Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Even though Dr. Herman Luce was over eighty and walked slowly and stiffly with a cane, he was still a gentleman. That much was proved when he held the door for Dr. Tricia York as the two of them walked into Spearfish Lake Furniture and Appliance. Dr. York knew he had a reputation for being crotchety and more than a little on the brusque side, but so far he’d treated her with every possible courtesy, even though they hadn’t made it to a first-name basis yet, and most likely never would.
They probably wouldn’t have ever come to a first-name basis in any case, since Dr. York was his long-anticipated replacement. In a few months, before the North Country winter in Spearfish Lake got really bad, he’d be gone to the retirement home in Florida that he’d purchased once he’d become sure there was actually going to be someone to take over his family medicine practice.
“Thank you, Doctor Luce,” the well-dressed and petite brunette said respectfully. “I’m glad you decided to come with me tonight.”
“’Bout had to, to help you get off to a good start in Spearfish Lake,” he replied gruffly. “I’m not up for going to all these shindigs, but you’ll get a good introduction to some of the people you’ll need to know at this one.”
She looked around the big furniture-filled room; a number of people were standing around, perhaps fifty, although she didn’t bother to count. The big room seemed full of the babble of dozens of voices of people casually talking. “It just seems strange that this would be held at a furniture store, of all places.”
“It’s the chamber of commerce sponsoring it,” he replied in a resigned tone. “They like to have these kinds of events in some of the stores around town. At least with this being a furniture store, there’ll be places to sit down.”
“Seems to be a nice store,” she replied, trying to make a little conversation. Though she’d spent much of the day in his office several blocks away on Central Avenue, their discussion had been almost all strictly business. She’d been less than impressed with Dr. Luce’s practice; it had seemed old and out of date, much like he was, with his patients being elderly and out of date, too. However, it was what she’d been told to expect several years before, so it was hardly surprising, but dragging the practice into the current century was going to be a big job. At least, she thought, she’d have years to do it.
“It is,” Dr. Luce replied. “Newest building we’ve got downtown, although the business itself goes back to before I came here.”
That was a long time ago, Dr. York thought. She knew that Dr. Luce had practiced in Spearfish Lake since 1955, a full fifty-four years before. He’d probably seen a lot of changes in the community, a lot of people come and go. It was not inconceivable that she might be here as long; it seemed like an incredible distance into the unknowns of the future. This was, after all, what she’d worked toward for years; she’d gone through a lot to get here, more than most med students. Lots more.
“And here’s who we’ve been waiting for,” a strong voice cut through the room. She glanced up at the man who said it – a big guy, at least six feet, solidly built. There was something about him that seemed familiar, but she pushed the thought to the side as he went on, “You must be Dr. York. I’m glad you could make it tonight.”
She gave the big guy a casual smile and a wave of her hand as much of the hubbub in the room died down. “I’m sure everyone here but you knows me, but I’ll introduce myself. I’m Danny Evachevski, the owner of Spearfish Lake Furniture and Appliance and the president of the Spearfish Lake Chamber of Commerce.”
That name rang a bell for Dr. York . . . not a common name, that was for sure. It was . . . oh, my god, it couldn’t be . . . but the name dragged up a few more associations of a time long in the past, and in a few seconds there could be no doubt.
Shit! Why the hell didn’t I just take out the goddamn student loan a few years ago, she thought, her prospects of the future instantly hanging in tatters. This could fuck up everything. Probably will. Ev . . . ree . . . thing, right down the tubes that easily!
Get control of yourself, she thought. Don’t let them see you sweat. Don’t blow it now. He may not remember, may not want to acknowledge it in any case. If you lose your cool, you could screw everything up royally while there’s still a chance this could work out.
While her stomach was full of butterflies and she had to fight back the urge to vomit, she managed to maintain a straight face as her mind raced, pulling up more memories of years before. Danny hadn’t been strong and cheerful back when she remembered him; he’d been distant and morose, defeated by a marriage that had gone very bad. Looks like things worked out for him, she thought absently. God, if anyone deserved it, he did.
Apparently Danny didn’t notice anything, or if he did he didn’t say anything about it. She only half heard him as he continued speaking to the crowd, “Although I haven’t met her yet, I’d like to introduce you to Dr. Tricia York. She being with us tonight marks the culmination of years of effort to bring a new physician to the community. Just as a bit of background for those who may not know, it was about five years ago that a group of us came up with the idea of funding a medical student’s education. That funding carried with it the agreement that the student would take up practice here in Spearfish Lake once they completed their education, internship, and residency. While the Donna Clark Foundation took the lead in that effort, they were strongly supported by the Jennifer Walworth Foundation, the chamber of commerce, Dr. Gene Metarie, Northwoods Realty, and Clark Plywood, among others. That effort was also strongly supported by Dr. Herman Luce, who offered very favorable terms to the Donna Clark Foundation to buy out his practice with the idea of the student the foundation supported taking it over. Making this happen at all would have been impossible without his active and heartfelt support.
“Over four years ago,” he continued, “the Donna Clark Foundation entered into a contract with Miss Tricia York, who was then an advanced medical student at the University of Wisconsin. She has since finished her internship and a family practice residency at Milwaukee General Hospital, and received notification of her board certification only the day before. Dr. York, on behalf of the Spearfish Lake Chamber of Commerce and the Jennifer Walworth Foundation, welcome to Spearfish Lake. We’ve all been waiting years to meet you, and we’re very glad you’re here. We hope you like it here, because we want to keep you around for a long, long time.”
There was a round of applause at that statement; it was almost embarrassing, at least with the revelation of the last few minutes. Would they really want to keep her around if Danny recognized her? “Thank you,” she said a little shyly when the noise died down. “My goal was always to work in a family practice, not a specialty, and when the offer came from the Donna Clark Foundation, it seemed like a dream come true.”
“We appreciate that,” Danny replied. “Believe me, when you look at it from the viewpoint of one who has been involved with this project for as long as I have, it still seems like a miracle you’re here. There are not many young physicians who want to work in a family practice in a relatively remote place, and we just count ourselves lucky we were able to find you at all. But this isn’t a night for me to make speeches. This is a night for you to meet us, and for those of us here to meet you. So grab a glass of the excellent local wine supplied to us tonight by the Pine Creek Winery and the munchies provided by Borealis Wine and Cheese and let’s get to know each other.”
“Thank you, Mr. Evachevski,” she replied, still trying to keep up a good front. “I’m looking forward to meeting all of you.” Not anything like as much as I was five minutes ago, she thought gloomily. How bad is this going to turn out? Do they still tar and feather people and run them out of town on rails?
“I think I’d better sit down,” Dr. Luce said. “These old bones won’t take standing for a meet and greet anymore.”
A tallish man with a full beard spoke up; he was one of the few other people in the room she recognized – Dr. Gene Metarie, who had sat on the selection committee that picked her for the program years before. He was, oh, around fifty, wearing a business suit, and was the one other physician in town. “No problem, Herman, I’ll be glad to introduce her around.”
“Might’s well,” Dr. Luce said, eyeing a comfortable-looking living room chair sitting nearby. “You’re probably going to be working with her more in the long run than I will, anyway.”
“Why don’t you come with me, Dr. York?” Dr. Metarie smiled. “It’s easier to talk to strangers with a glass of wine in your hand.”
“You might be right at that,” Dr. York smiled, trying to keep up appearances. Right at the moment she needed a drink, badly. Something stiff, but she wasn’t going to find it here. Wine would have to do.
Dr. Metarie led the way over to a folding table toward the back of the room; a couple of women about her age were behind the table, pouring plastic glasses of wine, spreading around cheese, crackers, tiny sausages, and other canapés. “Might as well get started introducing you here,” he said. “This is Nicole Clark. She’s a teacher at the high school and the wife of one of the members of the Donna Clark Foundation Board, and her sister-in-law here with her is Rachel Wooten, who’s a bookkeeper out at Clark Construction.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Mrs. Clark said. “I know Randy has seen your résumé, and he’s very impressed with it.”
“Well, I hope it will stay that way,” Dr. York replied; Mrs. Clark had no idea how hopeful that statement was. “Is he around somewhere?”
“Oh, probably talking to someone,” she replied. “Shovelhead, make sure she gets to talk to him.”
“Right, he’ll show up somewhere,” Dr. Metarie replied.
“Good to meet you, Dr. York,” Mrs. Clark smiled. “I’ll be seeing you again. The foundation boards and a few others are planning to have a little get-together for you over at our house later on in the week.”
There was a little more small talk as Tricia selected a glass of wine. Once they got away from the table a little, she quietly asked, “Shovelhead?”
“A lot of people call me that out on the street,” he smiled. “It comes from the antique Harley I ride around when I have time. Even kids sometimes call me ‘Dr. Shovelhead’ in the office. I don’t mind.”
Dr. York shook her head. “But Shovelhead?” she said again, still incredulous.
“It’s also my name on several record labels,” he continued. “Music is my other hobby. Have you ever heard of Jenny Easton?”
“A little, maybe,” she frowned. “Used to do country music, didn’t she?”
“Right, but she got out of it. She’s now known as Jennifer Walworth.”
“You mean, like the Jennifer Walworth Foundation that helped to fund my coming here?”
“The very same,” Dr. Metarie smiled. “Normally they only fund music and literature students and projects, so it was a big step away from their normal project funding to get involved in this. She’s around here somewhere, I saw her earlier. There are some local musicians who make up a back-up group she sometimes uses, the Boreal String Band. I play violin in it. Most of the group is around here tonight. In fact, Nicole’s husband Randy is one of them. I know a couple of the band members are missing, though.”
“I find it incredible that a well-known artist like her would be living in this town.”
“It’s home for her,” Dr. Metarie shrugged. “She likes it here and doesn’t want to live anywhere else. My wife is pretty well known in her field, but she likes it here, too.”
“And your wife would be?”
“Lex Metarie, she’s a painter. In fact, here she is.” They stopped in front of a fiftyish woman in a knee-length, sleeveless black dress. It was all Dr. York could do to keep her jaw from dropping – both the woman’s arms and legs were covered with intricate Celtic tattoos, done with some taste. But still . . . she was not what Dr. York would have expected Gene Metarie’s wife to look like. On the other hand, called “Shovelhead,” plays in a band, rides a Harley – and probably looking like a serious biker when he did, do-rag and all – Dr. Metarie was obviously not your typical country physician . . . “Lex, This is the girl I’ve been telling you about.”
“Well, welcome to Spearfish Lake,” the woman said. “I think you’ll find it’s a pretty friendly place. We have a few oddballs running around, but I suppose that’s like anywhere.”
No shit, Dr. York thought but carefully did not say. Tattoos on women weren’t all that strange to her, but that many . . . “I hope it’ll work out,” she replied carefully.
“I hope so too,” Mrs. Metarie replied. “We’ve known we had this problem for some time, and when I was the mayor we wanted to do something about it, but it took the foundations to really get a handle on it.”
“You were the mayor?” Dr. York replied, letting a little incredulity slip.
“For several years,” Mrs. Metarie smiled, as if nothing were out of the norm – or at least that she’d heard that kind of response enough before to not be surprised by it. “I decided it was time for someone else to take a turn, so I’m just on the city council now.”
Dr. York tried to stay neutral, but inside she was thinking that maybe, just maybe, this town would be a little less difficult about her past than she’d thought. It still seemed like a long shot, though. “I’m glad it worked out for you,” she replied.
“You better go make the rounds,” Mrs. Metarie said. “We’ll have plenty of time to talk, I’m sure.”
Dr. York tried to keep up on everyone Dr. Metarie introduced her to over perhaps the next half hour, but before long it was clear that keeping the names and the faces in order was going to be an impossible task. Everyone was nice and friendly, and there was genuine relief in having a new physician in town. It was, several people commented, something that had been needed for a long time. She tried to have a nice word for everyone; in the long shot that this might work out after all, this was going to be an important chance to meet people who were going play a big part in her future, good or bad.
Still, she was dreading having to talk to Danny. It had been years, and she’d hadn’t spent that much time with him, but she was sure that he knew her well enough to be able to blow up her dreams in just a few words. There was a little part of her that almost wished he would; at least it would put off the agony of being found out some time up the road. Under the contract she’d signed, if she failed to carry through she would be liable for repayment of the money they had spent to support her last years in medical school. She had no idea of where she could find the money to repay it in the short term. Well, she had one idea, but it was a bad one indeed, and she wouldn’t turn to it unless she absolutely had to. Those days were long gone and best forgotten.
All these people seemed so nice, so glad to see her, and so glad to have a new physician in town – well, it would hurt them if she ran away, hurt them in many ways. But, my god, if they knew the truth about her, what would they say?
At least most of the talk she was overhearing wasn’t about her, so if Danny had said anything to anyone, the word hadn’t spread far. Most of the discussion seemed to be about the prospects for the local high school football team, which from what she could tell wasn’t very good. She heard a lot of discussion about whether the football coach was a great guy or absolutely useless, and the opinions on either side seemed to be strongly held. It wasn’t anything she was concerned about in the slightest, but at least gave her some feeling for what the town was like: not quite what she expected.
It took a while for the doctors to work their way around the room. All too soon, at least in Dr. York’s mind, they came to a group of people sitting around a bar and bar stool display, Danny among them. “I know Danny Evachevski introduced you,” Dr. Metarie said, “but I don’t think you were actually introduced to him. He owns this store, and he and his wife Debbie are among the more interesting people around town.”
Dr. York glanced at the two. Danny, well, looked like Danny, a bit older than she remembered, probably around forty now. But he also looked a lot happier than her memory of him. His wife was about his age, dark-skinned, with a dreamcatcher necklace and earrings. She was clearly of American Indian background, solid without being overweight – a far cry from what she remembered of Danny’s stories about his first wife. Here goes nothing, she thought. “Pleased to meet you,” she replied warmly.
“I don’t think we’re all that interesting,” Danny said. “It’s just that Debbie and I have a hobby doing something that really needs to be done.”
“We’ve put a lot of time into trying to record and preserve my tribal culture,” Danny’s wife explained.
“She’s being modest,” Dr. Metarie expanded. “There are what? Fifty-three people who still speak your tribal language?”
“Fifty-two,” Debbie replied sadly. “We lost one the other day. One of the really old ones who grew up speaking Shakahatche.”
“Sorry to hear that,” Dr. Metarie replied sincerely. “Anyway, Danny is the first white man to learn to speak the language in a hundred and fifty years. These two have done books on the Shakahatche.”
“Just one book,” Debbie smiled, a little more brightly. “And we only transcribed and edited it, but it was a big one.”
That was just about the last thing Dr. York would have expected Danny to be doing; even running a furniture store was a little on the unexpected side. She remembered him describing himself, several times, as a failed quack medicine salesman. Clearly things had changed in his life, changed a lot, and changed for the good at that.
“Hey, Shovelhead,” Debbie said. “I know this is a heck of a time to talk to you about it, but there’s a women over at Three Pines whose doctor seems to be jerking her around. She’s pretty homebound, and another one of our elderly language sources. Any chance you could slip over and talk to her?”
“I suppose,” he frowned. “Not before the weekend, though. What seems to be her problem?”
Dr. York tuned the discussion out a little bit. Now or never, she thought. If the shit hits the fan, I might as well get it out of the way sooner than later, for good or bad. While Debbie and Dr. Metarie were talking, she leaned forward and whispered, “Hi, Danny.”
Danny looked at her, frowned, and looked again. Apparently he hadn’t recognized her till now, but she could see the recognition – and the surprise – slip across his face, followed by a broad smile. He leaned forward, and in a whisper of his own, replied, “Hi, Patty. I see you did it.”
“I did,” she smiled, with just a little relief, and not a little pride, too. It had been the hard way to do it, but by god she’d done it, and he seemed happy about it! Just that smile told her that if he was going to out her, at least it wouldn’t be here. “Danny, we have to talk sometime, but not here.”
“Yeah, sure,” he said, still in a quiet voice. “Drop by the store here sometime, I’m usually alone in the mornings.” He slid off the bar stool and raised his voice. “Welcome to Spearfish Lake. It’s a small place, but there are those of us who like it here.”