Twenty minutes had passed since the grim reality of what Doc had done hit him. He rolled over onto his stomach. The wooden floor felt rough on his cheek. Quietly, he stared off into the distance.
Annabelle’s pretty face appeared in front of his. He didn’t move or acknowledge her.
“Doc?” the blond asked as she nudged him. “Doc?”
More nudges until the physician spoke. His showman persona was gone and a depressed monotone had taken its place.
“Leave me be woman.”
“Leave me be, I say.”
Annabelle stepped away. Doc laid there, listening to the voices around the room.
“Fuck him sideways,” Miss Bonnie said. “He’s killed us all.”
“Oh, he couldn’t have known,” Gunther said.
“Why are you defending him?” Miss Bonnie asked. “He’s an asshole. He’s probably in cahoots with Blythe.”
“I doubt it,” Gunther said. “He’s a two-bit huckster but he doesn’t seem evil to me. Just one of those folks who’s too smart for his own good is all.”
“Rain, are you going to back me up here?” Miss Bonnie asked.
“Bonnie’s right,” Slade said.
“Thank you,” Miss Bonnie said.
“Doc is an asshole,” Slade added.
“We all agree on that,” Gunther said. “It’s the evil part we need to figure out.”
Doc could hear the old man’s footsteps coming closer. He felt a pair of hands grab his side and roll him onto his back until he was looking straight up at the faces of Gunther, Slade, Miss Bonnie, Miles, and Anabelle.
“Start talking,” Gunther said.
Too ashamed to look anyone in the eye, Doc fixed his gaze on the ceiling.
“I am an utter failure.”
“We figured,” Gunther said. “Why in the hell have you been pushing vampire blood on everyone with two bits to rub together?”
“I didn’t know it was vampire’s blood,” Doc replied.
“How could you have not known it was vampire’s blood?” Miss Bonnie asked.
“I swear I only thought it was a mixture consisting mostly of cocaine, a cocktail of other miscellaneous drugs, and spider eggs for texture.”
Doc covered his face with his hand. “Oh how I hope this scandal does not sour public opinion on the curative properties of cocaine.”
“There’s only a drop of vampire blood in it,” Miles said. “I couldn’t tell what the rest of it was.”
“Cocaine I assure you,” Doc said.
Annabelle knelt down next to Doc. “Now you see here, Doctor Elias T. Faraday,” Annabelle said. “You may be a cocaine addict and a degenerate pervert but there isn’t an evil bone in your entire body so you stop fretting and tell everyone what happened right now.”
Doc coughed. “Might I have a drink?”
“Shit,” Gunther said. “I think you’ve had enough.”
“Yes,” Doc said. “But my mouth. It’s so dry. Like a desert. This illness. So odd.”
Another pair of feet stepped over. Doc felt the end of a bottle part his lips. Whiskey trickled down his throat.
“My booze is your booze,” the Reverend said as he backed away.
“Much better,” Doc said. “And it makes it easier for me to reveal the sad news to you that I am not an admirable man.”
“We gathered,” Gunther said.
Miss Bonnie cocked her shotgun. “Can we just put him out of his misery already?”
“Spill it, Doc,” Gunther said.
“I begin this sordid tale with a confession that I am not at all what I have held myself out to be…”
“You’re not a real doctor?” Gunther asked.
That question brought Doc’s usual know-it-all tone back. “What? How dare you sir? My medical credentials are impeccable!”
“Then what?” Gunther asked.
Doc winced. “I am…”
Everyone stared at Doc intently, waiting for the big reveal.
“…a lowly Chestnut Hill Farraday.”
“Oh for Christ’s sakes,” Gunther said.
“I’m telling you,” Miss Bonnie said. “He’s with Blythe and he’s trying to mess with our heads right now.”
“Stop it Bonnie,” Annabelle said. “I love this man!”
Miss Bonnie rolled her eyes. Doc grabbed Annabelle’s arm. “You do, my dear?”
“Of course,” Anabelle said. “I’ve waited my entire life to find someone as perverted as I am. Someone willing to do…”
Anabelle blushed as she remembered she was in mixed company. “That thing…with that thing.”
Doc raised an eyebrow. “Which thing?” he asked.
“You know,” Anabelle said. “The thing...”
“Oh yes,” Doc said. “Oh what fun that thing is.”
“You’re going to get better,” Anabelle said. “I know it. And when you do, we’re going to travel the world and inspect beavers and advise people on the curative properties of cocaine…”
Doc grinned. “Oh I hope so, my dear. I surely hope so.”
Gunther scratched his head. “I feel like I’ve missed something.”
“They’re nuts,” Miss Bonnie said.
“Good people,” Doc said. “After the wretched British were driven from our shores, my family’s great ancestral patriarch, Cornelius J. Faraday made a fortune in the fishing game. He started small with but one boat and one pole but soon had his own fleet and enough money to make a sultan blush.”
“Gunther,” Slade said. “Are we going to listen to this asshole forever?”
“We can’t just condemn a man without hearing his piece, can we?” Gunther asked. “This is America, aint it? Innocent until proven guilty and such?”
“Thank you deputy,” Gunther said. “And so, Cornelius passed his magnificent wealth down to his children and the Faradays went from being known as gruff sea folk to one of the most well to-do families in all of Boston. Patrons of the arts and sciences, champions of education, and generous benefactors of the social welfare.”
Doc coughed again before carrying on. “Alas, a rift grew between my grandfather, Sylvester B. Faraday, and my father, Sherman A. Faraday. My father was a bit of a cad, you see, obsessed with carousing until all hours of the night and my grandfather feared he would squander the family fortune on wine, women and song.”
Miss Bonnie was not amused. “Oh for the love of…”
“Grandfather left the entire sum of his estate to my more respectable uncle, Humphrey M. Faraday, thus cutting my father and his ensuing line out of the will entirely.”
“What the hell does that mean?” Miss Bonnie asked.
“He’s broke,” Gunther said. “Are you broke?”
“I was,” Doc said. “A recent graduate of the venerable Harvard University but alas, my medical degree was useless to me in New England as my father, my mother and my siblings all turned to a life of petty crime. They became known as filthy pickpockets, snatching up wallets and purses all over the neighborhood of Chestnut Hill. And though I never once absconded with a cent that did not belong to me, my reputation suffered as in the public’s eye, I was lumped in with them. I tried my best to disassociate myself from the Chestnut Hill side of the clan, even going so far as to falsely claim that Uncle Humphrey was my father but no one would hear of it. From Maine to Rhode Island, everyone knew which side of the family I was from and no reputable hospital would have me.”
“White folks have some strange problems,” Miles said.
“Not one to give up, I headed West, seeking fame and fortune in this Godless country yet being careful to introduce myself to everyone as a proper Boston Faraday and not a Chestnut Hill Faraday…”
“Doc,” Gunther said. “Massachusetts might as well be Africa to me and most folk out here. I think your secret was safe all along.”
“Perhaps,” Doc said. “But I did not wish to take the chance that other Bostonians who have traveled out this way might spread word of my shame. I figured if I protested against the Chestnut Hill Farradays loudly enough, no one on this side of the country would ever believe claims that I was one of them.”
Anabelle kissed Doc on the lips. “I still love you Doc.”
“And I you, my dear.”
“Ugh,” Miss Bonnie said.
“From thereon I explored this untamed land,” Doc said. “Moving from town to town, selling my services as a physician for a price, offering gynecological inspections for free simply because I believe these to be a preventive measure that could lead to the lives of countless women from ending prematurely.”
“Dirty pervert,” Miss Bonnie said.
“What the hell is a gynecological inspection?” Gunther asked.
Miss Bonnie whispered into Gunther’s ear.
“Oh,” the old man said. “Dirty pervert.”
“I know,” Annabelle said as she stroked Doc’s hair. “And he’s my pervert.”
Doc continued his tale. “In Colorado, I met Mr. Henry Alan Blythe, a splendid gentleman who held himself out to me as an attorney for the Legion Corporation, a company dedicated to building railways across the West and bringing much needed goods, services and industry to the masses.”
“And apparently they want to end the world too,” the Reverend said as he poured another shot into Doc’s mouth, which was graciously lapped up.
“It would seem so,” Doc said. “Oh, but I would have never associated myself with Mr. Blythe had I know of his vile machinations.”
“Bullshit,” Miss Bonnie said.
“It’s the truth, I swear,” Doc said. Mr. Blythe stated to me that scientists in his company’s employ had devised a miracle potion, an elixir capable of curing all ailments and extending life indefinitely. It’s key ingredient, he noted, was cocaine and I have long been a proponent of the curative properties of cocaine, even though my professors balked at the notion. It makes your heart flutter like the wings of a butterfly, fills the body with renewed vigor, and relieves the mind of its burdens. There couldn’t possibly be anything wrong with it.”
“Doc I’m no doctor but I think this just means you’re a dope fiend,” Gunther said.
“I am a medicine fiend, sir,” Doc said sternly. “And Mr. Blythe explained to me that it would be necessary for a doctor in good standing to travel from town to town, extolling the virtues of this wonderful brew. The credit and profits would be entirely mine as Mr. Blythe assured me that Legion’s only desire was to fill the West with a healthy population, thus ensuring a bright and happy future for the ever expanding United States of America.”
Miss Bonnie and Gunther looked at each other. The red head took aim at Doc’s head but Gunther pushed the barrel down toward the ground.
“Doc,” Gunther said.
“You’re telling us that a lawyer for a money grubbing corporation that’s ripping up the West and laying track all over creation claimed to have a drink that can cure everyone’s problems and that they’d just up and give it away to you for free?”
“Yes,” Doc said.
Miss Bonnie raised the barrel once more but Gunther pushed it down again.
“And at no time did this deal seem a tad suspicious to you?” Gunther asked.
“It was peculiar,” Doc said. “But I was obsessed with restoring my good name. I yearned to no longer be known as a Chestnut Hill Farraday but rather as the doctor who spread the curative properties of cocaine mixed with miscellaneous drugs across the globe. I refused to even consider the possibility that I had been the victim of fraudulence.”
“You were duped all right,” Gunther said.
“I was prideful,” Doc said. “I wanted the Miracle Cure-All to work and my friends, I must say, absent the vampire’s blood, it does work. Up until now I have never felt better in all of my life and I owe it all to cocaine.”
Gunther conferred with Miss Bonnie.
“He’s an asshole,” Gunther said. “But he’s not an evil asshole.”
Miss Bonnie took her finger off the trigger. “Oh all right.”
Slade grabbed one of Doc’s arms and Gunther grabbed the other. They helped Doc into a chair. The physician slumped over, his face milky white and devoid of any color.
“You all have every right to despise me for my ignorance,” Doc said. “But know that the hatred you feel for me shall never match that which I feel for myself.”
Annabelle threw her arms around Doc’s neck. “Oh Doc! No one hates you.”
The blonde looked around the room.
“Tell him you all don’t hate him!”
Various half-hearted denials of hatred were mumbled. The only holdouts were Miss Bonnie who replied that she did, in fact, still hate Doc, and the Reverend, who stated, “I barely know this jackass.”
Doc rubbed the scratch on his cheek. “And rest assured, Ms. Lassiter, I am now paying the price for my stupidity.”
Miles examined the scratch. “I still think you’re going to be fine,” the boy said. “If you were going to become a zombie, you’d be a zombie by now.”
“That is where you are wrong, my dear boy,” Doc said. “For as a practitioner of medical science, it is clear to me that Mr. Blythe’s blood contains some sort of contagion that turns man into beast…”
“Quickly,” Miles said.
“Indeed,” Doc said. “Unless one possesses an immunity.”
“A what?” Miles asked.