Thursday, October 18, 2012

Revenant (Chapter One)




Revenant
Chapter One

The “Doc” had put on a good show. He’d been off his game since the last showdown back in Dodge, but it looked like he’d finally put that little bit of bad business behind him. Didn’t hurt that we’d added Molly to our little troupe, I suppose.
The hard work the Felix and I had put into repainting the wagon seemed to have paid off. Now “Doc Harker’s Magnificent Medicinal Caravan Of Cures” could be seen from a mile away and had all the staples one would expect from a good ol’ fashioned snake oil salesman. Not that Seamus would agree with that little moniker. And I suppose he’d be right to take offense, considering his stuff actually worked.
Not that we didn’t sell colored water laced with camphor and turpentine. Those little multi-colored bottles were the backbone of our operation. Without those we couldn’t feed or clothe ourselves. And Seamus wouldn’t be able to buy the ingredients to the stuff that did work; the little bottles containing chicken parts or cat’s claws or ground-up raven bones. You know, the stuff that made even a guy like me feel a little queasy.
It was that stuff he was trying to sell now, but he was choosy about who got the real thing. I couldn’t blame him though, not after seeing how much of himself he put into those little cure-alls. So while most of the folks (men) gathered around Molly so they could buy the bottles with the fancy labels and maybe flirt a bit, Seamus Harker stood at the back of the wagon and patiently lit a pipe while the ones who really suffered formed a line a short distance away from him.
Felix strolled by where I sat outside one of the local saloons and didn’t even spare me a glance. Instead he was marvelling out loud at how that liniment had worked miracles on his wounded knee and that Doc Seamus Harker must have been sent by the good lord himself to cure the world’s ills. Before joining up with us, Felix had been an actor up in Chicago and he had a tendency to get a bit overexcited when it was his job to be the shill. I would have to remember to tell him to tone it down a bit in the future.
But for now, it was time for me to do my job. I’d been lurking around town for about a week now and had kept my ear open to all the local gossip. The people lined up in front of Seamus weren’t much of a surprise to me, except for the squirrely looking guy who was hanging back at the rear of the line. I didn’t recognize him and I figured he must have come in from one of the outlying farms. Harker would have to deal with that guy on his own.
For now though, the first one up to him was the local butcher. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but he kept messing with his right shoulder and had a look of absolute agony on his face. I figured he must have hurt himself chopping up one of the local dogs that he had caught out back of his shop and used to supplement his beef supply. Or he could have pulled something one of the times he led a sick horse out to his hidden butcher shack out in the hills. It was hard work, butchering things and hiding them in the meat you sell people. Mighty hard work.
Seamus looked sympathetic and listened to his story. About halfway through whatever sad tale the butcher was feeding him, Seamus’s eyes flicked up to mine and I furrowed my brow a bit. Not enough so that anyone would notice, but enough to tell my partner that this guy didn’t deserve the real stuff. So Seamus dropped a reassuring, though slightly forceful, hand on the man’s shoulder and gave him a good old shake. Grinning and stating that he had just the thing, he reached into the back of the wagon and handed the wincing butcher a large poultice. The butcher, recoiling a bit at the smell, thanked the “Doc” enthusiastically and proceeded to put it on his aching shoulder.
Of course if he’d known that the ingredients in that poultice contained, among other things, horse piss and rat feces he probably wouldn’t have been as thankful. And he certainly wouldn’t be if he knew that it had a tendency to make any dead meat within a ten foot radius of it go rotten in less than a day.
The next three or four people were also terrible in their own little ways. Nothing too alarming, so they just got the watered down whiskey and red pepper that the other rubes got. It was best not going around giving everyone a bad case of hoodoo anyway, one wouldn’t want to get the wrong kind of reputation.
The second-to-last person, the one just in front of Squirrely, was an older lady I had been keeping an eye on since I had first come in to town. She had been, I was told, a feisty woman who wasn’t afraid to tell you what was on her mind and had involved herself considerably in the town’s small political arena. But that was before she had married the local dentist/sawbones. It seemed that he hadn’t been fond of his new wife’s tenacious spirit and had taken to slipping morphine into her tea whenever she began to get too rowdy. Years of this treatment had dulled her and made her an addict. Now her husband was dead and she still had no idea that he had been drugging her for the last decade, she just knew she felt horrible all the time and that it had nothing to do with her shitbird dead husband.
I gave Seamus the nod and so he relaxed and gave her the genuine kind treatment that he reserved for the good ones. He gently took her by the elbow and handed her a large, purple bottle with a rose etched into it. I could see him give her direction on its use and she, eyes filled with tears, gave him a quick peck on the cheek. The bottle was also filled with things best not mentioned, and it would give her a hell of a hangover, but she’d feel like her old self by this time next week and wouldn’t get the shakes and headaches ever again.
I looked back and saw that Seamus was talking to Squirrely. My little nickname seemed more accurate than I had imagined, he was frantically waving his hands and his head was constantly darting around as if he expected something to sneak up on him. Their talk went on for about five minutes, enough time for Molly to finish up and start packing the wagon back up. I was supposed to help her, but I wanted to see how this was going to play out. Soon enough, Seamus gave him that trademark pat on the shoulder, said something reassuring, and sent him on his way.
Relighting his pipe, Seamus sauntered over to me and leaned against the hitching post in front of where I sat.
“Afternoon, Titus,” he drawled at me, his accent coming out.
“Seamus.”
He gave me that look.
“I’m sorry,” I said, taking a cigar out of my coat. “I meant ‘Doc’.”
“That’s better. We must keep up appearances, after all.”
“That is true. Saw you made a new friend there at the end.”
“I did.”
“He seemed nervous. Almost squirrely.”
“It seems he has every reason to be.”
“That so?”
“It seems my new friend,” Seamus said, puffing his cigar and looking at me over the rim of his spectacles. “thinks he’s being haunted.”

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