Thunder

 

 

The old dentist peered through a pair of slim spectacles that distorted his eyes. He reached into Cole's mouth and tapped one of his golden molars.

††††††††††† These should come out just fine, he said. Just fine.

Cole clapped his mouth shut as the dentist withdrew his hand and he chewed on his molars for a moment savoring their metallic tang. The dentist turned to his tray, all shiny with stainless implements that screamed slow torture and pain. They tinkled as he fumbled for an extractor. Cole shuffled in the chair and he squirmed and then got up, throwing off the smock.

††††††††††† I can't do it, he said. I'm sorry for your trouble, but I just canít do it.

The dentist peered up at tall Cole Withers, his head beaded with sweat, his eyes alight with flame, and he dropped the extractor in the tray and sighed through his nose like a mule.

Son, one way or another you got to pay that fine. Now you done sold your guns and that fancy saddle, so do yourself a favor, sit back down and we'll get this thing over.

The dentist went about arranging his instruments while Cole eyed the chair and the cold steel extractor; which would enter his mouth and kidnap the remainder of his Carson City jackpot. They were four of the prettiest things -solid gold molars made special in Nevada by a man who once fashioned teeth for the Viscount of Olamar, or so the sign had said. He bought them one night on a drunken bender while the gold still bounced like sacks of flour on the flanks of his horse and bulged from his pockets and fell free from his fingers like a rich man at Christmas time. Now they were all he had left, his only possessions other than his hat and his clothes and the big calico stallion he called Thunder. The dentist looked up at him and pulled his glasses down below the bridge of his nose.

††††††††††† If you ask me, you're crazy for not selling that horse. Horses come and horses go but a solid gold tooth, well that's money in the bank. That's piece of mind.

††††††††††† Just do it Doc, do it and spare me your lessons.

††††††††††† A man only hits a strike like that once in lifetime. If he's lucky.

††††††††††† I told you to get busy.

††††††††††† Suit yourself.

Cole steadied himself on the back of the chair, his knuckles still raw and scabby from throwing punches in the saloon. His wrists were cut up from the broken glass of the window he went through, twice, and he had a shinier the color of a Bermuda onion over his right eye. He stood up and glanced toward the dusty window where Sheriff Shawny Mack was out oiling his Colt and his deputy Charlie Red Foot was smoking tobacco and waving to ladies in the street. The sheriff snapped the gun shut with a click and rapped on the window with the barrel. He pointed to the chair with his finger and then at Cole with the pistol. The old dentist held the smock up like a haberdasher and Cole stepped into it allowing it to be tied around his neck. He sat down and opened his mouth wide like a little boy and he closed his eyes tight and he gulped. He grabbed the wooden handles on the side of the chair and the old dentist climbed up on top of him for leverage and he stuck the extractor into his mouth. The scream that followed caused Shawny Mack to drop his gun and Charlie Red Foot to choke on his tobacco and the ladies in the street all stopped and then shuffled on past them with quick little steps like barnyard fowl at witness to the slaughter. The first molar dropped into the tray with a clank that made Cole's heart sink. He must have passed out, for when he opened his eyes he saw them all lying there, shiny through the blood like fresh nuggets pulled from stone. Blood dripped from his lips and his head throbbed terribly but the old dentist handed him a bottle of whiskey; which he upended and swallowed. The liquor stung like turpentine in the open pits of his jaw. The sheriff came in through the door and met Cole's wild eyes. He saw the teeth on the tray and he smiled. Cole spat blood on the floor at the Sheriff's feet, stood up, swayed and fell back down onto the chair. He saw little stars dancing in front of his face. He got up slowly and put on his hat. He scooped up the teeth and rattled them in his open hand like dice, pushing past the old dentist with the bottle of whiskey in his hand. The sheriff slowly backed away from the door. Cole stepped onto the porch and the law men turned to him and then to each other. Shawny Mack held out his hand while Charlie Red Foot rubbed the butt of his revolver.

††††††††††† You're a born loser Cole, just like your pappa and you'll die like him too, drunk, toothless and broke.

Cole clenched his fists and gritted his bloody teeth. The sheriff smiled and Cole turned toward Thunder, tied loose at the rail. He remembered well the day the animal was born. He slid out of the mare during a biblical storm, under a black cloud that cracked open like doomsday and spilled hot drops of rain through the roof of the barn. He was all wobble-legged and weak and coated shiny with his mother's insides, but even then Cole could see his true colors. A thousand days of riding him passed through his mind like picture postcards hurled into the wind. Old Thunder had been shot out from under him twice, sheltered him from wind and rain and carried him across three mountain ranges. The horse had seen his share of the trail and eaten enough dust to close the pass to California but he'd still fetch three-hundred dollars for his size and his strength. Shawny Mack stepped closer.

††††††††††† I'll just take them teeth now. You can ride off into the hills and start looking for your next motherlode. And if you find it Cole, don't come back.

The dusty law-men laughed and spit and Cole held out his hand with the teeth glittering in his palm like magic beads. He turned to the law and his eyes darted between the two men. The deputy stepped toward him and the sheriff grabbed for his arm but Cole pulled away clutching the teeth.

††††††††††† Now don't make this hard Cole, just hand over them teeth and ride on outta here, Shawny said.

Cole's mouth filled with blood, and when he spoke he sounded like a man underwater.

††††††††††† I ain't ridin' out, I aim to walk,he said.

And he popped the teeth back into his mouth and swallowed them with a gulp of whiskey. He gestured to the horse and he nodded.

††††††††††† That there'll take care of what I owe you and then some.

He stepped off the porch and walked down the street without looking back as Thunder shuffled a hoof and whinnied. Charlie Red Foot whistled through his teeth and took the reins of the animal, whose big eyes rolled back to take a last look at the only man who had ever rode him.

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