You have to look hard for Doc Ridley’s office in Stopgap Oklahoma. It’s an el-shaped addition to the rear-end of the town’s post office. The small office has two single-paned windows, and a creaky door that bears the mark of a stray bullet fired by a liquored-up cattleman attempting to knock off his cigar ash with a shot from his pistol.
Doc Ridley spends little time there. You can usually find him, during most of his working hours, bouncing along rutted trails with his horse and buggy. He delivers babies, and treats kids with colic, catarrh, and whooping-cough. His duties keep him out for hours on end.
Most folks consider the area a dangerous place to live, and lawmen are scarce in this part of the territory. The menfolk of Stopgap consider a good six-shooter a necessary item. Consequently, gunshot wounds give the doctor a source of continuous income.
The doctor treats two types of patients in his office. Men who’re shot; stabbed, bit, or hit over the head represent the majority. Citizens who’re unfortunate enough to have had contact with a shoe attached to a horse’s hind leg, make up the rest of his patients.
Late one Saturday morning in early summer, Doc Ridley sat at his office desk toting up his past week’s income and expenses. His office door slammed open. A man stood in the doorway holding his head in both hands. “Help me Doc, ya gotta help me” he groaned—and fell to the floor. Concussion, the doc suspects.
He helps the man up and hobbles him over to a straight-backed chair. The doc peers into each the patient’s cloudy eyes, “What’s wrong?”
“Oh Doc, my head hurts so bad I lost control of my water.”
Rancid vomit has dried on the cowboy’s shirt and the sour stench of his unwashed body rises like marsh fog; the doc winces in disgust. He brushes his hands on his hips and gently feels the the man’s temples.
“How much have you had to drink?”
“I started drinking jugged whiskey three days ago—at the Horse Trough Saloon. My head’s killin’ me doc! Gimme somethin’ fer the pain—ohhhhh!”
The Horse Trough saloon sells home-brewed liquor, and four shots of the stuff can put an average man to sleep for hours. Ridley imbibes socially, however he has difficulty understanding why a man like this allows booze to take hold of his senses, and completely ruin his life.
The office door swings opens fast and wide. A tall stranger dressed in clothes covered with road dust fills the doorway. He fixes the drunk with a stiletto stare and shouts, “There’s the stinkin’ louse-mouthed critter who took my mule, sold ‘im, and drank off all the money!”
The patient recoils and his hands fly up to his ears, “Ohhhh my head, I need sumpthin’ to take away the pain.”
“Three days of heavy drinkin’ qualifies any fool for a good head ache,” said the doc. “There ain’t much I can do to make your pain disappear”
The cowboy in the doorway sniffs, “Maybe you can’t help his head much Doc, but you sure can do sumpthin’ about his foot!” A long-barreled pistol appears in the cowpoke’s hand, and he fires.
The little office bucks from the concussion, and gray smoke clouds the space. The three men all look down at the black-rimmed hole that now appears in the center of the patient’s right boot.
“That’ll take your mind off your aching head!”
The man in the doorway holsters his pistol. He turns, steps outside, and vanishes into the afternoon sunshine.
— Ted Atoka