Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
It turned cold the rest of Christmas weekend. The skies were clear at night, and given the air mass, it turned bone-chilling, at least to her; she felt it was barely safe to be outside and then only for short periods. In the middle of Saturday afternoon, Henry called. “I know we were talking about getting together for a DVD or something tonight,” he said, “but can I beg off this time?”
“Sure, it was just something to do. What happened?”
“Tiffany just called,” he replied. “She said that now that we’ve gotten some decent temperatures, she wants to get out and do a long night run with a lot of the dogs. They’re a little behind on training and they need to catch up. It wouldn’t surprise me if we go halfway to Warsaw and back. Anyway, they need some extra hands and I got volunteered.”
“In this temperature? Henry, you’ll freeze your butt off!”
“Oh, this isn’t bad. At least for the regular mushers. I happen to think it’s pretty damn cold myself, but at least I can dress for it. Temps this cold are about average for the Iditarod, or so I’m told. It sometimes gets a lot colder.”
A chill went right up her spine. Even thinking about temperatures as cold as it was outside wasn’t very appealing. With a little touch of fear in her voice, she asked, “She didn’t ask me to go along, did she?”
“No, you’re still a little green for doing a long night run like this. I’m not even sure I’m up for it myself anymore, although I’ve done worse, but well, they need hands and I was dumb enough to say yes.”
“How late will you be?”
“No idea. I’ll probably be back before dawn, but not much before that. Then I’ll wind up sleeping most of the day tomorrow. It could turn into another long run tomorrow night if it stays cold, I don’t know yet.”
“Good god, I can’t believe it! I think I’ll be just as happy to think of you freezing your ass off out there while I’m wrapped up in the warm wooded hills of Kolombanara. When you see your folks, tell them I’m going to be really grateful for their Christmas present.”
So it happened that Tricia spent most of Saturday and Sunday on her couch with Hills of Kolombanara in her hand. Though the story picked up right where the earlier book had left off, this one was even more complex, but more intriguing. Wendy had clearly matured some as a writer when she’d done this one, she thought. If that trend continued through the rest of the series – Wendy was currently working on the sixth book – it was going to get really complicated.
When the cold of the evening made the house pop and crack a little, and frost covered the windows, her mind couldn’t help turning to thoughts of Henry on the runners of a dogsled out in the darkness of the frigid night. Those people liked doing that? She really liked the Archers and the rest of the Run-8 crowd, but they had to be crazy as hell too . . . and Henry right along with them.
Still, there was a tiny spot back in some distant corner of her mind that couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like. In its way, it had to be an interesting experience, one she could never have dreamed of even a month ago. Maybe sometime . . . good god!
It was still cold when she went in to the office Monday morning. She was very grateful for the new parka Henry had given her, and for “Snyder’s” new gloves, too. Even the Neon wasn’t happy about having to get out in the cold of the morning, despite having spent the weekend in the admittedly cold unheated garage. Once again she thought she needed to think about replacing it. She was not happy about having to look for a new vehicle, since, like many other things, she was not very experienced in buying cars. A fellow med student down in Madison had helped her pick out the Neon years before, and while it had given good service, it was getting pretty old now. Maybe Henry could help her with that, she thought.
Molly was already at the office when Tricia arrived. “Cold enough for you?” she asked when Tricia felt the welcome warmth of the office.
“It is for me,” Tricia admitted. “But Henry was out running dogsleds all night the last two nights. He got back just as I was leaving. He has to have a hole straight through his head!”
“I know those people do it, but I’m not sure how,” Molly shook her head. “Nice parka, by the way. Did you do some shopping over the weekend?”
“No, Henry gave it to me at Christmas. We went out to his sister’s place, and I had a wonderful time.”
“Wow,” Molly grinned. “This is beginning to sound like it’s getting serious. Christmas with his family, and a nice parka like that? It looks like it had to be expensive.”
Tricia smiled at her; Molly always seemed to be reading something into her relationship with Henry. Well, this time she might be getting it a little bit right, but Tricia didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of knowing it. “I don’t think it cost him that much. I know he got it at Spearfish Lake Outfitters, and there’s sort of a family discount involved. Besides, Henry and I came out about even on the deal. I gave him a ski jacket from there, and Candice gave me a little discount on it, too.”
“Maybe a family discount?” Molly grinned.
“No, but it could have been a dogsledding discount, maybe a little bit because of my suturing up that dog a while back. Anyway, I had a really great time. I’ve never had a big family Christmas like that before and I felt right at home. Those are some really nice people.”
“I’m just sorry I couldn’t have you over for Christmas,” Molly replied apologetically. “But it was already set up that we were going to go out of town.”
“No problem, but thanks for the thought. It worked out just fine.”
Molly could probably have found some other way to tease Tricia about Henry, but Heather arrived about that time, still ahead of schedule. “Sorry I’m late,” she said. “Dr. York, I’m afraid I’m going to have to take off this afternoon. Uncle John died Friday, and his funeral is this afternoon.”
“No problem, Molly and I will manage,” Tricia told her. “Was I right in guessing it was cancer?”
“Oh yeah, he had it bad, but we didn’t know till we saw the death certificate. I’m just sorry my little plan to get him in to see you didn’t work, but I don’t think it would have helped anyway. It might have if it had been a year ago, but he just didn’t want to see a doctor, not even you. He did tell my aunt that you were nice and concerned about him, but he didn’t think it was necessary.”
“Well, it happens,” Tricia shrugged. “I thought at the time he knew what was coming and wanted to do it with as little fuss as possible.”
“I think you’re right, but damn,” Heather shook her head. “He was a good guy, and I’m going to miss him.”
“We can usually help people who want to be helped,” Tricia said. “But wanting to be helped is something we often have very little control over.”
Tricia didn’t see Henry until that evening, and then it was only briefly. “I pretty much slept all day,” he reported. “Now I’ve got to go into the office and play catch-up. Thank goodness the issue after Christmas is usually the lightest one of the year.”
“Are you going out on a night run tonight?”
“No, not tonight. Even as light as the paper is, you don’t miss Tuesday at the Record-Herald if you possibly can avoid it. I’ll tell you what, I’m getting a little tired of doing all this junior reporter stuff, though. Dad is getting tired of doing his share of it, too. The idea has been kicked around of bringing another one on, but there are budget issues. That would lighten up my evening schedule an awful lot. We ought to be able to get together later in the week, though. Hey, I’ve got to run. See you when I can.”
Tricia spent the evening as she often did, editing her patient records for the day, and then going through Dr. Luce’s records for the patients scheduled for the next day. Both were getting to slowly be less and less of a chore, and she was grateful that this evening she had Hills of Kolombanara to turn to.
She really didn’t expect to hear from Henry much the rest of the week; in fact, their brief meeting on Monday evening was a little bit of a surprise. So she was even more surprised to have a call from him as soon as she got home on Tuesday. “Do you have anything planned for dinner?” he asked.
“Just opening a can or something.”
“Come on over, I’ll throw something together, and we can throw a DVD in the player or something,” he said. “Besides, I’ve got something I need to ask you.”
“Even if you served something from a can it would be better than opening one for myself,” she replied. “Give me a couple of minutes to get organized and I’ll be right over.”
She didn’t waste much time; even as cold as it was on the front porch, she didn’t bother to put a jacket on. It proved that Henry had a little more in mind than opening a can; he had some ham steaks, and was putting together some cheesy potatoes from a box to go with it. That would taste a heck of a lot better than something from a can, she thought as she asked, “So what’s the news?”
“Well, to make a long story short, would you be up for a New Year’s Eve party? We have an invitation to go out to Jennifer and Blake’s.”
“We have an invitation?” she asked, thinking of what Molly would say if she heard that news.
“It’s no secret we’re hanging around together a little,” he shrugged. “This is Spearfish Lake, after all, and Dad has always said we’ve never needed a gossip column in the paper because it would be old news by the time it got printed.”
“I suppose,” she sighed, realizing that she hadn’t been doing a very good job of pulling the wool over Molly’s eyes. “Jennifer has said a couple times she needed to have me out there for one of her parties, but I guess things just haven’t come together.”
“From what Dad says, they go in spurts, depending on how busy they are with other things,” Henry told her. “They apparently haven’t had one for a while, so I guess they’ve been busy, too.”
“Sure, I’m up for it. How should I dress?”
“They’re not real formal, but if I were you, I wouldn’t dress any less nice than you do at the office,” he said. “Maybe a little nicer, maybe a little party-like. If I knew for sure I’d tell you. I’ve only been to one of their parties and that was a while ago, before Cindy and I got back together in college. No telling what they have in mind, but it probably won’t be much of a drinking party and I’d be real surprised if you didn’t hear some pretty good music before the evening is over with.”
Dinner was pretty good – for being what even Tricia could see was pretty much a throw-together meal, it tasted very good on this cold evening. Afterwards, they settled down on Henry’s couch and the wide-screen TV. They started and quit on a couple movies before they found one in his collection they both liked. They wound up spending a couple hours watching it, sharing a big bowl of buttery pan-made popcorn in the process. It was still a little early, so they watched another one, still sitting close together even though the popcorn was long gone.
She didn’t think much about it that evening, but the next day she realized that her wardrobe didn’t exactly extend to a party dress – once again, there had not been the need for one in years. The more conservative of the Peppermint Patty dresses she’d thrown away in Milwaukee might have worked if it had been worn over a sweater and tights, but it was long gone. Even if it hadn’t been she wasn’t sure she would have wanted to wear it to a party thrown by some of her major backers – there was too much mental baggage it carried along with it.
So there was no choice but to do a Camden run. She’d had to do them once a month or so since she’d been in Spearfish Lake, at least partly to build up her wardrobe from the rather slim one she’d had when she moved there. There were other things that needed to be done in Camden, too, like stopping by Camden General Hospital to firm up her connections there.
Fortunately, the office was closed the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, so as soon as they locked up she was in the Neon, heading south. There were those things that needed doing at Camden General, but they didn’t take much time, and soon she was pulling into Briarwood Mall on the north side of town.
There was no point in overdoing it, she thought; nothing too sexy, and the sweater and tights idea seemed like a good one. That would allow her to find something she might be able to wear in the summer, as well. She settled on a shiny blue dress Peppermint Patty would have thought much too conservative, but one Tricia thought might be about as far as she’d want to go in Spearfish Lake. It was nice to be able to dress up for an occasion once in a while, she thought.
What with everything, when she got back to Spearfish Lake she barely had time to shower, put some makeup on, cut the tags off the new dress and get it on before it was time to go. She stole a quick look in the mirror: pretty good, she thought, a little outside the conservative young woman-doctor image she’d tried to project. She was just finishing up when Henry called, asking if she was ready to go.
It was warmer than it had been on the weekend, but still cold enough to want to wear her parka over the dress. As usual, they took Henry’s car, if for no more reason than it was nicer than her Neon.
Blake Walworth met them at the back door of the house; like most lakefront houses, the back door faced the street and the lake side was considered the front, although the door there was probably deep in snow, as far at Tricia knew. “Dr. York, Henry,” Blake said. “I’m glad you could make it tonight. I’m afraid we threw this together at the last moment, but Steam Train John happened to be in the area and we offered him the opportunity to stay over.”
“Steam Train John?” Tricia asked. “I’m afraid I haven’t heard the name before.”
“After tonight, you won’t forget him,” Blake grinned. “In any case, welcome to our humble house.”
The house was hardly humble, Tricia thought. She’d been there before and knew it seemed bigger on the inside than it did on the outside, and everything she saw was quality, reserved and done to absolute perfection. A big fire was burning in an Italianate Marble fireplace; there was a large buffet of canapés and hors d’oeuvres, some of which seemed exotic indeed. Tricia had learned before that Blake was a gourmet cook, and it seemed likely that these had come from his own hands – a lot of work for a “thrown-together” party.
There were several bottles of wine, and though Tricia was no wine expert, she doubted these had come from the shelves of the Spearfish Lake Super Market. There were several musical instruments sitting around, mostly guitars, but most prominently an exquisite-looking deep blue Celtic harp. That has to be Myleigh’s Blue Beauty, Tricia thought.
Not surprisingly, the party largely was made up of people she knew; Gene and Lex Metarie, of course, and Randy and Nicole Clark, also not surprising. But Danny and Debbie were there, along with Phil and Brandy Wine; Tricia hadn’t previously met Brandy, the legendary basketball coach Henry had told her about. There were others: Ryan and Linda Clark, the latter of whom Tricia had only met briefly; Myleigh and Trey, Myleigh’s husband, who she also hadn’t previously met. Binky and Steve were there, along with Jennifer’s parents, Gil and Carrie Evachevski. That meant that the whole of the doctor recruitment steering committee was present, also not surprising, but there were others. It was a very different crowd from the Run-8 group; Phil, Henry, and she were the only crossovers.
Most notable of the others was a tall, grizzled-looking guy who appeared to have missed shaving for the last couple days, wearing a western shirt, blue jeans and hiking boots. There were several people around him, and a lot of laughter; he seemed to have a lot of funny stories to tell. It was a while before someone actually introduced them: this was Steam Train John, who had been the root cause of the party in the first place. Although he looked like he belonged in a dim country-western honky-tonk, there was something about him that made him look like he’d be comfortable anywhere, and be the life of the party in the process.
After a while, Jennifer took advantage of a lull in the conversation to address the crowd. She was a tall woman with long blonde hair; Tricia knew she was pushing fifty, although she looked a lot younger. “I’m glad everyone could make it here tonight for our informal little gathering,” she said. “I know most of you have been to these little shindigs before, but we have a new guest present tonight, Dr. Tricia York. She’s the new doctor in town, and from what I’ve been hearing she’s been keeping Shovelhead on his toes. It’s been very good to have you here and we want to help you feel part of the community, Dr. York.”
Tricia blushed a little as she acknowledged a mild applause. “I got a little cute,” Jennifer went on, “And decided to invite her through Henry McMahon, her next-door neighbor, who’s now the managing editor of the Record-Herald and who also is going to mean good things for the future in Spearfish Lake. Henry has been to one of our things before, but it’s been a long time, so I might as well explain to both of you that the evening is mostly going to involve music, conversation, and food. And I might as well explain that, while I can’t speak for anyone else, when we have these little affairs, Blake and I don’t do any of our commercial music, but instead play things that we just happen to like. But we’re not going to take up the whole evening since there are several really super musicians here tonight, including Myleigh and my old friend, Steam Train John.”
There was a round of applause, and Jennifer continued. “Myleigh is going to do a few things for us on her harp, and toward the end Blake and Trey are going to set out a little buffet to make the evening go a little easier, and then we’re just going to see what happens next. Myleigh, from what I’ve heard you say, Dr. York hasn’t heard you play, so Dr. York, you’re in for a treat.”
Tricia really hadn’t thought much about harp music, other than to think it was mostly liquid and urbane, but when Myleigh buckled on a harness and snapped Blue Beauty to it, she began to realize this wasn’t just any harp music. “Many years ago, when I was but a lass,” Myleigh said. “I started learning to play the harp by playing along with old vinyl records, rather than having any instruction whatsoever to enjoy. In the process I learned things that seasoned harpists say cannot be done upon a harp. Over the years, I have occasionally enjoyed proving them wrong.”
With that, she launched off into an intricate piece that was vaguely familiar to Tricia; she thought she remembered it from the elevator music in Milwaukee General – but the version she remembered was played by a full orchestra! Myleigh’s playing certainly didn’t sound like an orchestra, but it didn’t sound like a harp, either. This was an intricate piece, with Myleigh making the harp take several parts, sometimes two at once, sometimes it seemed even more. From there, Myleigh headed off into other directions, jazz harp, folk, rock, and a lot of other things Tricia couldn’t easily define. Myleigh also was pretty awesome as a singer, too; Tricia recognized a couple songs she could give names to, especially Dawnwalker. This actually sounded more like what she thought a harp should sound like, a tale of an Irish fisherman’s wife walking the shore in the early morning, looking for a glimpse of her husband’s fishing boat and praying she wasn’t a widow. It was a heart-rending piece, and after a while Tricia realized it was a song that Jennifer had done!
Myleigh played a few more selections, each very different from the others, until she finally stopped. “I hope you have enjoyed my little hobby,” she told the group, “But I see Blake is giving me the high sign that the buffet is ready, so I shall cease and desist for now, but perhaps later. I myself am waiting to hear Steam Train John.”
“Myleigh,” John grinned, “I’ve got two or three we need to play together.”
“I should be delighted,” she smiled. “But I fear we should allow our friends the opportunity to still their pangs of hunger.”
“Good god,” Tricia whispered to Henry, “If that’s her hobby, what would taking a lit class from her be like?”
“Scary thought, isn’t it?”
The meal was incredible. Over the years Tricia had occasionally had to suffer through catered meals that ran to under-done prime rib, soggy mashed potatoes from a box, and inedible green beans, or something of that nature. The centerpiece of this one was miniature pasties, a local specialty, a meat pie with vegetables wrapped in a crust similar to a pie crust. They were incredibly good – and Tricia realized they’d been made right in the huge kitchen in this house, with Blake, Trey, and possibly Jennifer doing the honors!
After eating – and it would have been easy to eat too much – and more conversation, Steam Train John broke out his guitar, and people settled in to watch. This was considerably different music, rowdy, barroom music for the most part, but fun to watch and listen to. John started with My Little Marijuana Patch, a ditty Tricia had never heard before – but she’d never heard any of his music before; it was all new to her. It wasn’t all rowdy barroom music, either; Myleigh joined him on a couple of pieces. One of them was Bristlecone Pine, a haunting piece about a man who wanted to be laid to rest at the feet of one of those ancient long-living trees, so that in some way a piece of him could live on through the tree. In a way, it didn’t seem a bad way to spend eternity.
There was more music after that; Jennifer and Blake sang a few, including Dawnwalker again, this time with Myleigh’s accompaniment, and in ways Tricia felt Myleigh did a better job of singing it, partly because Myleigh had the Irish accent down perfectly to go with her bell-clear alto voice.
It got free-form after that; Randy even did some, including a take-off of a familiar if old song: Itsy-Bitsy Teenie-Weenie Tiny Yellow Thong Bikini, and a couple Tricia hadn’t heard before. Then Randy and Myleigh did a couple together.
Somewhere in all that music and fun, midnight passed without anyone noticing or caring. It was after two before things began to die down; nobody really wanted to quit, but plenty of people were yawning and realizing they were about to fall over.
“Hey, people, it’s been fun and we’ll have to do it again some time,” Jennifer finally announced. “It was real great to have Steam Train John with us tonight. We don’t see him often enough and he always is a lot of fun when he’s here; sooner or later we’ll think of an excuse to have another party. And Dr. York, especially, thank you for coming and joining us tonight. We’ll have to do it again sometime.”
Tricia could barely stay awake as Henry drove her the short distance back to the duplex. It had been a hell of a great evening and she was in a great mood, if falling asleep. Peppermint Patty had once kept hours much later than tonight, but Patty had been able to sleep during the day too. It was sort of a shame; she was feeling very good and trying out her birth control injection might have been a good idea if she thought she could have stayed awake long enough to enjoy it.
“Thank you for a great evening, Henry,” she said as they paused inside his front door for a late-night kiss. “Thanks for inviting me, or letting Jennifer twist your arm into inviting me, or whatever it was.”
“My pleasure,” he said. “It felt a little strange, though.”
“Cindy and I would never have gone to a deal like that. I wouldn’t have dared to take her, since she probably would have mouthed off and gotten someone mad, not that she would have gone to anything like that in Spearfish Lake at all. So it was real nice to be able to go to that party on our first formal date as a couple.”
“Yeah, I guess it was, wasn’t it?” she yawned. “Well, Henry, it was the first time I ever went to a party quite like that, and I’m glad it could be with you.”