Short Story Fiction
Too Close for Comfort
Scott A. Gese


A stray bullet put an end to what would have been a fun evening.

too close for comfortDerwiki/Pixabay

“Get him up here on the table boys,” ordered Doc Colby

The two young cowboys carefully lifted their friend onto the table.

“How is he doc? How bad is it? Will he be alright?”

Out of all the hands working for the ‘Bar Zero Ranch’, it could be said that Eldon was the most excitable. A highly strung kid who, when nervous or found himself in a tight fix would run off at the mouth. He would keep up a steady stream of chatter until someone threatened to plug it up with a fistful of knuckles. The threat only added fuel to his already vigorous anxiety. He wasn’t much of a fighter by any standard. What he did have was the incredible gift of gab.

Most of the time he could talk his way out of anything. It was said he could talk the spots off an appaloosa if given half a chance. His mouth had saved his hide on more than one occasion.

“How the heck do I know!” answered the irritated Doc. “Why don’t you boys give me some breathin’ room here and stand aside so that Sara can help me. In fact, what I really need is for the two of you to get out … now!”

“Jeez, Doc, we never meant to be any trouble,” one of the boy’s responded apologetically. “We’re just worried about him is all.”

“I understand boys,” the Doc growled through gritted teeth as he shifted his frustrated gaze from the young men to their wounded friend stretched out on the table. “But you two standing over him ain’t helping any.”

“C’mon, Eldon, let the Doc do his job,” the other said. He calmly ushered his friend towards the door allowing Sara, the Doc’s wife to assist.

As soon as the two young cowboys’ had left the room, Doc Colby quickly went to work. “Let’s get this shirt off of him, Sara. We need to see what we’ve got under there.”

Doc Colby was a short, spry, white-haired, clean-cut gentleman. Unlike most of the local buckaroos with their darkened, dried-out leathery skin, he had a somewhat fresh complexion. Most folk would say he didn’t look a day over fifty. But in truth, he was well into his seventies.

The Doc had moved here from back east several years ago. He had grown tired of the highbrows of the Boston society in-crowd. When the opportunity to move west presented itself, he didn’t have to think twice. He took full advantage of it He grabbed it by both hands and ended up here in Arizona.

It would be quite a challenge for anyone moving from the east coast city life to a small knit community here in the dry heat of the desert. But the Doc loved it. He took it in his stride. He quickly adapted to the more relaxed small town way of life. It didn’t take him long to settle in and be accepted. He even married Sara, his assistant. She was a local girl who was well thought of by all.

When it came to fishing lead out of a bullet hole, Doc Colby was highly regarded. He was considered somewhat of a miracle worker around these parts. Rumor had it he was so good he could almost raise the dead. But to be truthful, it was just a lot of talk. He really hadn’t quite figured out how to revive a dead man and doubted he ever would.

On this particular occasion with their friends life hanging by a thread, that wasn’t something you could convince the boys at the Bar Zero of. They seen him bring a dead man back to life… or so they say.

Silas, the man on Doc Colby’s table wasn’t quite riding that lonesome trail in the sky just yet. Although he was heading in that direction at a pretty quick lope. The two boys who’d brought him to the Doc had seen plenty of blood spill from the deep wound in Silas’ chest. Made by a slug from a Colt .45.

They were disturbed by the amount of blood they’d seen flow.

~~~~

How did it come to this? As it happened, the three Bar Zero boys were in town for their regular Saturday night game of cards and a couple of drinks at the Red Dog Saloon. As they walked down the boardwalk they chided each other about how the first one through the door got first chance with the ladies. Silas managed to out step Morgan at the last second to be the first of the three inside. As he swung open the batwings and stepped into the room, he found himself in the middle of a drunken brawl.

A man named Cole Petty from the Lazy B had accused one of the ranch-hands from the Rocking M of cheating at cards. The Rocking M boys didn’t take too kindly to one of their own being accused of cheating. They stood shoulder to shoulder with their friend as they snarled obscenities at his accusers. Their intent was clear.

Even though the boys from the Lazy B were outnumbered, they weren’t going to let a little thing like that get in their way.

They decided the most effective thing they could do was to take an offensive posture. When they did, cussing, bottles and chairs began to fly. It was quickly followed by fists and spurs. It didn’t take long before the whole room was in an uproar. Even innocent bystanders running for cover were dragged into the brawl.

In the heat of the moment, Cole Petty pulled his gun and leveled it at the fella he’d accused of cheating. In his wild-drunken state he foolishly pulled back the hammer of the gun. As he squeezed the trigger a bottle came hurling across the room and hit him on the wrist. The jolt sent the bullet wide as it missed its intended target. It was at this point the three Bar Zero boys were entering the saloon.

The stray .45 bullet drilled deep into the chest of Silas Walker as he pushed open the batwings. The impact sent him reeling back out through doorway and into the path of his two friends. All three tumbled off the sidewalk and into the dust.

Morgan a little dazed, got to his feet,brushed himself off and held out his hand to Eldon. “Here, let me help you up.” Eldon took hold of Morgan’s hand and clambered to his feet. “Ain’t it just our luck to walk into the room in the middle of a barroom brawl. That must have been some punch Silas took for him to crash into us as hard as he did.” He crouched and gave a tug on Silas’ arm. “C’mon, sleepyhead … time to get movin’.”

Morgan scowled. “I don’t think it was a punch!” Did you hear a shot when Silas entered the saloon?”

“What in tarnation are you gibbering on about? You trying to say he’s been shot ?”

“Quick, turn him over,” Morgan blurted.

Watchfully, Eldon slowly turned Silas over onto his back, then began shaking from head to toe. “Oh, my God, just look at all the blood. He has been shot! What are we going to do?” He asked as he looked toward Morgan for direction.

“Is he breathing?”

“What?”

“Is he still breathing?” Morgan barked.

“Yes … maybe … hell, I don’t know!”

Morgan quickly knelt and put his ear to Silas’ chest. “Okay, he’s alive, but losing blood fast and his breathing’s shallow. We need to get him to the Doc right away or he ain’t gonna make it.”

Eldon continued shaking and tried to answer, but the words wouldn’t come.

Morgan took hold of Silas’ shoulders and glared at Eldon. “Will you get a grip of yourself? I need help here. Now, grab his legs and we’ll carry him to Doc Colby’s.”

“Are you okay, boys?” a familiar voice from the shadows called out.

Morgan turned to see Pete Morris, the piano player coming towards them. He’d been lurking in the alley, waiting for the mayhem to die down before going back to the saloon. Morgan, who had Silas by the shoulders, quickly yelled, “Run along to Doc Colby’s and let him know we’re coming. Tell him Silas Walker’s been shot in the chest, and he’s in a bad way.”

Pete was swift on his feet and by the time the boys arrived with Silas, Doc Colby and his wife Sarah were ready for them.

The color in Silas’s face was draining as fast as the blood from the hole in his chest. They put him up on the table and were ordered to leave the room as Doc Colby went into action. “Sarah, sedate this young man. I need to get inside that hole and see where all this blood is coming from. He’s losing it too fast. If we don’t hurry he’ll be too far gone for me to do anything for him.”

The boys did as ordered and left the room closing the door behind them.

Eldon, still trying to make sense of it all spoke up, “Did you see how white he was? He had no color. Just like a ghost. I’ve a bad feeling about this, Morgan. Is there nothing we can do?”

“Eldon! You can start by shutting that darn mouth of yours! Silas ain’t dead and the Doc’s working on him. So that means there’s still a chance he could pull out of this. Let’s not hang our heads just yet. Why heck Eldon, you never know… maybe Silas ain’t ready for them pearly gates and maybe ol’ St. Peter will just turn him right around and send him back home. In the mean time, let’s just stay calm and see how things play out.”

~~~~

Eldon and Morgan had been sitting in the Doc’s office for almost two hours when Sheriff Rodgers stepped into the room. “How’s your man doin’,” he asked.

“Not too sure,” replied Morgan. “We’ve been sittin’ here for quite a spell now and the Doc ain’t so much as stuck his head out the door. I guess we’ll consider that a good sign for now. We did find a pot of coffee on the stove and helped ourselves. Can I get you a cup?”

“Not right now,” declined the sheriff. “Pete Morris told me about your man getting shot during the ruckus at the Red Dog earlier this evening. I thought I’d come by and see how things were with him. I also wanted to let you know that the man who shot him managed to slip away. They tell me it was Cole Petty from the Lazy B who did the shootin’. I got my Deputies out lookin’ for him. His horse is still at the livery so I don’t think he’s left town yet. Don’t worry, boys, we’ll find him. When we do we’ll let the judge decide what the charges might be. Hopefully they won’t be for killing your friend.” With that, the sheriff left and headed back to join his deputies in the hunt for Cole Petty.

Several minutes later Doc Colby walked into the waiting room. He had a somber look about him. His news was less than uplifting. “Well boys, your friend is still alive but to be honest with you, it was a close call. However, there is good news. His heart is still pumping. Just what it’s pumping I’m not quite sure. He’s lost an awful lot of blood. Maybe too much. I’ll be frank with you boys. The next few days is going to be touch and go. I suggest you go and get yourselves some sleep. If you know where to find any of his kin, you might want to get in touch with them.”

Morgan agreed with the Doc. “I wouldn’t have guessed sittin’ around for hours could make a man so tired, but I’m about ready to call it a night. I think I’ll head down to the Livery and see if Robert Lee can spare a spot in his loft for me tonight.”

“I’m right behind you,” Eldon said wearily. “I’ve had about all I can take for one day. Maybe Silas will be showing some sign of improvement tomorrow.”

“I wouldn’t count on it,” replied the Doc. “I think it’ll be a couple a days before he comes to, if he does at all.”

With that bit of sobering news the boys thanked the Doc for all he had done and headed for the livery.

The stable doubled as a blacksmith shop. It was owned and operated by a man named Robert Lee, a big burley hulk of a man. He wasn’t much over the age of thirty and stood well over six feet tall. His looks were in line with someone who had worked a forge and hammer most of his life. He had a fairly rough disposition about him. If you didn’t know the man, you would certainly consider staying out of his way.

There was a time in his life when a slick promoter out of Louisiana wanted to make a bare-knuckle fighter out of him but it turned out ol’ Robert had a glass jaw. That put a quick end to the big money dreams of the Louisiana promoter and Robert went back to doing what he did best; poundin’ steel and workin’ horses. And that slick promoter went on his way looking for another kid who he thought might make a quick buck for him.

Robert was well versed in handling all manner of horses. He had a natural way about him. It was more of a gift really. He had an uncanny ability to relate to the wild ones like no other man. Robert was what the old timers would call an ‘old soul’. He could break a horse without the wild antics of a forceful submission. All he did was work em’ slow and gentle and talk to em’ low and quiet like. It would take him the better part of a day but by the time he was ready to swing into the saddle, that horse was like butter in the sun. It was quite a show when Robert Lee broke a horse. When he was done, the horse was worth its weight in gold.

It was late as Eldon and Morgan made their way to the livery. Robert was still working at putting the finishing touches on a hot wheel rim.

“Good evening Robert,” called Eldon. “Say, you wouldn’t happen to have an empty spot in your straw where a couple of fellers’ could get some shut eye for the night, would ya’? We’ll pay you four bits each.”

“I always got room for a Bar Zero man,” answered Robert. “Say, I heard about Silas getting shot. How’s he doing?”

“Well, I tell you what,” reported Eldon. “I ain’t never seen so much blood in all my life. It darn near drained the life out of the man.”

Robert dipped the hot wheel rim he was working on into a trough of cold water. It brought the water to a boil as it sizzled and steamed. “You’re not sayin’ he’s dead, are you?”

“Oh no, he ain’t dead, but he was lookin’ as white as a ghost when we left him with the Doc. He’s still breathin’ but if he pulls through, it’ll be no less than a miracle. I’m sure he’s close enough to St. Peter at this very minute to be holdin’ a conversation with him. Hopefully he’s makin’ his case for a second chance.”

Robert gave the rim a couple taps with his hammer. “Well if he’s half the talker you are Eldon, he’ll be back with a story or two. Have they caught the jasper that put the bullet in him?” “No sir, that snake Cole Petty is still on the loose. Sheriff thinks he’s hidin’ out somewhere close by though.”

Robert laid the wheel down by the trough. “Cole Petty, from the Lazy B? You don’t say? Why he left his horse with me this morning. That’s it right over there. The roan in the end stall. I’ll tell you what. With all you two boys have been through, you can have the loft tonight at no charge.”

Morgan readily accepted the offer. “Well that’s mighty nice of you Robert. We sure do appreciate it. You’re working awful late tonight. Is there anything we can do to help you out before we turn in?”

“Thanks for the offer Morgan. Truth is I needed to get this wheel done today and the day about got by me. I just finished it up. I’m ready to call it a night myself. You’ll find a couple of extra bedrolls in the tack room. Help yourself and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

The stable housed a dozen stalls, six down each side. It was open in the center with a loft section above the stalls on either side. Holes were cut into the floor and straw was pitched down into the stalls through them. The stable also had living quarters where Robert made his home. Eldon and Morgan checked on their horses. They found the two bedrolls and headed up to the loft.

“Call me crazy,” said Morgan. “But I love the smell of fresh hay and horse sweat. I’m envious of Robert. I think that ol’ boy has got it made.”

“Don’t know about the sweat smell, but the hay’s alright,” replied Eldon.

The day had started out so well, but fate had dealt a bad hand to one of the young buckaroos from the Bar Zero. Eldon and Morgan fell asleep hoping their friend Silas would still be alive in the morning.

Hours later, Morgan was still awake. He was having a restless night. He opened his eyes to an odd revelation. It should have been pitch dark up in the loft, but there was light coming from somewhere within the stable down below. A dim light from a single lantern caused the shadows of the stables framework to dance and move about as the light was moved. Morgan lay still for a time as he listened intently. Not a sound was heard except for the occasional snort and movement from one of the horses below.

He slowly moved toward Eldon and gave him an easy nudge as he put his hand over the mans mouth to keep him from making any sound. Eldon saw the light from below and Morgan motioned for them to silently make their way over to the edge of the loft to get a better look. They slowly inched forward and peered over the edge at the scene below. A lantern sat on the ground and the shadowy figure of a man stood between it and one of the horses. It was the horse in the end stall. Cole Petty’s horse.

Eldon realized right away what was taking place. He whispered to Morgan with an excited voice. “Why that must be Cole Petty. He’s fixin’ to high tail it out of here. We’ve got to stop him before he gets away. I can lay a bead on him right now and put a bullet square between his shoulder blades.”

“Now that ain’t no way to shoot a man no matter what he’s done,” Morgan firmly replied. “Let’s see if we can get the drop on him before he mounts up.”

Eldon was beginning to get a little excited. “Then we best be going about it cuz’ he’s about ready to ride. We need to do this before he opens the door.”

“OK,” whispered Morgan. “Let’s split up. You move down toward the ladder and when I see you’re ready I’ll call out to him. As soon as the time is right, you drop down and grab his gun.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Eldon agreed. “Then what are we waitin’ for? I ain’t lettin’ that jasper out of my sight. I’ll shoot his horse out from under him if I have to.”

Eldon made his way toward the ladder. Once in place Morgan called out. “Cole Petty, I got my gun pointed at your back. Raise your hands and move away from the horse so I can keep an eye on you.”

The man below was taken by surprise. “I ain’t Cole Petty,” he countered.

“Well then if you ain’t Cole Petty, you’re a horse thief. That there horse you’ve been saddling up belongs to him.”

By this time, Eldon had made his way down the ladder and was heading toward the stranger. Before he had a chance to get to him the stranger kicked the lantern and put out the light. Morgan fired off a shot in the dark hoping to hit the man before he had a chance to duck for cover. Morgan called out.

“Eldon”

“Yep”

“See anything?”

“Nope”

“Stay low and keep an eye on the door,” he ordered. “We got him cornered. Just wait for your eyes to get adjusted to the dark.”

After a minute or so their eyes started to adjust. From out of nowhere a bright lantern appeared. It was bright enough to almost blind them. A scurrying sound could be heard and then a shot rang out. By the time Eldon or Morgan’s eyes has adjusted to the light, Cole Petty was lying in the dirt with a bullet in his shoulder. Robert Lee was standing over him wearing nothing but his long johns, a smug smile and a six-gun.

“Looks like I shot me a rat,” Robert said wryly . “A no-good rat, trying to make on outta here without payin’ his debt. Somebody needs to get hold of the sheriff before I put this varmint out of its misery.”

“No need,” called the sheriff as he walked into view from the front door of the stable. “I heard the gunfire and came right over.” He looked down at the pitiful sight on the stable floor. “Well, well, who have we here? If it ain’t Mr Cole Petty. I’ve been lookin’ for you, son. I have an empty cell with your name on it. Now, git up and let’s go. I’ll have the Doc look at that shoulder once I get you all tucked in.”

Once the excitement died down and the Sheriff escorted his prisoner out the door, Robert unsaddled the roan and headed back inside. Eldon and Morgan made their way back to the loft.

~~~~

The following morning Eldon, Morgan and Robert walked over to Doc Cole’s office to check on Silas. He was still hanging on and some of the color had returned to the buckaroos face.

“He don’t look so dead anymore,” observed Eldon. “I think he just might make it.”

Several days later, Silas had regained enough strength to sit up and take in some warm soup. Robert kept tabs on him since he was right in town. That Friday night, Eldon, Morgan and several other hands from the Bar Zero stopped by to check up on Silas. They were all pleased to see how well he was doing. They had a good visit and as they were all about to leave when Morgan spoke up.

“We’re headin’ over to the Red Dog for a drink. Can we bring anything back for you?”

Silas thought it over for a moment or two before he replied. “No, but you can do me a favor.”

“Sure, anything. What is it you want?” asked Morgan.

Silas grabbed Morgan’s arm and smiled, “Let me offer you a little bit of advice, my friend… Don’t be the first one through the door!”

They all had a good laugh. As the reached the saloon they were all a little cautious about going in. Morgan bravely volunteered to peek his head over the batwings. Only when he was sure the coast was clear did he go in. Only then did the others follow.

The first thing they did was offer up a toast to their friend Silas. And another to the good doctor who as far as they were concerned had brought him back from the dead.

© Copyright 2023 by Scott A. Gese All Rights Reserved.


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