He just hoped and prayed that his sons would never have to face that kind of situation.

“But we survived,” Joe said, quietly.

“Yes, we survived,” Ben agreed.


Over the course of the next few weeks, both Joe and Hoss gradually regained their strength, but they would never forget Shanklin and his men.




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Author: Rona

The redheaded half of the Giggly Sisters, she lives in the Scottish Borders.

5 thoughts on “Resolution from Despair (by Rona)

  1. Good wrap up to the episode. I always wondered why nothing much was made of Joe’s injury in the show.

  2. This was good. Glad we got the Joshua name thing cleared up. Joe managed to dodge the man with the sickle once again.

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