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Hiding Patty book cover

Hiding Patty
A Tale From Spearfish Lake
Wes Boyd
©2012, ©2014

Chapter 4

Tricia was just about floating on air when she left Spearfish Lake Furniture and Appliance, especially as bleak as things had looked when she walked into the place. All the worries of the last few hours, all the paranoia, all the bad tidings – all gone.

Well, almost. There was still some residual paranoia lying there, and she suspected there always would be. The ghost of Peppermint Patty was going to hang around her all her life, she was sure of that, and there was always going to be the potential for being outed. It seemed very unlikely now that Danny was going to be the one to do it, at least not anytime soon. There was always going to be the potential for a slip-up, on her part as well as his, but depending on what happened, it might not be a disaster.

There was, of course, the possibility that weird things could happen. In fact, had happened, otherwise she wouldn’t have been in this pickle in the first place. Right at the moment, though, she felt she’d been damn lucky that Danny really seemed to appreciate and respect what she’d been trying to do as Peppermint Patty – both then and now.

She’d known almost from her first day at the Redlite nearly ten years before that the chance existed that someone could recognize her. It was part of the reason she’d dyed her hair and eyebrows blonde most of the time she’d worked there, except in the very beginning – Tricia York might resemble a Nevada prostitute by the name of Peppermint Patty, but she could claim they weren’t the same person. In most cases it would be hard to dispute her.

It was clear that Danny was still a friend, one she could confide in about that part of her life if she needed to. What’s more, it was clear that he was going to be helpful, and probably would have been even if she really had been a total stranger. They were going to have to be careful around each other for a while, perhaps quite a while, because they each would know more about the other than their apparent brief acquaintance would account for. But in time that would fade, since if they stayed even halfway friendly they were bound to learn some of those public things about each other anyway.

So, all in all, her prospects were looking a lot better than they had less than an hour before. Staying in Spearfish Lake now seemed like it was worth the risk. Now she could start to consider what it was going to take to do it – things like a place to stay, furniture, even groceries. The last intimidated her a little bit – she had never been much to cook for herself, always eating in restaurants or cafeterias or something. She doubted if she’d had the stove in her apartment turned on five times in the last two years; what little was in the refrigerator mostly qualified as snack food.

Moving up here was going to mean she would be on her own in ways she’d never been before, and there were things about it she was sure she wasn’t considering – and had never had a reason to think about. For the last ten years she’d more or less lived in group housing of one form or another; though she’d had an apartment for the last two years, it had been as she had told Danny: she hadn’t really lived there. It was clear that things were going to be different in Spearfish Lake.

She’d told Dr. Luce that she wasn’t planning on being in first thing this morning so she get some of those issues cleared away, even though the talk with Danny had been the most important one. Now that she had some free time, perhaps it was best to get started. She pulled out her cell phone and dialed the number for Binky Augsberg that Danny had given her, but her receptionist said she was out on a closing and would be back later. “Fine,” Tricia told her. “I’ll have to see when I can get free to set up an appointment.”

There wasn’t much left to do but head back out to Dr. Luce’s office. Since this had come up in something of a hurry, there wasn’t much planning involved; the day before they’d worked out a plan where she would just monitor things there for the rest of the week, then start keeping regular office hours the first of next week. That meant she would have to get a lot of the running around done during business hours this week.

It wasn’t clear yet when Dr. Luce would be leaving, but from what she’d picked up yesterday, it most likely would be soon, a matter of weeks at the most. That had its good and bad sides. Dr. Luce, of course, had a huge depth of experience with his patients, and what wasn’t in the medical records was likely to be as important as what was actually there. From the little she’d looked at some of the written records the day before, the information seemed to be a little on the thin side, especially compared to what she’d gotten used to at Milwaukee General. She was a little scared of the responsibility of having to deal with many of those patients without that background of knowledge, and it was going to take her a long time to catch up.

On the other hand, she wasn’t terribly impressed with Dr. Luce. He seemed like a nice enough guy, if a little crotchety, which was understandable due to his age. But she’d picked up more than a little impression that he was just going through the motions these days, and perhaps not doing the job as competently as he might have done even a few years before. She couldn’t help but wonder what he might have missed in the last few years. No one had come right out and said it at the reception the night before or anywhere else, but it was pretty clear in her mind that she wasn’t the only person to feel that way. Even Danny had more or less hinted that there were people who were going to be glad to see Dr. Luce retired, or else there wouldn’t have been the huge and expensive effort spent at finding a replacement for him.

With the exception of the lack of personal knowledge of the patients, Tricia had little doubt that she could handle the job competently. After all, she’d trained with family practice in mind and had gone through an intensive residency in it, so she had to be adequately prepared for it – at least medically speaking. Managing a practice, though – that was a different story. There were all sorts of business-related details she knew little about, especially bookkeeping, billing, and things of that nature – those weren’t covered in medical school in any depth, and in residency those things were handled in totally different departments that she’d had little contact with.

One thing she was sure was going to have to change was the business side of the practice. She was going to have to drag it kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century – or at least the late twentieth. Tricia had been surprised to walk into the office and not see one single computer there! From the little she’d talked with Betty Warren, his bookkeeper or business assistant or whatever she was, both Betty and Dr. Luce were satisfied with the system and saw no reason to change. Betty was almost as old as Dr. Luce, and it seemed likely she would be retiring not long after he left. When that happened, she was really going to be up the proverbial shit creek without a paddle. Even though Tricia knew relatively little about insurance and Medicare billing, she knew that these days much of it was done online. Tricia could not figure out how Betty managed it and got even close to the necessary cash flow out of them in any kind of a timely manner so the clinic could operate smoothly.

Clearly, something was going to have to be done about the situation, and soon – like about ten seconds after Dr. Luce formally turned the practice over to her. But she had no idea of what to do, other than to bring in someone who knew something about what they were doing in a modern sense – but she had no idea how she was going to find that person, or maybe people. There had to be a hell of a lot of money he should have been seeing that wasn’t coming in thanks to not being up to date with the billing system, and she had little idea of what the actual business position of the practice was. Wouldn’t it be a hell of a note if Peppermint Patty had to go back to work at the Redlite on weekends for a while to keep the practice alive!

Dr. Luce also managed to get along without an office nurse, and Tricia wasn’t sure how. Even the simplest nursing assistance would have taken a great deal of the load off of him, allowing him to put his limited energy into the important things. Why he couldn’t see that was beyond her. It probably wouldn’t be any great trick to come up with a nurse, maybe even a really good one, but it had to be done – maybe fifteen seconds after Dr. Luce turned over the practice; it wasn’t quite as big a priority.

No wonder the practice was in bad shape, and he’d been losing patients! And, for that matter, no wonder Danny and some of the people from the foundations had been glad to see her show up last night! They might have been further ahead to just try to bring in someone to set up their own independent practice without all the baggage the old practice was going to carry with it.

Even with the little exposure she’d had to the practice, she could see there were other issues she wanted to change, and as soon as possible. Women’s health issues seemed to head that list; from what little she’d picked up Dr. Metarie wasn’t bad in that area, but he wasn’t a woman, and even with his more medical experience she might have a little more perspective in that area.

But one thing at a time and first things first. She could see that she would have to spend a little more time figuring out what was really wrong with the practice, but at the first possible opportunity she needed to sit down with Ryan Clark, the Donna Clark Foundation president, and let him know of her concerns. He was probably aware of some of them, maybe many of them, anyway, and the little bit she’d talked to him he’d seemed to be a nice if businesslike guy.

And probably she ought to sit down and have a few words with Dr. Metarie at the first opportunity too. She’d already picked up that there was a little coolness between Dr. Luce and Dr. Metarie, maybe more than a little. Gene – it was going to be a long time before she could manage to call him “Shovelhead,” if ever – was probably aware of most of those issues as well, or else he wouldn’t have been near the point of the effort to bring in a replacement for the elderly doctor. At a minimum he could have some valuable input. She had no doubt she was going to be asking him how to deal with some issues for a long time to come.

Maybe the thing to do would be to go hunt Ryan Clark up right now and get her concerns out on the table. She didn’t know him well, and had only met him two or three times. She was all set to stop someplace and look for a phone book when she remembered his son Randy saying that the elder Clark was out of town, which was why he had missed the chamber reception the night before. However, she remembered Randy saying that Ryan was going to be back for the combined foundation affair, tomorrow night if she remembered correctly. With any luck she ought to be able to get him off to the side long enough to set up an appointment.

The situation was serious, but it wasn’t quite hopeless. After all, she’d been brought into town to provide a new quality physician to the community. If things were that bad, at least she ought to be expecting a little help or their efforts were going to be lost. It was that simple. With the specter of Peppermint Patty no longer hanging over her head like a rain cloud, instead being just a little dot out on the horizon that might mean nothing, she could approach things in an organized matter. This problem she might be able to do something about.

*   *   *

Tricia spent much of the day monitoring things at Dr. Luce’s practice. For the most part she did office-nurse duties, just trying to make things go a little more smoothly, while getting a feel for some of the patients. During a brief break, she managed to call Binky Augsberg and make an appointment for late in the day.

As the afternoon wound down she was glad to see it coming to an end. She knew damn well that she shouldn’t say anything just yet, but she was busy making a mental list of things she wanted to change as soon as possible, and it would be a physical list just as soon as she could get to her laptop in her motel room. It even came down to items like giving the place a good, thorough, professional cleaning, something it probably hadn’t had for years. She hadn’t taken a good look at the building, but even to her unpracticed eye it looked like it needed some repairs – something else that she’d have to find out how to get done; it sure wasn’t something she could do herself. Everything was starting to seem more complicated – and more difficult – than it had seemed on the surface.

A little before four, she told Dr. Luce and Betty that she needed to get over to see about renting a place, and that she’d see them tomorrow. It felt good to be out of the office today, and probably would until Dr. Luce formally turned over the practice and left. There was a lot she could see that needed to be done, but she couldn’t get started doing any of it until she had her hands on the controls; all she could do was make plans and preparations. Fortunately, it might not take long.

The Northwoods Realty office was only a short distance up Central Avenue, so it didn’t take long to get there. Mrs. Augsberg – Binky – was waiting for her when she walked in the door. “Good to see you again, Dr. York,” the little oriental woman said. “I suspected I’d be seeing you sooner or later.”

“Well, I was told you were the first person I should talk to about finding a place to live in Spearfish Lake,” Tricia smiled.

“I suppose there are people who would say that,” the older woman responded. “So how are you liking our little town?”

“Just fine, what I’ve seen of it so far. I really haven’t seen much of it, though. I’ve only been up and down Central Avenue and a bit of the state road a couple times.”

“Then you haven’t seen much of it. Maybe I’ll have to do something about that. I suppose I ought to get down to business and ask if you’re planning on renting or buying.”

“I’ve more or less come to the conclusion I need to rent somewhere, at least for a while. It could well be I’ll be looking for a place to buy in six months or a year, but I need to get a few other things stabilized first. I wouldn’t be surprised to find I have trouble arranging financing at this point. I won’t say I spent my last dollar getting this far, but close to it. Besides, I don’t know the town well enough to know where I’d want to live, and living here is going to be a lot different than how I’ve lived in the past. There’s no point in getting the cart before the horse.”

“I ought to be able to help with that,” Binky smiled. “I’m primarily in the business of selling houses, but I realize that sometimes people aren’t ready to buy. Besides, with the way the economy is right now, you might do just as well to sit back and wait for things to develop. It looks to me like housing values are going to continue to drop nationwide, and in six months or a year there might be some real deals out there.”

“From what little attention I’ve paid to the news, and that hasn’t been much, I suspect you’re right. And, to tell the truth, right now I don’t know what I’d do with a whole house to live in. That’s something I need to learn in the next few months.”

“Well, there are places I could show you,” Binky told her. “But just as a suggestion, let’s get in my van and drive around a little. I can show you a bit of the town, and take you past some rentals you might like.”

“That sounds like as good a way to kill two birds with one stone as I can think of. It’ll be nice to see a little more of my new home town.”

“Good. Then let’s get going.”

In only a couple minutes the two of them were in the real estate agent’s minivan. “Do you want the full tour and the history lesson?” Mrs. Augsberg asked.

“Please. I know almost nothing about this town, or even about the area.”

“Well, I suppose the best place to start is to tell you that over a hundred years ago there was a big timbering rush in this area. It lasted, oh, from about 1870 to 1900, and was mostly based on the huge white pine trees that were common around here at the time.” She pointed at a tree across the street. “Trees like that one,” she said. “I don’t know how it escaped what today we sometimes call the ‘great clearcut’ but it may have been too small. From photos I’ve seen, that one would still be on the small side today.”

“Big trees,” Tricia said, looking at the size of the thing. “I know we have bigger ones in California where I grew up, but I never got to see them.”

“My husband and I have, and they’re pretty spectacular. But to get back to here, cutting the trees was a big job by itself, and sawing them into lumber was a big job too. Back around 1890 someone noticed that there was a valley south of here that could be dammed to make a nice artificial lake that could power a sawmill. I won’t go into the ins and outs of it, but the original guy who thought that up lost his shirt in the process, but he got the dam in. Someone else came along, bought it up for at a song, converted the dam to generating electricity, and finally built the sawmill. Of course, if you’re going to have a mill you have to have people to run it, and that’s how the town of Spearfish Lake got its start.”

Binky started the van and turned down Central Avenue. The lake lay in the distance, at the end of the street, bright and blue and sparkling in the afternoon sun. “Before the dam went in, there were, I think seven small lakes, some of them not much bigger than ponds, and of course they all got submerged when the big lake rose. The largest of those lakes was called Spearfish Lake, and the big lake got the name. No one knows where the name came from, but I’ve heard it said it was because it was where Indians went to spear fish. The name is why the local high school sports teams are called the ‘Marlins.’”

“I heard the term at the reception last night, and it struck me as a little odd.”

“Well, it is odd,” Binky laughed. “But some people around here take their high school sports seriously, and I have to admit I’m one of them, at least partly because my daughter Tabitha was on three girls’ basketball teams that won state championships. Sooner or later you’ll probably hear someone use the term, ‘The Magnificent Seven’ about that team. Tabitha was one of them.”

“I heard it last night,” Tricia grinned.

“Those were interesting days around this town, that was for sure,” Binky laughed. “It’s getting to be a while back now, but people haven’t forgotten. Anyway, coming up on our left is the Spearfish Lake Super Market. It’s probably where you’ll do most of your grocery shopping. There are some convenience stores that have limited supplies, but their prices are higher. If you can’t get something there, you’ll have to drive down to Camden, fifty miles south. It’s a pain in the butt, but everybody usually has to make the Camden run sooner or later to get something.”

Binky drove on down the street, pointing out this business and that one. It was not far to downtown, with the lake looming in front of them. They drove right past Danny’s store and came to a stop at the light where the street ended at the waterfront. “We have this very nice beach right downtown, almost a quarter mile long,” the oriental woman explained. “Unfortunately the lake is usually a little on the cool side to do much swimming, even in the height of summer, but it’s still a popular place. I have a couple places I want to show you to the left, but let’s do a little touring, first.”

Binky turned the van to the right, and a short distance later back to the left onto what seemed to be a residential street. “Back after the lake level was raised,” Binky said, “a real estate promoter happened to get the idea that it could make a nice place for cottages for people to get away in the heat of the summer. However, his idea of ‘cottages’ was a little different than what we would think today.”

The street seemed normal for a couple blocks until the lake came into view again, but soon they were in a neighborhood of big, elaborate Victorian mansions, with much gingerbread woodwork and obviously many rooms. The place smelled of money to Tricia. “We’re out of the city and into the township now,” Binky explained. “This is what we locally refer to as ‘The Point.’ On the maps it’s ‘West Point’ but no one ever calls it that. Most of the places aren’t owned locally and are only occupied in the summer, like that one,” she pointed off to the left. “That’s the old Wayne Clark cottage. He’s the man who started Clark Plywood. That house is an important landmark in my life. It was the first big sale I made, for four hundred and fifty thousand dollars, which Ryan Clark said was about four hundred thousand more than he’d ever dreamed anyone would ever pay for that old monstrosity. That was when I decided my career was in real estate.”

“Big house,” Tricia commented, looking at the enormous, elaborate place.

“A huge house,” Binky agreed. “I always figured it must have taken a wagonload of coal a day to heat it in the old days, and Brent Clark told me once that his father usually closed off most of it in the winter and only lived in a few rooms. Of course, that gets us into Wayne Clark stories, and there’s no point in starting all of them if we don’t have to. You’ll probably hear a few of them sooner or later. Anyway, Ryan Clark lives up here a few houses in a much smaller place, and Jennifer Walworth not far away. You can get into some cheaper houses farther out on the point, and some of them aren’t bad if you like mosquitoes in the summer. We’re not looking out here for a place for you, but I thought you’d like to see it.”

“I’m glad you did,” Tricia smiled. “I had no idea this was here.”

“Oh, you’re bound to learn a lot about this community in the next few days. I’ve only lived here since the early eighties, and I’m still learning, too. Let’s get on with what we were doing.”

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To be continued . . .

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