Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Fortunately the reception didn’t last too long; an hour and a half into the event people were heading for the door, and most likely a somewhat-belated dinner. As near as she could tell, Dr. York had met everyone there, although some she’d only exchanged a few words with. As things died out, she noticed Dr. Luce was still sitting in the easy chair, chatting with a couple of the people she’d met earlier. He was probably getting pretty tired of it by now, she thought; maybe she’d better rescue him so they could get out of there.
She worked her way over to him a little casually, still nervous about the fact that Danny knew the truth about her – or at least all he needed to know, same difference. At least she’d made it through the evening and managed to mostly keep her composure despite the second thoughts still raging through her mind.
“So,” he said, looking up at her, “I take it you didn’t get too bored?”
“There’s some interesting people here, that’s for sure,” she replied – and that much was the truth. “I take it you didn’t get too bored, either.”
“No, not really,” he said. “I don’t go to stuff like this very much anymore. No need to, and I’m getting too old for it. But at least there were people I could talk to, so it wasn’t a total loss.”
“I suppose I ought to let you get on home,” she replied. “If you can get me back to the office, I’ll pick up my car.”
“Might’s well,” he agreed. “Are you going to be able to find your way back out to the Spearfish Lake Inn from there all right?”
“Oh, I’m sure I can manage that. I can see it’s going to take a while to learn my way around, though.” If she got the chance to learn it, she thought sourly. In spite of the promise in Danny’s few quiet words, there was still a lot of doubt in her mind, and justifiably so.
They’d come to the reception in Dr. Luce’s big Buick. In the brief ride she’d had with him, she’d come to realize that he was a careful driver, if a tentative one – which was probably wise, given his general age and infirmity. She’d never been near Florida, but she’d heard the driving could be tough there for the elderly. While he might enjoy the warm weather, there were other things he might not find as enjoyable.
A few minutes later they pulled into the parking lot of Dr. Luce’s office – soon to be her office, at least maybe, if things went a lot better than they seemed to have any right to. Her beat-up Neon was the only car in the lot, and he stopped right beside it. “Well, see you in the morning,” he said.
“I might be in a little late,” she replied. “I might as well get started on some of the things I need to do.”
“There’s going to be plenty of that kind of thing,” he replied. “Don’t suppose it’s going to hurt if you do it a little at a time. You take care, now. See you in the morning.”
“You too, Dr. Luce,” she replied, closing the door.
The little Neon was an old one, but really it had been all she could afford when her old car finally died early in medical school. This one had done its duty, too, but it had a few more miles left on it – maybe enough, especially if things went to worms like she feared. She knew they could; they’d often done so in the past.
It was good to get in the seat and close the door. For the first time since she’d showed up at the office in the morning, she was truly alone – and finding Danny made her want time to think. No, she didn’t just want time to think, she needed it badly. While in the few words they’d exchanged Danny had seemed very positive, the truth was still hanging over her like a rain cloud. Whatever had made her think this was going to work out?
What the hell was she going to do?
Fuck if I know, she thought as she dug her key ring out of her purse and got the car going. I sure as shit didn’t expect this!
It had been a busy couple of days. The official notification that she had passed her boards had appeared in the mail only the day before, and that had meant the time of waiting was finally over. She’d been through medical school and residency and the whole thing and had had the privilege of being referred to as “Dr. York” for some time now, and passing the boards meant that she finally could be a doctor. It was what she’d dreamed about since she’d been a little girl, had worked toward for dog’s years, and had done some nearly unbelievable things to accomplish it. Within a couple minutes of opening that envelope, she’d called Ryan Clark, the Donna Clark Foundation board president up here in Spearfish Lake, with the news that she was finally able to come up here like she’d promised. Another phone call went to Dr. Luce a few minutes later; both of them were glad to hear the news.
It had been time to quit fooling around with getting ready and get down to business. Before dawn the next morning the Neon had been heading north from her tiny little apartment in Milwaukee, loaded with enough clothing and necessities that she would be able to stay for a while. She had no place to stay, not yet, but September was off-season enough for the Spearfish Lake Inn that there was no problem getting a room.
One of the things she had to do was to find a more permanent place to stay than the Spearfish Lake Inn, assuming she got that far, she thought gloomily, once again reflecting on what the revelation this evening might actually mean. That was why she’d told Dr. Luce she might be a little late the next morning – she had to talk to Danny, and as soon as possible. The outcome of that discussion might be the single determining factor for what happened next.
She got out onto Central Avenue, heading toward the state road and the Spearfish Lake Inn. Although she’d had only a single glass of the rather pleasant local wine – she hadn’t felt like she dared have more – and hadn’t even touched the canapés. She wasn’t sure she wanted to eat, and wasn’t sure her stomach could take it, but decided a fast food drive through would cover her either way.
Except there was a minor problem, she realized as she turned north on the state road toward the Inn. She didn’t see any fast food places, no McDonald’s, no Burger King, no Taco Bell, no nothing – just a cluster of convenience stores and other highway businesses. Now that she thought about it, she didn’t remember anything on the state road between Central Avenue and the Inn, either. Boy, she thought, is this place out in the sticks or what? Hell, she’d grown up in Los Angeles, where there were fast food places everywhere you turned, and they’d been hardly less common in Madison or Milwaukee.
Oh, well, Dr. Luce had commented earlier in the day that there was a pretty good restaurant at the Inn. It would have to do, even though she didn’t feel much like eating.
It only took her a couple more minutes to get there. She parked in front of her room and thought about going in to change before she headed down to the restaurant, but it didn’t take much thought to realize she didn’t want to go to the trouble. She was dressed in the nicest, most businesslike clothes she owned, a tailored suit she’d had long enough that she’d worn it to the meeting with the committee from Spearfish Lake years before. Fortunately it still fit, and she’d had little reason to wear it the last few years. Her feet were killing her from standing around at the reception in her high heels. She’d really gotten out of practice with heels, since she was used to wearing scrubs and tenny-runners during her internship and residency. That was about what she expected to be wearing most of the time at the office, too.
What she had on would do. It would have to; she realized that if she went into her room she might not come out for a while, and whether she wanted to eat or not she realized she really needed to eat something.
She’d been in the restaurant at the Inn for breakfast hours before; it seemed like a nice enough spot, if nothing special. She knew what a nice restaurant was, although she’d been in them only rarely; during her internship meals had often been a sandwich from the hospital cafeteria, grabbed and eaten on the run.
The hostess seated her at a table near the front and asked if she’d like anything to drink. The little bit of alcohol from the reception had mostly worn off by now, and another glass of wine sounded good. Actually, something much stronger sounded even better, but she realized she knew better. Whatever good it would do would be welcome, but this was not the time for her to crawl into a bottle; she needed to think at least halfway clearly. She ordered a glass of the house wine; at least it was cheap.
She stared at the menu almost uncomprehendingly until the waitress came back with her glass of wine. “Would you like to order now, Miss?” she asked.
“Uh, yeah, I guess,” she replied, making a quick glance at the menu. “I think maybe that ham special.”
“Anything with that?”
“Oh, not really. That ought to do.”
The waitress left to get the order in, and now Tricia didn’t even have the menu to stare at. Shit, she thought once again, why the hell here? There were people who knew about her, of course, but except for Danny they were most likely a long ways away, and there weren’t many of those who she’d let her hair down to as much as she had with him. It had seemed like the right thing to do at the time, but damn . . .
“Hi, Miss,” she heard a male voice say. “Can I buy you a drink?”
“No thank you,” she said rather coldly, not even looking up to see who was speaking.
“Just thought you might be interested in having a good time,” the guy said, not apologetically.
“Go away,” she said icily. “Do I look like some kind of hooker to you?”
“No, Miss. Sorry, Miss,” the guy said, at least getting the message that she wasn’t interested in his idea of a good time.
Good God, she thought. Am I that fucking obvious? Do I have it plastered all over my forehead, as much time as it’s been? Is it going to be a case of once a hooker, always a hooker?
Be honest with yourself, she thought. You were never a hooker. You were a licensed legal Nevada house prostitute and a damn good one, not some goddamn street hooker. It was not what I wanted to do to get through school, but there wasn’t any other choice, was there? You would never have become a doctor if you hadn’t done it, but was it worth it?
Her mind drifted far away, bringing up memories and feelings she’d tried to repress all evening long. It hadn’t been anything she’d really wanted to do, but thanks to her asshole father she couldn’t get much of anything in student aid. By the time she was done with her first undergrad year at UCLA, she was up to her ass in student loan debt, with much more expense expected just to get through premed. She hadn’t even tried to comprehend how hard it was going to be to pay for med school even if she could get in.
One night, feeling very depressed, she’d dumped her concerns on her college roomie. MaryAnn had always said she’d been brought up poor, but she always dressed nicely and had money to spend. “How can you do it?” she’d asked MaryAnn.
It had had taken a while to worm it out of MaryAnn, but her roomie finally admitted piece by piece that she worked in a licensed Nevada brothel every second or sometimes third weekend. It wasn’t exactly what Tricia wanted to do herself, but the money sounded nice, and finally she’d asked if there might be a chance she could give it a try. “I can call up and ask,” MaryAnn told her.
A couple weekends later, they skipped two days of school to leave early. They got into MaryAnn’s car and headed for the Redlite Ranch brothel, one of the largest in the south end of the state of Nevada, and the closest one to Las Vegas. Riding along with MaryAnn, she still hadn’t convinced herself that this is what she wanted to do, but the money had sounded a hell of a lot better than flipping burgers in a McDonald’s, which is what she’d been doing, trying – and failing – to make ends meet. It wasn’t as if she minded the idea of having sex – she had hardly been a virgin after all, even all those years ago – but the thoughts of doing it for money, well, there were some reservations to overcome.
Needless to say, she was nervous as hell at the idea. It took a day or two to deal with some licensing issues, and to go through some training on how to do things right. Girls at the Redlite didn’t use their real names, and in only seconds she’d come up with a twist on her real name everyone thought cute: Peppermint Patty. She could still remember how surreal it had felt the first time a client picked her out of a lineup, and she took him back to her room for a fast and profitable hour. A little to her surprise, she could really do this!
Even at the end of the first weekend she still didn’t think it was the kind of thing she ought to be doing. But, as she and MaryAnn talked it over on the way back to UCLA, she couldn’t help but realize that it would have taken weeks of flipping burgers part-time to earn the twelve hundred bucks she had in her pocket.
Call it rationalization, she thought, or call it desperation, call it what you will, but the fact remained that when MaryAnn took off for the Redlite Ranch two weeks later, Tricia was riding along in the passenger seat. By the time her freshman year came to an end she’d made several trips to Nevada, and her finances were looking a lot better than they had been.
That summer she got a real job at the university, not flipping burgers but not much better, either the job or the pay. In the end, after a summer of dull work, she realized that she hadn’t cleared as much money all summer as she would have done in a couple of good weekends in Nevada; in fact, she’d worked a couple weekends there over the break and proved she was right.
The next school year, her sophomore year, went a little better. She wasn’t gaining any ground on the student loan debt she’d already accumulated, but at least she wasn’t adding any more to it. It was still a pretty frugal life, and she often wished she was able to put a little money in the bank for when she needed it, like, say, for med school.
One slow morning at the Redlite, she was talking her financial dilemma over with George, who owned the place, and Shirley, who was the senior manager, when the idea hit her. “What would you say,” she’d asked, “if I were to take off school for a year and work full time so I could save up some money for med school?”
“It could be done,” George had told her. “You wouldn’t be the first to do it, either, but I don’t like to see girls work that hard.”
“I’ve seen girls do it,” Shirley added. “But Patty, I’ve seen girls burn themselves out doing it, too. I mean bad. It wouldn’t be easy, and you’d have to keep sight of what it is you really want to do.”
They’d both made it sound like it was not all that good an idea, at least on the face of things, but the more she thought about it, the better the idea became to her. She was getting tired of sitting in dull classrooms and realized she needed a break. More importantly, she realized she’d needed a break from all the shit and scutwork involved in trying to keep things together financially, and it wasn’t helping her grades. If she could get rid of the financial worries, she could concentrate on her studies when she got back to school and have a much better chance of making it into med school. Well before the year had been over with she’d made up her mind to spend a year as Peppermint Patty; with luck, she could make enough money to make it through med school.
Two days after school let out, she was back up at the Redlite. It would be more than a year; in fact, it would be sixteen months before she was back in a classroom. Both Shirley and George had laid down the law: to keep from burning out she was going to have to take a week off out of every four, and preferably somewhere other than at the Redlite.
It was a fun period. Yes, she worked hard, most of it on her back, and she wouldn’t have minded working harder since every time a client picked her out of the lineup she was that much closer to her goal. But there were good times, too, and she didn’t work so hard that she couldn’t find the time to take some independent study courses she’d set up to gain a little more college credit. There were downsides – plenty of them – but George and Shirley kept things under control, and Shirley had tons of stories about the things she’d been through in the bad old days. A lot of the risk of those days was gone; now they always used barriers or condoms, gave the guys medical checks, and had frequent medical checks themselves. And, if things got out of hand with a client, there was a panic button in reach that could bring help in an instant.
Things had gone well for Peppermint Patty, at least partly because she realized she had a goal and a known end in sight, an option many of the other girls didn’t have. She didn’t plan on making a life of what she did at the Redlite, but to use what she did to get her where she wanted to go, with a clear plan on how to get there.
She’d been about halfway through her term at the Redlite Ranch when Art Johnson, the guy who ran the motel across the road, showed up one morning with a guy she’d not seen before. The Redlite had the best restaurant in the area, and George didn’t mind if someone showed up just to eat as long as the place wasn’t busy with the real clientele. Although she’d hit on the new guy as a matter of course, he brushed her off, saying that he was pretty down on women at that point.
Still, it was a slow morning, and she accepted a cup of coffee from Art and the unknown guy, Danny Evachevski. It turned out that Danny was doing a six weeks residence at Art’s motel, getting set for a divorce from what Patty understood to be a real bitch of a wife. It also turned out that Danny had once been a part-time bartender. When George heard that, he offered Danny a job for the rest of his stay, both bartending and being a bouncer when needed.
Danny only worked at the Redlite for five weeks, and Patty had had to turn back into Tricia for one of them and go back to LA for a bit, but she and Danny had sat and talked over coffee several times when things were slow. In a way, he’d become a sort of a friend, and she’d probably told more of the truth about what she was doing, what she wanted to do, and what she was feeling about the whole situation than she’d told to anyone else, except maybe Shirley.
And he’d talked to her about his problems, too – she was someone for him to talk to, and he really needed that just then. His wife had been a real bitch and he’d spent years trying to keep the marriage together, but she just hadn’t cared. Tricia had never gotten Danny to go out back with her – part of the deal on his working there was that he had to keep his hands off the merchandise – but she’d been able to provide a sympathetic ear, which he needed more than sex just then anyway.
Danny was just starting to get over his moroseness when a real surprise happened. A new girl turned out at the Redlite, and it proved to be his soon-to-be-ex sister-in-law, Amy, who used the work name “Amelia,” which wasn’t that great a pseudonym, though probably all right for a trial period. Although Patty could see that he had some problems with Amelia being there, it also sharpened his awareness of what really went on in the house. Danny had been well on the way to being a real friend when the divorce came through and his time at the Redlite ended. He drove off one day, and for a couple years, until she’d really gotten involved in med school and forgot about him, she had occasionally wondered if things had worked out for him.
Danny’s leaving roughly marked the halfway point of her time at the Redlite Ranch. Things actually got a little better for Peppermint Patty after that. George relented a little on her being gone one week out of four and allowed her to work as a waitress for that week, with the understanding that she had to keep her hands off the customers. That was fun; some of the regulars who knew her even gave her good tips, and it was just the right amount of break without having to leave the grounds. As a result, except for one short break to take care of getting registered again for school, she didn’t get off the property for her last six months there.
She didn’t want to admit that she was counting the days until her stint at the Redlite was over, but she was counting the dollars – and there were lots of them, $257,000 before taxes. Even with the help of an accountant George found for her, she still had to give all too much of her hard-earned money to the IRS. Still, the rest of her undergrad career was more than paid for, and she thought, with luck, med school too.
It hadn’t worked out that way. Her mother got sick the following winter, and even with Medicaid there wasn’t enough to pay the bills. In the last months of her mother’s life, a lot of what she’d earned at the Redlite had to be diverted to her care – and if anything, that just strengthened her resolve to become a doctor. She spent the next summer at the Redlite again to try and catch up, then three more months after she finished her senior year and went off to med school at the University of Wisconsin. By the end of her second year of med school in Madison, it had become clear that she wasn’t going to have enough money to make it through the rest of the way. She didn’t want to have to take a break from med school to do the Redlite thing again – she thought she was a little past that – so when the deal from Spearfish Lake came along, she was glad to take it.
Tricia looked up; her meal was sitting in front of her, and she had no idea of how long it had been there. Apparently the waitress had left it while she’d been lost in her memories and had probably noticed that she didn’t want to be disturbed. She reached out and touched the ham; it was still warm, so most likely hadn’t been sitting there very long. It didn’t really appeal to her; the memory rolled back over her that Sarah, the elderly Mormon cook at the Redlite, could do a better job accidentally than most restaurant cooks could do on purpose.
It was a pleasant memory. While she wouldn’t have wanted to make a life out of it, the nearly two years she’d spent in total at the Redlite had been possibly the most pleasant and enjoyable time of her life despite what anyone else might think of it as a job. The two years had contributed in many ways – not just money – to achieving her goal of being a doctor. As satisfying as that may have been, somehow she’d managed to overlook the fact that Peppermint Patty could come back to haunt her.
Anywhere else, damn it, she thought as she began to pick at her food without any real appetite. There weren’t half a dozen people from her time at the Redlite that she’d gotten to know as well as Danny, and she hadn’t known him very long. Many of those people were still there, or at least in the vicinity. Just by sheer goddamn bad luck she’d managed to wind up in the one place that someone who knew Peppermint Patty so well was now a big cheese in the community! What were the fucking odds? Astronomical!