Chapter 8: In which Sanderson demonstrates weakness of character and strength of character
Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby
I cried for quite a while. Undignified? Sure. Necessary? It felt that way. By the time I stopped crying and raised my head, Mac was gone. I hadn’t even heard him leave.
Doc was sitting there with what had to be a new cup of her coffee-and-whiskey concoction in front of her. She gave me a look that wasn’t friendly, but it wasn’t unfriendly, either. She said, “I sent him away. He was pushing too hard. He forgets you’re still a child.”
Trying to claim adulthood when you’ve just been through a monumental crying jag is an uphill struggle. I blew my nose and tried to give Doc a hard stare. I wasn’t up to words just yet.
She noticed. She looked away, staring into space, and said, “There’s a lot to be said for being a child. Children live in the present, sometimes the future. They haven’t got so sophisticated that they have to cover up their feelings. They tend to be a lot freer in loving people.
“Still, they’re lacking in some things. And one of them is a moral center. You really need to know who you are to have one.”
This irked me. So I was rude. “Wisdom from a drunk. By your definition, probably most adults are children” And then I wished I’d not said it.
Doc actually smiled. “Not that drunk this afternoon, Seffie, and you’re right, I consider a lot of adults to be children in everything but age. Not that being a child now and again isn’t a bad idea. I wish I could be a child now and again. Innocent, happy.” She turned to look at me. “Instead, I get drunk.” Her smile was gone.
I hung my head. “I’m sorry.”
“Seffie, look at me.”
I looked up.
“Mac leaned on you because he was hurt, not just by you. You still owe him, though. Write up what happened so you can give it to him when he comes by to pick you up tonight to return the cat. OK?”
I’d forgotten all about the cat. So I saw Doc’s point. I nodded, got up, and headed toward my side of the house. Just as I was about to go through the door, Doc called to me. “Sanderson?”
So we were back to normal, not heart-to-heart. Sigh. I turned. “Yeah?”
Doc had a smile on her face. “Would I be right in saying the reason you didn’t fly out of the ravine was because you can only fly at night?” She took one look at my face, and her smile got wider. “Knew it.”
It took me a few seconds to frame a question. “How did you figure that out?”
She kept smiling. “Just been thinking about your name and what it means. That’s all. Now go get that account written up. Mac will be by at seven.”
After the day so far, taking the cat back to Charlotte’s kids was an anticlimax. Oh, the kids were happy, and Mac made Charlotte eat very little crow, save that he insisted that Charlotte pay me $25 instead of the kids paying $11.
I’d been wondering what else Mac was going to say, but he was silent the whole ride out and back. It was only when he pulled into the driveway on my side of the house and turned off the car’s engine that he opened up. He turned to me and said, “Helen was chewing me out for dumping all my anger about this case on you this afternoon.”
I thought a reply in kind was in order, and said, “She got after me for being childish.”
That brought a smile back to Mac’s face. “Our good doctor, who can solve everyone’s problems but her own. Look,” he said, “I’ll read this account of yours on what happened and we’ll start again tomorrow on a fair footing. OK?”
“I’m on duty at the bar from 11 to 9, Mac,” I reminded him.
“Sure. I’ll deal with it. See you tomorrow, Sanderson.”
I got out, feeling better than I had since we went into the ravine. But it was funny: when I went into the house, I immediately got a bit depressed because Blackie wasn’t there. And I spent the rest of the evening with a book in my lap and my mind miles away, in a ravine talking to a ghost. The Maverick Mine, she said.
The next morning, I hit the Internet and found references to various Maverick Mines. But none was near Farnham, and I was pretty sure my Maverick Mine would have to be close. Once I got through with that, I tried again to write a letter to my mother/aunt. I wanted to ask for Athena’s address and phone number as well, and was trying to think of a way to ask for it that wouldn’t raise many questions. But I couldn’t manage it, and gave it up right then. I had to get to work.
I walked to work down the main drag in town, the Sunrise Highway. When I’d been a waitress, this had involved walking on the shoulder in heels, a remarkable bit of stupidity I chucked the day I became a bartender.
It wasn’t the only thing I got rid of when I became a bartender. Until that happened, all the bartenders were guys and all the waitresses were girls. The guys all dressed in black slacks and white shirts. At management’s insistence, the girls all dressed in heels, short skirts, push-up bras, and low-cut tops. Considering that McNaughten’s bills itself as a family restaurant as well as a sports bar, you might think the uniform a bit risqué. But thanks to our two major businesses, servicing truckers and the cogeneration plant, McNaughten’s had to compete to attract the young men if it wanted enough customers, and nothing will do that faster than young women with a lot of skin showing.
The waitresses were used to being harassed, and there was a standard procedure to deal with it. One called in the shift manager, and if he couldn’t stop it, he called in Mac. Mac would put a stop to it, if he had to by jailing the guy. My problem had been that I wasn’t willing to take that round-about route. A guy got too friendly with me, I exacted retribution immediately. I’d used my heels to stomp on the guy’s foot, poured pitchers of beer on their heads, whatever it took. It sort of did and didn’t work. It usually stopped whatever was going on. Unfortunately, it also got me a reputation as “feisty,” and there are some men who fancy the challenge of a feisty woman.
So the first day I came into work as a bartender, I showed up in flats, black slacks, and a white blouse with a black vest. And no name tag, another thing waitresses were required to wear. (Mine read “Sandy,” another reason I loathed it. It hadn’t been my choice.) Dave, the day manager, was clearly unhappy with my change of attire, but apparently decided my being a bartender, and having a just laid out a guy who was bigger than him, overruled my being female when it came to appropriate attire. Nick, the night manager, just smirked when he saw it. And that was the end of that.
I checked in with Dave and got to work. McNaughten’s was really two different businesses. On the north side of the building was the family restaurant. On the south side was the sports bar. There were doors between them, so you could walk from one to the other. And the actual bar, the structure behind which I worked, ran continuously along the west side of both rooms. It meant the bar had to be staffed by at least two bartenders except at the slowest of times. Tommy Parelli and I worked well together, so we swapped ends every so often to even out the workload. My back hurt, once again. My fall yesterday must have injured it again. But I managed to keep up with Tommy.
Mac came in about 3 PM, when the restaurant was dead, and the sports bar mostly so. He sat down at the bar directly in front of me, gave me his usual grin, and asked, “What new poison have you got on tap?”
I’d managed to convince the order manager that we could use a wider variety of beers, mainly by having him taste some, so we now had a tap devoted to whatever I could get him to order. I poured the current brew, an extreme IPA, and plunked it in front of Mac, saying, “This one’s a bit hoppy.”
It was amber-colored, so Mac didn’t bother to take a taste test, but just drank some of it down. He put the mug down, looked at me with wide eyes, and said, “I think my sinuses have been permanently cleaned out. Ah-uh.” And he made a face.
I had to go tend another customer, but when I came back, Mac had consumed about half his beer and looked pleased with it. But then he usually smiled, so that didn’t mean much. He said to me, “I read your account. So a ghost was lecturing you?”
I nodded with a frown. “She seemed to know more of what was going on than I did.”
“Yeah, well I can’t say I’ve ever heard of this Maverick Mine. So I did the obvious and called the Decatur County Historical Society. You got tomorrow off, right?”
I shook my head. “Fortune telling hours.”
Mac groaned. “Forget them. You’re officially on duty tomorrow, all day. You’re to take the cruiser and go down to the county seat and see a woman named Angela Farr. She’ll be expecting you. She is the historical society, more or less. And she says she may have something for you on the Maverick Mine when you see her tomorrow. Got it?”
Mac’s right to call on me for duty overrode either of my other two jobs, and I was fine by that. I jokingly replied, “In a hurry, are you?”
His smile dimmed. He leaned forward, to make sure we were not overheard. “Yes. A guest turned up dead at the motel this morning, no obvious cause of death. Doc’s doing an autopsy now. May not be connected, Sanderson, but I’m taking no chances.”
Mac’s grim expression at the end there stayed with me the rest of the shift. And it reminded me of something the ghost of Miss Abigail Lane had said. They would be hunting me. Do you not know how to protect yourself? I did not. But I had some ideas. When I went home after my shift ended at nine, I raided the gewgaws I had accumulated as a fortune teller. There were four small fine quartz crystals. I wrapped each up with some rosemary and sage I found in the spice rack, and then buried them at the four corners of Doc’s lot, whispering an incantation for peace above each, and walking the boundaries between them until I had closed the loop. I didn’t know if it would work, but it was better than nothing.