Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Tricia and Henry sat in the living room and talked for several more hours. Occasionally Henry’s stories drifted to things that had happened when he had been with Cindy, but she played a small part in them. She also heard some other stories, some of which she’d had a hint of. Among them was the zeros-to-heroes story of basketball coach Brandy Wine. Brandy, it turned out, was also Danny’s sister, a fact she hadn’t previously known; she’d turned a bare handful of inexperienced girls into the legendary “Magnificent Seven” in only a matter of months, then turned around and did almost as well with the boys’ team. That had gone a long way toward wiping out all the hurt and bitterness in the town from the basketball/cheerleader fracas.
She told a few stories, too – mostly things from med school, the only real fund of good stories she had, since any stories from the Redlite Ranch were off limits. In a way, that was a shame; a few of those could match any of Henry’s.
Although the stories earlier about Henry’s life with Cindy had been heavy, the conversation afterwards had been extremely enjoyable. Really, it wasn’t at all surprising since Henry had been a reporter and from all evidence a good and responsible one, so he had reasons to look into a lot of different things.
They lost track of time – that seemed to happen a lot that day – and it was after midnight before Henry suggested that perhaps they ought to call it a night, especially if they were going to go out to his sister’s place and check out the dogsledding in the morning. Tricia had almost forgotten that it had been part of the plan, even though some of the stories Henry had told over the course of the evening were dogsledding stories. There had been the time he and his sister had missed the bus and the two of them had taken a dogsled to school – she’d been in fifth grade and he’d been in first. That had led to other dogsledding stories. Tricia wasn’t sure how much she would like it but it seemed like it was worth checking out.
All in all, it had been a thoroughly enjoyable evening, even with the rather emotional story Henry had told about his relationship with Cindy. As Tricia went upstairs to get her clothes off and get ready for bed, knowing Henry was doing the same thing on the far side of the wall, she couldn’t help thinking about him. And being even more impressed by him.
It was clear, as he’d said several times, that he hadn’t really liked Cindy. But he’d been extremely loyal to her, for all of that. He’d made a promise to her over ten years before, and he’d gone far out of his way to keep it. In fact, it had twisted and skewed his life to keep it, and having to leave her behind, no matter how badly he needed to move on with his life, clearly gave him mixed emotions at best. She could see there was hurt in him that was going to be a long time healing over.
But look past that, and Henry was an interesting guy. Honest, friendly, intelligent, a wide range of interests, a good conversationalist, not badly educated. He was friendly and not awed by the fact she was a physician – it seemed to be something he took in stride, and that was no little thing. He was well spoken, used the language well – not as well as Myleigh, of course, but no one else she knew came close to that level – and his mild swearing and occasional rough language as he told the Cindy story only revealed how hard it had hit him emotionally. And he had a heart. God, did he ever have a heart.
All through med school, Tricia had been extremely leery of pairing off, at least partly because it might have diverted her attention from what she’d wanted to accomplish. That no longer seemed to apply, but she was having trouble shaking it off, at least partly because since she had been in Spearfish Lake she hadn’t met anyone she might have had an interest in pairing off with.
She didn’t really want to think of Henry as a prospect, at least not yet, but a candidate, maybe, if she could work out some of the issues in her own life, Peppermint Patty at the head of that list, of course. In fact, it seemed to be the chief obstacle in her mind. Would it be unfair to him to get seriously involved with him with that dark history hanging over her head? There were plenty of ramifications there, of course, more than she wanted to think about this late in the evening, but it was something that was going to have to pondered pretty seriously before she became involved with him – or with anyone, for that matter.
On top of that, getting involved with him, if they could work out the Peppermint Patty issue somehow, would most likely mean there was a good chance of having to stay in Spearfish Lake permanently. That might well happen in any case, but it still carried with it the risk of the dark part of her history being revealed. If it was, it could be an even worse disaster. If he knew about it, and something went wrong between them . . . based on his history with Cindy, he might well keep the secret anyway. Food for thought.
Oh, well, she thought as she slipped under the covers. It’s nothing that has to be decided tonight, after all. It was pretty clear that it was going to take Henry some time to clear his mind of the issues that his history with Cindy and leaving her had brought on. That was fine by her, since it was just as clearly going to take her some time to work out the Peppermint Patty issue, and several others.
But still, maybe . . .
Tricia allowed herself the luxury of not setting her alarm clock the next morning. It wasn’t often she got to sleep in, or at least allowed herself to. She didn’t wake up until the phone beside the bed rang. She’d been sleeping so deeply it took her a moment to realize it was ringing, and longer to untangle herself from the covers to get to it. “Yeah, what is it?” she managed to say.
“Well, good morning, sleepyhead,” Henry replied in a cheerful voice. “It’s a beautiful day out there and the temperature is coming up nicely. You want to go dogsledding?”
“Um . . . uh . . . yeah, well, I guess,” she yawned, trying to shake off her sleep. “It’s going to take me a while to get pulled together.”
“Not a problem, I just got up myself,” he said. “Would you like to go out for breakfast? I could do something here, if you like.”
“Fine with me, whatever you want.”
“Well, get up and get dressed, then come on over when you’re ready. The door is open. We can work it out when you get here. There’s not any rush; they’ll be running dogs all day. We might have to hang out there for a bit, but no big deal.”
She took her time and a shower along the way before she got dressed. Because she knew they were going to be outside, she put on more clothes than normal, and warmer ones; at least having lived in Madison, then Milwaukee, she knew how to dress for cold weather. What with everything, it was more than half an hour before she walked across the shared porch, and into Henry’s half of the duplex. “You look a little brighter than you sounded when you picked up the phone,” he grinned.
“No trick in that,” she replied. “Are you always that cheerful in the morning?”
“Habit, I guess,” he grinned. “It always pissed Cindy off a little, so I used to tweak her with it. Then I got used to it. We can have eggs and sausage and home fries here, or we can go out to someplace like the Spearfish Lake Café and get it. Your choice.”
“I’d almost as soon just do it here,” she said. “If we go out there the word about you and I is bound to get around, and sooner or later I’ll have Heather and Molly teasing me about it. I’d just as soon avoid that if I can.”
“No problem,” he replied. “What with you being a doctor, you ought to be pretty good with a scalpel. You want to peel some spuds while I get started?”
“Just because I worked a surgical and an emergency rotation when I was an intern doesn’t mean I’m all that good with a scalpel,” she said. “But I’m willing to help.”
“Can’t ask for much more than that.”
As they worked in the kitchen, it soon became clear that Henry knew what he was doing there, much better than she did, and she commented on it. “Had to learn how if I wanted to survive,” he told her. “Cindy was almost as bad a cook as you claim to be, and she didn’t really want to learn to improve on it any. Typical Cindy, I guess.”
“It’s not that I’m not trying to learn, it’s just that I’m totally inept at it.”
“But you’re willing to try, that’s half the battle. Even a simple breakfast like this can be fun once in a while.”
The breakfast came out pretty well, but it took time; it was late in the morning before they got into Henry’s car and headed for his sister’s.
Run-8 Kennels was located on a side road off the state road. It was a large steel building, mostly filled with dog pens; it wasn’t too bad outside, but the noise inside was incredible. There was no one around at the moment, but Henry took a little time to explain a few things, like the fact that Tiffany and Josh’s house was over a hill in back of the dog barn, and that his folks lived across the road and up it a ways.
“They used to keep dogs outside, on chains and in individual houses,” Henry explained once they got back outside after a peek in the dog barn. “But the dogs turned the dog yard into a lunar landscape in days. This is better on the dogs and they don’t tear things up. As much, that is. It is sure a long ways from when Dad had half a dozen dogs in the back yard across the road.”
“It’s an awful lot of dogs.”
“Yeah, it is,” he agreed. “Depending on various things, they can have as few as a hundred here, or as many as a hundred and fifty, counting pups. With two teams starting in the Iditarod, at sixteen dogs to the team plus a couple spares to take to Alaska with them, that’s thirty-six right there. They usually try to start training about twice that many in the fall. Add in pups, yearlings, and dogs that aren’t quite ready to do serious racing yet, along with retirees they want to keep for breeding purposes or whatever, they’re actually cutting it a little thin on dogs.”
“It seems incredible that someone would want to go to this amount of expense and trouble simply for a race.”
“You have to want to do it, and if you do the money becomes incidental,” he replied. “Hell, think of car racing. This is peanuts compared to what some people spend just to be competitive local racers. I don’t mean NASCAR, either; I mean like the track down in Camden. This whole deal is actually a little strange, at least in a business sense. Tiffany and Josh actually own the dogs and the building, but they have an arrangement with Phil Wine, who pays them to raise, train, and keep the dogs for him. He can afford it.”
“That’s Brandy Wine’s husband? I’ve heard he has money.”
“He isn’t hurting. Now, the deal with this is that he wants to take experienced, proven dogs with him, and he pays well to do it. So they run a second team, one they refer to as the junior varsity, and several different people have taken the JVs to Alaska, and almost always to Nome, which means finishing the race. I don’t know the details, but I don’t think Tiffany and Josh are losing anything on this operation. They may not be making much, but they enjoy it, and that counts for a lot.”
This time of year, Henry explained, there had to be a lot of miles put on the dogs, not just the ones that were going to go to the race, but the trainees as well. Josh, Tiffany, Phil, and a hired dog handler did the bulk of it, but there was always need for more training, so other people got pulled in on it too; now that Henry was back in Spearfish Lake, he was probably on the list too.
They didn’t have to stand around talking long; soon a pair of dogsleds pulled by several dogs came into the area in front of the dog barn. “Hi, Henry,” one of the mushers, a tallish woman, perhaps in her forties, with long dark hair said. “What brings you out here today? You ready to do some training runs?”
“Not really,” he replied. “I just brought Dr. York out to take a quick run with her around the training trails so she’d have some idea what this was all about.”
“Get her hooked for us, we need more trainers,” the woman laughed.
“Oh, I think he’s trying,” Tricia replied. “He just hasn’t succeeded yet.”
“Hey, I don’t think you two have met,” Henry said. “Candice, this is Dr. Tricia York. Tricia, this is Candice Archer. She’s that sort of shirt-tail relative I told you about. She’s planning on running the JVs in the Iditarod again this year; it’ll be the third time she’s done it over the years.”
“I know I met you back at the chamber meet and greet,” Candice replied.
“I think I remember you, but there were so many people in such a short time that I got a little lost.”
“That happens,” Candice agreed. “Let’s get these dogs put away and have a cup of coffee so we can warm up. Then Perry and I’ll put together a small team for you so Henry can take you for a ride.”
They tied off the teams so the dogs couldn’t run away, and Henry went to help them get the dogs back in their pens while Tricia stood around and watched. There was a small heated office space in the end of the dog barn, and soon they all gathered there over cups of mediocre but hot coffee.
“Candice,” Tricia asked as they got settled in, “I have to ask, how did a woman like you get involved in this kind of thing?”
“It was almost as big a surprise to me as it was to anyone else,” Candice smiled. “It just sort of happened. A few years ago I was a bookkeeper in a bank down in Decatur, and I’d been on a dogsled exactly once, for a ride. Then my husband and I lost our jobs at the same time. A job for John, my husband, opened up here, so we moved up. Josh is my husband’s brother, and he and Tiffany own the outfitting store here in town. I got volunteered to help them out in the store, and along with that got involved in training the dogs. Then a situation came up when they needed someone to run the JV team in the Iditarod, and I was the only one available who had the qualifying experience. I ran the race in Alaska, did pretty well with it and had a ball. A similar situation came up a couple years later so I ran it again, did even better and had more fun. I’ve got the kids all in college now, and with only the store to run I had some free time on my hands. When the opportunity came up this year I said, ‘Why not?’ So I’ll be doing it again. I’d love to get the JVs into the top twenty, and maybe there’s a chance of it.”
“Don’t let Candice go getting shy on you,” Henry grinned. “She’s a pretty incredible woman, and there are some pretty incredible stories about her and her family, especially her younger son.”
“Not so much incredible. He was just doing what needed to be done,” Candice replied, significantly less enthusiastically. “But all in all, it worked out better than it had any reason to.”
Candice steered them away from that cryptic subject and they talked dogsledding for a while. Once the coffee was gone, Candice and Perry, the dog handler, helped Henry put together a small team to take Tricia for a ride before starting on larger teams for their own training runs. There was a network of training trails in the woods and fields nearby, and with Tricia riding in the sled basket, Henry took her out on them for a short run.
It was fun. It was very quiet, just the schuss of runners, the odd jingle of a harness strap now and then, and occasionally a sound of dog feet. Once in a while Henry had to yell a command to the lead dog – “Gee, Fuzzbutt, Gee!” – but not much more than that. They stopped briefly on a small hill mostly to let Tricia have a look at the beautiful snow-covered countryside. It seemed like a different world than the one she was used to. “I can see how a person could get hooked on this,” she told Henry.
“Better not let Candice hear you say that,” he grinned. “Or Phil, or Josh, or Tiffany either. The next thing you know you’ll be taking a team down Fourth Street in Anchorage, headed for Nome, and you’ll be asking yourself, ‘How the hell did I get here?’ It’s what happened to Candice, after all.”
“I don’t think so,” she replied, thinking that would really take the prize. Dr. Tricia York, former prostitute, family physician, dog musher. What a mix! “But I can see how doing it once in a while could be interesting.” She paused for a moment and asked, “Henry, what’s the thing with her son? She really changed her attitude when you said what you did.”
“I probably shouldn’t have said it, but it is pretty incredible,” he said. “I don’t know all the details, but a couple years ago her son came across a girl getting beaten and serially raped by her father and her brother. He yelled at them to stop and leave her alone, and they both dove for a shotgun.”
“Oh, dear,” she said. “No wonder she doesn’t like to talk about it.”
“I wasn’t here at the time but considering my family, and the fact that he’s sort of family, I got the inside story,” he replied. “Going for a shotgun was an extremely stupid thing for those bozos to do, especially since Cody is twice now the state champion in heavy pistol and he had a nine millimeter in his hand when he yelled at them to stop.”
“He shot them? Both?”
“Right between the eyes. Let’s just say the cause of death was pretty obvious. They were flying on meth; it’d have taken something close to that to stop them anyway. The part I find incredible is that Candice and her husband took the girl into their home after that, and more or less adopted her. She and Cody are now extremely close. I’ve heard people say they couldn’t be more married if they were married, which they’re not. Yet, anyway. Anyway, there were several kinds of stink that came up as a result of the shooting, and it’s not all worked out yet. Now’s not the time to go into details anyway.”
“I can see how it could be a bit awkward for Candice.”
“It was, but it was a point of pride, too. She’ll talk about it if she wants to, but I shouldn’t have mentioned it to her. Like I said, let’s not talk about it now. Get out of the basket and up here on the runners. I’ll stand behind you and give you a taste of what it’s like to run a dog team and not just ride behind one.”
“Uh, Henry, maybe I better not.”
“No harm in it, and nothing will happen.”
“Unless it leads to Fourth Street in Anchorage,” she laughed.
“There is that risk,” he grinned. “Now get up here.”
It felt a little strange to be standing on the sled runners, with Henry’s arms reaching around her to hold on. It felt . . . comfortable. In the few minutes they were like that, she could see it wasn’t the easiest thing in the world, but running a dogsled, at least in easy conditions, was something she could learn given a little experience. Maybe she’d have to learn something about it; it would beat hanging around home wasting a nice day like today on a book.
She was still on the sled runners when they got back up to the dog barn. “That’s strange,” Henry said. “Candice and Perry ought to be back out on the trails by now.”
As they got closer, they could see Candice and Perry hunched over a dog lying in the snow. “What’s the problem?” Henry said as soon as he got their team to stop.
“I fucked up,” Perry replied. “I forgot and put Snyder next to Doobie, and they started fighting as soon as I turned my back. That set off a bigger fight and we had a hell of a time getting it under control. Snyder got tore up pretty bad.”
“I’m putting pressure on the worst wound,” Candice said. “But he’s still bleeding heavily. Phil and Josh and Tiffany know how to suture a wound like that but I don’t, and they’re not here. Perry doesn’t know how either.”
“You have sutures here? Surgical gloves?” Tricia asked.
“Yes, we have those in a room we use as a sort of dog infirmary,” Candice said.
“Let’s get him inside, I can handle it.”
Tricia had never actually sutured a dog before, but she’d done it to humans a lot. She didn’t think she was going to have any problems, and didn’t, other than finding what she needed in the cluttered infirmary. Soon, Snyder was resting comfortably, wearing a dog jacket normally used on a windy day, but this time to keep him from licking and biting at the wounds.
“You know, Doc,” Candice told her as they were picking up afterward, “that dog would probably have died if you hadn’t been here.”
“Well, since I’m not a vet I can’t send you a bill,” she laughed, “but I was glad I could help out. This is a pretty interesting outfit you have here.”
“Well, if you want to learn how to really run a dogsled, I’m sure Josh and Tiffany will be glad to teach you.”
It turned into a long but interesting afternoon. Tricia got some lessons in running a dogsled, sometimes from Henry, sometimes from Candice, and later from Josh. Toward the end of the day they let her take a three-dog team made up of older and well behaved dogs out on the training trails for a short run. It was a marvelous feeling of independence, something she would not have dreamed of doing even a few hours before. She didn’t think she was going to be doing the Iditarod any time soon, but it added something of a new angle to what had been a somewhat one-dimensional life.
It was after dark before the day wound down. Less than as a thanks for saving Snyder than it was a pure gesture of friendship, Tiffany invited the whole gang up to the house for dinner. It turned into a very educational and interesting evening, with lots of dogsledding stories being told, along with some others. Candice even told a more detailed version of the story about her son and her, well, daughter-in-law or adopted daughter, whichever she was – even Candice wasn’t sure herself, except that neither definition actually applied. It was indeed an incredible story.
The evening wound up going late. It was close to midnight before they got back to the duplex. Since they’d taken Henry’s car, they got out in his garage and went into his kitchen on her way to his front door. When they got there, Tricia stopped and turned to him. “Thank you, Henry,” she said. “It was a really nice day. I had a lot of fun and met some really neat people. I wouldn’t mind doing it with you again sometime.”
“I had fun, too,” he said. “And it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun without you. I’m glad you came along.”
“Maybe next weekend. Or, maybe we could do something else. And Henry?”
She reached up and pulled his head down to her upraised lips. It wasn’t a long kiss or a deep one, but it was a friendly one. “Thank you again,” she said when they pulled apart to the guy who was now at least a little bit her boyfriend. “See you tomorrow or whenever.”