The Lady Doctor's Alibi (2 page)

BOOK: The Lady Doctor's Alibi
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“That could happen to anyone,” she said. “Let’s see if we can get that boot off without cutting it.”
“Shouldn’t we wait for the doctor?”
She crouched down in front of him, bent to the task, and said, “I am the doctor.”
“Doc Sugarman?” he asked.
She looked up at him.
“That’s right. Lissa Sugarman.”
“Lissa,” she said. “Two
’s.” She sat back on her haunches and asked, “Still want me to look at your foot?”
“Well . . . sure,” he said. “After all, you are the doctor.”
“Well, lots of folks around here don’t think so,” she said.
“Because you’re a woman?”
“A woman,” she said, “and the blond hair, I think. Especially the Mexican men. They think a blond gringa is only good for one thing.”
She looked back down at his foot, took it into her hands.
“Why do you stay, then?” he asked.
“I came down here to help these people,” she said, “and that’s what I intend to do.”
“Well,” he said, “I hope you’ll help me before you start in on the whole city.”
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I’m a long way from caring for this whole city.” She gripped the boot firmly with both hands. “I think this’ll come off.”
He hoped she was talking about the boot.
The boot came off, but wouldn’t go back on—not easily anyway.
“It’s not broken, but you twisted it pretty good,” Lissa Sugarman said.
She wrapped it, told him to try to stay off it for a few days.
“That won’t be easy,” he said. “I have to get around.”
“Are you staying in Veracruz for a while?”
“I suppose,” he said, “until my foot heals.”
They struggled with the boot, trying to get it back on without hurting him. In the end he gritted his teeth and yanked it on. It fit snuggly over the wrap.
“Actually, that’s a good thing,” she said. “It’ll keep it immobile. How much walking do you intend to do?”
“I’m staying in a hotel,” he said. “Up the stairs, I have to eat . . .”
“You can’t just stay in your room?”
“I’m not staying in a very good hotel,” he said. “In fact, it’s just up the street, across from a livery stable.”
“That place?” she asked.
“It’s not that I can’t afford a better place,” he said. “I, uh, don’t want to. I just want a place to sleep.”
“I wasn’t judging,” she said.
“Yeah, you were.”
She waved her hands. “Look where I am,” she said. “Who am I to judge?”
“I get the feeling you could practice medicine in a lot of other places.”
“Yes,” she said, “all of them in the East, where I don’t want to be.”
“And North of the border?”
“Someday,” she said. “Not yet.”
Clint studied her. She appeared to be in her thirties.
“Thirty-eight,” she said. “Practicing medicine for about twelve years. Came here a year ago.”
“From where?”
“That’s all the information you get,” she said. “After all, I told you my age.”
He stood, tested his foot by putting weight on it.
“How is it?”
“Better,” he said. “I think I can walk back to the hotel.”
“Walk slowly,” she said, “and then stay there, at least until you need to eat.”
“Everybody needs to eat, right?” he asked. “Even you?”
“I was just about to hand you my bill,” she said. “Are you asking me to supper?”
“Well,” he said, “I don’t really know where to eat, do I? I could walk for miles before I find a place, do irreparable damage—”
“When you told me your name, it was familiar,” she said. “It took me a while, but . . . are you the Gunsmith?”
“Does that make a difference?”
“I’d just like to know.”
“Yes, I am.”
“Are you down here hiding?”
“No,” he said, “at least, not in the way you mean. No one’s after me, I just wanted to take some time . . . away.”
“I see.”
“Only if I can pick you up at your hotel with a buggy,” she said. “I don’t want you undoing the work I did.”
Clint’s foot was sore by the time he got back to his hotel, but he was going to be picked up by Doc Sugarman in a few hours, so he had that long to rest. He debated whether or not to take the boot off, decided to go ahead.
Lissa Sugarman had soaked his foot before treating it, gave him some extra bandages to take back to the hotel with him. She told him he could soak the foot in his room, and then rewrap it himself. It didn’t have to be artful, just tight. He told her he’d had some experience with bandages before.
He relaxed in his room, soaking the foot, then rewrap-ping it. He stayed off it until it was time for him to meet the doctor out front. He struggled to pull his boot back on, then made his way down the stairs to the front door. As he came outside, Lissa pulled up in a buggy, all smiles.
“You’re prompt,” she said as he climbed into the buggy. “I like that in a man.”
“I aim to please, ma’am.”
She tossed a kiss at her horse and shook the reins.
“How’s your foot?” she asked.
“Much better.”
“Did you stay off it?”
“I did, and I soaked it and rewrapped it.”
“You’re a good patient.”
“Where are we going to eat?”
“Better part of town,” she said. “One of my favorite restaurants.”
“They know you there?”
“I go a few times a month,” she said. It wasn’t really an answer.
He watched as the conditions of the street and the buildings improved in stages the farther they got from the docks.
“Why set up shop near the docks?” he asked. “Wouldn’t you be more accepted in this area?”
“Maybe,” she said, “but I wanted to go where I was needed.”
“Only they don’t know they need you, huh?”
“Not yet,” she said, “but they’re coming around. I’m actually getting some business right from the docks—sailors, teamsters, they need medical help quickly.”
“And you’re the nearest sawbones, huh?”
Lissa Sugarman was not only a good doctor, she was a smart lady.
She pulled her buggy to a stop in front of a restaurant with two large plate glass windows. Etched on both windows was the name DOMINO’S. Clint thought the fancy lettering almost made it look as if it said DELMONICO’S—a famous New York steak house. He wondered if that was deliberate.
As they entered, a portly, middle-aged tuxedoed man came rushing over to them with a big smile on his face, and Clint knew the smile was not for him. Looking around the place, Clint wished he had dressed better.
“Ah, Doc Veracruz, so nice to see you again,” the man said.
“Hello, Roscoe. Table for two?”
“For you? Of course. This way.”
Lissa took Clint’s arm. She was wearing a pretty red dress that didn’t look expensive, but was certainly presentable. It was also tight enough to show off all her attributes. Men watched her walk across the floor, which made Clint proud that she was on his arm. Also, if they were looking at her, they weren’t looking at him, which suited him.
The man showed them to a table, but Clint could see another table against the back wall, which he preferred.
“Could we get that one?” he asked, pointing.
“Of course, sir.” He had dropped two menus onto the table, so now he picked them up and showed them to the other table.
“Ben will be your waiter,” he told them.
“Thank you, Roscoe,” Lissa said.
“Did I offend him asking for this table?” Clint asked. He didn’t really care. He preferred to sit with a wall near him.
“I don’t think so,” she said. “He just didn’t consider this one of his better tables. He was trying to please me.”
“I don’t want to damage your reception here in the future.”
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I think Roscoe has a little crush on me.”
“I think so, too.”
Clint could see why Domino’s was Lissa’s favorite restaurant. The steaks were perfectly prepared and the coffee was hot and strong.
“That name,” Clint said when they had gotten to their desserts.
“What name is that?”
“ ‘Doc Veracruz,’ ” Clint said. “Isn’t that what he called you when we came in?”
She smiled.
“That’s just something he calls me,” she said. “A nickname.”
“Does anybody else call you that, or just him?” Clint asked.
“It might be catching on,” she said. “I’m finally starting to build up a list of patients.”
“It must have been frustrating to you when you first arrived,” he said. “I mean, not being accepted.”
“It was extremely frustrating,” she agreed. “Luckily, I came here with some savings that I was able to live on until I started getting some patients.”
“So you’re able to make a living now?” he asked.
“No,” she said. “I’m still not making enough money. I only have a few patients per week. Sometimes, when a ship comes in, there’ll be a rush. Deckhands usually arrive with some kind of injury, or ailment. That’s when it helps that I’m the closest physician.”
“Why don’t you have a shingle out?”
“I did have,” she said. “Someone took it down the first day. I replaced it, but it was removed again. After a few more times I finally stopped.”
“So then how do they find you?”
“The word gets around,” she said. “How did you find me?”
“I see your point.”
“I went around and talked to several of the hotels in the area. In exchange for free treatment for their employees, they agreed to send me business.”
“That was a smart move,” he said. “So, where in the East did you come here from?”
“I sort of worked my way here,” she said. “I spent some time in Saint Louis and Kansas City, a little bit in Texas, before I finally settled in Veracruz.”
He noticed she hadn’t answered the question about where she had started from. He decided if she didn’t want to talk about it, he wouldn’t push her.
On the other side of the restaurant a man and woman tried not to stare at Dr. Sugarman and the man she was with.
“There’s that woman,” the lady said. “She hasn’t left town yet?”
Her husband stole a look over his shoulder, then back across the table at his wife.
“Don’t worry, Lillian,” he said. “It’s being handled.”
“By who?” she demanded. “Not by you, that’s for sure. When will you be a man and do something, Oliver?”
Oliver Graham stared at his wife, wishing he were man enough to put a bullet into her face—or at least his fist. He knew men who kept their women in line by hitting them, but they had apparently started very early. Graham had already been married to Lillian for twenty years, and in all that time had never laid a hand on her in anger. His friend, Henry Colter, had once told him he should have smacked Lillian the first night of their honeymoon, just to make the point that he was in charge. Oliver had never told Henry they didn’t even have a honeymoon.
“Lillian . . .”
“What, Oliver?” she demanded. “What? Are you going to warn me about something?” She drew out the word
to mock him. “That woman is going to start cutting into your business, you mark my words. It wouldn’t surprise me if she was a doctor
a whore. How would you compete with that?”
Certainly not with you turning tricks, he wanted to tell her. No man would pay for her wrinkled face and breasts.
“It’s being handled, Lillian,” he said, “so stop throwing hateful glances over that way.”
“Hateful?” she demanded. “You think I’m hateful?”
He knew his wife hated Lissa Sugarman more for being beautiful than for being a doctor, but if he said so, he’d never hear the end of it. Maybe he should say it, though. By the time they got home, he might be ready to go ahead and put that bullet in her face.
“What are you going to do, Oliver?” she demanded.
“I’m going to have a slice of apple pie, my dear,” he said.
“Do you know the couple who is leaving now?” Clint asked Lissa.
She looked up, saw the man and woman, and nodded her head.
“Oh yes,” she said. “Oliver and Mrs. Graham.”
“What’s their interest in you?”
“Well. He’s
Oliver Graham,” Lissa said, “and as his wife, Lillian just simply hates me.”
“I think there’s probably more to it than that,” he said.
“I’ve seen women look at women that way before,” he said. “It usually has something to do with one of them being beautiful, and one not.”
Lissa Sugarman looked shocked. Obviously, she was a woman who didn’t define herself by her appearance, so being told she was beautiful came as a shock.
“You’re saying she hates me because . . . because I’m prettier than she is?”
“Well, that’s just . . . ridiculous.”
“It’s true,” he said. “I’ve seen it many times before.”
“I’m sure . . . I’m sure it’s something . . . else,” she said, touching her face, and pulling her hand away quickly.
“Do you know the best thing about a beautiful woman?” he asked. “I mean, a truly beautiful woman?”
She frowned at him.
“She doesn’t know she’s beautiful.”
Red-faced, she said, “Well, now you’re just being silly. I think we should go.”
“I want my dessert,” Clint said. “Besides, if we go out there now, we might come face-to-face with Dr. and Mrs. Graham. You wouldn’t want that, would you?”
“Well, no . . .”
“And you wouldn’t want to deprive me of my peach pie, would you?”
“Of course not.”
“Good,” he said. “Then let’s have our coffee and dessert.”
BOOK: The Lady Doctor's Alibi
12.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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