Preston Lancer walked awkwardly into the saloon. His left shoulder
flared with pain as he accidentally jarred it against the swinging door.
From his fevered perception, the dilapidated bar seemed to waver and flow,
but he gritted his teeth and continued towards its actual solidity.
When the barkeep walked past the blond young man, once and then again,
the smooth eastern voice took on a flinty hardness, not unknown in his
native New England. "Mister, I asked if there was a doctor in this
balding saloon keeper, who sported a handlebar moustache and sideburns
that Ambrose Burnside would have envied, carefully perused the slender
figure standing before him. "No, there ain't no doctor here--just
an undertaker. If'n you need him, he's just down the street."
sweat streaming down his face, Scott found it difficult to keep his blue
eyes open. Finally, he resorted to using his bandana to wipe away
Mister, you ain't sick, are ya?"
I was shot by a would-be robber just outside town."
too smart of ya ta be out riding this time o' day!"
4:00 PM and I have a right to ride whenever I want to!" the young man remonstrated.
shaggy man muttered contemptuously, "Everbody knows that's the worst time
to be out in these parts."
not from these parts! Could you tell me if there is a vet in town?"
lots of 'em, some from the North and even a few from the South."
Scott was truly becoming annoyed. "I didn't mean a veteran.
I meant a veterinarian, an animal doctor."
your horse get shot too?"
his strength beginning to ebb, Scott made one last effort. "I want
the vet to take care of my arm. Do you have one in town?"
All's we got is the undertaker. He'll give you a good rate.
Business has been kinda slow."
flooded his whole body, the Lancer scion desperately made the effort to
hold onto consciousness. "Do you. . .do you have a room where I could
we don't even have a hotel. People just stay home where they belong
and frankly strangers ain't much welcome. So if'n you don't buy some
whiskey or somethin' I'm gonna have to ask you to move on."
exhausted to make another effort to get help from the irritating man, the
blond stumbled back out the door and crossed the street. He had to
lie down, even if was in the livery stable where he had left his horse.
Upon entering the stable, the earthy smells assailed his nostrils as he
frantically tried to keep his stomach from revolting. Swaying from
pain and loss of blood, he managed to lower himself on to a mound of hay.
The scratchiness made no impression as he finally let himself slip into
a dark oblivion.
mister, you gotta git up!"
eyes opened to see a small ferret-faced man staring down at him.
Scott's stomach lurched against as the man's sour breath hit him square
in the face. "What? Did you. . .did you say something?"
you gotta get up and get outta here. The townspeople are up in arms.
They don't cotton to no strangers sneaking inta town, not with the way
the smallpox is atakin' folks right and left."
I don't have smallpox. I was vaccinated during the war."
"So you say, but people are mighty scared what with people dyin' all over this part of California. A whole ranch was wiped out down Morro Coyo way--ever last man, woman and child."
"Morro Coyo? I live near there. At a ranch called Lancer."
weasly man's countenance underwent a transformation. Unrelenting
sorrow covered the lined face. "Then, Mister you ain't got nobody
to go back to."
to stand, despite the pain that overwhelmed him, the former cavalryman
whispered, "It's not. . .it's not possible. Everyone was fine when
I left just five days ago."
good Lord works in mysterious ways. Now you gotta get out of Nameless
or some of the townspeople just might take a notion to shoot you and bury
have smallpox. I was shot. Doesn't anyone listen in this town?"
now, no need ta git insultin'. Just 'cause the founders of this here
town couldn't agree on a name, don't mean we ain't got civic pride."
give a damn about your town. I've got to get back to Lancer.
You're wrong. They couldn't all be dead."
ferrety man grinned hugely, showing the only three teeth he still possessed.
"Oh, they're dead all right and I'll bet it's a gruesome sight too. 'Course
since you wuz in the war you seen lots of dead fellers."
you've got to help me. I need someone to get this bullet out and
then I can go home. Please."
is that all youra wantin'? I kin take that bullet out of ya.
Lemme go get my tools."
Lancer sat there in disbelief. He had only left his family a few
days before and all had been in the peak of health.
he could continue to puzzle out the man's horrible news, the small creature
returned, holding a pair of pliers and a white-hot rod.
shoulder! What'd ya think I was gonna pull some teeth? This bar'll
sear it so it don't bleed too much. Now just hold still!"
as Scott began to struggle, he felt strong arms hold him down tight as
the huge pliers moved closer and closer. "Now, I'll jest tell you
a little story about our town ta keep yur mind offa what I'ma doin'.
You see the founders of the town couldn't decide on a name. Some
wanted one and some wanted another and then finally one day, I said to
'em, "Hell, what difference does it make what the name is? Some people
are always gonna like one and some another! They all saw the wisdom
of my genius and so Nameless, California, was located right here on this
spot! What do ya say ta that?" he chortled with glee.
A scream flooded the stable as the smell of burning flesh filled the air.