Once upon a time, I was a dentist.
It was in a small town, not in Nevada, but in New Mexico. Las Vegas. It was the last time I was a dentist, though I always claimed it as a profession. Dentistry was not as brutal as you think it, even in those days. There were so many ways to lessen and take pain from the patients. Fillings were gold, thin sheets of foil, patiently coiled and smoothed into cleaned cavities with tiny instruments. They were works of art, minute detailed sculptures, designed for comfort, for beauty, with as much perfection as one might offer. I was proud.
For these fillings I needed gold. I needed to melt gold, to mold it, to meld it, to create wires and sheets, and something called gold crystal, which compressed into cavities in some difficult cases. And I needed to make the moulds. There was much I needed to do.
Las Vegas boasted hot springs, to ease my breathing, my bones, to warm me in cold stages of fever, and it attracted others with my malady from across the country. And one of these men was Billy Leonard, a jeweller. He had need of a similar workshop, and we shared that and illness. He was from the South as I was and we shared the war and loss of country. We were both professionals – exiled gentlemen thrown into the violence and chaos of the wild west. And into the dry stark desert from the rich moist warmth of home.
Like me, he believed in his strength of will and morality beyond that of law. Like me, he was dying and we comforted one another through the ebbs and flows of illnesses and despairs. And we drank together, and talked. We played cards. We taught one another the techniques of our metalwork. We visited and saw the shows, we took dinner together. We laughed and coughed and sometimes wept.
Billy Leonard was my friend.