Keeper
Chapter 23

Copyright© 2021 by Charly Young

After Quinn moved to another room, he decided that he needed a good run to bleed off some tension. The events of the last few days had screwed up his workout schedule. If he missed too many days, his PTSD tended to rear up worse than usual and bite his ass.

He unpacked and shrugged into a sweatshirt with a marine corps globe and anchor on the front. He slipped on his well-worn Nikes, muttering a promise to his feet to buy another pair and left the room. He’d seen a trail that ran along the river as he crossed the over the bridge. He ignored the guardians shadowing him.

He got back an hour later. A good-sized crowd lined the street. A food truck had arrived, and the rich smell of popping corn filled the air.

Quinn bought a bottle of water and a bag of popcorn, dropped the tailgate on his pickup and got ready to be entertained.

The Duel of the Shootists was about to begin.

He was glad the little shifter was at Anna’s. She’d hate the big crowd and noise. Don’t blame you, girl, I don’t much like crowds myself.

The Duel of the Shootists used to be one of his favorite things about this week when he was a kid. As he sat munching his popcorn, he remembered working extra hard the week before with all his tutors so Mister MacLeish would give him time off to go to this and the weekend logger’s rodeo. The stern old man was grudging when it came to leisure time fun.

The crowd’s noise hushed as two gunfighters, one dressed all in black and the other all in white, stalked toward each other down the middle of the street.

“Black Bart, you are a low-down dirty polecat” shouted the one in white. “You insulted my fair lady, Miss Margaret.”

Two little boys were standing next to the truck. They looked up at Quinn with excited grins and then swiveled their heads to the gunfighter in black to hear his response.

The man in black was the John Kelly who he had seen earlier at the Friendly Tavern.

His friends from the bar were well oiled as they called out mock encouragement to him from the other side of the street.

“Come on Johnny boy shoot straight,” they called to him. “You can do it.”

Black Bart swayed a bit as his hand hovered over his gun. Quinn looked closer. Black Bart was pale and sweating with a look of pure panic in his eyes.

Odd.

The crowd stirred, then parted to let a teenaged girl with blond hair and sparking gray eyes out on to the street. She was costumed in an ornate white and green striped saloon girl outfit. She strolled back and forth in front of Quinn, twirling a matching green umbrella in one hand, in an effort to keep the harsh sun from her fair skin. The other hand artfully dabbed a lace handkerchief up to her eyes, apparently to clear away a tear that he assumed was from the shame of the terrible insult to her honor.

He smiled at her antics and she shot him a saucy grin.

Miss Margaret, saloon girl and insulted soiled dove, had arrived.

“Julie, that dress in totally dope,” called out a petite red head dressed in a red checkered blouse and shorts and fringed cowboy boots.

“Be way cool to wear that old-fashioned thing the prom,” giggled her friend. “Samantha would totally shit if she saw you in it.”

The saloon girl grinned at her two friends and sashayed some more around in the street. She moved in front of Quinn, gave him a self-conscious smile, took a deep breath and began her part of the drama.

“Oh, do be careful, my darling”, she cried to her hero in white.

The hero, who looked to be all of sixteen, threw her a kiss and turned to give a steely glare at the dirty polecat.

“Draw, you miserable cad,” He shouted. The menace in his voice dampened a bit because his voice cracked and broke at the ‘miserable cad’ part.

Sudden wrongness.

Scent of apricots.

A spell at least a tenth order of compulsion erupted from a woman dressed in a colorful Mexican serape standing across the street from Quinn.

His glyphs flared white hot, but the spell was not directed at him. It enveloped the man in black. A blank look shuttered his eyes. The barrel of the pistol slid sideways till it was pointed toward Quinn.

Quinn desperately lunged, trying to shove the teenaged girl who stood in front of him out of the way.

Too late

The guns fired, Black Bart gave a lurch, clasped his hand to his chest and fell to the ground.

The gunfighter in in white holstered his gun to the applause of the crowd.

But it was Miss Margaret who had Quinn’s attention. She shrieked and fell, clutching her leg.

“Secure that weapon,” he shouted to the guardian who’d been shadowing him. “It’s loaded with live rounds.”

Moving quickly, he reached into the truck for the Unit One bag he kept behind the seat and was moving quickly back to the girl almost before the echoes of the shot faded.

Screams from the crowd were beginning as Quinn knelt at her side.

He shut out the crowd’s noise and let himself slip into the familiar survey routine that lance corporal Bobby Durant of Beaumont, Texas used to call his robot-mode. Quinn had done the exact same thing in all kinds of combat situations, so an emergency on the street of a small town posed no challenge. Cool-calm-concentration, his life had burned the discipline into a second nature.

Craftsmanship takes many forms.

“What’s your name, Miss?”

“Her name is Julie” A girl’s voice piped up behind.

“Please let her answer for herself,” Quinn said sharply.

The girl’s pulse was racing, her face sheet white, her eyes vague and shocky.

Quinn tapped her nose gently to draw her attention. As her eyes tracked and focused on him, he smiled and pushed her hair out of her eyes.

“Miss Julie, my name is Quinn. The bad news is that Black Bart just plugged you in the leg. The good news is the United States Navy trained me to fix things like this and I had plenty of time to practice on Marines, so I got really, really good at it.”

“Hurts”, she said. She was shivering. Shock setting in. He looked around; it was summer so no coats. He slipped off the USMC sweatshirt he’d worn for the run and draped it around her. Quinn was a big guy, so it was huge on her. He swaddled it around her.

Warmth and comfort, field expedient remedies for shock.

“I don’t wanna die. Am I gonna die?”

Quinn looked deep into her gray eyes and gave her a friendly confident grin.

“Listen up Missy, nobody dies on my watch. Now let’s get you fixed up.”

Blood pooling on the street beside her right leg.

He slipped on latex gloves, grabbed the scissors in the bag, lifted the hem of her dress and sliced away her pantyhose to expose the wound.

“Call for dust-off,” he called absently as he was cutting away her nylon stocking. “Tell ‘em we got a GSW, tib-fib. Give them our location. Tell them we need it spooling up and moving right now.”

“What,”

Quinn remembered where he was, “Use your cell to call an ambulance.

He chattered with the girl as he worked. Quinn was practiced at “doc speak” designed to reassure the patient. Even the most hardened marines regress to a five-year-old with a cut knee wanting a daddy or mommy to take care of it.

She moaned as he moved her leg to get a look at the wound.

“Miss Julie, good news was the wound is on the outside of your calf, well away from that pesky femoral artery. I’m going to fix you up until the ambulance can get you to a doctor. Your dress, however, might be a lost cause. You’re going to have to ask that saloon keeper over at the Long Branch to buy you a new one.”

The round must have either tumbled or ricocheted because the hole was large and spurting bright red blood, so one of the smaller arteries that run on the outside was impacted.

Corpsman and medics hate and fear pain in their patients. Normal people never consciously cause pain in the performance of their job—corpsmen do. The wound needed to be plugged. A tourniquet by itself wouldn’t do. And plugging the hole was going to be a special level of hellish pain for this little girl.

“This is going to hurt like a bastard sweetie,” Quinn said. “But it will help with the bleeding. I’ll be as quick as I can.”

 
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