Word count 3,312
Here is my answer to a question posed by Marilyn Handt as to how the Lancers and Sam would handle an epidemic in their town. I borrowed a guest from Stockton.
Val and Sam were in Sam’s office with their heads together planning their next step.
“Well Sam, if that’s what we need to do, we’ll just have to do it. How are we going to get this message to everyone?”
“We’ll have to hold a town meeting. That’s not ideal, but I can explain to the group rather than trying to go to each home. We better get Higgs, Widow Hargis and Baldomero together. This’ll affect their stores. I’m not looking forward to this meeting.”
Sam and Val met with the shopkeepers, explaining what was necessary. As expected, Higgs was getting into a major snit. Val’s patience was growing short, and diplomacy went out the window.
“Sit down Higgs. We either do it by Sam’s instructions, or you’ll be shut down tight.”
“Val, we need to get the word out to as many homes as possible about the town meeting. Send Jamie to some of the areas, and see if Bailey and his son can leave the livery to cover some ground.”
“Sure Sam. I’m going to head out towards the Lancers and Miz Conway’s, and catch some of the smaller places along the way.” Val had gotten all of his help dispatched, and was saddling to leave.
Sam was shaking his head as he walked back to his office, seeing another potential patient headed his way. “I’m running out of space here, even with the rooms in the hotel.’
The town meeting was well attended, everyone anxious to see what the Doctor had to say. Sam noticed the Lancers and Aggie Conway heading toward the porch in front of his office.
“As most of you know, this influenza has hit us rather hard. We have several who are sick. This illness is transmitted by contact, either physical or even something as simple as a door knob. For this reason, I have instructed Sheriff Crawford to lock the town down. Now before anybody panics, I want to explain what is best for us. It’s not necessary to quarantine, but I need everyone to shelter in place. Stay home. Keep your children home. The school will be closed during this time. And you men should know now I’m going to have to close the saloon as well. “
Mrs. Adams was first to speak out. “But how will we get food and basic supplies? I have five little ones.”
“I realize there are necessities that must be purchased. The three stores will be open but we’ll handle things this way. If you must come into town, don’t bring your entire family. Also I only want one person at a time entering the stores. I do not want any crowding. Buy what you need but please be mindful you aren’t the only one needing supplies. The delivery wagons may be delayed, so keep that in mind as well. When you’re home you need to take precautions. Please, please wash your hands often. Have your household do the same. Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough. I’m not sure how long it will last, but we have to get a handle on this. Of course, if you or anyone in your family does become sick or runs a fever, get them to me. This isn’t the most likable solution but we are nearing an epidemic. Sheriff Crawford will deputize some of you men and will set up patrols to be sure the town is protected. Any other questions?”
Red, the old timer everyone knew and loved piped up. “Can I buy a bottle of red eye before you close the saloon?” That did lighten the mood marginally. A few other men wanted to do the same.
Val was amused. “Well Nate, may as make your money now. Selling whiskey is selling whiskey no matter how you look at it.”
The Lancers and Aggie headed Sam’s way. Murdoch was first to speak.” Sam, do you really think it’ll last long? The town must be uneasy with all the people we have already sick. I do think they took the news and guidelines rather well. We’ll do anything we can to help.”
Aggie had her turn. “Sam, you must be ready to drop. I know you need some help. You and Mrs. Bennett can use another pair of hands. I’m staying. I’ll send my driver home to pack me a bag.”
“Thank you Aggie. I really appreciate the help more than you know.”
Val approached Murdoch. “Mr. Lancer, I could use some deputies to help make rounds and keep the businesses safe. I wouldn’t think we’d have looters, but you never know.”
“Hey, Murdoch. Scott and I could help Val. We shouldn’t have any problems. Can you spare us at the ranch for a few days?” Johnny seemed hopeful.
“Son, I can spare both of you for a few days. However, the problem is that you seem to attract trouble. We don’t need to add to Val’s worries.”
Offended, Johnny pulled a face. “That’s not true. Besides, Scott is here to see that I don’t get into trouble.”
Val was enjoying the scene unfolding with the Lancers.
“Okay Son, but Val‘s in charge. You do what he says. No charging into problems on your own.”
“Thank you Mr. Lancer. And Amigo, you heard what your daddy said, didn’t ya?”
“Yeah, Val. I heard. Now what do you want me and Scott to do?”
“Let’s go to my office so I can swear you in and get some badges on ya.”
Murdoch headed back to Lancer, thinking of Johnny’s penchant for finding trouble, and hoping he had not made a mistake.
The first two days were uneventful. Scott had to intervene between two ranchers both wanting to be first to get their supplies. The town was secure. There was almost no traffic in the town, other than the occasional supply run, and people seeking Sam’s care. Some of the first patients were on the mend but not fully ready for release. Aggie and Mrs. Bennett were kept busy with making gallons of broth and keeping the patients comfortable.
Johnny and Scott met on the boardwalk to discuss their next duties. “Scott, I’m going to check with Sam to see if he needs anything. He’s sure been working hard with all these patients. Maybe you can check the stores to be sure everyone ‘s behaving.”
“Good idea. I’ll meet you back at the jail to check in with Val.”
Scott turned, headed to the Widow’s shop when he heard Johnny call out to him.
“Scott, come here quick. It’s Sam”. When Scott got to the door he saw Johnny kneeling beside an unconscious Dr. Jenkins. “Do you think Sam caught the influenza too, Scott?” Johnny was worried.
“No Johnny. I think he’s just been pushing himself too hard. He barely got any sleep these past few days. Let’s get him up and over to his exam table.”
The two young men were able to get Sam to the exam room and on the table. Sam did not stir.
“Johnny , go get Val. Tell him what’s happened, then see if Mrs. Bennett can come down to help.”
“Okay Scott, I’m going now. Take care of him.” Johnny left, his spurs jingling as he ran for the jail.
“Val! Val!” Johnny burst through the jailhouse door and tried to catch his breath.
“Boy, what’d I tell you about charging in here like that? Now what’s wrong?”
Grabbing Val’s arm Johnny shouted to his friend. “Val, it’s Doc. I found him passed out on his floor. Scott is with him. I’m gonna go get Miz Bennett. I’ll meet you at Sam’s, okay?”
“Yeah, kid. This is all we need with all these sick folks we got here.” Val grabbed his hat and headed out the door behind Johnny.
When Johnny arrived with Mrs. Bennett he heard shouting from Val, Scott and Sam.
“You folks don’t understand. We have a lot of sick people here, and I can’t abandon them. I’ll be fine. I need to get up off of this table now. The Johnson boy was not doing too well this morning. I need to check on him, as well as my other patients.” Scott still tried reasoning, and Val just threw up his hands in defeat.
“Samuel Jenkins you listen to me. Your patients are in very good hands. Aggie and I have been tending to them just fine. Little Danny Johnson seems to have rallied and is doing better. You need to get some rest, and then some food. You should know better than to run yourself into the ground.”
Johnny was enjoying the tongue lashing Sam was receiving. “You tell him, Miz Bennett.”
“You, young man should be the last person to comment on this situation. Why don’t you and Val go check the town? I need Scott here to assist me getting to my quarters for a short nap.”
Shaking his head, trying to hide a smile, Val grabbed Johnny by the arm. “Let’s go, model patient.”
As they got to the board walk, they saw a black buggy headed down the street, stopping at Sam’s office.
Val stepped down and headed to the older man in the buggy. He noticed the stranger was well dressed.
“Can I help you with something Mister? We’ve got a bit of an epidemic going on in our town right now. It’s not safe to be here. We have the town closed down.”
“Dr. Merrar? Is that you? Howdy. You’re kinda far away from Stockton, ain’t ya?” Val looked to Johnny for an explanation.
“Sheriff Crawford, meet Dr. Merrar. He’s the Doc who took care of me when I was sick at the Barkley’s. So Doc, are you visiting someone or just passing through?”
“Sheriff Crawford, nice to meet you. And yes Johnny. I was visiting over in the next town and I’m headed back to Stockton. Is Sam Jenkins still your doctor? I thought I’d drop by to say hello.”
“I don’t know if he is up to visitors yet. He’s been caring for all the sick folks here. He had very little sleep and won’t stop to eat. I guess it caught up with him. I went to his office and found him passed out on the floor. You remember my brother Scott don’t ya? He and the lady who usually helps Sam as his nurse are trying to get him to lie down for a spell. They were still yelling when me and Val left.”
“Oh my! Maybe I can assist him in the care of his patients. I’m on no schedule, and I think I can help. May I go to see Sam and talk with him a few minutes?”
“Sure Doc, but he can be a grouchy ol’ bear sometimes.” Dr. Merrar and Val turned to look at Johnny.
“Well young man, could it be that this grouchy bear appears when certain uncooperative patients push him to the limits?”
Johnny tried his best Madrid stare at Dr. Merrar as well as a laughing Val. The look failed.
“Well Amigo, I guess this doctor knows you pretty well. Show the Doc to Sam’s room. I’ll be there directly. Higgs is sputtering and waving me down. Let me go see about his latest gripe.”
Johnny entered Sam’s office and he could still hear Sam protesting the need to get into a nightshirt.
“Hey Doc? Are you up to seeing a visitor? Dr. Merrar from Stockton stopped by. Scott you remember the Doc, don’t you? He took care of me at the Barkley’s when I was hurt.”
“Yes, of course. How are you Sir? Did Johnny say you were here to visit with Sam?”
“Yes. Hello my friend. I hear you have been rather busy with influenza hitting your fair town, Samuel.”
“Thomas, it’s nice to see you. And how have you been? Are you still Stockton’s one and only doctor?”
“Actually, I have a young doctor I took into my practice. Stockton is just getting to big and too busy. He seems to be doing well, and my patients are getting used to him. As I was telling Johnny and your Sheriff, I’m on no particular time frame to return home, so I’d like to offer my services to assist.”
“That is most generous Tom, but I wouldn’t want to impose upon you. And you certainly don’t want to bring influenza to Stockton.” Sam was busy straightening his clothes, making himself presentable.
“Sam, it’s not an imposition. I’m offering you my help, and I insist you let me do so. You’d do no less if the tables were turned. Now, suppose you and I sit at your desk here and you can fill me in on your patients. Oh my, if your town is closed down I suppose there’s no place to get a bite to eat.”
Stepping into the room, Mrs. Barrett introduced herself. “Dr. Merrar I am Nancy Bennett. I’ll get you and Sam some lunch. He needs to eat.”
“Thank you my dear, it’s wonderful to meet Sam’s nurse.” Mrs. Bennett left the room smiling.
The doctors sat and talked as they ate. Sam filled his friend in on the patients and their various stages of recovery. He also told him the rules he put in place to try to stop the spread of the influenza. It was decided that Sam, indeed would rest. Mrs. Bennett took Dr. Merrar to meet Aggie and the patients.
Scott, Johnny and Val continued their patrols. The arrival of new patients greatly decreased. By the end of the second week, most of the patients were able to return home. Although Sam’s restrictions were still in place it seemed they had turned the tide in town. Aggie was able to return home as well.
The doctors sat at Sam’s table comparing notes. They heard someone sneezing. Neither spoke for a dreaded moment then a deep rattling cough was heard. They looked out the window and heard Val fussing.
“Boy, did you go and get yourself sick? Let me feel your head. Damn, you done got a fever going.”
“I’m okay Val. It’s nothing. Probably just from the dust kicking up in town. And don’t tell Scott nothin.” Val grabbed Johnny’s arm as he tried to escape. Just then Scott walked up, hearing a loud cough.
“Are you sick Johnny? Don’t tell me. You are sick, aren’t you? How? We were on patrol for the last two weeks. We weren’t even near the patients. I can see it in your eyes. You have a fever don’t you?”
Not giving Johnny a chance to respond, Val jumped in. “Yes he does Scott. But he’s fine!” Val smirked as Johnny glared at him.
“We better get him over to Sam’s. Come on Little Brother.” Scott and Val each had an arm.
Protesting the entire way, Johnny tried to regain control. “Hey, let go. I ain’t sick and we need to be getting home. Come on, guys.” Johnny’s protests were stopped by his coughing.
Scott looked at his little brother and pulled out a handkerchief. “Your nose is running and your voice sounds like you have been eating gravel. Now, let’s go Johnny!”
Sam and Tom were watching the three men heading toward the front door.
“Tom, I think I need some more rest. Maybe you should handle this patient for me, huh?”
“I think I hear Stockton calling me home. He’s all yours Sam. I have my hands full when one of the Barkley’s gets sick. But I suppose I’ll do my Christian duty and assist.”
“Thank you my friend. I’ll need it.”
The two friends had a laugh as they watched Val and Scott tugging Johnny into the office.
Johnny noticed the doctors and tried to break free. “OH no not both of you at once? That’s not fair. Let me go.” Still trying but not succeeding Johnny was fighting his captors.
Both doctors walked over and relieved Val and Scott of their burden. They each locked on to an arm, pulling Johnny into the exam room. Scott couldn’t contain his laughter and soon Val joined him. They sat in the outer waiting room.
“Your daddy was right. That boy sure does attract trouble. It don’t look like you will be bringing him home today. May as well get comfortable, unless you want to head on back to Lancer.”
“Oh no. If I show up at home without him, there’ll be hell to pay. I’ll have Murdoch, Jelly, Teresa and Maria all over me. Besides it will somehow be my fault anyway. It always is.”
“I don’t blame ya. I wouldn’t want to face that gang either, but how is it that it will be your fault? You didn’t make the boy get sick. Long as I known him he would catch a fever at the drop of a hat. It don’t take much for him to get sick either. I guess it is because of how he grew up; not enough food, clothes or medicine in those little border towns, especially for a blue eyed little boy. “Val became quiet, as if he caught a memory from long ago.
“Are you okay, Val? You seemed a little wistful there for a moment.”
“You really like to use those fancy words huh? I was just thinking back, so yeah I guess I was wistful.” Val gave Scott a smile letting him know there was no harm done.
“I sure don’t envy those Docs trying to deal with that brother of yours, Scott.”
Scott could only smile.
“NO! I don’t need to take my shirt off. And I ain’t taking nothing else off either. It’s just a head cold. What are you gonna do with that? Stop! I’m leaving. Let me up.” Both doctors began admonishing their patient.
Val was getting annoyed. “Juanito! Behave or I’m gonna come in there, and Scott’s coming with me.”
Hollering from the exam room, Johnny let his feelings be heard. “I got both poking and prodding me. I ain’t sick. I just wanna go home. I gotta get outta here.” He hopped down from the table and tried to make his escape.
“John, get back on this table right now, young man!” Tom made a grab for him with Sam following suit.
“That does it. I’ve had enough of this foolishness.” Johnny almost made it through the exam room door when he ran smack into Val, with Scott close behind. Johnny noticed Val’s eye twitching in anger.
‘shit, shit, shit’ “Aw, come on Papi. You and Scott threw me to these two. All that poking they’re doing ain’t enough; now they want me to take my shirt off. You know Sam is just gonna to pull out one of those nasty medicines he likes to make me take. And did you see that needle Dr. Merrar has? I ain’t getting’ stuck with that. I’m leaving.”
“Boy get back in that room and up on that table, now!” Val’s voice had a certain authoritative sound.
Val walked forward as Johnny walked backwards into the exam room. Both doctors were on him again, leading him back to the table. Johnny was now unbuttoning his shirt. He was no longer protesting, but had a world class pout going.
Scott began laughing, patting Val on the shoulder. “Good job Val. Yes, it looks like the epidemic is over and everything’s back to normal.”
“I think you’re right Scott. At least Sam has a backup today. That Dr. Merrar is a good man. Guess we need to send a word of thanks to the city of Stockton for the loan of their doctor.”
May 18, 2021
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