The saloon was open and busy and loud. West paid for a full bottle of rotgut and took it to an empty table next to a wall and sat with his back to the corner. He started drinking and didn’t plan on stopping. He was gonna drink until he was as blitzed as Dr. Bill always was.
Speaking of which, the doctor was a few tables over, staring forlornly into an empty shot glass. Molly brought him another quarter bottle of whiskey and he smiled up at her and patted her hand.
Cooper Holtz saw it and bulled his way across the crowded room to the doctor’s table.
“What the hell y’thinking touching my girl?” Cooper demanded. He sounded near ways as blitzed as the doctor, who was squinting up at Cooper like he wasn’t even sure there was anybody there.
When the doctor made no answer, Cooper pulled his six gun and pointed it right at his forehead.
“Y’hear me? Y’deaf? I said why you touching my girl?”
“Hey, Molly.” West called, loud enough to be heard quite a distance. “Y c’mere a minute?”
Clearly apprehensive, Molly walked over to West. Cooper suddenly forgot that Dr. Bill ever existed and pounded over to West, gun still drawn. West stood up and tucked his coat behind his holster.
Not as stupid as he was drunk, Cooper hesitated.
“Don’t like fellas messing with my girl.” He mumbled.
“I don’t like bullies messing with folks can’t fight back.” West said. He slowly but obviously put his hand on his gun.
Cooper waved his gun, emphasizing that it was already unholstered.
“You ain’t that fast.”
“I also ain’t that drunk.”
“I ain’t killed somebody in a while,” West said, still casually. “It’s getting so I ain’t feeling particular. But I’m thinking a faceful of daylight’s gonna sit better on you than a faceful of lead.”
After considering that for a drunken minute, Cooper holstered his gun with a snort of annoyance then slammed his way through the room and out of the saloon door.
Molly smiled West her thanks and got back to serving the customers.
West sank back into his chair and poured himself another shot of whiskey. Doctor Bill gazed at West a while and then called over, sadly,
“Shoulda let him shoot me.”
West tipped his head back and sighed. Some days, no matter what, a man just couldn’t win.
He sat up fast when he heard one of the other chairs at the table scrape back, but it was Tom sitting across the table from him.
“Cooper just gave me an earful.” Tom said. “Said you drew down on him and threatened to blow him to hell and he didn’t do anything at all.”
“He was bothering Doctor Bill,” West mumbled. He tossed back his shot of whiskey. “I suggested he move along, is all.”
West capped the bottle of whiskey and stood up. He slid his saddlebags over his shoulder. It hit the wound in his back and he tried not to wince at the pain.
“You can have the rest of that if you want it.” He said, pushing the bottle of whiskey at Tom.
“Where you going?”
“Wherever I dad-blamed please.”
He turned and walked out of the saloon and dad-blamed if Tom didn’t up and follow along right behind. West growled in aggravation and turned on Tom.
“How’s your shoulder?” Tom asked. He’d brought the bottle of whiskey with him.
“Those bandages likely need changing.”
West turned and kept walking.
“I can look to it.”
“Yeah? You grown that third arm outta your spine, did you?” Tom asked, keeping pace with West.
“Ain’t like I never took care a’myself. Ain’t alive ‘cause I’m stupid, you know.”
“I know you ain’t stupid. That’s why you know that wound needs proper looking at.”
“Had worse” West said.
“What kinda worse are we talking about?”
West shook his head and kept walking.
“You don’t wanna know.”
“Yeah, I do wanna know.”
“Then I don’t want you to know, all right?” West snapped, but Tom just wouldn’t let up.
“You gonna let me change those bandages now, or you expecting I’m gonna nursemaid you through gangrene later on?”
West heaved a sigh.
“You can change the bandages.”
Tom considered it a major victory that West was letting him come along to check his wound and change the bandages. West was skittish, he always had been the two years Tom had known him. When they first met, it’d taken Tom a few months of one sided conversations and careful observations before he best figured out how to wrangle himself into West’s trust.
Even now, even two years on, there were times it only seemed to be the edges of West’s trust and not the meat of it that Tom had earned.
They got to the shack. West unlocked the door and they went inside.
“Take a seat, where’s the bandages?” Tom asked.
“Top drawer of the bureau.”
Tom scouted them out of the drawer while West shucked his coat and shirt and undershirt. The soap was there and a basinful of fresh water.
Under the bandages, the wound was starting to look angry. Red, puffed at the edges. The sight of the scars over West’s back didn’t look any less horrible.
“This ain’t looking so good.” Tom said. “Looks infected. I’m gonna have to scrub it out.”
He scrubbed it out with soap and water on the scrap of towel and finished up by pouring a good measure of whiskey over it. West pulled a sharp breath in through his nose at that, but otherwise didn’t react.
Tom patted West’s shoulder dry of the whiskey and then bandaged him.
“I’ll bring you more clean bandages later today. These were the last of ‘em in your bureau.”
West didn’t say anything to that. He stood up and pulled his shirts and jacket on again. He kept his back to Tom
“I gotta go see my horse. I owe him some sugar.”
Tom wanted to ask more about West’s scars, but he knew from his own past that a man would only talk about what he’d talk about, and no use trying to force anything else. Especially West. He could stay silent longer than the Good Lord in a drought.
Tom bundled up the used bandages and started to walk past West, but West put a hand out to stop him. He started to say something and for a minute. But then he didn’t say anything at all and they left the shack.
“Headed over to the livery?” Tom asked. “Where y’going after that? Still aiming to ride out after your Pa?”
“I gotta find him. I gotta know whose hand’s been on that knife.”
“C’mon over to the jail then, after you’re done spoiling that mule a’yours rotten. Write down the names you know your Pa goes by. We’ll get started finding his trail.”
“It ain’t gonna be that easy. It ain’t never been that easy.”
“There’s three of us, now.” Tom said. “There ain’t an easy ever been made can stand against that.”
“You do know that makes no sense.”
“What is it with you and everything needing to make sense? If I wanted to talk to somebody likes to argue, I’d argue with my wife.”
“Y’lose as many arguments with her as you do with me?” West asked, testily.
“More actually.” Tom admitted with a grin. “C’mon to the jail when you’re done. I’ll make sure the coffee’s fresh.”