Blood Ties, Part 1

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Blood Ties, Part 1

Postby Havoc » Mon Oct 11, 2010 12:49 am

Blood Ties
By Bill “Hafoc” Rogers


Billy squinted into the dusk, nearsightedly. He inhaled, drinking in the scents of the evening air. By damn, there was someone there, over by Derrick’s big, black Morbach Talon Tourer. Fox they was, two of them, by the scent of it, male, and not just kids neither. “Hey!” he rumbled, lurching in their direction.

He looked clumsy when he moved, and then all of a sudden there was this mountain of bear almost on top of you. Few wanted to face down a bear with his dander up, and a fox never would. They ran. Just as well; he didn't really want to hurt nobody. Never had. Live and let live was best.

Smiling a little to himself, Billy turned to go back to the cabin. The windows were open to let in the cool of the evening. He could hear Ma and Derrick talking inside.

“But Billy does worry me so, Tom.” Ma called Derrick Tom sometimes, when she forgot she wasn't supposed to. “I don't ask where the money comes from, but I can smell the sour mash on him when he comes home. It's a dangerous business he's in. I don't want to see him in prison like Dale, nor worse.”

“Billy has to do what he must, Ma. He follows a proud trade. He provides for you and his own. In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with that.

“And he's cautious. I remember how, when I was a colt, he told me I should always have a fall-back position set up, whether or not I thought I’d need it. ‘Always know where the back door is. If there isn’t one, make one; dig one if you have to. If nobody else knows it’s there, so much the better.’ I have found his words useful many times, both literally and figuratively.”

“He’s the best at the old ways,” Ma allowed. “But they ain’t what scare me. They's a new world out there in the hills. They's people what's organized, and they don't like competition. The law, the Alkies, they’s bad, but if they catch you they only put you in jail. You come back from that, like Dale will soon. And when he does, ain't nobody in these hills going to hold it agin him for doin' time for a little moonlight work. But these others, the big operators, if they get after my Billy, he ain't comin' back. Can't you find something safe for him to do, in the city, maybe?”

“I could. I could ask him to leave the land he loves, to live without these mountains and valleys. I could ask him to run from his enemies, give up on his kin, and live a life constantly pretending to be something other than what he is. I'd be asking him to do what I did, and to be what I’ve become.”

“Tom, you never run--”

“Ma, please, of course I ran! It’s all right. I can face the truth. You don’t have to try to hide it from me. I am what running from these hills made me. I never faced the enemies who killed my parents--”

“No. The Creator struck them down instead. 'Vengeance is mine,' as She said.”

“The creator, or perhaps some person or persons unknown. Whoever did it, I myself never faced down my enemies. I never accused them, face to face, never stared them in the eye and told them that I knew what they’d done.

“At the time I believed my way of handling the conflict was the best. Perhaps it was, or perhaps I merely lacked the courage to face my enemies. I have my doubts about my own motivations. I fear I always will.

“I ran off to the city. There, I make more money than I deserve by keeping my boss’s office, and his life, running smoothly. I’ve learned to keep my eyes open for opportunities that might fall my way, and by so doing I have done well enough for myself and my own. And all I had to do was to hide what I really was, until sometimes I wonder if I was ever really anything at all.”

Ma sounded sad. “Is it that bad, Tom?”

Derrick, or “Tom,” laughed. “Oh no. It worked out quite well, in fact. Going to Wiltonburg, and then on to the City, was the right choice for me. I have become useful. That is always gratifying.

“But I might remind you of something which your regard for me might have caused you to forget. I have blunt teeth. I have the wide-set eyes of prey, a mouth well shaped to accept the bit and bridle, and shoulders well adapted to a harness. We Clydesbanks were domesticated, Ma. The Highland Lairds bred us like food animals and sold us as slaves. In the end that didn't work out quite as they had planned, of course--”

Ma chuckled grimly. “That’s for damn sure.” Billy was shocked. He couldn’t remember hearing Ma swear before.

“But neither was their program entirely unsuccessful. However else they changed us, we were domesticated. We became civilized. Above anything else, that meant we gained the ability to become whatever we must, to perform whatever role we must, wherever fate should happen to put us.

“You knew that, Ma. You wouldn't have let me go to the orphanage if you thought I'd be miserable living in the cities, or if you thought I had the strength to face down the Clan after they arranged the death of my parents and all those others.”

“No, Tom. You’re wrong. I let them take you for exactly the opposite reason.”

“You make me quite curious. I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

“I let them take you for two reasons. First, because I knew you had a head for learning, and the Sisters of Mercy could give you that in a way we Tuckers never could. But for the most part I let them take you because I thought you could face down the Clan.”

“Indeed? And that would have been so bad?” Derrick sounded surprised.

Ma chuckled. “Indeed, and surely it would have been. Do you think that I, of all people, couldn’t see your heart? You was the sweet colt begging for apples, to look at you, but I could feel the fury of Hell beneath. Son, I was afeared you'd face the Clan and take ‘em down. Some of ‘em, maybe most of ‘em, then they’d kill you. Or you’d get ‘em all, and live, but you’d end up just like Snake.”

“I’m rather complimented by that. Snake is a legend in these hills.”

“Snake is a dead legend.”

“I doubt that.”

“I don’t. The Alkies gunned him down in the end. He shoulda run 'stead of trying to keep them out of them fields, what weren't even his, when you stop to think about it. He could always grow more smokin’ hemp somewheres else. It weren't worth his life to try to stand up to the Federal Government.”

“I'd heard rumors of his death, but I doubt them. I have to point out that the agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Narcotics, and Weapons didn't report finding his body. They aren’t the first to say they’d killed him. I dare say they won’t be the last to make that claim either, before the hills hear the last of him.”

“Perhaps so, but that don’t mean they won’t get him in the end. There’s only one way for Snake to die, and that’s in a hail of lead. I didn't want you to end up like him. I don't want Billy to, neither.”

“Don't you worry about Billy. He'll do what he needs to do, as he always has. And should he encounter trouble, I would render such aid as I could. I would be circumspect, of course. Opinions among certain citizens of the county being what they are, it wouldn’t do Billy much good should it become general knowledge that I was providing him with support.

“But I doubt the Alkies will ever get Billy. If I’m incorrect in this, if they do come for him in the end, we’ll deal with it at that time. Until then, let him live in the hills and live his own way. He's wild, Ma, and he must remain so. These lands and his kin are air and water to him. His pride is his lifeblood. Let him keep it.

“By the way, do you smell something?”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, nothing. I was wondering where Billy was. He’s been gone longer than I had expected. I wonder if he did, in fact, encounter some stranger wandering around outside. I hope nobody has come to harm.”

Billy stepped off the stoop, backed down the path a few steps, counted to ten, then walked up to the cabin door again, letting his feet clump on the boards this time. He opened the door and went in, bending a bit to avoid hitting his head on the top of the doorway as he entered. Big as all the Tuckers were, they'd built the cabin using standard sized doors. Probably, Grandpappy hadn’t had enough money for oversized ones. The Tuckers hardly had two brasses to rub together even now, but back then they’d been dirt poor.

Hell, even Derrick was too tall for a normal doorway, for all that he was a horse and not bear-kind. Clydesbanks were big, and not just big for their kind; big for any kind. In that way Derrick fit right in with the Tucker clan. Billy was of the opinion that weren’t the only way Derrick fit in, neither, whether he talked funny or whether he didn’t.

Derrick nodded to him as he came in. He spoke to Ma as if they hadn't been talking about Billy while Billy was out. “And the chair is satisfactory, Ma?”

“It's a wonderful wheelchair, Tom-- um, Derrick. I hope you won't mind none if I say I hope to be out of it soon as I can.”

“Not at all. I expect you back on your feet soon. The doctors assure me we need have no fears about that. I was able to arrange a visiting nurse, too, until you're well again. Billy, was there somebody out there? It seems unlikely, but if being around you bruins has taught me anything it is that one should never doubt your noses.”

“They was a couple of foxes near your car, but I didn't see them doing nothing to it. They run off when they saw me comin'.”

Derrick smiled a bit. “I have no difficulty believing that.”

Billy laughed, a roar that shook the windows. “If they knowed me as well as you, they wouldn't of run, maybe.”

“On the contrary. There's no malice in you, but I wouldn't want to be the one to cross you if you thought your relatives were in danger.”

“Well, it's different when kin's involved.”

“It’s the way of the mountains. You have no idea how much I miss that strong sense of family, when I’m far from here. I’m left to my own devices in dealing with the world, for the most part.”

Billy glanced out at the big black car. “Somehow I think you get by just fine.”

“I’ve had my good days, yes. That’s not to say I haven’t had my bad ones too.”

“We all has those. Sure was good to see you again. I hate to see you go again so soon. You sure you can’t stay the night?”

“I fear it would be better if I did not.”

“Then you should go. I don't want to hurry you none, but it's getting toward dark, and the road down to Austin's Mill ain't the best.”

“I'm forced to agree.” Derrick got up from the guest chair. He bent low to kiss the old bear in the wheelchair, then turned to shake Billy's hand, firmly. “You take care of yourself. You're the closest thing to kin I have, and I love you dearly.” He sniffed deeply. “It’s strange about your nose.”

“What is?”

“How you can tell there are strangers in the woods outside, by scent, when you yourself always smell so strongly of licorice.” He looked into Billy's eyes and smiled. “You can’t sneak up on me. The scent of licorice gives you away every time.”

Billy gulped, feeling guilty. He pulled the candy sack from his pocket. “Want some?”

Derrick smiled a little. “No thank you, but I always remember the scent with fondness, for your sake. I miss this place and you. I'd come back to visit you more often, and for longer times, if I could. Perhaps some day I can.”

He touched his forelock and walked out. Billy followed.

“Thanks for your help,” he muttered, as they walked to the big black car.

“I wish there had been some way I could have covered her medical bills without her knowing at all.”

“You done the best you could. I'm obliged to you.”

“No, Billy, you're not. I'm obliged to her. I'm not sure the Clan would have arranged my death too, if she hadn't sheltered me after the Old Number 27 cave-in, but I'm not sure they wouldn't have either. Should I ever step in to aid you personally, you may feel obliged to me if it makes you feel better. But you never owe me a thing for anything I do for her.”

Billy smiled and clapped a hand on the horse's shoulder. Derrick was sturdy enough he wasn't rocked by the affectionate gesture; there weren't many who could have said that. “I don't owe you nothing, nor you me, 'cept what we'd owe any brother. Any kin of ours.”

Derrick didn't show much of his feelings in his face. He never did. But Billy thought he saw something soft, deep in the horse's eyes. “Thank you, Billy. Thank you very much.”
“It ain't nothing. Drive careful. And come back to see us again, when you think it's safe. The Clan ain't what they was, but be careful anyhow.”

Derrick nodded. He clasped Billy's hand again and got into the big car. The engine rumbled to life. Derrick put the car in gear and turned it toward the gravel road that would take him down the valley, around Tarleton Mountain to Austin's Mill, and from there to the whole wide world beyond.

#

To be fair to himself, Daggert had to admit that heading down the Tarleton Mountain Road wasn't dodging work. It was part of the patrol area, after all. He had to check it out some time each evening.

But it was a road he usually left waiting until he'd had enough of pulling over drunks, prowling the parking lots of taverns, and watching for the occasional moonshine runner. Tarleton Mountain Road was a good break from his routine because nothing much ever happened here. In particular, he’d never heard of a moonshine runner on this road.

Daggert had to grin, thinking about that. It wasn't that there weren't any moonshiners in the area. Oh no; Billy Tucker was one of the best. If you had your choice of ‘shine, you’d choose his; he made the best. But Billy wouldn't run a still up here. Ma Tucker, bless her big old heart, wouldn't hold with it.

He was a good, honest moonshiner, Billy was. Made good stuff, sold it at a reasonable price, didn't make more than he needed to make a decent living for himself and his kin, and didn't try to muscle out the competition.

Unlike some other 'shiners he could mention. Folks who weren't above trying to kill their competition, or at least get them sent to prison for years like they’d done for Dale Tucker. Certain people were trying to pressure the Sheriff's Department to close down the smaller operations like Billy's. Hell with that. If the big boys, the dirty boys, the big business moonshiners with blood on their hands, if they were too connected for Sheriff Daggert to touch, at least he damned well wasn't going to do work for them. The small operators could make shine forever, far as Daggert was concerned.

It was beautiful out here tonight. The stars shone through the tree branches, and--

The underbrush along the downhill edge of the road was bent back. Some of the twigs were broken. Gravel was scuffed up on the road surface nearby.

Daggert slammed on the brakes. He threw the cruiser into reverse, backed up to the broken underbrush, turned on the red and blue flashing lights, the bright headlights, the searchlight, the hazard flashers, everything. After all, nobody would be running 'shine down this road, running fast and dark in the starlight. Not on this road of all roads. But they just might, anyhow. You could never know.

He grabbed the big flashlight, checked that his big forty-one caliber revolver was firmly in its holster (but not too firmly) because, after all, you never knew. He got out of the car and walked to the edge.

The road ran around the base of a hill here, with a long slope, moderately steep, down to Tucker Run below. He couldn't see down the slope until he got to the edge of the road, but once he was there he could see it all well enough.

A big black car had gone over the edge. It had crashed its way through the brush for fifty yards, then had hit trees at the very edge of the creek. Two of them, each about six inches thick, had broken off. A gnarled old oak had stopped the car. Whoever the driver was, he must have been going fast.

Daggert leaped down the slope. The gravel was unstable, and beyond that the ground was rocky and uneven, but given his bloodline he had no trouble with it whatsoever. There was somebody in the wrecked car, half slumped over the steering wheel in billows of white fabric from the blown airbags. Daggert caught a glimpse of dark mane, of a long neck and sharp ears. It was an equine, then. It was true that equines and caprids weren't closely related at all. Horses always seemed a little unnatural to Daggert. They didn't even have horns, for pete's sakes! But a horse was a leaf-eater, at least. Whatever else was going on here, at least there wouldn’t be any of that carnivore-herbivore crap to deal with.

The wreck looked bad; how bad he couldn’t really say. But as he approached, the horse in the wrecked car stirred.

“I'm most pleased to see you, Officer,” he said. His eyes weren’t coordinated in their movements, but a horse’s eyes moved independently anyway. He sounded a bit dazed, but there was no wheezing in his voice.

Daggert pulled his flashlight and illuminated the horse’s face. His nose and lips were bloody, but the blood wasn't frothy, so it probably came from external injuries. The color of his tongue was good. The pupils of his eyes reacted equally. Good. “Don't move. Can you feel your toes?”

“Yes. I can move everything. I don't think I have suffered any spinal injuries. However, I am unable to leave this vehicle. The doors seem to be jammed.”

To his surprise, Daggert couldn't smell any liquor on this fellow. So why had he gone off the road? And damn, Daggert should have brought his baton. It didn't look like he'd need it as a weapon, but it might have been useful to pry the door open.

“I don't think your door is jammed. The brush and tree are holding it closed. I don't suppose you can open your trunk?”

The horse fumbled with something. With a clunk, the trunk unlatched. Daggert opened the trunk the rest of the way and fumbled around, trying to figure out where they hid the spare tire and the jack on this thing. He pulled the carpeting of the trunk aside. There looked to be some sort of compartment beneath it. “What's your name, sir? I'm Sheriff Jared Daggert, by the way.”

“I have heard of you. I rather thought it might be you, from the uniform and your horns. My name is Derrick Clydesbank.”

Ah, here was the tire iron, finally! Daggert took it and headed for the car's driver's-side door. He set down the tire iron and his flashlight as he pulled the broken trunk of one of the smaller trees aside. Then he put the end of the tire iron into the crack at the rear of the door. “Pull the handle for me please, Mr. Clydesbank? Don't try to push on the door, I'll do that part. I've heard of you. It's kind of you to come up here and look after Ma Tucker after her fall.”

“You don't sound as if you approve, however.”

“Nothing against you, personally, Mr. Clydesbank. You're just a reminder of bad times in these hills. My own family suffered much too, back in the 'good old days.'”

“Those days are past. The power of the Clan is broken.”

“More or less, Mr. Clydesbank. More or less... there! Got it.” He pried with the tire iron and the door creaked open a few inches. Daggert braced his back against the side of the car, put his cleft hoof against the edge of the door, and pushed hard. It resisted, but it opened enough for someone to wiggle in, or out.

“Thank you.” Derrick reached across and unbuckled his seat belt. He gasped and his eyes widened.

“What's wrong?”

“On reflection, I think I might have... That hurts. Badly.”

“How bad?”

“Bad enough. It might be best to summon an ambulance.”

Daggert cursed to himself. “It might be best, but we don't have a repeater in this valley. My radio won't reach.”

“Can you get to the Tucker place? They have a phone.”

“Since when?”

“Since last week.” The big horse scowled a bit in a way which Daggert, good mountain-bred goat he was, recognized as “Ask no questions.”

But he didn't have to ask questions. The pieces of the story were right there for him. Derrick Clydesbank, they said, had more money than he knew what to do with. The Tuckers were poor. They were also Clydesbank's best friends in the world, but they were too proud to take charity, even from him. So he’d paid for a phone for them, but nobody was supposed to know he had.

Daggert nodded. “Of course they have a phone.”

Clydesbak's eyes softened a bit. “Thank you, Sheriff. I know it's not possible, but try not to let Ma know I'm injured.”

“She'll know. Can’t keep nothing from her. And Billy will know too, of course.”

“Well... that I can endure. I would rather that the news not spread to everyone in the county, however.”

Fat chance of that. “I'll do my best, Mr. Clydesbank. I don't want to leave you here, but...”

“But I can’t get better until the ambulance arrives, so it’s best you go call for it. I understand. I’ll be fine here until you return.”

Daggert took off his jacket and tried to tuck it around the injured horse. Clydesbank seemed to be slumping over the steering wheel more. Perhaps he was weakening. “I’ll be back soon’s I can.”

“Whatever happens, whether I survive this or not, I know you did your best. Please hurry.”
Daggert hurried. He had all the lights on, and hit the siren too before he reached the Tucker place. Alkies coming in on raids moved silently, not with lights and sirens.

Billy was at his ma's house when Daggert drove up. The huge bear waited on the stoop, squinting in the light, sniffing deep. “Sheriff?” There was a world of suspicion in that word.

“Could I use your ma's phone, Billy? There's been an accident.”

“Of course, sure! Who is it?”

“Derrick Clydesbank,” Daggert muttered to Billy. Ma would hear soon enough, of course; he wondered why he bothered to lower his voice. “I'm sure he's not hurt that bad, but I don't want to try to move him. We'll let the paramedics do that. They know how.”

“Damn! What happened?”

“Went off the road and downhill, nearly ended up in a creek. Strangest thing. Not a hint of booze on his breath, but he was going real fast, and he didn't hit the brakes before he went over, neither. No skid marks.”

Daggert picked up the phone and dialed the operator. “Edna? Daggert here. Call the station and the hospital in Wiltonburg, tell 'em we got a crash on Tarleton Mountain Road, scramble the meat wagon, advanced life support. Got that? Yes, I know it'll be forty minutes to an hour, be longer if you keep talkin' back. All right, all right, thanks, bye.”

“Damn! Those foxes,” Billy said.

“What?”

“Nothing,” the bear said, but he was scowling something fierce.

“Billy, if somebody's breaking the law-- well, an important law-- you got to tell me.”

“Tell the Sheriff what you know, Billy.” Ma wheeled out of her room and into the light. So much for trying to keep her out of it!

“Yes, ma'am.” Billy took a deep breath. “Earlier this evening I smelt a couple foxes near Derrick's car. Don't know who they was, they smelled like all of your red foxes.”

“And how’s that?”

“You know how foxes is.” He wrinkled his nose in disgust. “They smelt to high heaven, like to numb your nose or at least make you wish it’d go numb. And they’d soaked themselves in soap an' scent to try to cover it up, but that just made the stink worse. They was just a couple of foxes. I didn't see them doing anything to the car, but they was near it.”

“Do you know who they were?”

“No, sir. Couldn’t sniff ‘em out of a line-up neither, lessen they don’t change the brand of their scent.”

Daggert frowned. You couldn’t get a conviction based on the brand of cologne anyway. “We'll talk about this later. Ma, I think Mr. Clydesbank will be all right. We're calling the ambulance ‘cause we want to be safe. I'm heading back down there now to wait with him.”

“I'll ride with you,” Billy said.

Billy was smart enough, and strong, and good under pressure. Daggert could do worse than to have him along. “Good idea. Much obliged, Billy. Goodnight, Mrs. Tucker. I'll call your phone soon's we get Mr. Clydesbank taken care of.”

“You go then, Sheriff. Thank you.”

Daggert went.

Clydesbank's car was as he'd left it. Daggert parked at the edge of the road and jumped out, but fast as he was, Billy was down the slope first. Bears were fast, downhill anyhow. Uphill was another matter. He’d had to chase bears before, and run from ‘em too. It helped to know these things.

“Don't move me, don't move. I went off the road. Brakes quit on me, I went to downshift but something was wrong, missed the gear. I don't remember. Think maybe... thought I was bound to... to crash somewhere. Couldn’t prevent it, but I could choose where. This was... good place as any. Thought it was flat enough and the brush would stop me before the trees. Wrong about that. Thought a chance to survive the crash, here. But I'm not sure.”

Billy was in tears. “Damn. I'm gonna get me some fox skins.”

“Billy!” Daggert shouted. “The feuding days are over! You start anything and--”

“No foxes. Didn't do it. Not there... long enough to do anything, I’m sure. My fault. All mine. New car. Brake squeak... thought... fix, easy, simple, I did it. I adjusted the brakes. My fault only. No foxes.”

“But Derrick! You sure? Them foxes, I don't know who they was, what they was doing on Ma's land.”

“My fault. Mine only.” The horse gasped. His face looked a little blue. “Billy? Call Arthur Fairweather. My boss. Take me home-- not Wiltonburg. Have him send a car, ambulance. Promise me.”

Taggert bristled a bit. “The hospital in Wiltonburg is as good as anything in the city. We're not just hicks up here.”

“Not hicks, I know, but no, no. Sheriff... old times. The Clan. I fixed the squeak in my brakes--” Derrick half laughed, then coughed, twisting in pain. “Fixed the squeak... completely. No sound at all. No sound but breaking glass... But if it wasn't me. What if it wasn't me? Old times. The Clan. Or even if they didn't fix my brakes, if I'm where they can get me, wouldn’t they try? Wiltonburg hospital... too dangerous.”

“I hate to say it, but I see your point.” Somewhere in the distance he heard a siren. “The ambulance is coming. Billy, go up to the road and show them the way down when they get here. Hang on, Mister Clydesbank. It will be all right.”

“Yes. Yes, it will. The worst is over when you know what you're up against.”

#

Art Fairweather unrolled the blue-line prints across the bed. “This is the most exciting commission we’ve had all year,” he said. “And the design is beautiful. Josephine came up with the first idea. I’ve refined it a little bit. I like it better the more I see it.”
“Indeed, sir?”

“Oh, yes, Derrick. Just look at it! Here’s the main entrance. We’ll put the staircases to the upper bleachers around the hockey rink in these glass cylinders, one to each side. We’ll use green mirrored glass. By day it will reflect the downtown skyline. At night the lights inside will make it glow like a huge emerald, and...”

He sighed and rubbed his head at the base of his horns. He looked at the occupant of the hospital bed. His eyes looked unsure. “I don’t know why I felt I had to tell you all this,” he said.

Derrick smiled. “Perhaps because you don’t know any better way to show you care about me than to share what is precious to you.”

Art cleared his throat. “Um... well. Good gods, Derrick, how could this happen to you?”

“You didn’t hear? Faulty maintenance work on the Talon’s brakes. I can’t even fire the mechanic; he was myself, and he’s been punished thoroughly already. I should have left the work to licensed mechanics. Rest assured I will do so in the future.”

“It’s hard to think you could make a mistake.”

Derrick chuckled. “Thank you, sir. But I am no God. I make many mistakes, and my mistake was especially stupid this time. In a hurry, I did something I knew was dangerous without taking proper precautions. I paid for it up there in the mountains of the State of Crockett.

“This is hardly my first bad mistake. In the course of my career I've made more mistakes than you might believe, or I might care to remember. But one hopes to use one’s intelligence. A mistake may be forgiven, but one must never make the same mistake twice.”

“Good gods, you’d better not do anything like this again! Or if you do, don’t you dare die, because I want you alive to choke the crap out of you myself!”

Derrick chuckled. “It’s good to know you care, sir.”

Art rolled up his prints. “I do have to say you look a lot better than you did when they brought you in here. I’m more glad to see that than you can imagine.”

“Yes. Well. That.” Was Derrick embarrassed? He actually seemed to be going red inside his ears. “It seems my injuries were not so serious as was believed, when I arrived.”

“You were turning blue, horse!”

“They tell me I was hyperventilating. They say that can happen sometimes, when one is frightened enough. Dr. Peck was ungracious enough to term it a ‘panic attack.’”

“Don’t be hard on yourself. You’d just been in a car crash in the mountains, and trapped in the wreck to boot. Of course you’d be terrified. Anybody would.”

“It’s embarrassing to think I could have been that frightened, though. In any case I seem to be unhurt, except for some minor cuts and bruises. These injuries don’t feel minor to me, but Dr. Peck assures me they are. I’m checking out of the hospital today, with his blessing. I will stay away from work for a while, though, if you can spare me.”

“Of course! How can I help you, Son? I could have Mr. Stanley drive you where you need to go in the company limo. Do you need any help around your home while you heal up? Perhaps we should hire a cleaning service.”

“Thank you for your offers, sir. You concern yourself with my well-being far more than I have any right to expect.”

“Nonsense. You’re not my oldest employee, but already we’ve been through a lot together. I’ll call Mr. Stanley, then. Would a home-visiting nurse help?”

“Oh, no sir. I don’t need a nurse, or cleaners, or the company limousine. Your concern is appreciated, but my injuries don't handicap me in any way. I don’t even believe this sling is necessary, although the doctor thought it might be good to wear it in order to rest my shoulder for a few days.

“As for transportation, I do have a second vehicle which I can drive until the Morbach returns to the road.”

“Not that old van of yours!”

“The van is in better condition than it appears, sir. It suits my current needs. I did, however, wish to request some vacation time.”

“How much?”

“It may seem excessive, but two weeks, if that is acceptable. I have felt the need for a rest for some time, and frankly, this accident has shaken me. There are certain old friends I should visit, certain old tasks to complete. It occurs to me that I should do so now, while I can.”

“By all means, Derrick. Take more time if you need it. A few weeks off is nothing compared to what I owe you. Just come back when you can. The way things have improved for us since you came, sometimes I think you're our lucky charm. Nan and I would never want to lose you.”

Derrick smiled, in his small, quiet way. “I am what I am and nothing more, sir.”

Art laughed. “I’ve heard you say that, often. I wonder if you realize that not even God could say more. In any case, I hope your vacation helps you. Too bad it won’t be fun, bruised up as you are.”

“Oh, it will be fun, sir. I'll make it fun.”

(end of part 1)
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