Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
A couple of nice things happened on that otherwise slow afternoon. Shortly after lunch, which was leftovers from Heather’s Thanksgiving dinner, one of the few patients on the schedule was Hal Christiansen; the first patient Tricia had seen solo in Spearfish Lake, and the man who had such sky-high diabetes. He’d been a regular patient since then, but his diabetes was slowly coming under control and his vision had returned to normal. In the last two weeks his highest morning glucometer reading was 148, and while that was a little high, it wasn’t much higher than his average had been. What’s more, he’d lost fifteen pounds. It didn’t take a lot of figuring why his blood sugar had spiked, either – it was the morning after Thanksgiving, after all.
“I tried to control myself, I really did,” he replied a little shyly. “But hell, it was Thanksgiving, and I couldn’t bypass at least a taste of the good stuff.”
“Perfectly understandable,” Tricia said, happy at the way she’d been able to intervene in his problem. As high as his blood sugar readings had been, he’d been headed for trouble, real fast. “You really have to keep after it, and not let it slide. But it looks to me like you’ve been doing a good job of it and we have it under control for now. Let’s break off the every-other-week visits, and schedule one for right after the first of the year. Hang in there, Hal. If it starts to get out of control again, don’t just ignore it, come see me. You’ve responded well enough to medications that I think we don’t have to worry about putting you on insulin for a while, but eventually it may become an issue. We have to keep an eye on it. Keep working on losing weight. That’ll help as much as anything. Some regular exercise will help a lot, too.”
“Yeah, but cripe, it’s hard. My wife just wants to feed me lettuce all the time. I’m starting to feel like a rabbit.”
“It’s possible to go too far the other way,” she smiled; it was not the first time she’d heard the complaint. “But there are other things you can eat that are a little tastier, even if just for variety. Would you be interested in a class about cooking for diabetes management some time? Your wife might like to come to it.”
“Might not be a bad idea,” he agreed. “A little more variety would be welcome.”
“I can give you the generalities, but anyone who has eaten my cooking would know I’m not the one to try to teach someone how to do it,” she replied. “However, I’ve got a couple other patients who might be interested in a class like that, and while I haven’t asked I’d be willing to bet Dr. Metarie has some, too. I might be able to get a dietician up here from Camden some time to teach one. They often have some pretty good ideas, and like I said, when it comes to cooking they have to know more than I do.”
Christiansen had no more than left when a new patient came in, surprisingly carrying a bouquet of flowers each for Tricia and Heather. “I wish I could do more for you,” he said, “but I thought I should at least do this after what you did for me.”
Tricia and Heather looked at each other frowning, then it hit them: this was the guy they’d had to perform CPR on in the waiting room while they waited for the ambulance to show up!
“Well, we appreciate it,” Tricia told him. “But really, it’s part of the job. It was the ambulance guys who really made the difference.”
“Yeah, but I can’t give flowers to a bunch of guys,” he smiled. “Seriously, the two of you saved my life by being here when I needed you, and it wasn’t until a while afterward I realized what actually happened.”
“So how are you feeling now?”
“Not bad,” he shrugged. “But they sure worked me over at Camden. A triple bypass and a pacemaker, among other things, and I had to take it real easy for a while. This is the first chance I’ve had to come by and thank you.”
“We appreciate the thanks, and the flowers, but really, it’s only part of the job.”
“I still feel like I ought to owe you something.”
“On the house, this time,” Tricia smiled. “If you let it get that bad again, I might have to reconsider.” She was mostly teasing; the guy seemed to be in a pretty good mood.
“Well, I hope it doesn’t,” he told her. “They got on my ass real bad about it down at the hospital. They said I have to go down there for checkups, and that I need a local doctor to monitor things. I hadn’t seen a doctor for years, and I know Dr. Luce wasn’t taking on new patients, but I hope you are. I hadn’t seen a doctor since Dr. Brege was here, and that was a long time ago.”
“Sure we’re taking new patients, the more the merrier. I suppose there’s a list of things they want me to watch out for.”
“Oh, yeah, I got a letter all about it.”
“Well, fill out the patient history form and I’ll give you a once-over. I know they would have been concentrating on your heart down there, but there could be other things wrong, too.”
“That’s what Dr. Levitsky said down there in Camden,” he replied. “That’s why I’m here. I figure I owe you that much.”
“We’re glad to have you,” Tricia smiled. “But I’ll warn you right now, I’m going to insist on you coming in a little more often than once every twenty years or whatever it’s been since Dr. Brege retired.”
“I may not be the sharpest pencil in the box, but I think I learned that much right here a few weeks ago.”
Those two patients, along with a slow afternoon, made Tricia feel in a pretty good mood as she drove the Neon back home through blowing and drifting snow late that afternoon. Though she often felt good about the difference she was making in the lives of her patients, to have two whose improvement had been that dramatic come in one right after the other was a little unexpected.
The snow was coming down hard as she drove down Lakeshore and turned back up Oak for the short drive to her home. Earlier in the year she’d sometimes not bothered to put her car in the garage, but that wasn’t going to be a good idea tonight, she thought. The way the snow was whipping off the lake was pretty wild, and she was sure there was going to be a lot of it on the ground in the morning.
In spite of her time in Madison and Milwaukee, snow was still a little strange to her, and she didn’t like it very much. Some people gloried in the cold, she knew; she remembered one time going by the dam on Lake Mendota in Madison and seeing ice boaters out on the lake. That may have been cold but looked exciting, until she’d noticed the people in canoes running a slalom course below the dam in water that, if it wasn’t at the freezing point, couldn’t be far above it! Talk about the need for some psychiatric help!
As she drove in the driveway she noticed the lights weren’t on in Henry’s side of the duplex. That wasn’t surprising; he worked some odd hours at times, and often had evening events to attend, although she couldn’t imagine what might be going on at this hour on the day after Thanksgiving that would demand his attention. Well, possibly something with his family, she thought; she knew they lived out north of town somewhere but wasn’t sure where.
It was just a passing thought, though – she’d seen him a couple times to say hello since the evening when she tried her spaghetti recipe out on him, and counted it a success since an ambulance call hadn’t been involved. In the slow period that afternoon, Heather had put together another very detailed set of instructions on how to do a new meal, this time a simple beef stroganoff. As with the spaghetti, it still seemed a lot more complicated than she made it out to be. One of the things she had to do this weekend was to give it a tryout, because Monday Heather would want to know how it had come out. After leaning on Heather about thinking of becoming a nurse practitioner, making a serious try at the new recipe was the least she could do.
It was kind of a shame Henry wasn’t home; maybe he’d like to come join her. After all, he hadn’t complained about the meal, and it had been an enjoyable evening all around.
Beyond that, she didn’t have much to do on what looked like it was going to be a more or less snowed-in weekend. Maybe it would be time to take another crack at Wendy Carter’s book – it looked like she’d have most of the day on Saturday without much to do, then Sunday, too. She might be able to make a dent in it given that much time.
First things first, she thought as she set the bag of things from the Super Market down on the kitchen table. I might as well get out of office clothes and into some sweats, she thought. I need something warm and cuddly to lounge around in on a snowy night like this.
She’d just gotten back downstairs when she noticed headlights pulling into the other drive of the duplex. Well, Henry must be home, she thought. Maybe it’s still not too late.
She waited until he had some time to get inside, then called him – he’d given her his phone number when he’d been at her place the last time weeks before. “So how’s it going over on the other side of the wall tonight?” she asked after identifying herself.
“It’s here,” he said. “Which is better than being out there. We got snow in some of the other places I’ve lived the last few years, but I guess I’d forgotten just how bad a Spearfish Lake winter can be. I’ve been out trying to get an artsy photo of all the snow blowing around, and that’s not simple at night. Looks like it was a waste of time.”
“Well, if you’re not settled in, Heather gave me a recipe for beef stroganoff. If you want to come over and watch me mess it up, you’d be welcome.”
“I’ll take a pass on that for tonight and make you a counter offer,” he replied. “I stopped off at Parker’s, and they had a special on large pizzas. It’s too much for me, and my patience with reheated pizza is limited at the best of times. Come on over and help me eat it, and maybe I can slap a new DVD I just got in the player. We can try out your stroganoff tomorrow night.”
“Sounds like a winner,” she smiled. “It’s been years since I’ve seen a movie, even on TV.”
“That’s right, you’re not a TV person, are you? Well, come on over. This is kind of a neat flick I heard about. It’s English, and the humor is supposed to be a little wacky but not overwhelmingly stupid like English movies sometimes get.”
“I’ll be right over just as soon as I get my shoes on,” she told him. “Wouldn’t want the pizza to get cold.”
“Good enough. I’ll leave the front door unlocked for you.”
She didn’t even have to put her coat on because the shared front porch was enclosed. It didn’t take her long to be over at Henry’s, and at that she thought she might be getting a little better at the kitchen stuff because somehow she’d remembered to take the hamburger out of the bag from the Super Market and put it in the refrigerator. In a couple centuries she might even make a tolerable cook, she thought; that was a milestone.
It was the first time she’d been in his half of the duplex. The furniture wasn’t quite as nice as hers; it looked used a little, and didn’t quite fit the color of the paint, not that she was an expert about that kind of thing like Danny was. Still, the place was neat and clean, maybe about as cluttered as hers was, maybe a little more. She hadn’t thought Henry would be a slob, but dropping in on him like this with no warning proved he wasn’t.
Henry was just getting out plates and opening the pizza box. “I happen to think that Parker’s makes the best pizza in town, at least anymore,” he said. “There was a time when Villa Romano had them beat to ribbons, but they’ve been gone a long time. The paper is in that building now, and there was another business in there in between. Cripe, I must have been a little kid, maybe in middle school, maybe not even that, when they closed. Dad says they used to make a better pizza over in Warsaw but that was before the fire, which was, hell, before I was born, so I’m not in any position to judge.”
“It sure smells good,” she agreed. “Not that I’m any expert.”
It was good; in fact, it was very good. Of course, the quality of the pizza itself was enhanced by sitting around the kitchen with a nice, gentle, polite guy. That made it relaxing by itself, but the easy conversation they shared helped out a lot. They sat around the table just talking long after they’d eaten their fill of pizza, just working on the supply of Pepsis in Henry’s refrigerator. None of it was of any real importance, but they talked about things like some more of the local stories Tricia had not yet heard.
They talked about Henry’s job a bit. Tricia hadn’t been very clear about what it was, but Henry filled her in. “Right now, I’m the managing editor, which actually means nothing in particular,” he explained. “It’s just a job title that gives me a little more pay than I’d be getting for the job I’m actually doing.”
“Huh? I don’t get it.”
“Well, it’s a little complicated, but isn’t everything? For years, longer than I’ve been alive, the paper has hired a long line of what they call ‘junior reporters.’ That usually means kids right out of journalism school looking to get a line on their résumés. They’re here six months, a year, maybe as much as two years before they get a job elsewhere and the cycle starts all over again. Now, that job is nothing new to me. I started doing parts of it as early as the fifth grade. By the time I was in high school, if the paper was without a junior reporter in the summer, I’d fill in. Basically, the junior reporter covers things like government meetings, the sheriff’s office and the jail, and a whole lot of other things Dad can manage to stick them with.”
“Well, if you’re at the bottom end of the totem pole, I guess you get the grunt jobs.”
“Right,” Henry agreed. “The problem is it’s a system that has worked since who knows when. Now, my folks aren’t that far from retiring, and they’ve been talking about doing it a little early, so they wanted to get someone set up to take over Dad’s job. There’s someone more or less in line to take over Mom’s. Well, that meant the only job that was open when I had to leave Decatur was junior reporter, and I didn’t want to do all that stupid stuff all over again.”
“That’s understandable,” she nodded. “It must have been bad enough to have to come back here in the first place.”
“I meant it, too,” he smiled. “I mean, I could have looked elsewhere, and maybe even have found something, but they really wanted me back here, so I held out on them a little. After all the dust settled, I wound up as the managing editor, and Dad agreed to do some of the junior reporter level scut work. That gives me the chance to do a few things I want to do on my own. It’s not a perfect solution, but it ought to work for a while. In, oh, three or four years Dad will go part-time and I’ll be running the editorial side. That’s assuming I’m still here in three or four years.”
“You’re thinking about leaving?”
“Oh, probably not. This is home after all, and I got real tired of living in a city. I guess I’m a country boy at heart. But as long as I have the option of going somewhere else open to me, I’d be a fool to not use it as a threat to keep Dad from dumping all the boring government meetings he can on me. It’s about all the leverage I have, so I figure I better use it.”
Several times over the evening Tricia reminded herself of the story Molly and Heather had told about Henry and his girlfriend or whatever she was. She wanted to ask him about it, but either the topic was never right to bring it up when she thought about it, or else she didn’t think about it if the timing might have been right. Either way, it didn’t matter all that much, she thought. That might be a touchy area for some reason or another, and if he’d wanted to tell the story he probably would have. There was no point in lousing up a nice evening by getting into things that probably weren’t her business anyway. After all, she didn’t think of Henry as a boyfriend or even a possible boyfriend; he was just a neighbor she could enjoy spending time with.
Henry’s kitchen chairs were like most kitchen chairs, in that they got uncomfortable after a while. “You know, time’s wasting,” he said finally. “If we’re going to see that DVD tonight maybe we’d better get watching, or else it’s going to be late when it’s over with.”
Right at that moment Tricia could have enjoyed it getting late. It wasn’t a romantic evening or anything, just hanging out, but it was nice to do it with a guy for a change. Though both Molly and Heather were getting to be close friends of a sort, they were still employees, and there was a little distance there that couldn’t be bridged. Henry was just a nice guy, and perhaps there were the beginnings of a friendship there.
“I hope you like this movie,” he said as he was loading the DVD. “Like I said, it’s English, so it’s a little different. It’s supposed to have a little mild nudity in it, but it supports the line of the story.”
“I don’t mind it if it helps the story,” she shrugged.
The movie was pretty good. Henry had a wide-screen HD-TV to watch it on. They weren’t cuddled up like it was a date; in fact, they sat in separate easy chairs. Watching the movie wasn’t exactly like a seat in a theater, but it was an improvement over watching a TV set, at least the last time she watched one. The story, Mrs. Henderson Presents, was about an older English woman, in the days before World War II, who, after her husband died, decided to do something interesting with her life – buy a theater in London. This was a little different, in that the theater featured nude girls; although fairly tastefully done, it was something totally unheard of at the time. Henry told her the story was loosely based on a true story, and that it had been a landmark of wartime London. It had its funny spots, its poignant spots, and was thoroughly enjoyable.
It was late when they finished with the movie, but they still sat and talked about it a little. “Well,” Henry finally said, “I guess it’s time for me to be hitting the hay. There’s a preseason basketball tournament tomorrow. Spearfish Lake plays early, so I need to get over and take some pictures of that. Then, I’ve got some other running to do for the paper. A junior managing editor’s work is never done.”
“Yeah, I should probably head to bed, too,” she replied. “I had some work I’d planned on doing tonight, but I guess I’ll have to do it tomorrow. Thank you for a really enjoyable evening, Henry.”
“Thanks for sharing it with me. Are we still on to try your stroganoff tomorrow evening?”
“Why not?” she smiled. “I don’t have a TV or a DVD player, but I suppose we can find something to do.”
“If all else fails, we can come over here and watch something. I’ve got a pretty good collection of stuff. We can probably find something you’d be interested in. Maybe Monty Python, if you like over-the-top English humor.”
“I’ve heard the name, and that’s all,” she admitted. “Let’s face it, Henry, my cultural horizons were a little limited while I was in med school and residency.”
“Sounds like it’ll work for me. About six, you think?”
“Whatever’s convenient. I just won’t get started on it till you get there. That way you can watch me make a fool of myself again.”
It was just a brief walk back to her side of the duplex, and she was inside before a strange thought struck her: Henry hadn’t tried to hit on her. He hadn’t even acted like he thought about it. It had been just a perfectly casual friendly evening between two adults who happened to be of the opposite sex.
Tricia knew her view of men in general was a little skewed, given her experience at the Redlite Ranch. Men were coming on to her all the time, and she had to appear ready to go – and most of the time she had been just that. It had been play for pay, after all; if they were ready to pay, she was ready to play, and the amount of money thrown around had gotten her most of the way through med school. More than once she’d wondered about guys who had been willing to pay the kinds of numbers they did for an hour or so of fun. Oh, there had been men there who didn’t hit on her – Danny had been one – but most of the men who showed up around the place were there because they wanted action and were willing to pay the price.
If the circumstances of this evening had been a little different – and probably not much – if Henry had made a move she might have been willing to take him up on it. Even though she was a physician and wanted to keep a squeaky clean reputation around town, it had been a long time, after all, and she’d been lonely through much of it. She’d been one of the better earning girls at the Redlite because for the most part she’d enjoyed what she was doing, and had not just acted like it, or sometimes not even that.
But to get through a warm and comfortable evening like this, if not particularly cuddly or anything, and not even get the ghost of a hit – well, it was clear that something else was going on there. Something she didn’t understand.
Henry might have been gay, of course. She’d seen some of that over the years – although admittedly not much at the Redlite – but she hadn’t picked up that kind of message. Perhaps he was a little afraid of her, although that didn’t seem to be the case. He may not have been as highly educated as she was, but he had a much broader range of interests and the willingness to learn about them, while her interests were narrow, but deep.
And there was another possibility: he might not have just been interested. That seemed a little hard to believe, unless there was another story going on there. Although she hadn’t tried to get near the subject of Cindy, perhaps that had something to do with it. She’d gotten a definite hint that he’d had more reasons to be happy to move back to Spearfish Lake than he’d told her about, but there had been no detailed discussion.
It seemed clear that there was a story in Henry McMahon. Tricia had heard a lot of stories since she’d moved to Spearfish Lake, and had hints of a lot more of them. Somehow, she suspected that this story was going to be one that no one would tell her. She’d have to dig it out for herself.