The Aspen were turning a golden brown, the cattle were fattened for market, and Doc Marsden was drunk again. His head lay on the two planks that served as a bar in what could only charitably be called a saloon. There were two places for a man to drink in Timberline, and this was Doc’s preferred watering hole.
Earlier that day Doc had been busy enough. There’d been a big brawl at the Triple H, and Billy Harkness had shot his younger brother, Lukas, after a lucky punch had broken Billy’s overlarge nose. It wasn’t a bad wound; Lukas had ducked, and the bullet had skimmed his back and lodged in his calf.
Doc had dressed the back wound with a poultice and fished the 0.45 slug from the gastrocnemius. He knew that much anatomy, but not much more. His hands had shaken ’till he had swigged a few swallows of what passed for bourbon. It was nervous work whittling on a Harkness. Luckily Lukas and Billy were a sight more intoxicated than Doc, and their big brother Boone Harkness was somewhere up the trail. The eldest Harkness brother had restless snake eyes. Boone never missed a thing, especially a target. He made Doc Marsden sweat. Doc gave Lukas a spoonful of laudanum, and his patient was soon snoring peacefully on the door they had used as an operating table. Doc took a small swig himself.
After he was sure that the Harkness boy was settled down and Doc’s helper Marty Johnson was there to watch over Lukas, Doc headed for the saloon and started drinking again. He pondered how he had ended up in Timberline. This hadn’t been his plan when he’d left Philadelphia all those years ago.
Back in Philadelphia his name had been Antonio Lombano. His parents had been immigrants, and he had been lucky to work for a butcher. He’d grown sick of slicing meat, and when the war came he enlisted. Anything to get away from the smell of blood and hanging beefs.
When he enlisted with the 37th infantry he’d expected to learn to shoot a gun and maybe even to die. He might have to kill a couple of Rebs, but at least he would leave Philadelphia. Instead, when they learned he had worked as a butcher, he was relegated to the cook’s tent. He was back to slicing meat. For two months the only flank he outmaneuvered was with his cutting blade.
He had been disemboweling a steer one day when a group of surgeons walked by, looking for an eyeball to dissect. They watched approvingly as he wielded his blade. Three days later he had been reassigned to the medical service as a surgeon’s assistant.
Antonio was assigned to work with Dr. Marsden, a fine surgeon from Boston. He watched with admiration as the surgeon amputated shattered arms and legs, sometimes twenty in a session. Antonio’s job was to help staunch the flow of blood with tourniquet or cautery, to brush the maggots from open wounds, and to count and burn the severed limbs. He was handling meat again.
During the months with Dr. Marsden, Antonio kept his eyes open and watched the doctor’s technique. When things got too busy, he would take up the knife as well. He became expert at sounding bullet wounds and was competent at below-the-knee amputations.