It was dusk when he returned home. He’d sent for Michael right after he arrived, because he had a large stitching job. Fortunately he was almost positive he’d been able to save the leg, but time would tell the extent of the healing.
Collin scrubbed his arms and hands again in the surgery sink. As he passed through to the dining room, Vince left his father’s bedroom door and joined Collin, sitting across from him as he settled at the dining room table. Collin pulled the covered plate to him. Michael and Kayden must be eating together in the other dining room. They had done that several times since the new house was built. Collin supposed he should ask them if they wanted to live in the other section to have a little more privacy, but he felt their loss keenly, especially when Quinn had already eaten, put Shanika to bed, and was out patrolling with Jake. And Vince sitting before him was not exactly the relaxing company he needed tonight.
Collin focused on him. Vince sat quietly, subdued, and watched Collin eat. “Something wrong?”
“How ill is my father?”
Collin shrugged. “You know it all, Vince. He’s recovering from an experimental procedure, and we hope that it has solved both the heart problems and the leukemia. Time will tell.”
“What about his mind?”
“His mind? He’s as sharp as ever, Vince. He can make his own decisions.”
Vince pulled a piece of stationary from his pocket, one that Collin recognized as coming from his own stock. “You don’t need to go into the patient confidentiality routine with me. He told me all about it. Now I need the details.”
Collin took the letter. Yesterday’s date graced the top and then it began: “Vince, my dear son. I’m writing now because I am not sure how I’ll be when you arrive. I feel it only fair to warn you that I have noticed the signs of dementia in myself. You said you wished to take me to Misti’s, but I beg you to reconsider that move. Misti suffered enough during the final year of your mother’s illness. I would not wish to subject her to this also. And I don’t want to hurt your career by any implication that you might inherit this erratic disease. I’d hoped to die a quiet death, but you know I couldn’t give in to you, and finally gave in to Dr. Collin. Now I may live with senility for twenty or thirty more years.
“Dr. Collin knows all about my condition, and we have come to an agreement whereby I have turned over all my remaining assets to him, and he has agreed to care for me the rest of my life, no matter how ill I become. This way none of you will be burdened by this embarrassing situation. I’m sure if I return to Shade, that my bouts of dementia will only become longer and louder, disturbing not only you or Misti, but your neighbors. I certainly do not wish to endanger your political career.
“Dr. Collin has agreed to take me to visit, you, Misti, and Raini during times when I am most lucid. So now you understand why I cannot come home with you. Please take care of your sisters for me. Your father, Geoff Napier.”
Collin tried to keep the smile from his face as he looked up at Vince. “And what do you need to know?”
“How serious is this? Isn’t there some medicine? Why’d you do surgery just to have him suffer for years as the village idiot?”
“First, Vince, your father isn’t an idiot, nor is he a child. What he’s telling you in this letter isn’t that he’s a very sick man.” Collin let himself smile now. “What he’s telling you is that he’s a very stubborn man who doesn’t really care what the people of Shade or his family think of him. He is not mentally ill.”
“He spent the whole afternoon in his room talking to himself. When I tried to reason with him, he claimed he was holding a conversation with his robot friend. Once it was his dragon friend. What’s going on?”
“He’s showing you that he can play the idiot, and he will if you force him back home. Look, Vince, I don’t know how you two let this power struggle escalate so far, but be honest with yourself about this. He knows you have the strength to drag him back to Shade. He doesn’t want to go, so he’s going to make the experience as unpleasant for you as possible. It sounds like he will even go to lengths to interfere with your career as you are doing with his.”
Geoff came into the room. “Just go and blow the whole thing, will you? Whatever happened to playing along for the sake of the patient?” He slid into a chair.
Collin touched his arm briefly. “Your son already thinks I’m a no good thief, and you want him to think I ferreted an insane man out of his money. What about being up front with each other for a change?”
“Oh, and how’s that supposed to happen? My daddy never taught me that before he died. I figured faking insanity was as good as faking dismemberment.”
“You know you two are both so stubborn, I’m surprised you talk to each other at all. Vince, it does appear that your stubborn father will work to destroy your happiness and career if you force him back. He does have a job here, and he’s welcome to stay as long as he wishes.”
“But Dad,” Vince began. “How could you?”
“I’m probably insane, and he just doesn’t realize it yet,” Geoff said. “Why else would I refuse to be treated like a senile old man who doesn’t know what he wants to do in life? Why else would I refuse to sit, day after day, with nothing to do but watch the bugs crawl by? Everyone should want that. Even you.”
“You are threatening me! Gods, Dad, I’m just trying to do what’s best for you. This man….”
“This man! This man,” Geoff repeated, standing as he did. “This man is… is… Gods, Hans, you said to talk it out, and you tie my hands.”
Geoff raised his hands in disgust. “Jake Trapper patrols the village. Quinn’s playing Rock Trapper, and you think Hans is going to remain a secret?”
“I’d prefer you learn to call me Collin,” Collin said, keeping his face as neutral as possible.
Vince stared from his father to Collin and then back. Then he shook his head. “I’m going up to bed.” He left them.
Geoff stood, staring after him until he heard his boots on the stairway to his room. Then he sunk into the chair. “Sorry about that. But you could have played along, you know.”
“I just did. He doesn’t believe in the village dragon, and he’s talked to Tara and Gaben. He certainly doesn’t think Quinn is Rock Trapper, probably never heard of Rock Trapper before, as it’s a new pseudonym, and so what are the chances that he thinks I’m Hans?”
“You could have just let my letter stand.”
“No. Now he’ll never quite know for sure, and you have the option to be quite sane.” He grinned at Geoff. “As long as you take your medicine regularly.”
Geoff laughed. “But you really thought we could come to an easy solution.”
“Hoped you would, but you were getting to the point where you’d have to tell him that your dragon would rescue you the minute you were out of range of the transceiver behind your ear.”
Geoff became serious. “He says he will, but will he, really? Would Jake come and get me?”
“Yes. I wouldn’t let you be taken against your will. But then you’d have to live up north at the cabin for a few months until your death was official.”
“And I’ll die just like my daddy did.” He shook his head. “I still think that was despicable on your part. I won’t do that to the kids unless I have to.”
“And acting like the village idiot to discredit your son in retaliation is less despicable?” Collin shook his head and grabbed his plate to take to the kitchen. “I don’t know where I went wrong with you, Geoff. Must have been all those times I forgot to tan your bottom for fishing when you should have been working in the stable.”
Geoff scowled. “I miss that pond. Why didn’t you build closer to the river?”
“The walk will do you good. Now I’m turning in. I don’t dare tell you that you should do the same, as I don’t want my reputation ruined in some sneaky attack.” Collin started from the room.
Geoff grabbed his arm. “You know I’d never risk you, Hans. The trapper thing – everyone loves Hans Trapper, and you’ve about told the whole village anyway. But I’d never….”
“Geoff, I was teasing. I know you won’t.”
Geoff made a face. “Your dragon would make an exception to his diet if I even attempted it.”
“Jake!” Collin said firmly. “Don’t threaten anyone.”
“I didn’t!” came Jake’s frantic voice.
Geoff chuckled. “Sorry, Jake. I was just joking around. Guess, I’ll have to be careful about that. He’s a little sensitive, isn’t he?”
Collin ran his hands over his face. “Just tired,” he mumbled, and left Geoff, making his way upstairs. “Sorry, Jake. Quinn’s still with you, isn’t he?”
“Yes. He is safe.”
“Yeah. Guess I’ll just get to bed.” But he didn’t want to go to bed. He wanted to curl up beside his soft, warm dragon and sleep the sound sleep of a child.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
After breakfast, Vince declared he was leaving and asked Collin to walk out to the barn with him. “You’ll contact me if he gets worse, won’t you?”
“You will make sure he doesn’t hurt himself, won’t you? That dragon talk scares me. I’ve seen too many victims as a doctor’s son.”
“I’ll keep an eye on him,” Collin promised. He watched Vince leave and then met Geoff on the porch. “Well, he asked me to take good care of you, so I guess he bought it.”
Geoff grinned. “You never know when talking to yourself will become your door to freedom.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Collin was afraid that life would become difficult now that the village knew about Jake, the dragon, but instead the summer seemed to fly along in a series of contentment. Quinn continued to marvel at the new respect he had among the whole village. Geoff recovered his health, and often walked the two miles to fish in the river. He was ecstatic that his eyesight was so improved by the laser corrections that he could again perform complex surgery, which Collin let him do the next time it was necessary.
Jake loved to interact with the people, taking time almost every Sunday morning to fly over to the church in town. Collin heard rumors about his wonderful singing voice, and up in the barn they’d teased and asked for a demonstration, getting a poignant and heartfelt rendition of “Amazing Grace”.
All was not perfect for Jake on the religious front, though. Mid summer, tensions at the church boiled over, and a group split off, forming a new church. Jake was heartbroken, saying it was all his fault. Jake joined the group who left because the opposing group did not believe animals belonged at church. Jake’s new church though, claimed Jake was “saved”, and he was a “brother in Christ”. They now met at a farm north of the village, in one of the parishioner’s large barns.
“I had to go with the people who wanted me,” Jake explained to Collin. “It was that or not go at all, because the minister and deacons all told me to leave. I really don’t know who is right, though. Maybe I don’t belong at all, and I’ve simply torn these dear friends away from the people they’ve worshipped with all their life.” But in spite of his feelings of guilt, he helped the new pastor obtain rare commentary texts by printing them at the lab – with Collin’s permission.
Dannel decided to keep his pegasus under Kayden’s care. He often traveled the continent delivering dragon-hide goods, and there was no one at home he trusted to care for the little fellow. And once Flash could fly, he was afraid the little horse would disappear without constant loving care – which he’d said Shanika seemed to be providing. The little girl looked incredulous at the compliment and had a hard time believing Dannel really was going to let Flash stay with them. During his next visit, Shanika and Dannel struck up a teasing friendship based on the little pegasus, which in turn helped Dannel and Quinn learn to trust each other. Dannel stopped for two or three days every two weeks, and soon he was an expected part of the household.
Every month Michael took four mutilated dragon heads to Capitol, even though Jake often took that many hides in one week to Ulan Tole. Then he would fly the wingdeer Bambi to Alexandria, where he’d spend two or three days repairing and maintaining the hospital’s equipment, and occasionally adding his remarks to requests for new equipment. Several times he had honored Dr. Ithica’s wishes and bypassed the official channels by taking the report straight to the Immigration Intake Office and sending it up to the Director.
The big news that summer was that no prisoners had been sent through, which caused mostly relief, but a few who’d expected the cheap new labor were disappointed. Michael brought back news that a new director had been appointed – Roscha Zemmer – and he was evaluating the possibility of trade.
At Hope’s next town meeting, Josh Shettler complained about the changes. He’d hoped to get someone in his stables so that he could expand his breeding of fine horses. His horses were large, and used for both hunting and plowing, while Kayden preferred to breed the mid-sized riding horse, which could also pull a small wagon or cart. “What good will trade do us here in Hope?” Josh asked. “Who’s going to want horses in space?”
Michael motioned to speak and was recognized. “I don’t know if trade will come through or not, but if it does, this village does have something they want. You have food, vegetables, fruits, mutton, beef, pork, wheat. Expand your crops now, and be prepared. If you have too much, the animals will keep for a few years, and the extra crops will feed them. But if you’re ready when and if Director Zemmer opens the doors, I can almost guarantee you will sell.”
“Those people in Capitol will get those good trade accounts,” someone protested. “What’s the use in even trying?”
Michael glanced at Collin. Collin shrugged. Michael took a chance and withdrew the badge he’d kept hidden. “Because I do have connections, and I’ll push for you guys. You’ve all welcomed me since I arrived – since Jake found me in the mountains barely alive and brought me here. Believe me. What they want in space right now is not the emeralds in the mountains, but the food.”
Niles spoke up. “He’s right. I’ve been here eleven years, and I remember, even as a dirt poor convict, being impressed by the variety and availability of all this food. If they’re looking at trade, it’s more the food than the minerals they want. The Ventura system – that bright star in the northern sky, has minerals and a complex mining colony set up. It’d be far easier for them to get their gems and minerals from them.”
Michael continued. “Sure there is a lot of free land left, and several continents on the other side of the planet, but with those options they still have to find people willing to farm, people who know how to farm. You guys have it all set up.” He gave a small smile. “I’m probably not supposed to play favorites, but Hope is my home now, and I’ll help you all out any way I can until they fire me.”
Afterward several people approached Michael to ask if he thought their specialty might be something valuable to the rest of the galaxy, and how they might improve their chances of earning money if the rumored trade deal did come through.
Once Michael’s secret was out, the Mayor sought him out often and requested he participate in the council planning meetings. Collin teased him that he was so involved in politics now that he had little time for doctoring. But no matter how much time Michael spent on other things, his studies excelled, and Collin was able to move him along in the texts at an accelerated pace.
It was mid summer when Collin informed Michael that he was going to check on Cee’s body and asked if he’d like to go up for the day with him and Quinn. Geoff was holding his own as a doctor, his health even allowing for house calls, and it was rare when they were all needed.
© 2007 by Deborah K. Lauro. No part of this book may be published in any form without permission from the author.