Legend in His Time
by Charles Langley
I didn't like him the first time I set eyes on him and he did nothing to move up in my esteem. Looking at his slim frame in that black outfit and listening to his consumptive cough, you would have written him off as just another loser until you saw the .44 calibre six-gun on his hip and the look of death in his steel-grey eyes. He had come from Georgia for his health, but the situation he put himself into wasn't a healthy one.
Doc Holliday he called himself. No one knew if he gave his honest monicker. He said he was a dentist back East. But the holes he drilled now were not in teeth. Like him or not, I had to depend on him.
"I never heard him tell a joke and never saw him smile just once" Monty confided. "Only thing amuses him even a little is a death rattle."
"He don't even appreciate that. Man got no feelings. Figures life done him wrong and he's gonna pass it on as long as he can."
"Doc's got as many feelings as the next gunslinger," Wyatt offered. "He's just got a better hold on 'em. Reckons they ain't nobody's business but his own."
"How long you figure he's got, with that chest problem and all?" I asked.
"Chest problem won't kill him. Says himself he'll die with his boots on. Somebody'll put a slug in his back afore the consumption does him in.
Wyatt always defended Doc. And Doc always watched Wyatt's back. Covering his ass, it was called, but his ass wasn't where they would shoot him.
"Them Clanton's is itching for a fight. Wore their guns in town in plain sight, even though they know there's an ordinance agin it."
"You shoulda locked 'em up," Wyatt offered. "Cool their asses a few days in the hoosegow"
"Didn't have anyone around to back my play. You off workin' some damn get rich scheme and Doc busy coughin' blood, they'd have weighted me down with lead."
"You could use a little weight," Wyatt said, "You're looking a little peaked lately." He pronounced it "peek-ed". "Wasn't for that overweight six-gun and all them bullets the wind would blow you all the way to Texas."
"Ain't no wind gonna blow me nowhere, long as I got this Marshal's shield to anchor me."
"You gonna hide behind it when the Clantons start shooting?"
"Don't you worry 'bout me. You just hold up your share of the gunplay without gittin' off on some longwinded story just when Ike calls the play."
That's the way it was. We didn't like to admit it even to ourselves, but sooner or later Ike and his gang was going to force the play and it was even money that one or both of us would go down. Maybe Doc too, but he was better in a gunfight than either Wyatt or me. Probably 'cause he had ice water in his veins and no nerves to slow him down. I tried not to think about it, but it kinda gnawed on me a bit.
I was watering my palomino at an arroyo a few miles outside town when Clanton rode up and dismounted. He sauntered over, right hand close enough to the butt of his gun in case I called him out.
"What's up?" I asked, trying to keep my voice from showing my lack of confidence.
"Just wanted a few words. I hear tell you been bad-mouthing me to the bar crowd in town. I don't go for that and I figure it's time we brought our case out in the open. Let's put that badge aside and handle it man to man and settle it once and for all."
"What do you propose?"
"You and your slick-talkin' brother meet me and Ike tomorrow noon outside the O.K. Corral. Fair fight, we git this problem out of the way."
"What about Doc ?"
"Leave him in town. I got no bone to pick with him."
If Doc got word he wasn't included and decided to sit this one out my ass was in a sling. As well as Wyatt's hind-quarters. "Ike know about this yet?"
"I'll tell him when I get back to the ranch." He turned and started off toward his pinto.
I didn't think about it long. I drew my Colt, sighted carefully and shot him twice in the back. A man can't take chances if he wants to live to be a legend in his time.
Ed.: Charles sent me a note with this story that read, simply, “You know and I know this isn't the way it was. But it could have been.” You gotta love it.