The tall lean cowboy walked into the hospital with a swagger that spoke of a confidence that he could handle anything that life threw at him. He was wearing tight fitting boot cut blue jeans, a blue denim plaid shirt, a pair of leather harness boots with the dust still on them, and a big belt buckle that had the name of a rodeo competition on it. His straw hat was worn low to the front and had seen better days.
Upon reaching the main lobby, he paused to check his surroundings. There was a man wearing a hospital uniform leaning against a post watching the front door. Confident that he had found someone who belonged there, the cowboy walked over to the man. Touching the brim of his hat, he said, "My name is Donny Daniels. I'm looking for my brother, Sonny Daniels. He's a patient here. Can you tell me how I can find his room?"
"I'm on break," the man said dismissively while starting to walk off. It was obvious that he wasn't headed anywhere in any kind of hurry. He was just putting a little distance between him and what he considered to be an ignorant yahoo from the country.
"I'm not done talking to you," Donny said grabbing the man by the arm and pulling him back.
Donny recognized rudeness when he saw it, and wasn't about to let an insult pass without comment. The man tried to tug his arm away, but the grip holding him in place was too strong.
Offended, he said, "Unhand me."
Not releasing the man, Donny said, "I'm asking politely. Can you tell me where my brother is or point me in the direction of someone who can tell me?"
"See the woman at the counter over there," the man said sullenly. He pointed to a long counter with a couple of elderly women behind it. They were wearing the uniforms of candy stripers.
Donny released the man's arm and said, "See, that wasn't so hard. Thank you for your help."
The man walked off muttering, "Damn cowboy. They shouldn't allow his type in the hospital. He probably has manure on his boots. He's a health hazard."
Donny walked over to the counter and tipped his hat.
"Howdy, Ma'am. My name is Donny Daniels. I'm looking for my brother, Sonny Daniels. He's a patient here in the hospital. Can you help me?"
After typing some information into a computer, the elderly woman answered, "He's up in room 412."
"Thank you, Ma'am."
Donny turned towards the entrance of the hospital in time to see someone leave. As soon as the door opened, he let loose a whistle that echoed through the room.
The woman said, "Quiet. This is a hospital."
Two men (obviously brothers) dressed in a style similar to Donny's, entered the hospital. The sun-etched lines on their faces gave ample proof that they had spent years in the outdoors. They were at least twenty years older than Donny, and their shared rugged masculine facial features gave ample proof that they were family. The difference in facial features was just enough to suggest that they were uncles to the younger man.
The two brothers were arguing gently with each other as they walked along; one occasionally dug an elbow into the ribs of the other to make some point. There was no anger in their gestures;. It was only the kind of easy teasing common in friendly brotherly relations.
Donny gave a softer whistle, and when the two men turned to him, he said, "He's in room 412."
"Well, let's find out what happened to him, Dan," the younger of the two men said.
Dan said, "We know what happened to him, Joe. He got shot."
"There's getting shot and there's getting shot," Joe said. "They shoot him with a nine millimeter and he'll be lying there in bed getting pissed off. The bullet is too small and moves too fast to cause any damage. It will just pass through him. The bigger slower moving bullet of a forty five will put him down for a long time."
"I know, and you tried to teach grandma how to suck eggs, too," Dan said. He knocked Joe on the arm in a friendly little tap.
"So what? You tried to teach her how to milk ducks," Joe said. He returned the good-natured blow.
Pointing down the hallway, Donny said, "The elevators are over there."
While the men strolled towards the elevator, Dan sniffed the air taking in the antiseptic scent. Making a face as if he had bitten into a lemon, he said, "I hate big city hospitals. I was in one like this when that bull gored me back in my rodeo days. They want to dope you up before stitching a little cut closed. If that wound wasn't on the back of my leg, I would have done it and saved a bunch of money. As it was, I lost money on that trip."
"I remember that time. I had to drive out to pick you up because they said you couldn't drive," Joe said. He knew his brother was exaggerating his ability to deal with the injury a little, but it had cost a lot of money to get the gash stitched.
Dan said, "They were full of it. I drove home just fine."
"They didn't know that you can't drive worth a damn anyway. In case you don't remember, you only made it out of the parking lot before I had to take over," Joe said.
"That's it. Complain about my driving some more and you can stay here," Dan said.
Donny asked, "Don't you two ever stop bickering? You're worse than two women fighting over the last wedding gown in a bridal store."
The three men reached the elevator. Donny pushed the up button to summon the elevator. The three men stood there; each with their left leg supporting themselves. Their right leg was kind of cocked, and their thumbs stuck in their front pockets. The fingers of their hands were slightly curled and generally pointed towards their crotches.
The elevator door opened. After checking that it was headed in the right direction, they entered.
A very frail looking woman was seated in a wheelchair looking sick to her stomach. Her most obvious feature was that she had lost most of her hair. Her skin had a pale almost transparent sheen to it. A catheter for injecting drugs was inserted into the back of her left hand. Dan looked at her taking in her general state of poor health while the doors closed. Holding his hat over his heart, he said, "Ma'am. Why are you in the hospital?"
The woman looked up at Dan incredulous that anyone would ask a question like that straight out in an elevator. The little black woman who was pushing the wheelchair stared at Dan without changing her expression. With a little anger boiling up within her, the woman in the wheelchair answered, "Cancer."
"That's horrible," Dan said as he reached in his shirt pocket and pulled out a business card. Handing it to her, he said, "When you get out of here, why don't you give me a call. You need a bunch of fresh air and sunshine to heal up proper like. A hospital is not a place to get healthy. I've got a small trailer out back of the house that you and yours can use while you're out there."
"He's got a view from his place that God must have blessed when he created the Earth. There's open land surrounded by trees with mountains in the distance. Come autumn time, those trees turn a thousand different colors. It makes you realize that there is a God, and he is good. It is real peaceful, Ma'am," Joe said.
Nodding his head in agreement, Donny said, "It is a good place to heal both physically and spiritually."
"That trailer of mine is in pretty good shape. There's room for four people in it. Me and the misses used it while we were rebuilding our house after a fire took part of it," Dan said.
The woman glanced down at the card seeing that it advertised rodeo bulls for sale with an address in Montana. Not quite sure what to make of the offer, she mumbled, "Thanks."
"Don't think anything of it, Ma'am," Dan said.
"You get better now, you hear?" Joe said.
"This is our floor," Donny said when the elevator came to a stop. He took off his hat and said, "It was a pleasure to meet you, Ma'am. I hope to see you up at Uncle Dan's place real soon."
The three men ambled off the elevator and followed the signs towards room 412. They entered with Donny leading the way. There were two beds in the room with Sonny lying in the one nearest the door. The other bed held an old man who was asleep. Sonny was wearing a hospital gown and only partially covered with a thin blanket. The sheets under him were pulled out suggesting that he had been moving around a lot rather than just lying there.
Donny stopped at the end of the bed and looked at the man lying there. Shaking his head, he said, "You look like something that fell out the south end of a north bound cow."
"At least it took getting shot to look this way. You always look like something that fell out the north end of a south bound cow," Sonny said struggling to sit up in the bed. His voice was weak and there was a wheeze when he breathed.
"Donny, don't go getting your brother riled up," Joe said. He looked around and spotted two chairs. He nudged Dan with an elbow and pointed at the chairs. Both men took a seat and grinned up at Donny who was still standing at the foot of the bed looking around for a place to sit.
Slapping his thigh with one hand to get everyone's attention, Dan said, "We're here to find out what happened to you."
"Don't say a word until I get a chair," Donny said. He looked around for a chair and didn't find one. He stepped out in the hall and found a stack of chairs. He grabbed one chair off of the stack and carried it back to the room. Putting it so that the back was to Sonny, he sat astride it facing the seatback. He said, "Tell us what happened to you."
"I was working at the store..."
"What in the hell were you doing working at a store? You're here to go to school," Dan said interrupting Sonny before he had even managed to get once sentence into the story.
"It is expensive out here. It isn't like at home where the food comes out of the garden and doesn't cost anything except sweat. I was working there to earn a little extra money," Sonny answered.
"All you needed to do was ask us. We would have sent you some more," Joe said. "We could have sold off a cow or two. I got a rodeo bull that would fetch a real good price."
Pointing at Sonny with his forefinger, Dan said, "You're the first one smart enough in this family to go to college. We want you to do well and we'll do whatever it takes to make it happen."
"You know me better than that," Sonny said.
He coughed bringing up a mouthful of phlegm. He spat it into a wad of tissues, which he tossed into a wastebasket that was beside the bed. The doctor said that his cough was a result of the anesthetic, but it tasted pretty foul. He suspected it was an infection.
"I can take care of myself," he added.
"You aren't doing just this for you. We've got a stake in your college, too," Donny said.
With a stubborn look on his face, Sonny said, "I know, but I can and will pull my own weight. There isn't a thing you can say that will change that."
Knowing that this discussion was going nowhere fast, Joe said, "Tell us some more about what happened to you."
"I was working at the store when two gang members came in. One look at them and I knew that they wanted to rob the place," Sonny said. "Next thing I know they've got guns in my face."
"Did you pull your piece?" Dan asked.
"I didn't have it with me," Sonny said. He coughed some more.
Donny asked, "Why in the hell not?"
"That's against the law out here. Only the criminals carry guns in this damned town. A law abiding citizen doesn't stand a chance," Sonny said in disgust.
Dan said, "So you're standing there with only your dick for a weapon."
"There was a revolver under the counter and I grabbed it," Sonny said.
"Did you get the bastards?" Joe asked.
"No. I drew down on the first guy and pulled the trigger. All I heard was a click every time I pulled the trigger," Sonny said.
"Are you telling me that the gun wasn't loaded?" Joe asked looking at Sonny in disgust.
"It was loaded. I don't know what the hell happened," Sonny said. He sounded mystified that the gun didn't work.
"How do you know it was loaded?" Dan asked.
Indignant, Sonny said, "I'm not an idiot. I checked that gun every time I went to work. There were bullets in it. Every chamber had a round in it."
Donny said, "I want to see that gun."
"So while you're pulling the trigger on a gun that doesn't go bang, what was it that the robbers were doing?" Dan asked. He was wondering why Sonny was still alive. By all rights they should be visiting Sonny at a funeral home instead of the hospital.
"Those two assholes were shooting at me. Lucky for me they were lousy shots. They were dancing around like hens on a hotplate holding the guns sideways and pulling the trigger without even looking to see where the damned thing was pointed. It was all show and no go," Sonny said.
"So what did you do?" Dan asked.
"I threw the damned gun at one of them and climbed over the counter to go after the other with my buck knife," Sonny answered as if the answer should have been obvious. "That's when they actually hit me. Even a little ankle biter couldn't miss at that range."
"There aren't many things worse than bringing a knife to a gunfight," Joe said.
"Did you get a piece of them?" Donny asked.
"No. They started running like hell," Sonny answered. "I heard they fired sixteen rounds and only two hit me."
"Nine millimeters?" Joe asked.
"Yes," Sonny answered.
Dan snorted and said, "I hope the rounds went through you."
Sonny said, "One of the bullets bounced off my backbone. I get little twinges of numbness in my legs on occasion, but the good news is that my legs work. I even walk around until the nurse catches me."
Donny asked, "What does the doc say about the numbness?"
"You know doctors. They won't tell you one way or the other. I'll be walking out of here," Sonny said.
"That's good," Dan said watching Sonny move his legs around.
"Did the police catch the two guys that shot you?" Joe asked.
"No. I don't think they are even looking for them," Sonny answered in disgust.
Joe said, "Don't that beat all?"
Donny asked, "Can you describe the two guys that shot you?"
"I can do better than that. I took their pictures," Sonny said with a smile.
"You did what?" Joe asked sitting up straight.
Sonny said, "Like I said earlier, I knew the minute those two guys walked in the store that they wanted to rob it. I got out my cell phone and took their pictures."
"Where is your cell phone?" Dan asked.
"I dropped it when I went for the gun. As far as I know, it is still at the store," Sonny answered.
Dan and Joe looked at each other. Dan nodded and then said, "We'll be stopping by that store. I want to see that gun."
Sonny said, "My truck should still be parked out back of the store. You can use it while you're here, if some asshole hasn't striped it down for parts."
"I think we will," Dan said. He wasn't happy that the guys who had shot Sonny were not in jail and he was more than happy to have a role in correcting that situation. He added, "I'd like to make sure the boys that shot you go to jail. I think we're going to be here for a while."
Sonny said, "I've got to warn you that those two guys are part of a gang. You mess with one of them and they figure you're messing with all of them."
"You don't say," Joe said with a smile. He exchanged glances with Dan and Donny. "I know a couple of country boys that feel the same way."
"Damn straight," Donny said.
Joe asked, "Is there any chance they might come here and finish the job they started?"
"I doubt it," Sonny answered.
"Saying that you doubt it is a lot different than a definite no," Dan said. Looking at Joe, he said, "We'd better get him something."
Joe reached down into his boot and pulled out an American Derringer Simmerling LM4 pistol. It was a small .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol. The small size made it a defensive weapon, but the large caliber made sure than anyone that was hit was going to stay down. Handing it over to Sonny, he said, "Just in case you get some company. I loaded it with hollow points. You've got five shots, since I've already got one in the chamber."
"Nice ankle gun," Sonny said impressed by the small size and weight. "Are you sure you don't need it?"
"I got a spare out in the truck," Joe answered.
"I better warn you, that little thing kicks like a mule. It makes a whole lot of noise, too," Dan said.
Sonny checked out the handgun. He slid it under his pillow and said, "I probably won't need it, but I'll sleep better knowing it is there."
Dan pulled out a cigarette and lit it. After exhaling a cloud of smoke, he asked, "How many of them are there in that gang?"
"A hundred or so," Sonny answered.
Dan said, "We'll try to get the police to arrest them first. If they don't do their jobs, we'll just have to do it for them."
"We could have a few problems getting those two gang members down to the jail particularly if the other ninety-eight gang members try to stop us," Joe said while rubbing his chin thoughtfully.
Donny said, "The numbers don't look too good for our side."
Joe looked thoughtful for a second or two before he said, "We could use a helping hand or two to even the odds."
Dan pulled out a cell phone and dialed a number. After a few seconds, he said, "Hank?"
"Yes, it is me."
"I'm out in California visiting Sonny."
"He's okay, but I might have a problem."
"There's a problem with stray dogs that have gone feral, out here. They've got a hundred of them. Can you come out here and help me with them?"
"You never know. There may be some stumps that need removing."
"I figure a dozen or so."
"Just you and your two boys ought to be fine."
"I'll be seeing you in three days."
"I'll give you a call and let you know where we're staying."
Dan closed the cell phone and said, "Hank and his two boys are coming down here for a visit."
"That's nice of them," Joe said with a smile.
"I hope that we don't need their help, but it will take them at least two days to get here. I'd rather have them around when we need them than need them and not have them," Dan said.
Donny said, "I take it they are going to do some shopping before heading out."
"I reckon so," Dan said. He took another drag off his cigarette. He exhaled before he said, "They'll be bringing some stuff to help remove a dozen stumps. Of course, knowing Hank he'll be here with enough bang to take out a forest. Good old Uncle Sam taught him how to remove stumps with the best of them."
Joe laughed knowing full well that Hank always came over prepared for anything that could happen. He said, "I think it is about time we got the lay of the land out here."
"Yep," Dan said. "Then we see if we have to do something about that feral dog population."
"Before you go, can you leave some Skoal behind? They won't let me smoke in here," Sonny asked. He smiled when Donny pulled out a can from his shirt pocket and tossed it to him. He hid it under the sheet. He said, "There is a nurse on this floor who is meaner than hell. She took my smokes away from me."
A nurse entered the room, took one look at Dan, and then screeched, "What are you doing? You can't smoke in here!"
"Why not?" Dan asked, looking around the room to make sure there weren't any no smoking signs. While the nurse was standing there with her mouth opening and closing, Dan took another drag off the cigarette. He said, "There aren't any signs in here."
The nurse grabbed the cigarette out of his hand and threw it to the floor. She then gave a good impression of doing the Mexican hat dance on it. Dan stood there with his mouth opening and closing. The nurse said, "You aren't allowed to smoke here. It is against the law."
Looking down at the mangled mess that had once been his cigarette, Dan said, "I don't know what you're so hot about. Old Doc Taylor smokes when he's examining patients. Every time I've been to see him, he bums a cigarette from me."
"What is he? A vet?"
Sonny winked at his brother and said, "That's the nurse I was telling you about."
"Well Sonny, I think war has just been declared in Los Angeles."