It had been a whirlwind building project, but the addition was finished. Good thing, too; the first real snowstorm of the year looked ready to hit us by dark. Chet and Bodeen manhandled the refolded Army tent out through the door, and I turned to Doug.
“Looks like you’re good to go, gem cutter. No more canvas domicile fer you and yours.”
“Thanks, Dawson.” He nodded his appreciation, then began pulling himself up from his bed and over to his work station by way of the overhead pipe rail we’d rigged up. The man had lost the use of his legs, right enough, but he could travel anywhere in the room using his upper body strength. Which was getting to be beyond considerable.
In motion, he looked like one of them monkeys swinging from trees and vines in the deep dark African jungle, ‘cept I’d never seen a picture of a monkey with arms that looked like they belonged on a circus strong man. Outside of this room, he used a pair of hand crutches, dragging his useless legs along behind him; only then did it become obvious Doug Franzen was crippled fer life.
Deaf, too, but he was learning to read both lips and Indian sign language. Between the two, he’d become fluent with most of us to the point you tended to forget the conversation wasn’t verbal.
That he’d rehabilitate to this level had been anything but clear that first night in the hospital. Doc Chouteau hadn’t exited the operating room till near midnight, looking like something the cat drug in. A really old something the cat drug in. Fer the first time, we’d realized Doc might not always be with us.
“He’ll live,” he’d told us, “barring complications. But the damage was extensive. There were a lot of impacts on his body from rock fragments, not just the boulder that slammed into his lower back. The good news is, there doesn’t seem to be any bleeding in the thoracic or abdominal cavities, so he’s not likely to bleed to death internally.
“The most dramatic trauma is, as you all suspected, the crushing of the spinal cord–along with two vertebrae. We cleaned out the bone fragments and bits of torn flesh, but the cord itself is severed. He will definitely never walk again.”
I’d suddenly wondered about his private parts. Never mind humping; how did a man like that pee? Take a crap? Kept my mouth shut, though. It weren’t my problem, at least not directly.
“It’s also unlikely he’ll regain his hearing. The eardrums were perforated, but those will often heal themselves over time. What’s worse is the apparent damage to the middle ear. We didn’t want to go cutting into that area to find out for sure, but what we could see doesn’t look good. On that front, I’d say our best professionally educated guess…say, one in a million on the right side, maybe as good as one in a thousand on the left. But it could take years even if it does happen eventually.”
Elly Franzen and Laughing Brook were holding hands, both clenched tight. The two of ’em struck me as sisters, somehow. One fullblood Cheyenne, one about as white as they come, but sisters nonetheless.
Mother Clarisse asked the question. “And the rest?”
“The rest is…not unimportant, but relatively minor. A pattern of small gouges from shoulders to buttocks that could have as easily been made by a 12-gauge shotgun. One sizeable tear in the left triceps that required a bit of repair.”
That was about it.
He’d had to stay in the hospital fer weeks, though. It was a good thing Flywheel had cash reserves on hand these days.
Jist outside the door, I passed the tale teller coming in.
“Done?” he queried.
“Done. He’s all yours.”
“Huh. Thanks. I think.”
I chuckled at that. Cowboy humor. An hour from now, things would be back on an even keel…or we’d be facing the most problematic challenge yet.
Come to think of it, it wasn’t really all that funny.
“Time we had a talk, Doug.” I stepped through the doorway connecting our kitchen to his quarters, pulled up a chair, and sat down. Brook and I’d judged our time to be running out. From Franzen’s first words, I seen we called it right.
“Come to tell me you been humping my wife from the day I blew myself up, boss man?”
“Nope. No point telling a man what he already knows. Come to tell ya to git your head outa your ass.”
That got his attention. He straightened in his padded work chair–padded because with no feeling in his legs, he couldn’t tell if they were going to sleep or not–and stared at me. Took off his jeweler’s loupe and set it to one side. Folded his arms. “Say your piece.”
“There’s more’n one piece to this pie,” I replied. “Could take a while.”
“Got nothing but time.”
“Now see,” I took a deep breath, let it out, “right there’s the crux of the matter. You got an attitude problem, Franzen, and it ain’t all about me and Elly. Hold on,” I held up a hand when he started to open his mouth. “I’m gonna run this show fer a bit. You jist sit there and listen. When I’m done talking, I promise you I’ll sit quiet and let you fire back at me to your heart’s content. But fer now, dammit, jist listen.
“When you got hurt, I know it had to be Hell fer you. But I’m seriously doubting you got a clue about the other side of it, what it was like fer the rest of us. Including, but no way limited to, your wife. She was one short jump shy of falling apart altogether, and I don’t mean one a them cute little nervous breakdowns you see written up in the romance novels, neither. And not even from losing her boy to snakebite, though that most surely didn’t help a whole lot.
“Doc and his brother cutters had gotten you patched up the best they could, but things still didn’t look good. Fer weeks, you were in so much pain you weren’t coherent at all. They had to dope you up on morphine, and that didn’t exactly improve your mental clarity none. I’d be more’n a bit surprised if you really remember much about them first two-three weeks.”
“That’s true. It’s…that time is mostly a fog. I’ll give you that much. But–”
“Hold on, Doug. I’m getting there.” He was actually paying attention now, so I made my tone a few thousand times gentler. “Thing is, at that point–you gotta remember, man, your wife is sixteen years old. She seen her old man drop dead right smack in front of her, back in Philly. Then your asshole brother comes along, knocks her up when she’s grieving so hard fer Daddy that she was taking her comfort wherever she could, and then the bastard runs out on her faster’n the speed a light.”
He was nodding. A good sign, I figured.
“Then she gits your letter. A miracle from Heaven, she musta thought, and sure enough it fit the bill. Except, four months after you two tie the knot, the kid not only bites the dust, but you mostly kill yourself and turn into a raving, incoherent lump of monster lashed down to a hospital bed to keep you from getting busted up even worse. Most of the time, you couldn’t even recognize your own wife.”
I leaned forward suddenly, glaring at the man across the desk. “Think about it. At that point, every man in her life had gone and wiped himself out jist to git away from her. Not really, but that’s how a female will see it ever damn time. Do you have any idea what that does to a woman?” I stopped there, let that hang in the air fer a bit.
Franzen’s face crumpled. Fer a second or two, I thought he might cry. Then he got hold of himself–good steel in there somewhere, I thought, city bred or not–and said quietly, “Kinda sorta maybe. That was part of what made me want her so much. I mean, she’s beautiful, and she’s good, but part of her appeal was the pain. I’ve always been drawn to beautiful women in pain.” He flashed a grin. Jist a flash and then gone, but I begun to hope. “Only beautiful women, though. The fat, ugly ones are on their own.”
I grinned back. Not too long; he couldn’t handle that yet. “Me too, Doug. Now. There’s been a powerful pull between your wife and me from the git-go, though neither one of us woulda ever acted on it had you not got flattened like you done. Believe that. But if I hadn’t taken her when I did, we’d have lost her–and you, too. I don’t fer one second believe she’d be alive today if I hadn’t literally held her together, nor do I believe you’d have cared to live if she’d killed herself.”
“True that. But–you think she’d really have committed suicide?”
“Franzen,” I leaned forward even farther, locked on him eye to eye. “I don’t think it. I know it.”
I nodded, “About sums it up.”
“You wanted her, but you only took her because she and I’d both be dead if you didn’t.”
“That,” I said earnestly, “and because she’s one of the foxiest females on the planet. You got good taste in women.”
Yeah, I know. It was another one a them The Devil made me do it moments. Fer a long moment, the paraplegic I’d been cuckolding fer months jist stared at me.
Then he busted out laughing, long and hard. I couldn’t help grinning now.
We were bonding.
Which was a remarkable thing fer more reasons than jist me jumping his woman’s bones. When Doug had come home, he’d been addicted to morphine. The steps we’d taken to git him off the stuff hadn’t been all sweetness and light–such as requiring him to facet a sapphire before he got another dose. Once, he’d even come barging through the kitchen door on his hand crutches (as much as you can barge on them things) when Laughing Brook was the only one in the house, demanding she run next door to git him more morphine right now.
My wife had simply kicked a hand crutch out from under him, encouraging him to fall face first on the floor. After he’d had to finish cutting a stone with a broken nose (his broken nose, not the stone’s) he’d finally started pulling himself together.
“So,” he considered, reaching fer the ever present coffee pot to pour cups fer both of us, “where do we go from here, Tam?”
“Way I see it, you got three options. Hell, I even wrote ’em down.” I fished the paper from my pocket and swapped him fer the coffee cup, settling back to sip and wait while he read.
1. Part company.
2. Share the girl. She’s woman enough for both of us.
3. Sh*t or go blind.
When he finally looked up, I seen in his eyes we had a deal. “She really is woman enough fer both of us, ain’t she?”
“And then some.”
“Specially since it’s not like I been doing her much good.”
“You’re being a mite hard on yourself, gem cutter. Doc made it clear you can perform. Jist gotta let Elly do a bit a the work.”
“Huh. S’pose you been teaching her some a that work along the way? Right?”
“Guilty as charged. She does love the Hell outa you, ya know.”
“Hard to see why, sometimes. Question. No way Laughing Brook doesn’t know. What does she have to say about it? Sharing you?”
I could see things were gonna work out; no point overstaying my welcome. Ha. Ha. I got up and headed fer the door, pausing long enough to deliver the line that left him with his jaw hanging open.
“She’s the one that suggested it. Oh and by the way, Elly’s nigh on three months pregnant. With your kid.”