ed_schieffelin_in_tombstone_year_1880It’s afternoon when I ride into Tombstone. It feels like a lifetime has gone by since I was last here, but the town looks the same. Dust, sagging, unpainted buildings, signs creaking in the wind.
Maybe it was a lifetime. A lot happened after we left here. Getting chased by the Scalphunters, captured by Kosterlitzky, blowing up the General’s hacienda. And let’s not forget Totec’s temple. Was that thing really a god? I hope I never find out.
I’m broke, so I don’t head for the OK Corral. Nor do I head for the boarding house where I first ran into the Clantons and the McLaurys. Instead I mosey on down the main street, trying not to draw too much attention, but keeping my eyes peeled for Doc Holliday.
I told Doc I’d come back and catch him up on what happened. But I’m a little worried about the Earps, Wyatt especially. I helped him and his brothers out of a tight spot, but I’m still a wanted man and he’s a marshal. Those two things go together about as good as a polecat and a possum.
To my surprise, it’s easy to find Doc.
He’s coming out of the saloon, a bottle in one hand and a glass in the other. He’s wearing his usual, long, black coat over a black waistcoat and a white shirt. He’s got on a skinny bow tie and his pearl-handled revolver is tied down. He holds the door open. “Put it right over there, boys.” He points to a spot on the saloon’s wooden porch.
Two men come out carrying a table. Right behind them is a man sporting suspenders and a bright red shirt. He’s hugely fat, easily the fattest man I’ve ever seen, and I’m immediately fascinated by him. I’ve hardly ever even seen a fat person and none while growing up in Pa-Gotzin-Kay, the hidden stronghold where my clan lives. There was never enough food to get fat.
The fat man storms over to Doc. “What are you doing? You can’t take my table outside!”
“Too late,” Doc says cheerfully. “I already did.”
“I won’t allow it,” the fat man bellows. To the two who carried the table he says, “You take it back inside right this minute!”
The two men look from him to Doc. Doc doesn’t say anything, just shakes his head. “Sorry, Ralph,” one of them says, and they both scurry off, leaving the table where it is.
The door opens again and a man comes out carrying a chair.
“My chair,” Doc says. “Right on time.”
“It’s not your chair!” Ralph bellows. “No furniture is to leave the establishment.”
“But it hasn’t left,” Doc says calmly, taking a seat and setting bottle and glass down on the table. “This fine porch here belongs to you, doesn’t it?”
“That’s not what I mean.” Ralph’s extra chin wobbles with every movement of his head. I wonder what he ate to get so fat. I wonder if it took him a long time.
“Don’t get so worked up, Ralph,” Doc says. “It’s bad for your health. Take it from me. I’m a doctor.”
“You’re not a doctor, you’re a dentist.”
“Aren’t they the same thing?”
“Not at all. You wouldn’t know what to do if a man came to you with the yellow fever, or a bullet in his leg, would you?”
“Sure I would,” Doc says reasonably. “I’d look at all his teeth very carefully, and I’d pull any that looked like they were going septic.” For a moment Ralph can only stare at him, his eyes bulging, his cheeks getting redder. I wonder if he’s going to explode on the spot.
“Be reasonable, Ralph. It’s hot in your saloon. So hot I was considering skipping my afternoon whiskey and retiring to my room for a nap. And, lest you forget, I don’t spend money while I’m napping.”
That reels Ralph right back in. I can see him working over this new bit of evidence he hadn’t considered before.
“It’s much more pleasant out here,” Doc continues. “Especially with the shade from the fine roof you erected over this fine porch.” It’s not a fine roof. The boards are warped so bad they’re curled up like spider legs in a fire. But it does offer at least some shade from the hot sun.
“Go on back inside and tend to your fine establishment. I promise I won’t take the table anywhere. Hell, I might even bring it back inside when I’m done with it.”
Ralph mutters something and storms back inside.
“Still making friends, I see,” I say.
Doc looks up and sees me sitting there on Coyote. His face lights up in a big smile. “Hot damn! If it isn’t my amigo Ace!” He’s loud and some people walking by on the street turn and look at us.
“Good to see you too, Doc.”
He looks Coyote over and his smile fades away. “Did you fall on hard times, then?”
“What makes you say that?”
“I think that’s the ugliest horse I’ve ever seen.”
I want to deny it, but he’s right. Coyote is ugly. Except not to me. “You’re just saying that because you can’t see Coyote’s heart,” I tell Doc. “If you could see that, you’d know he’s the handsomest horse that ever lived.” I lean forward so I can whisper in Coyote’s ear.
“Don’t let it bother you, brother. He doesn’t know any better.”
Doc looks skeptical, but he says, “Well, climb on down off your handsome horse then and set a spell with me, won’t you.”
“I believe I will.”
“I’ll go get you a chair and a glass.”
Doc disappears into the saloon and I get down and loop Coyote’s reins loosely over the hitching rail. There’s already another horse at the rail, a big, roan gelding. The roan flattens his ears, making sure Coyote knows this is his hitching rail and Coyote better mind his place.
He doesn’t know how wrong he is.
Before I can stop him, Coyote lunges at him and bites him hard on the neck. The roan whinnies and side hops as far as his reins will allow, the whites of his eyes showing. As a big horse, he’s probably used to pushing other horses around with no trouble. What he doesn’t know is that being big just makes Coyote hate him even more.
I take hold of Coyote’s bridle before he gets carried away and starts seriously stomping the gelding. “Take it easy on him, Coyote. He doesn’t know any better and I don’t feel like fighting his owner right now.” Coyote flares his nostrils at me. “I mean it, Coyote. Not right now.”
He shakes his head out of my grip, but he doesn’t go after the gelding again. The gelding meanwhile has moved as far down the hitching rail as he can and is watching Coyote like a mouse watching a snake.
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