Twinging and Whinging
(AKA The Hunchback of Ludlow Creek)
By Maz McCoy
Heyes stood on the balcony outside their hotel room early that morning watching the people of Ludlow Creek go about their business. Stores were opening up, wagons rolled into town and a delicious smell rose from Delilah’s cafeteria. The sky was blue with not a cloud as far as the horizon. It was going to be…
“You all right?”
“Do I sound all right?”
Heyes stepped into the room to find his friend crouched over a chair, gripping the back for grim death.
“Sheesh Kid, you’re all bent over.”
“Amazin’ powers of observation. No wonder you think you’re a genius.”
“My back. My back is what’s wrong. I can’t move.”
“What did you do?”
“Well you must have done something I mean…”
“I moved Heyes, I moved and it went…*$#*! It hurts.”
“Guess we won’t be riding out today.”
Two ice blue eyes turned to Heyes.
“No need to get proddy, Kid.”
“I’m in pain, Heyes! I reckon that gives me a damn good reason to get proddy!”
“All right, calm down. Let’s get you to the bed.”
“If I could get to the bed don’t you think I would have done?”
Heyes took a deep breath and mentally counted to ten.
“Well, what can you do?”
“I can stand here, in agony, listening to you stating the obvious!”
“Okay, but can you move?”
Kid tried to stand upright.
“I guess not.” Heyes looked around. “Can you shuffle sideways?”
“I reckon I could try.”
“So shuffle towards the bed.”
With determination on his face, Kid let go of the chair and took two small tentative steps to his right, grimaced, then caught hold of the bedstead.
“So far so good huh?” Heyes encouraged.
Kid’s knuckles turned white as he gripped the ironwork. Taking a deep breath he edged his way along the bed, resting his hands on the patchwork blanket as he did so. When he reached the pillow he turned his body, slowly, and sat down.
“*$#*!” He cursed as the mattress gave under his weight.
“If I could lie down don’t you think I would?”
“I’ll grab your feet and swing you onto the…”
“You do and I’ll kill ya.”
“Don’t be so dramatic.”
“I’m not jokin’, Heyes. I am in pain, so don’t push me.”
“All right, you tell me when you’re ready and I’ll help you lie down.”
Kid nodded. Heyes grabbed Kid’s ankles and swung his body round and onto the bed.
“What the heck did you do that for?”
“I was just agreeing with ya, not telling you to do it!”
“Well, you’re lying down now. Feel better?”
“No. I wanna shoot someone!”
Heyes pulled off Kid’s boots, receiving a glare each time he tugged.
“You stay there and I’ll go and see if I can find the doctor.” Heyes reached for his hat. “Okay?”
Fighting the waves of agony each muscle spasm caused, Kid nodded.
With a cheery smile, Heyes left the room.
“Turn over,” Heyes instructed as he settled himself in a chair beside the bed.
“Come on, try. I got some stuff for your back.”
Suspicious blue eyes met his partner’s gaze.
“Stuff to help your back.”
“Something the hotel manager recommended.”
“You asked him? What about the doctor?”
“He’s out of town. Apparently Mrs. Johansson is expecting her third baby. Wendy, that’s the lady who works in the general store, she thinks it’ll be a boy this time but Albert, her husband; nice man but not the sharpest pencil in the box if you know what I mean, he thinks it’ll be another girl.”
“Do I look as if I care?”
“Just making conversation, Kid.”
“Sheesh, you’re not this bad when you’ve been shot!”
“So what is this stuff?”
“It’s a muscle rub. The manager swears by it. Says it’s cured many a bad back and aching muscles in no time. Wendy, that’s the lady in the store, remember?” Blue eyes narrowed. “Okay, well she says they sell a lot of it. So come on, turn over.”
Slowly, because everything he did had to be done slowly, Kid eased himself onto his back, lying face down in the pillow. Oh, that hurt! Heyes removed the pillow allowing Kid to lie flat. Kid turned his head so that he could keep an eye on his partner. Heyes pulled Kid’s shirt free of his pants and up towards his shoulders.
“Where does it hurt?” Heyes laid his hand on Kid’s back. “Here?”
Heyes moved his hand to Kid’s lumbar region and pressed.
“I guess I found it.”
“Do you hafta be so damn cheery?”
“Just my naturally jolly, bedside manner, Kid.” Heyes opened the jar he’d purchased and sniffed the white, oily substance. Phew! He took a handful and placed it on Kid’s back, watching Kid’s back muscles tense as he did so.
“What is that smell?”
“Just the healing vapours.” Heyes began to rub in the embrocation. Kid flinched and twitched as his partner’s hands moved over his back. “How’s that feel?”
“Well, you have to give it time to work.” Heyes slapped another dollop of the embrocating lotion on Kid’s back. He sure hoped this stuff washed off his hands because…Phew, did it stink. He continued to rub the lotion into Kid’s muscles.
“OW! OW! Sheesh! OW!”
“Will you stop moaning. Lie still, you’re supposed to be a tough outlaw.”
“There are no rules says an outlaw can’t feel pain. Especially when he’s being pummelled on by a…OW!” Kid glared at the mattress. “I think you’re doin’ that deliberately.”
Finally, Heyes finished and stepped back.
“It feels kinda warm,” Kid observed.
“That’s its healing powers at work.”
“It sure don’t smell too good.”
“That fades in time.”
“Did he tell you that? The manager?”
Heyes decided to ignore the question because he wasn’t about to admit he didn’t know the answer. Replacing the lid on the jar, he poured some water from the jug into the bowl on the wash stand and scrubbed his hands, then scrubbed them again until the smell of the lotion had begun to fade.
“So how does it feel, Kid?”
“It aches, Heyes. I sure hope no one knows who we are ‘cos there’s no way I can ride.”
“Don’t worry,” Heyes told his partner’s bare back. “After a good night’s rest you’ll be fine.”
Sweat ran down Kid’s face.
“I hope you’re right, Heyes.”
“When am I ever wrong?”
“I’m in too much pain to list ‘em all.”
A knock at the door woke Kid from a light doze. Still lying on his stomach he raised his head to listen when Heyes answered the door.
“Hello Senor,” a woman said. “The manager said Senor Jones had a bad back. I’ve brought him some hot towels.”
“Please, come in.” Heyes stood to one side, allowing the young, dark-haired beauty into the room. Spanish parents, definitely, although there was something else in her accent that he couldn’t quite put a finger on. And she had very beautiful eyes; beautiful. Heyes smiled. “I’m Joshua, Joshua Smith, Miss…?”
“Please call me, Rosetta.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you Rosetta. That sorry looking man lying there is Senor Jones.”
With a nod she moved across the room, placed the towels on the chair and crouched down beside the bed coming face to face with Kid. Long eyelashes fluttered and she smiled when he met her gaze.
Kid smiled as he met those deep brown eyes.
“Well, Thaddeus, I’ve brought you hot towels for your back. They should help ease the pain. Would you like me to place them for you?”
Standing up she turned to Heyes.
“He will need to remove his shirt.”
Heyes stepped forward.
“You heard the lady, Thaddeus.” With Kid grumbling and groaning, Heyes managed to pull his shirt over his head and off his body.
“Hey, there’s a lady present.”
“Do not worry. I understand, Thaddeus. You are in pain. Don’t try to be brave.”
“He’s not,” Heyes assured her.
She looked at Kid’s strong back, and then met Heyes’ questioning eyes. “His…” she pointed to Kid’s pants.
“I will wait on the balcony.” Opening the door, Rosetta stepped outside.
“What is it?”
“The lady wants your pants off, Kid.”
Heyes reached beneath his friend’s body fumbling for the buttons. Kid groaned as he raised his hips.
“Please tell me she can’t see this.”
Heyes cast a glance at the window.
“Nope. The lady’s discretely watching the street. Our reputations are intact.” When the buttons were undone, Heyes gently pulled Kid’s pants down his legs and off his body, leaving his friend clad in just long johns and socks. Kid heard Heyes walk to the window and summon Rosetta back into the room. She stood at the blond man’s side and wrinkled her nose.
“That smell. Have you used…?”
“Embrocation, yes,” Heyes cut in quickly.
“Oh.” She studied Kid’s back.
“I need to…” She tugged the waistband of his long johns. “Lower.”
Sheesh, could it get any more embarrassing?
Soft hands slipped around the waistband and lowered the material, revealing the top of Kid’s butt. One by one, warm towels were placed on his body.
“Oh. Oh yeah…Oh, that feels good…So good. Oh lower, lower, Rosetta…Yeah, just there, that is…Oh, sweetheart, I think I want to marry you.”
Heyes watched, his friend. Yep the woman was only putting towels on him.
Sheesh, Kid was almost…Well sheesh!
“Senor Thaddeus, they are only hot towels.”
“Not in your hands, Rosetta, not in your hands.”
Heyes rolled his eyes.
When she finished, Rosetta headed for the door.
“I will come back later to replace them.”
“You come back anytime you want!” Kid called.
Rosetta smiled at Heyes and left.
“I don’t believe you, Kid.”
“You’re lying there in agony and you’re still flirting with her and…”
“You should be ashamed of yourself.”
“You know why!”
“Just my natural charm, Heyes. Just my natural…” He moved. “OW!”
“How does that feel Mister Jones?” Doctor Almus asked the following morning. Kid sat, clad in just his long johns, legs either side of the chair, his arms resting on the back as the doctor examined him. Kid gritted his teeth as the medical man continued to push and prod his back muscles.
“That hurts too, Doc.”
“You have a lot of tension here.” He pressed.
“I take it that hurt.”
“Yeah. Sorry, Doc.”
“Don’t worry I understand.” The doctor placed his hand on Kid’s back, supporting him, then placed his fingers in just the right place on Kid’s lower back, manipulating and then and…
“There, how’s that?” The doctor moved round to face Kid. He waited until the man had control of his emotions and the murderous glare in his eyes disappeared. “Has the pain eased?”
Sceptically, Kid rolled his shoulders and eased his back… surprise appeared on his face.
“It does feel a little better.”
“A trick taught to me by an Indian friend of mine. I think we’ll leave it there for now. I’ll come back this evening and we’ll try some more manipulation, what do you say?”
“In the mean time, take those powders for the pain and try to walk about as much as you can. Exercise is good for the muscles and will stop them seizing up. I know most people think lying still is best but in my experience movement is the key. Oh, and Rosetta’s hot towels will help too.” Kid was happy to agree with that. The doctor packed up his bag and nodded to Mister Smith who had sat quietly watching them. Placing his hat on his head the doctor headed towards the door. He paused when he placed his hand on the door knob. “Oh and I don’t know who suggested it but I’d avoid using any more of that horse ointment. Smells to blazes and doesn’t usually work on anything but our equine friends.”
The door closed as Kid turned to face Heyes.
“The doctor seemed like a nice man. Good job he…”
“Horse ointment? You put horse oil on me, Heyes?”
“Now, Kid I didn’t know until…”
“Until when? When you read the label? You did read the label didn’tcha?”
Someone creeping about the room woke Heyes. In the darkness he reached for his gun and drew back the hammer. The figure froze.
“You gonna shoot me?”
“Sheesh, Kid! What are you doing?”
“Walking.” There was a flare of a match as Heyes lit the oil lamp. Two tired brown eyes blinked as Heyes stared at his friend, hunched over, moving from one piece of furniture to the next as he used them for support.
“It’s the middle of the night.”
“I’m aware of that.”
“So why are you walking about?”
“The doctor said I should keep the muscles moving.”
“Kid, I really don’t think he meant in the middle of the night.”
“I couldn’t sleep. My back hurts too much.”
“I could think of a way to put you out.”
“I can still reach my gun, you know.”
“Okay, okay. You keep walking about like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
“The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Quasimodo.”
“That some Indian chief?”
“No, he was a deaf bell ringer in a book.”
“You and your books.”
“You can learn a lot from reading.”
“Okay so what did this Quasi…?”
“Quasimodo do? Did he have a bad back?”
“Yeah, he did. He was deaf too, from ringing the bells so much. It’s by a man named Victor Hugo. Good book.”
“He wrote a book about a guy with a bad back?”
“Well he was more deformed, but he was a hero, in the end.”
“Heyes, as fascinating as this isn’t, what does it have to do with me?”
“Nothing, just you reminded me of him.”
“A deformed bell ringer?”
“In truth, Kid? Seeing you standing there like that? Yep. All we need is Esmeralda.”
“The woman he saved.”
“So he wasn’t all bad?”
“No, no he wasn’t.”
“Did his back get better?”
“No, he died.”
“Of a bad back?”
“No. I can’t remember. It’s been a while since I read it.” Heyes yawned. “So are you going back to bed or what?”
Two days later, Kid leaned against the door frame and smiled. Standing in the hall, towels draped over her arms, Rosetta smiled back.
“You know I’m fully functional now,” Kid informed her.
“I am glad to hear that, Thaddeus.”
“So, do you think you and I could…” he leaned forward.
Sitting on his bed reading, Heyes studied his partner over the top of his book, watching as the blond man whispered in Rosetta’s ear. Heyes rolled his eyes.