Steve Braunias: The Secret Western of … Doc Shane

MONDAY

It was high noon when the Collins Gang pulled into Dodge City. Whitey Collins, the leader, arrived in a mirrored stagecoach. It allowed her to see her reflection when she travelled.

The rest of the gang limped into town on foot, some on crutches, two shared a mule and Big Bad Gerry sat atop a jackass. It brayed. “Was that the jackass,” people wondered, “or Big Bad Gerry?”

They walked into the saloon and took their places at the bar. “Set ’em up,” said Whitey, and the barkeep poured a row of shots. Some of the gang politely inquired whether the barkeep could make a chai latte and there was an order for wagyu beef with creme fraiche, celeriac, black garlic, daikon and toasted nasturtium.

“Hell,” spat the barkeep, “the Ardern Gang were in here yesterday and that’s what they ordered, too. You darn gangs are all the same.”

Whitey told him to shut it. She stepped on to a portable stage she carried with her everywhere she went and addressed the gang. “I need a deputy,” she said. “A deputy who the townsfolk can take seriously.”

A jackass brayed – or it might have been Big Bad Gerry. Either way, Whitey ignored it and continued, “A deputy who knows to keep the attention on me at all times.”

Ringo Bridges moseyed over to the piano and struck up a wildly entertaining honky-tonk.

“A deputy,” Whitey shouted over the racket, “who will make me look good.”

A man began to make his way to the stage. Whitey saw him and smiled. “Let him through,” she said. “He’s a doctor.”

TUESDAY

Doc Shane was a slow and meticulous man, so slow and meticulous that it took him until the next day to make his way to the stage.

By the time he got there, Whitey was exhausted and said, “You’ll do.”

WEDNESDAY

As the newly sworn deputy, Doc Shane was tasked with taking the pulse of the Collins Gang.

He scrubbed his hands. He ironed his white surgical coat. He polished his golden stethoscope, which he’d been awarded when he rode with the Harvard School of Medicine Gang.

Then he took a shower and afterwards he thought slow and meticulous thoughts.

“I am ready,” he said finally, “to see my first patient.”

But it was midnight and the Collins Gang were fast asleep. They had nothing to do all day and that was very tiring.

THURSDAY

One by one, Doc Shane took the pulse of the Collins Gang.

Tumbleweeds blew down the deserted main street. In the saloon, a cat named Mittens lay on the bar, its eyes fixed on a dusty old photograph on the wall of Sheriff Key. The hands of a grandfather clock thumped forward, minute by minute.

Upstairs in the attic, Whitey Collins sat on her rocking chair, stroked the hair of her dolly, Miss Judith, and sang to it.

FRIDAY

Doc Shane climbed the stairs of the saloon to the attic. He knocked on the door.

“Come in,” said Whitey.

She pointed to a chair. He sat down.

“Tell me your results, Doc,” said Whitey.

He studied his charts. And then he said, “Not one of them has a pulse.”

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