Prompt: Write a story that puts a new spin on a cliched western character trope.
Meet the Sheriff of the Strip — Professor Percival J. Pericles, purveyor of miraculous medicines, tonics, and treatments. No matter the ailment, Dr. Pericles had a remedy. This little distinguished him from the other traveling medicine men of his time. He would have never made into the history books for his medical insights. What made Percy special was he couldn’t be killed. No bullet had his name on it.
This remarkable trait was unknown to Percy. He never had to face a gun until later in life. He grew up sickly and frail, a hypochondriac. His tinctures and lotions were developed to treat his many ailments. He never had to deal with lead poisoning, never developed a treatment for a bullet. Percy avoided fights, any altercations, even mild disagreements from dissatisfied customers. Instead of fighting or returning their money, he left town. Money was important to Percy.
It was early summer when Percy stumbled into the Strip. He was on his way from Cheyenne to Santa Fe when Connie lost her right hind shoe. Connie was his favorite mule. This forced him to detour to the Strip. The Strip was a lawless area carved out of the Uintah-Ouray Indian Reservation for the sole purpose of mining asphaltum (Uintaite). Through political shenanigans, the Strip was beyond local and territorial control. It was lawless, in fact and statute. The Wild Bunch (Butch Cassidy) and the Red Sash Gang operated with impunity.
The adjacent Fort Duchesne provided bored soldiers. The mine had miners with money for whiskey, gambling, and prostitution. The Strip provided whiskey to the Indians. All beyond the pale of the law. Into this town of inequity, our Professor wandered in search of a blacksmith. Once there, he found fame.
As he drove down the only street in town, he didn’t escape notice. His red, yellow, and black wagon was not designed for stealth. He attracted a following. Not young kids and dogs, but drunks and scallywags. Some even threw rocks. Not big ones, but large enough to annoy the mules. Percy made it to the stable with a blacksmith with only a few unsettling moments. He unhitched his wagon and led Connie and Sadie inside. Told the blacksmith what he needed, then returned to his wagon.
He decided this was as good a place to set up shop as any. Across the street were saloons. Up and down the street were saloons cheek by jowl. Some had women sunning themselves on balconies. Almost all had gambling. Where there was gambling, women, and booze, there would be men, potential customers.
Percy was opening the door at the rear of the wagon when a bullet splintered the door frame above his head. The door opened outward and was not open enough for Percy to dive through. Percy ducked, then turned to face a tall, well-built, bearded man with a Colt pistol in his hand. With no place to go, Perch’s only choice was to face the brute.
“I just had that painted,” whined Percy, with transparent false bravado.
“Well, paint it again. What do you have for a toothache?” asked the brute.
“I can give you something for the pain, but the pain will come back. Or I can pull it and take away the pain forever. Which would you like?” Percy’s knees were shaking. He tried to be conciliatory, helpful.
“Will it hurt? Will pulling it hurt?” asked the brute.
Percy shook his head. “A little. Not much after I give you my World-Famous Pain Eradicator.” Percy shook his head again. “No, you will never feel it. One hour after we start the procedure, you will be as good as new.”
“Twenty dollars. I prefer gold.” This was cheap. Percy was mindful of the pistol in the brute’s hand, but he needed the money. The blacksmith would want to be paid. He was a big man, bigger than the brute.
“Twenty dollars?” The brute raised his pistol. “I prefer free.”
Percy shrugged, not knowing what to do. “Then find somebody who will do it for free.” He wanted to move, but his legs would not cooperate. He put both hands on his cane to put something between him and the brute.
The brute extended his arm and pulled back the hammer on his pistol. “You’re the only doc in this gawd-forsaken town.”
“Be that as it may, it is $20 dollars, or no procedure.” Percy gritted his teeth to keep them from chattering. He raised the cane in front of his face. If he gave in now, he may be working for free as long as he was in town. Every man he had seen was carrying a gun.
The brute narrowed his eyes, grinned, then fired. He missed. Percy had an accident. Good thing for dark wool pants.
It wasn’t a misfire, the brute missed. Point blank, and he missed. It might have been the brass headed cane which Percy instinctively held out in front of him, which deflected the bullet. The Brute, not believing what just happened, looked at his gun. He turned it to look down the muzzle. The gun fired. The brute may have accidentally cocked the gun while checking the mechanism. His thumb on the trigger didn’t help. The brute no longer needed the procedure.
There was enough of an audience. Word soon spread. The Professor was a magician. Not the gambling magician who could make cards appear and disappear, or hide a pea under shells, but a real, honest to gawd magician. He could make bullets miss and guns fire. He was a witch. He was magic.
Well, as with all magic, there were unbelievers. It wasn’t but an hour later, when another ruffian strode to the Professor’s wagon and called him out. As the Professor was unaccustomed to gunfighting etiquette, he went to his window in the side of his wagon and peered out. With both hands on the windowsill, he asked, “Yes, what can I do for you?”
“They say you’re a magician. That true?” asked Red, who was really bald, but he may have been red at one time.
The Professor shook his head. “No, I’m a professor. Hardly a magician.”
“You kill Bart, or not?”
“Was that the man who died?” asked the Professor.
“Yahr, that were Bart. Bart were my friend.”
“My condolences,” said the Professor, pulling back from the window.
“I don’t want your condolences. I want your blood. I want your head,” shouted Red, pulling his gun. Well, the gun went off halfcocked. No sooner had the gun cleared Red’s belt than it fired. It made a rather nasty hole in Red’s foot. He dropped his gun and tried to grab his foot. He fell backwards on the ground. As luck would have it, he scared a nearby horse which planted its hoof on Red’s head. Red died.
The Professor got several free drinks after that, and the company of some of the ladies on the balconies. As time passed, the Professor’s reputation grew. When anything strange happened, it was the Professor’s doing. He could even make it rain. Of course, knowing a little about meteorology helped. The Indians called him Chalaco, voice of the Great Spirit.
The Strip did not have a mayor or town council, but they had a Sheriff. Well, they did until winter came. The Professor left when the first snow fell. He was Southern born and bred. While a few men tried facing the Professor, he never fired a shot. Never carried a gun. Funny what a cane can do. All he had was his top hat, a purple cravat, and a bamboo cane (the brass headed cane no longer had a head). That and magic.
It’s not clear where the Professor went. Some said to Texas, other’s to California. Wherever it was, his reputation grew. Dime novels were written about him. Every medicine man became the Professor. There was the occasional kid eager for a reputation who would challenge a medicine man. The kid usually won, but not always. The Professor got credit when the kid lost. Sometimes, they both won. Here, it was less magic than persuasion. The Professor no longer needed his elixirs and potions. He still kept his cane. His time in the Strip gave him something his magic couldn’t. He found courage. With courage, he could talk himself and the kid out of a fight.
The Strip had sheriffs come and go after the Professor. Mostly go, and not often under their own power. There have been many a gunfighting Sheriff, but there has never been any with magic.