Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Like most nights, Tricia took work home with her that evening of the day the patient went into full arrest in the waiting room. It was the usual thing, editing the output from the voice-to-text program, along with trying to decipher pertinent notes in Dr. Luce’s handwriting for patients scheduled for the next day. But this time she had something else to do first.
She poured herself a glass of wine – only one, she wouldn’t allow herself more than that in case she were needed somehow – and got out the phone book. Randy Clark’s phone number was listed, a little to her surprise, and she quickly dialed it.
She wound up talking to Randy’s wife, Nicole. “As far as I know he’s still over in Three Pines,” Nicole told her. “He had to drop everything and do an ALS run this morning and he’s still catching up.”
“I know about that,” Tricia admitted. “A patient went into full arrest in my office, and he showed up out of nowhere within minutes. I just wanted to thank him for being there so quickly and doing his job so well.”
“He has a talent for doing that,” Nicole replied – “and then taking hours to catch up. It’s one of those things he feels the need to do and I don’t fault him for wanting to do it, although it makes life inconvenient around here sometimes.”
“Well, I guess I’ll just have to call later, or maybe tomorrow. But I really want to thank him.”
“The odds are he’ll be around here, unless he’s not,” Nicole sighed. “Here I’ve got a nice dinner ready and it’s not going to be very good if I have to leave it in the oven for two or three hours. I was just thinking about calling Myleigh up to see if she and Celeste would like to come over and share it, since Trey is out of town. In fact, if you haven’t eaten yet, why don’t you come over and join us? The odds are that if Randy’s this late he’ll have grabbed dinner over at the Three Pines Casino.”
“He likes to hang around casinos?” Tricia asked. Somehow that didn’t seem like Randy, not that she knew him very well. Back in her Peppermint Patty days she’d known guys who spent a lot of time in them and usually not to their benefit. She’d had plenty of examples to show that the casinos were a way to separate a sucker from his money, and they were good at it.
“Only if he has a roll of blueprints in his hand,” Nicole replied with a giggle. “Clark Construction has had a project either planning, under way, or finishing up over there all the time I’ve been married to him. I know he’s working on plans for next year and it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if he doesn’t show up till midnight, so come on over.”
“You know,” Tricia said, “I think I’ll do that. I’m not doing anything I can’t put off till later.”
It only took a few minutes to be heading back out the door. She didn’t know Nicole at all well – she’d only met her on a few occasions, and those just briefly – but she seemed to be an interesting person, and it would be a lot more social than spending another evening hanging around home, spending hours trying to decipher Dr. Luce’s handwriting. On top of that, she’d been fascinated by Dr. Hartwell-Harris in the few minutes she’d had to talk with her. She was obviously an interesting personality, more than a little out of place in a town like Spearfish Lake, but she seemed to like it here and had become a part of the community. It would be nice to get to know her a little more than she had so far.
In only a couple minutes she was backing the Neon out onto the street. As she put it into drive, she noticed the lights were on in the other half of the duplex. Maybe she’d gotten her new neighbor after all, she thought, making a mental note to try to get over there and introduce herself sometime.
It didn’t take long to get to Nicole’s house. Tricia had no trouble finding it; she’d only been there once, but it was a hard place to miss, even in the dark of the winter evening, and Nicole had the yard lights on for her anyway.
Nicole was dressed nicely, as if she hadn’t changed after getting home from teaching school. She was somewhat taller, with short dark hair, and obviously in good shape. Dr. Hartwell-Harris was also there, dressed in a woolen skirt and sweater, very neat, without a hair out of place – someone who obviously took more than a little pride in her appearance. Tricia was dressed in her normal office clothes – relatively nice since she’d taken to wearing a lab coat in the office instead of scrubs, but Dr. Hartwell-Harris made her feel a little underdressed.
“Glad you could make it over,” Nicole said as she greeted Tricia at the door, with Dr. Hartwell-Harris getting the jacket off a little girl right behind her; it was obvious she’d just arrived as well. “I’d held dinner a little since I hoped Randy could make it home, but I called his cell and he won’t be here till late. The kids have already been fed, and they shouldn’t be too much bother. I have to put them down early since we have to get going very early in the morning.”
It turned out that Randy and Nicole had two children, Brent and Raven, a boy and a girl; Tricia hadn’t met them before, nor had she met Dr. Hartwell-Harris’ little girl, Celeste. They were as full of life as preschoolers could be, but not excessively so; it seemed like it could be possible to carry on a conversation with the kids running around. It would nice to be around happy little kids for a while, she thought; all too often the ones she saw were sick or hurting in some way.
“I am most pleased to make your acquaintance again, Dr. York,” Dr. Hartwell-Harris said, her demeanor and language not changed from the last time Tricia had met her, at the steering committee meeting in this room. “I had hoped I should have been able to do so sooner, but things have a way of happening while classes are in session.”
“They really do, Dr. Hartwell-Harris,” Tricia replied politely. “I’ve been pretty busy getting my feet under me, and there are so many new people I want to get to know.”
“Come, we are among friends,” Dr. Hartwell-Harris said. “You are not one of my students in any case. Please, feel free to address me by my given name, and should you not mind, I shall take the same liberty with yours.”
“Sorry, it’s just habit, I guess,” Tricia shrugged, at least a little amazed at the way Myleigh used the language. She remembered Randy saying that Myleigh dialed it down a lot when out in the community, but liked to be herself with friends, speaking in the formal manner she had been accustomed to. “Some people in medicine are very sticky about wanting to be addressed by their titles, so I run on the principle of better safe than sorry.”
“I assure you, the situation is no different in academia, at least around some campuses. The institution I was formerly associated with carried it to an extreme degree, and it is still much the same at my current one, though slightly relaxed. I sometimes find it difficult to be casual with the use of names and titles myself. Back in the period when I was still at Marienthal, I was sometimes amused that my then more-or-less fiancé, who was then an undergraduate, addressed me as ‘Dr. Harris’ in public, and ‘my love’ in private.”
“I’m still learning my way around town,” Tricia said. “I’m not sure I’ve met him.”
“Trey is a really nice guy,” Nicole smiled. “But I can see how it would be a little awkward for a professor to be running around with an undergraduate. But they made it work.”
“I confess the situation was mitigated to a degree by the fact that Trey was somewhat on the old side for an undergraduate,” Myleigh replied. “He served a term in the Army before coming to college, so he was rather more mature than his nominal fellows. I confess that my life changed a great deal from the day I met him.”
“You’re still the same Myleigh I knew before you met him,” Nicole grinned. “I think you changed him a lot more than he changed you.”
“Mayhaps,” Myleigh grinned. “Before that time came, I had little vision of being a loving wife and a mother. Indeed, I’d imagined such things might never happen to me and in retrospect am a little surprised they happened at all. As far as that goes, I should not be in Spearfish Lake again had Trey not entered my life. There was a period in which I occasionally amused myself with the thought that Randy and I might marry, but I pushed it away from myself since I thought it might detract from my goal of being a professor of literature. But several things happened about the time Trey and I became acquainted with each other, including my becoming a quasi-professional harpist. Trey did a great deal to facilitate that, and we became closer in part through it.”
“I keep hearing people talk about how well you play the harp,” Tricia smiled. “I’ve got to hear it some time.”
“Alas, I did not bring Blue Beauty with me this evening,” Myleigh replied. “But I feel certain an opportunity for such a performance will arise at some occasion in the future.”
“Blue Beauty is far and away my favorite harp, and she means much to me,” Myleigh replied. “Shortly after Trey and I met, she became lost in an extremely incompetent airline baggage handling incident. I was most bereft at the thought of losing my oldest and dearest friend, but fortunately Trey recovered her by some superhuman effort I still do not thoroughly understand. All I can say it that it exposed to me what a jewel of a man he was, despite his then being an undergraduate. There is a wide social gulf between professors and undergraduates, especially in a place as formal as Marienthal, but Trey taught me there were bridges across it. I cannot imagine being without him, and am not sure how I managed to be without him before we met. His education may not be as deep as mine, but his breadth of interests and skills at practical problems more than overcome the difference.”
In the discussion that followed in the next few minutes Myleigh’s statement took on a little more meaning to Tricia, in ways her hosts might not have expected. One of the things that had concerned her about living in Spearfish Lake was that she might not meet a prospective mate in the town who approximately matched her educational attainments – God, she was even thinking like Myleigh sounded now! What Myleigh had more or less told her – if Tricia got it right through all the flowery language – was that educational levels might not matter as much as she thought they might. She learned that Trey only had a bachelor’s degree, was a sound engineer, and did some business administration for Jennifer and Blake’s recording company, while Myleigh was both a highly skilled and moderately popular harpist and recording artist along with having a doctorate in literature.
They talked for another few minutes, with the talk turning to marriage and motherhood. Nicole proved to be a little more than just another housewife, too – in the period between finishing five years of college and marrying Randy, she’d spent months hiking the 2100 miles of the Appalachian Trail! She’d had other adventures as well, and it made Tricia just a little envious of her – she’d used her time to do some other things with her life, like rowing rafts on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, making some memories that would last a lifetime. Tricia knew she’d just kept her nose to the grindstone of trying to become a doctor; even her time at the Redlite Ranch had been with that in mind. While Nicole could tell Appalachian Trail and Grand Canyon stories – and the couple she told were fascinating – Tricia only had Redlite Ranch stories to tell of the one out-of-school adventure of her life, and there was no way she could tell them, not here, not anywhere, except maybe to Danny. Maybe. And maybe not, too; while Danny was a nice guy in many ways, his life had moved far beyond what it had been back then.
Finally Nicole told the kids to pick up their toys and get ready for bed. “Brent is getting pretty good at getting ready for bed,” Nicole explained. “But Raven still needs some help. This shouldn’t take but a few minutes, then I’ll get us some dinner.”
Naturally, Nicole and Myleigh had to help the kids, including Celeste, with cleaning up and getting ready for bed. While they bustled around Tricia just sat back and watched, and took in the incredible house she was sitting in. It really was a work of art, with its big windows looking out over the darkness of the lake with the distant lights of other houses across the cove. She could pick out Steve and Binky’s place, and wondered what they might be doing this evening.
It seemed a little frustrating when she stopped and thought about it. Everybody she knew at all well in Spearfish Lake was married, and most of them quite happily. While she hadn’t asked, Tricia suspected that Nicole was a little older than she was. Both Heather and Molly were married, and had kids about the ages of the young Clarks, although admittedly Heather also had one significantly older. Danny and Debbie had young kids, a little older than the three present this evening. Steve and Binky were old enough that they had kids out of the house and gone, so that wasn’t exactly a measure, but everyone else she knew around her age was married and had children. It really made her seem out of place, an outsider, like she had missed the train while she was going through medical school and all the other related hassles. Maybe the time had come to be thinking about doing something about that, although with who was a mystery.
It took Myleigh and Nicole a little longer than Tricia had expected to get the kids off to bed, but not as long as it could have. That was fine, because it allowed even more time for contemplation. Even if she did have kids, she wondered, how could she raise them the way they needed to be raised with all the hassles she had to go through as a physician? It was hard to imagine doing the kind of things Nicole was doing for the kids right now. Admittedly, she knew some women physicians, although not well, who had had children and gone through most of the hassles in the process, and from what she knew it had worked out all right. But still, she had trouble imagining herself doing it.
Nicole and Myleigh eventually rejoined her. “It took a little longer than I expected to get Raven down,” Nicole reported. “Myleigh had to sing her a lullaby and I had to tell her a story, but I think she’ll be all right. I’m sorry to have taken so long when I promised you dinner, but I hope it will be worth the wait.”
It proved to be – an old family beef and noodles recipe, with an indefinable sauce. They just sat down at the kitchen table to eat, and the talk that went along with it. “This really tastes good,” Tricia said. “I can hardly boil water for myself.”
“I had little practical experience with it when I first lived by myself,” Myleigh said. “But I think I soon became an adequate cook. At least I never hear Trey complaining about my cooking, and he is quite good at it himself. It makes life much simpler when I have classes late, then have to drive sixty miles home.”
“It takes some learning,” Nicole smiled. “I don’t make this dish very often since it’s just loaded with calories, and Randy and I like to watch our weight. He’s going to be sorry he missed it, especially since it just doesn’t taste as good reheated.”
“I guess I’m partly at fault with that. After all, that cardiac arrest took place in my office.”
“It could have happened anywhere and Randy would still have rushed off to deal with it, so don’t blame yourself. Randy takes after his dad; they both have a big commitment to community service. Ryan has always said that if you take care of your workers, they’ll take care of you in the long run. I’ve seen it happen and I don’t disagree in the slightest. However, both Ryan and Randy take it a little further than that. Because of their positions in the community, their attitude is that if they take care of the community it will take care of them. For the most part, it has.”
“I’ve gotten to know Ryan a little,” Tricia replied. “He and the foundations have been very good to me, and I can see that what they’re really trying to do is for the benefit of the community.”
“That is a very good example,” Myleigh commented. “Speaking as a board member of the Jennifer Walworth Foundation and thus a member of the so-called steering committee, we were very happy to see you come here. We have been most delighted in the way things have worked out so far.”
“I’m a history major,” Nicole added. “And I think about things a little differently than Ryan and Randy do. To be honest, and I wouldn’t admit it around Ryan or a couple other committee members, but I think I can say it around Myleigh. Their view of what they do for the community strikes me as a little socialist. Socialist in a good sense, I mean. The greatest good for the greatest number. There was no way they could have just sat back and let the physician problem take care of itself if there was something they could do to influence how things were going.”
“Interesting thought,” Tricia said. “Like I said, they’ve done a lot for me I hadn’t expected. But they were really doing it for the whole town, weren’t they?”
“Of course we were,” Myleigh said. “I do not wish this to appear to sound personal, and I certainly do not wish to make it sound as I’m disparaging anyone. I’m sure you are as well aware as I that all too often physicians going into family practice are not exactly the best and the brightest in the medical field, are you not?”
“Of course. It’s not something that I like to admit, but I do have to agree with you. However, family practice is the absolute front line of medicine, the point of contact between the people and the profession. An allusion a professor of mine once used is that it’s where the rubber meets the road.”
“Exactly,” Myleigh smiled. “So it was most fortunate of us to find a brilliant and dedicated young medical student who wanted to go into family practice for its own sake, not because she couldn’t worm her way into another more lucrative specialty. We thought we were very lucky indeed, and that you were worth waiting for. Since the contract was signed with you, there have been other chances to bring general practitioners to town. We passed them up, not because we had a contract with you, but because we felt the practitioners involved were not worth the trouble.”
“I didn’t know that,” Tricia said in no little amazement.
“They proved to be right,” Nicole explained. “Not only is there a good word going around the community about how dedicated and serious you are, one of those guys they looked at a little is now in jail. I don’t know the details, but he must have been a real credit to the medical profession, if you know what I mean.”
“You might wish to refrain from discussing that in any detail about town,” Myleigh smiled. “Some of that isn’t well known except to the steering committee, and I must confess we are not as proud of at least one of those episodes as we might otherwise be. At least we were able to find out the truth in time to avoid having any of his predations take place in this community. That episode caused us to become somewhat more careful in making background investigations about our candidates in the future.”
Holy shit, Tricia thought. How could you have missed hearing about Peppermint Patty? She’d been pretty sure she’d covered up the connection pretty well, but it wouldn’t have taken a serious investigator with any sort of access to the IRS files a great deal of time to turn up the huge spike in income she’d had back during her period there. Of course, she’d been an independent contractor, and she was sure there was no place on her tax returns that said “Redlite Ranch” or anything like it. Still a spike in income like that would have had to look suspicious, even if it didn’t point directly at her hidden past life. Given that kind of lead, it might not be hard to make the connection.
“I can understand how it could be embarrassing,” she said, thinking about how embarrassing it would be to them if they were to find out about Peppermint Patty. It had been something of a surprise to know that the interview committee had thought so highly of her while she was still back in med school! They’d been betting big odds on her, too . . . that took some courage!
Well, one thing was for sure: she couldn’t allow any word about Peppermint Patty to slip out, and that was that. It was nothing new; she’d known it from the beginning, and when she walked into the door of the chamber meet and greet she’d thought it was all over with. But apparently, no one had figured it out and Danny hadn’t told anyone anything about it, despite being on the committee. He must really have been between a rock and a hard spot on that, she thought, a little amazed that he’d had enough faith in her from knowing her way back when to keep quiet about it. Somehow, some way, she was going to have to make that up to him, but for now about all she could do was to do her best to keep the secret herself. If she let it come out, it was going to be hard on him, and that wasn’t something she wanted to happen to someone who was her oldest friend in Spearfish Lake by far.
For good or ill, she thought, she would have to spend most of the next five years here, and if they went well, longer than that. In time, maybe a longer period than she liked to think, she might have a good enough reputation in the community that she could weather the storm that would likely blow up if the Peppermint Patty secret were to get out. But that time seemed a long ways off. For now she’d just have to keep her mouth shut and hope Danny would too.
But there was another lesson there, one a little more subtle if nonetheless true: if the secret came out, she wouldn’t be the only one hurt by it. There would be a lot of people in Spearfish Lake hurting, and not just the group on the steering committee. If the story had come out back when she walked into the chamber meet and greet, that guy this morning would most likely have been dead for hours now, and there would be many, many others who wouldn’t have the benefit of her care. This was, she realized, more than just about her.