Hannibal Heyes was not a well man. His face was pale, his brow fevered, his pulse racing, his whole body ached. He was probably dying. NO, there was no probably about it, he was definitely dying. He sat in the doctor’s office in the aptly named Ailing Creek and waited for the end. It was just a matter of time before the doctor -who for some reason had seen fit to abandon Hannibal Heyes in his hour of need to go and tend to a crying baby in the room next door- pronounced him a lost cause. His stomach rolled and the contents threatened to make another appearance. He reached for the pail placed strategically between his booted feet and waited for the inevitable.
“You feelin’ sick again?” Kid asked from his seat across the room.
“Again?” the impatient queried. “What do you mean again? I ain’t stopped feeling sick.”
Kid shrugged. “You know what I mean.” He returned his attention to the book he was thumbing through, one he’d found on the doctor’s well stocked bookshelf.
“I think I’m dying,” Heyes informed him.
“You said that last night but you’re still here,” his friend reminded him.
“Well, now I really am.” Heyes retched and Kid grimaced. Something hit the bottom of the pail and a rancid smell filled the air. Kid covered his nose with the back of his hand. “I don’t understand how I’m ill and you’re not.”
“Guess God just likes me better.”
Heyes glared at his so-called friend. “I mean we both ate at the same restaurant, we had the same food. Both had a couple of beers, maybe a whiskey or two.”
“Two?” Blue eyes looked up from the page.
“All right, four or five, but I can hold my liquor.” Heyes head dropped, clearly holding it up was too much of an effort. His voice echoed in the metal pail when he spoke. “And we both had breakfast at the cafeteria.”
“Those were good eggs,” Kid remarked and was promptly treated to different kind of review from Heyes. Did he have to keep doing that?
“What’s keeping that doctor? Doesn’t he realise I’m dying?”
“The little girl broke her arm, Heyes. I guess he felt she was…”
“What?” Two pathetic brown eyes fixed on Kid Curry who searched for a tactful response.
“I guess he felt it should be ladies first.”
“Huh. Women! Probably their cooking’s the reason I’m dying.”
Kid smiled and turned a page. “You’re not dyin’.”
“Easy for you to say.”
Kid shook his head. “You know this book’s a wealth of information.” He tapped the binding of the weighty tome he held. “Did you know there’s a worm that can…”
Heyes threw up again.
“Guess you don’t want to hear about that.”
Heyes wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Does it say what I have? Bubonic plague or some rare disease? Something new to medical science?”
“Well, I think I might have the answer.”
Heyes looked hopefully at his partner. “You do? What is it? Can it be cured?”
“I looked up your symptoms. You’ve been throwing up.”
“You got no energy.”
“A little kid could push me over.”
“You got any strange tastes in your mouth?”
Heyes looked up at him, a pail full of unpleasantness in his hands. “You’re kidding, right?”
“I’ll take that as a yes. And you sure are grouchy.”
“Wouldn’t you be?”
“You been passing a lot of water.”
“Using the bathroom.”
“It’s like I got a river inside me. Speaking of which.” Heyes stood up ready to leave. He paused. Considered his actions. “Nope, guess not.” He sat down.
“You’re not interested in eatin’ or drinkin’.”
“I can’t keep anything down!” Heyes wailed.
“Exactly.” Kid tapped the page open in front of him. “That’s what it says here.”
“So what is it? How long have I got?”
“By my reckoning, nine months.”
“Oh my God!”
“It’s not a laughing matter!”
“It is from where I’m sittin’.”
“How can you say that? I thought we were friends. Tell me what I have. I can take it.” Heyes forced his shoulders back, ready to take it like a..yeah…like a man.
“Heyes, I think you’re pregnant.”
In the office next door, the doctor looked up as he attached a splint to Louisa Knott’s arm. He was sure he could hear someone laughing.