"No, Ma," the old doctor began, "you look worried and I can help."
[quoteright]"How?" Ma asked. "You're nothing but an old broken-down, small-time country doctor. You set a leg for a quarter. I've got mental problems. How could you possibly help me?"
can help, Ma. Like for instance, some doctors are just doctors, but a select few, like me, can take what's going on now and project it to the lifestyle of a hundred years from now. Make comparisons. Get feedback to solve problems. For one thing, there's already talk of a machine replacing the horse, and houses neatly spaced outside the main part of town and called outburgs. Instead of bowling outside on grass, people will do it inside of a big house. That'll be good, considering all the bull nettles here in southern Missouri."
"My lands! Won't that make a lot of noise?"
"Yes, but for me here now, I predict in the future a refinement of medical practices that will include the mind, talking things out."
"No, Ma, I'm patterning myself after the future. If you'll give me two dollars an hour, I'll show you how it'll work."
"Shucks, nobody's worth two dollars an hour."
"Okay, fifty cents, Mrs James."
* * *Meanwhile in a small clearing, an hour's ride, Jesse cleaned his toenails and adjusted heavy coarse tape over his right buttock where a railroad "Bull" had shot him with rock salt the day before.
A few feet over, Frank sucked his teeth, stopped and put a Shakespearean drama, A Midsummer Night's Dream, between his legs.
He commenced to read, cleaning his teeth with slivers of pussy willow sprouts and then alternately sucking and charcoaling them dry and bright white. What was left. A few back ones were gone and a few siders due to periodontal reasons left no restraining pressure on the front ones and those had started to gap. When Frank sat in the right light of a moonlit night, he could pass for an idiot. He continued to read, stopping momentarily to take a small-caliber revolver out of a leather vest pocket and shoot a few sparrows between paragraphs to keep in practice.
Jesse finished a delicate stitch on his holster, checked his buttons, and looked over at Frank. "That young Bob Ford looks promising. He can ride a horse and did you see him backhand that old woman in Jeff City yestiddee?"
"He's coming along," taciturn Frank said laconically. "Watch 'im though. I caught him mounting a mule out back and his brother's into chickens."
* * *But... back above the feed store, Jesse's Ma sought treatment and said, "I feel better already, Doctor."
"You should. You're a good woman, Mrs James. You aren't into bestiality."
"Well, I wouldn't go that far."
* * *And... over thirty miles away by a waterfall, Bob Ford glanced at his mule.
"Not now, Bob," his brother said. "If we're going to take Jesse, we've got to plan."
"Tell me again about the ten thousand dollar reward," Bob said. "What will it buy?"
"Fifty horses, twenty cows, fifteen goats, ten sheep and five dozen chickens, plus two hundred acres and three houses in town, give or take a whorehouse or two."
* * *Meanwhile, Frank reloaded his small revolver and stood up. He strode to his horse. "Damn it, Jess, the next time you steal horses don't steal Tennessee walking horses. We can't just walk away."
"One more job, Frank," Jesse said, "and we can take Ma to Terre Haute for her health. I understand there's some pretty darn good fishing on the Wabash."
"Yeah," Frank agreed. "And we'll drop by Paris, Illinois, on the way and pick up a new fox coat for her. That'll cheer her up. Her old one's pretty ratty."
* * *Back at the store, Ma stood up. "I feel good, Doc. Oh, by the way, what is that little black ball in the corner? The one that smokes?"
"Oh no!" the doctor cried as they both went seventy-five feet straight up... the results of careful planning by the railroad.
* * *A few miles away, Frank and Jesse and Bob Ford and his brother were in a small bank. Too small for much money.
Frank got mad and ripped all the clothes off a beefy-fat bank manager and took out his small revolver and placed it next to the banker's crotch, prototypically draped with the banker's version of the jockey shorts of the future. They only served to excite Frank more.
"Three seconds and this goes off!" Frank cried. His eyes rolled crazily.
The banker quivered but made a personal comeback. "Mr James, I can solve all our problems."
"Two seconds," Frank yelled.
"I'll float you an unsecured personal loan. Usually I require collateral." He opened his billfold and extracted a huge wad of bills.
Frank gaped and his teeth gaped. "That's better!"
"Don't forget our Florida contest," yelled the banker as the four rode off.
On the way out of town, Frank shot some more sparrows and Jesse shot a dog. The Ford brothers shot at hitching posts and night lanterns and all four of them emptied several spare revolvers at the old school house on the edge of town.
"If we'd had a better teacher, we wouldn't have to be doing this for a living, Frank," Jesse said.
Frank gave out with a rare smile and shot a hole in the old school bell.
They all pulled up, reloaded, and shot out all the windows and shot off some of the shingles, reloaded, and shot their initials into hard-to-find unblemished-by-bullets surfaces.
Bob Ford shot a little too close to Jesse's head and Jesse retaliated by shooting several large holes through Bob's left foot.
Jesse and Frank left Bob jumping up and down and cursing and howling.
They came to a small convenience store in a clearing and Frank went inside. "Don't forget the bread," Jesse yelled.
Frank entered the small store which was minded by a large teenager whom Frank backhanded immediately and said, "Fill it up." He tossed over a large gunny sack.
"What with?" the teenager asked. "Say, aren't you Frank James? Can I have your autograph? Can I ride with you guys? Please? Please? Please?"
"Fill up the sack," Frank said. "Keep up your grades, keep your nose clean, and some day, maybe, you never know."
Frank and Jesse rode away at a trot and then slowed down to a shuffle. Frank took out his Shakesperean As You Like It, and alternately read and on the side practiced a few shoe-selling techniques on Jesse, and said, "If only they'd piped entertainment of some sort in our town, we wouldn't have had to do all this."
"Yeah," Jesse said and looked back into the distance at Bob Ford. "Maybe even into our homes, it'd keep us busy and out of trouble." He adjusted the sights on his big Sharps buffalo rifle, took close aim, and dropped Bob with a well-placed right-foot shot.
Bob screamed and his brother laughed. "You haven't got much left, Bob."
"I've got this," Bob said as he squeezed two of his most prized possessions: his number one priority, his crotch, then number two, the trigger of a small nickel-plated .32 revolver, the small projectile taking off his brother's left ear clean as a whistle.
"Not for long," screamed his brother, switching from pain to happiness to pain as he watched Jesse start to crosshair in a crotch shot.
But history's misplaced personnel director, Frank James, realizing the need of Bob for another bank job, pulled up Jesse's barrel.
* * *Three days later, Jesse and Frank and Ma finished off a three-course dinner and Ma passed out toothpicks with her right (and only remaining) arm. Jesse was a study, as he was the only one of the three who could use both hands while picking his teeth.
They finally finished up and started to mosey toward the parlor. Ma and Frank plunged ahead while Jesse stopped in the small hallway and tried to alleviate his undirected perfectionist curse by straightening an old picture of three wild horses caught by the artist in an abreast, rearing pose. Jesse let the esthetics sink in, then righted the picture.
His back was toward the window as the Ford brothers huddled outside.
Bob asked his brother, "Tell me again, how much that ten thousand reward will buy." His brother, losing patience, stuck a .44 revolver in Bob's ear and Bob drew two revolvers and let fly at Jesse from two feet away. A small percentage of bullets connected, but they were enough and Jesse went down.
Ma and Frank hurried in. Frank saw immediately that the gravy train was over and vowed to Ma to use Bob for several shoe-selling sessions before he shot him.
NORRIN LYNN FOSTER tells us that he does "writing in the mornings, body work in the afternoons." He lives in Southern California and is a fan of Max Schulman.
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