Western Short Story
When Cal Cutter got his doc’s degree from Massachusetts School of Advanced Medicine, he’d already extracted a number of bullet slugs from buddies who lived in his life-long Charlestown neighborhood. He was as fast with pencil and pen, and relevant answers, as
his gun-toting neighbors were with their weapons, as prevalent as the western clime out and beyond that he often dreamed about, expressly loving the western tales that came his way in knock-down, slug-it-out Charlestown near the Navy Yard, directly across from the end of Bunker Hill Ave where he lived, in the last building on the avenue, or the first, to put it another way or look either way.
More than once, though he couldn’t recall how many times, he’d been commandeered at the point of a pistol to follow someone to someone with a slug to be removed, provided that the injured party was live and breathing; otherwise, that lost soul might be dropped into the Mystic River or left in an alley for hungry rats. It was as some survivors repeated to close friends, “Doc Cutter, the Gun Doctor, saved my ass.”
It became evident to Cal that along the line, a failure of his rudimentary slug removal procedure would insure his own death at the hands of a disgusted caller for help. He discussed life possibilities with his mother whose husband was long-dead of a gang shooting in broad daylight. “Get away from here, Cal, my boy, far away, someplace where they’ll love what you can do with the tools of the trade, and not with a gun, which I’d bet is no longer foreign to you.”
She was a heck of a lot smarter than she pretended to be.
She interrupted her own delivery with a broad smile, adding, “Go west, Cal, go west, is what lots of mothers are saying to their young here in Charlestown. But take it from me, you’ll have to do it on the sly. Don’t let a soul see you make your getaway,” unable to depart from the language.
In the darkest hour of the night, with a small bit of tool baggage, some few dollars stuck in his pockets, he came into places he’d never been, and found himself in Worcester after a few rides. More rides from chivalrous and kind folks in the oddest list of transport, usually horse and wagon and he was clear of Massachusetts and in Pennsylvania, a place he never dreamed of entering. It was in Pennsylvania where he snagged a ride in a freight car heading westerly.
During a series of unpaid rides, generally found via freighters, he was more than halfway across the country.
In two weeks of travel on various methods, he was in Wyoming and volunteering to help a young man shot in a duel in the middle of the street. Cal made sure his few tools were not identified by anybody in the back end of a barbershop. For all practical purposes, he was in “home territory” and knew he was where he was needed; and it was the area where he was first called “The Gun Doctor.” He’d love to send a letter to his mother, but she had forbidden him for doing so: “I won’t be here much longer, Cal, so do your thing and know I’ll pray for you every night I’m able.”
He remembered her last hug most of his days.
The reputation and the name began to follow him, as “requests for help” came with plea as well as demand, and, of course, involved added travel.
The Gun Doctor was on the move further west.
Two months of travel and various stops brought him to Kilo City in Colorado where bullets had been flying in a dispute between ranchers, with injuries galore and a few casualties; but he was in business again, on two calls the very day of arrival and an unknown acquaintance speaking out about The Gun Doctor being real handy.
Burt Batchelder, his first customer in Kilo City and an immediate survivor, said, “It’s a good thing you came along, Doc, or there’d be planting me under green grass by now. What brought you here?”
“My mother sent me from Boston.”
“She must have been talking to my mother. Some days she’s saying nothing but, ‘Someday! Someday! Believe me, someday.’”
They laughed at the image of two mothers crossed in a gun shooting. Batchelder said, “They’ll meet someday upstairs, one thanking the other,” and he pointed overhead as a shot rang out so near that neither one jumped in alarm but shrugged their common indifference, and Blanchard added, “You’re on call, Doc. Glad as Hell it ain’t me again, Do you get tired of it, Doc?” He sounded too tired to be well again, or at least saved, or ride again for that matter.
Two horsemen came around the corner leading a third horse with a rider draped across the saddle.
“Hey, Doc,” a man yelled as the other slid the figure off the horse, “Gus Brown’s been shot and you gotta fix him. Supposed to get married next week.” He trained a pistol on Doc, saying, Get your ass movin’, Doc. He might not have much time. He’s real hurtin’ down low and you gotta fix him here and now.”
He waved the gun again.
Doc said, “Who shot him?”
“I did, but he’s my brother, and works the other ranch, but he’s gonna get married. My mother’ll shoot me if she finds out.”
Doc said, “Might be the truest thing I’ve heard all day.”
“This ain’t no time to be a smart-ass, Doc.”
“Like I said,” Doc muttered, “might be the Good Lord’s truth. Best roll him off the saddle and drop him right here. We ain’t got much time.!” He was already using their language, he thought. Might as well stick with it.
“Right here, in the middle of the street?”
“If you want to save him.”
“But all the dirt and dust?” There was a real question in there someplace, Doc thought.
“Nothin’ like a slug when you’re talkin’ dirt and road dust, Nothin’ like it!” He had his long rod and prongs in hand and a strange look on his face. It was his Charlestown face that none of them knew, especially one brother who had just shot his own brother.
The next request for quick doctoring, though it was a long ride off, was to help a man about 25 miles away, with a slug in his thigh, just about crippling him, but the Doc refused the task. “You want me to ride 50 miles to secure or extract a bullet and leave a whole town without a doctor. That’s just plain hogwash, mister. Wouldn’t ever think of doing so. No, siree, not leave a bunch behind for a single grape. No way.”
“What if I pull a gun on you, would you go then?”
“If you did that, mister, there’d be nobody here to get after any of the ten slugs the folks here would put into your frail frame, dime on a dollar.”
“Impossibility,” as some folks say, “has a way of creating its own legends, and that’s about as far as talk gets you.”