By Mark L. Redmond
Doctor Joseph Thomas Greenwood pulled A blood-speckled sheet over the face of Dave Yochim and looked into he tearful eyes of Dave’s young widow.
"I’m sorry," he began.
"Don’t be," she interrupted. "You’ve nothing to be sorry for. Only God could have saved Dave. Thank you for your help. I need to go to my children. Joe, I’ve never made funeral arrangements before." she buried her face in her hands and began to sob.
Circling the body, the doctor stood beside the grieving woman and put a comforting arm around her shoulder. "I’ll take care of the arrangements, Laura; don’t you fret." He stood in the doorway and watched her take a deep breath before she stepped off the wooden sidewalk and crossed the dusty street toward Mrs. London’s boarding house.
Her children, four-year-old Linda and six-year-old Billy, had been taken there after the shooting. "Yes," he
said softly, "I’ll take care of the arrangements."
Late that night Doc Greenwood sat at a small table in the room above his office. He propped an elbow on the table; and with his chin resting o one hand, he looked at the quiet, empty street below. Dave Yochim had been like by everyone who had known him. He had loaded his family in the buckboard that morning and driven the six miles from his small ranch to celebrate a successful cattle drive and to pay off a loan at the bank across the street.
He had planned to puck up some supplies at Johnson’s Dry Goods Store and then treat his family to one of Mrs. London’s delicious meals. He had not planned on walking into the bank while Joshua and Jonathan Riddle were robbing it. According to the bank’s president, Dave had not even reached for his gun. Joshua Riddle had just shot him out of meanness. Then, as he had taken the money from Dave’s body, Joshua had smiled. Jonathan, the younger of the two, had cursed his brother, but the damage had been done. They had stuffed the money into their saddlebags and had galloped away before anyone had had a chance to react.
Dave had been dead before he hit the floor.
Doc blew out his lamp and stretched out on his bed, but sleep would not come. Somewhere past three o’clock, he sprang out of bed and lit the lamp. He sat once again at the table, and with a stubby pencil he wrote four names on a scrap of paper. Ten minutes later he was sleeping soundly with a slight smile on his lips.
In spite of a rough night, Doc got up the next morning at 5:30. After eating his breakfast at Mrs. London’s as usual, he went to the sheriff’s office.
"Is there a reward for Josh Riddle?" he asked, after greeting the sheriff cordially.
"Three thousand on him and two thousand on his brother since the last robbery. Counting Dave, the Riddles have killed at least six men. Why, Doc, you’re not thinking of going after them two, are you?"
"No," Doc chuckled, "I’m just taking care of some arrangements." He handed a scrap of paper to the sheriff and asked, "Can you think of anyone around here who’s better at his work then the first man on this list?"
The sheriff looked from the paper to the doctor in surprise. "No, but what do you want with a man like him? He’s a half-breed and -"
"Thanks, Sheriff. Do you know if he’s in town?"
"He is unless he broke out of jail last night. I locked him up about 11:00 for disturbing the peace. He’s sleeping off the whiskey in a cell right now."
"Could I talk to him?" Doc asked eagerly, Fifteen minutes later, when Doc stepped out of the sheriff’s office, he was rubbing his palms together and grinning. He pulled a scrap of paper from his vest pocket and crossed off the first name. "One," he said under his breath.
A month had passed before a tinker Doc had been watching for finally came through town again. They talked for an hour before reaching and agreement. Money changed hands, and the tinker drove his cart to the doctor’s back door.
As the tinker drove away, Doc crossed another name off his list. "Two," he said, smiling.
After that night Doc began leaving the door to his room unlocked when he went to bed. Two nights later he crossed the third name off his list as he watched a rider disappear into the darkness of the alley that passed his back door. "Three," he mumbled as he climbed the stairs.
When Doc awoke in the middle of the night eight nights later, he knew that he was not alone.
"You the Doc?" someone asked in a raspy whisper.
When Doc sat up, he felt a gun barrel poke his ribs. "Yes. What’s wrong?"
"Get dressed and come with me," replied the visitor. In the darkness Doc smiled.
* * * * *
The sheriff looked up from a newspaper in surprise when Doc walked in. He struggled to his feet and came around his cluttered desk, his large belly jiggling with each step. "Where have you been for the past four days, Doc? The whole town has been worried since you disappeared."
Doc tilted his hat back and smiled. "I’m sorry Bob; I was called away in the middle of the night to a camp about twenty miles north of here. "Strange case-two men were poisoned and in pretty bad shape. I did what I
could, but in the end they both killed themselves. There I was, stuck with two corpses. I did what I had to do."
"You buried ’em proper?” the sheriff asked quietly.
"No, I brought their bodies to town so that I could claim the rewards," Doc replied. "The two men were Joshua and Jonathan Riddle."
The sheriff stared at the doctor in disbelief. Then he shuffled out the door. Holding his bandanna over his mouth and nose, he examined the two blanket-wrapped corpses that were draped over the horses at the hitching
post. Not until he had stumbled back into his office, slumped back into his office, slumped into his chair, and taken a long drink from a whiskey bottle kept in his desk, did the sheriff speak again. "How did you happen to be the one they came after? What incredible luck! You’ve got five thousand dollars coming, Doc!"
"There wasn’t much luck involved, Bob," said Doc, taking a seat on the opposite side of the desk. "I earned that money. Do you remember a couple of months ago when I talked to Breed McKinlay in one of your cells?"
"Sure, but what does that have to do with this?"
Doc smiled. "Everything, I hired him to track the Riddles and find out where their hideout was. He found it, and I sent Peter Wedell out there."
"The tinker?" the sheriff asked.
"Yep. I loaded a keg of special whiskey on his cart and told him to get close enough to the Riddles’ camp to attract their attention so that they’d either buy or steal that whiskey. I don’t know which they did because Pete
kept going on his circuit, but they drank it, and they got real sick."
Leaning forward in his chair, the sheriff asked skeptically, "Now, wait a minute. How could you be sure they’d come and get you to help? They did, didn’t they? That was luck!"
"Yes, they came and got me; but no, it wasn’t luck," replied Doc, still smiling. I paid Dick Austin, the most harmless-looking old timer and the best liar I could find, to set up camp near enough to the Riddle boys that they could see his fire at night. When the came to him for help, he sent Jonathan to me and offered to stay with Josh, who was already pretty sick."
The sheriff leaned back in his chair, his mouth open and his eyes wide.
"Doc, you mean to say you as good as murdered them two? Ain’t that against some oath you doctors take?
Doc leaned across the sheriffâ€s desk, looking more like a lawyer than a doctor. "I didn’t kill them," he said. "What I gave them in their whiskey was large doses of emetics and laxatives that doctors have used for years to expel poisons. The medical terms for what I did to them are ‘puking’ and ‘purging’.
"Then why’d they kill their selves?"
"Well, Bob, after Jonathan had taken me to their hideout and I had examined them-Jonathan was might sick by then too, and I encouraged them both to have some more whiskey for medicinal purposes-I told them that I was pretty sure they had cholera. I said that I was sorry but there was nothing I could do for them. Then I described what an awful death awaited them. I left them and went with Dick to get more wood for the fire. We heard two shots and found them dead. Dick helped me tie their bodies to their horses and rode back to town with me. He’s probably in the saloon, spending his pay.
The sheriff shook his head in disbelief. "Well, if that don’t beat all!"
"Oh, by the way," Doc continued, "the bank’s money is in my saddlebags. When the reward money comes, I’ll take a hundred dollars to cover my expenses. Give the rest to Laura Yochim."
"What should I tell her about the money?" asked the sheriff.
Doc, on his way out the door, said over his shoulder, "Tell her I made the necessary arrangements."
Closing the door behind him, Doc looked at Josh Riddle’s body, still draped over the saddle. Taking a scrap of paper and a stubby pencil from his vest pocket; he drew a neat line through a name. He muttered as he started across the street toward Mrs. London’s place, "Four."