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The Doctor


Pouring a scotch, Scott handed it to the man who had chosen Green River to hang his shingle and townsfolk were damn lucky he did.


As with any new doctor setting up shop, there had been questions of the man’s credentials. Larger cities, with their favorable odds of a prosperous practice, attracted the more educated healers of the sick, which left small towns and rural areas to be doctored by the less qualified. Many good people discovered far too late they’d been a victim of a quacksalver as their hard-earned coins jingled in the dubious physician’s pocket while he packed up a battered medical bag and quietly moved on... most often after the midnight hour.


However, in the office above Henry’s Saloon hung a framed diploma from a reputable medical institution or, as the saloonkeeper authoritatively described it, some fancy-pants doctorin’ school back east. The document treated the curious onlooker with elegant lettering spelling out Latin words which proclaimed Samuel W. Jenkins had graduated sporting doctorin’ school honors. It was indeed a fact. Heated tar and gathered feathers would not be required in the fortunate town of Green River.


In the beginning, Murdoch Lancer and Doctor Jenkins crossed paths due to ranch wrangler mishaps spanning from horse-bucking broken bones to fist-fighting concussions to the occasional bullet unfortunately lodged in an inconvenient area. Gradually the men’s acquaintance grew to a first name basis.


Sam’s son, Will, left for St. Louis in the spring Scott donned a uniform of blue. Sam’s wife, Martha, passed on to St. Peter in the winter Scott returned home to civilian attire. Sharing the sense of loss that death or distance can deliver solidified the friendship between Lancer’s patriarch and Green River’s doctor.


It was that solid friendship, not medical competency, that started Scott’s itch with Sam’s diagnosis of Murdoch’s brain hiccup. It also allowed Scott’s words spoken earlier to his younger brother to still ring true.


I think I’m not a doctor.


Although having a limited understanding, Scott did know a hiccup was a simplistic response to common situations, such as Kinsey’s customary reaction to her third glass of champagne. He also knew the human brain was far from simplistic and confusion before a blow to the head was consequential. So, pairing brain and hiccup didn’t sit well.


‘That call’s got a whiff of manure stuck to it if you ask me.’


It hadn’t sat well with Johnny either, suggesting the brothers were traveling along the same path of pondering.


Scott’s itch settled in. Did a closed-door, doctor-patient consultation taking place between two friends result in an agreed upon honey-dipped explanation?


With a nod of gratitude, Doctor Jenkins accepted the offered drink from Scott while complimenting the hostess. “Teresa, your meals never disappoint my tastebuds. I thank you.”

It hadn’t taken much persuasion to convince the good doctor to stay for supper after examining his patient. Being on his own, Sam rarely passed up a home-cooked meal or, as rumor had it, a healthy serving of Widow Patterson’s apple pie, pastry from heaven which Sheriff Crawford also had a hankering for. A situation Johnny thought amusin’ which made him encourage Scott to write it up for one of those dime novel tall tales - Showdown at Apple Pie Gulch.


Before Sam’s arrival, Scott firmly laid down the law. No one was to inundate the doctor with grilling questions regarding Murdoch during supper. A sensible discussion would take place afterward. So far, everyone was receiving high marks for their emotional restraints when accepting Jenkins’ brief medical summary, Murdoch’s recovering nicely, as mashed potatoes were scooped.


However, scrutinizing his family now seated in the Great Room, Scott calculated the door to a sensible discussion was beginning to close. The casualness of passing an empty glass back and forth between his hands contrasted sharply to the vertical wrinkle forming between Johnny’s narrowed eyes, which reflected a man who wasn’t getting far fast enough. Growing impatience leaned the young man forward with elbows resting on his thighs. A few more minutes of small talk would spring Johnny out of the cushioned chair.


The young ladies’ demeanors were as opposite as the ends of the Chesterfield they currently occupied. Their Madeira cordials Scott had served remained untouched.


Teresa sat on the edge of her seat as rigid as the lined smile drawn on her face. Her fidgety fingers played with one of the fancy embroidered hankies nobody cares about.


With legs tucked up under her and arms tightly crossed, Kinsey appeared to be folding in on herself. Her expression was one of blank paper waiting for written words of guidance.


Scott sampled the scotch in his snifter and began nudging the doctor’s conversation in the right direction. “I’m guessing your patient’s tastebuds would like to meet up with a steak in the near future.”


Jenkins grinned. “He did express his views on the subject. I see no reason why Murdoch can’t dust off his cane and make his way to the supper table.” A nod tossed across the room. “And to his desk.” A reprimanding finger wagged in the air. “But that’s all the traveling he’s to do for the next week or so. He needs to give that leg time to heal up.”


“What about brain hiccups, Sam? Do they need time to heal up?” As soon as the words left Scott’s mouth he wanted to kick himself in the ass. Fatigue was back and pushed aside subtle prodding. However, Jenkins' sudden interest in what was left of his drink indicated the query provided a hiccup of its own.


Johnny set his glass aside. “Got mighty quiet in here, Doc. Not the best of time to let that cat get your tongue.”


A surrendering sigh escaped past Sam’s lips, raising Scott’s brow.


There sits a man who knows he’s between the hammer and the anvil - the anvil being my father. And the hammer? Well, those would be the anvil’s children.


“Sir, we’re unfamiliar with the malady, brain hiccup. I think if you could tell us more, it would ease much of the anxiety in this room.” To ease Doctor Jenkins’ anxiety, Scott refreshed the man’s glass.


“Sam,” Teresa’s lined smile softened. “Wouldn’t it be better if you filled in the blanks and not our imaginations?”


“Some of that imagination may have already gotten a jump on ya, Doc.” Johnny’s seated posture remained unchanged. “You might want to get started.”


“I’ll take that as good advice, John.” A sip of scotch disappeared from the physician’s snifter. “The human brain is the most studied and least understood creation God gifted to man… and twice to a woman.” Sam's eyes settled on Scott’s cousin and blessed her with a wink.


“Doctor Jenkins, are you suggesting a woman is harder to understand?” Kinsey’s smile was a positive sign a sensible discussion had a chance.


Sam placed an open palm to his chest. “My dear lady, I am suggesting you and the lovely Miss O'Brien are twice as intuitive than us hopeless males!” Evidently, Jenkins’s son, Will, had shared his encounters with Miss Furlong.


Relaxed female smiles accompanied a nod of approval from Scott. Samuel Jenkins just achieved what two Madeira cordials couldn’t. Perhaps the doctor understood the human brain better than he gave himself credit for.


“What I believe Murdoch experienced is difficult to put into words. As I said the brain is complicated and studies are frequently dismissing past medical ideals. It’s a challenge for us small-town doctors to keep in step. But, I’ll do my best. Have you heard of the four humours?”


“I know Shakespeare relied on them.” Slowly turning heads displaying incredulous-laden stares caused Scott’s shoulders to shrug. “Sorry.” Sheepish embarrassment explained. “A remnant from my long hours of sitting in a room with Latin tutors.”


“Also a remnant from my long hours of sitting in a room with fancy-pants professors.” Jenkins’ glass raised in recognition of long hours and Henry’s opinions. “Let me explain it in a different way. Murdoch’s symptoms of confusion and disorientation were possibly brought on by mild apoplexy.


Silence.


“Bad sign, Doc. My big brother isn’t havin’ one of his remnants.” Johnny’s backside left the cushioned chair. “And I’m not findin’ the humor in it so, mind takin’ another stab at clearin’ this up?”


A knowing smile spoke of Sam’s growing immunity to Johnny’s directness. “Son, your father is a big man growing older who needs to reduce his workload, ease stress, eat timely and…” Mournful eyes acknowledge the snifter in hand. “Lessen this temptation.”


If not for it adding a visual exclamation point to Jenkins’ recommendation, Scott would’ve slapped a palm to his forehead. All the reassurances he’d worked so hard on since arriving home bolted out an open window.


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