More Precious Than Gold

by Mark and Karen Eidemiller

Chapter Twenty

Doc and his friends had been the last to leave the island, leaving her alone with her thoughts.

Pat Savage was home.

Her company was hers again.

That rat Franklin was in the custody of Mitchell Drake, temporarily, until he could be delivered to the Valley of the Vanished, to face some poetic justice under King Mordecai's rule. When she found out he had set up Deuce Robinson as a backup to kill her in case there was a possibility of her returning to her company, she practically went through the roof, but picturing dear Daniel on the Island of Shame quenched that and brought a smile to her face.

That night, she slept in one of the guest bedrooms, not ready for the memories her master bedroom brought. In the morning, she made herself something to eat, having discovered that her entire household staff had been dismissed by Franklin shortly after his takeover of the house. Oh, well, she thought, at least I have some peace and quiet in my own home again.

By the end of that first full day back, she discovered an ugly reality that faced her. Restoring order to her company hadn't been a problem. Several phone calls rescinded Franklin as Acting Director, and had put the controls in the hands of administrative heads who could be trusted. When asked about Franklin, Pat was quick to explain that he had taken ill and would be on an extended leave of absence. They bought that.

But then they asked about Penelope.

Pat was stumped. So she kept the story going, that Penelope was still in the hands of Apex, waiting for the payment of ransom. Actually, she just wasn't ready to deal with it.

So the company was safe for the moment.

She, on the other hand, wasn't.

Penelope couldn't just show up and declare herself freed. The media would not give up until they were satisfied -- and they rarely were -- with the full story of Penelope's release.

But, because of that, it meant that she couldn't go anywhere she might be recognized -- including the little hamlet at the bottom of the hill, where her world-famous spa was.

So she was exiled to her own home, until something could be done about Penelope.

She busied herself by going through the house and obliterating every reminder of Daniel Franklin, mostly by building a fire with them. When she found his computer, with its tie-in to the tracer within the Osprey, she made a quick trip to her room.

She placed several items on the bed -- that would have to go, too -- then took careful aim and emptied her six-shooter into the defenseless computer. After that was done, she used the steel fireplace poker and a heavy cast-iron fry pan to finish the job.

Covered in sweat and panting with exertion, she smiled wide and said, "I got YOU, babe!"

The excitement was over. The cleaning was done. And now Pat had to face the truth.

She was alone.

She'd tried finding some solace in the view from the terrace wall, or in working out in the weight room.

She had time to think. About trust. She'd been burned bad by the one she thought was her closest friend. It made it hard to trust people. Not all people, she corrected herself. She could trust her employees; they were getting paid to do their work, and they did it well. And a big exception was Doc. She saw so many things in him now that didn't exist before, especially a form of compassion that took her by surprise. She figured it was due to that religious thing of his, but she didn't want to get into that now. He'd always been intuitive almost to the point of psychic, but he knew what she needed. Right before they left, he promised to call every day, and see what he could do to help her through the rough spots. And he kept his promise. He called her twice a day, seeing how she was doing, and tying up some loose ends.

Woodward and Apex had stayed on in Florida, and were currently working with Mitchell Drake. He saw a lot of talent in them and promised to help as best as he could.

Doc also told Pat about a fiend of his, a woman, that he wanted her to meet.

"You need a companion," he said.

"You make it sound like you're sending me a robot," she remarked snidely.

In times past, Pat knew, a comment like that would've embarrassed Doc. But the loud open laugh she heard through the phone was unexpected. "That's good, Pat! Okay, so I don't know what they call it these days, but the fact is, you need a friend. Another woman." He paused. "Her name is Carrie, and she knows about me. I trust her explicitly."

The serious tones of his last sentence wore through much of her stubbornness. Still, she responded, "Yeah -- that's what I thought about Franklin."

But Doc wouldn't let the matter die. He continued to offer his friend's companionship until he got through to her. Reluctantly she accepted, and he replied that Gumball could fly her there by the next day.

So now she was standing on the terrace, and saw the blue Osprey circle the island once before landing. Five minutes later, it lifted off and headed east back towards the States. Soon after, there was a buzz from the front gate. She was here. Pat instructed her to be directed upstairs, then waited. The sound of footsteps coming up the stone steps along the side of the house heralded the woman's arrival.

"Ms. Savage?" called a woman's voice. "Pat?"

"Up here," she called back. "At the top of the stairs."

The woman came within view, and Pat gave her the critical eye. The woman was in her 40's, dressed in a casual outfit and a wide-brimmed hat. Her professional eye saw her as a handsome woman who wore very little makeup. Her body language suggested a strong self-confidant attitude. It should have bugged her, but it didn't. She also wore glasses, the yellow-tinted type that Pat had seen before.

"My name's Carrie," she said, as she approached with her hand outstretched. "Clark called ahead about me?"

"Yeah. He thinks I need a babysitter."

Carrie shook her head, her red hair waving gently. "No, that's not it. Clark cares a great deal for you, and he just wants to help. Besides, I'm not a babysitter any more than you're a baby."

Pat chuckled; she had a point. She accepted the hand; the grip was impressive. "Okay. So where do we start?"

"Well, you've just been through a bad relationship. You've been burned by someone close." She paused, looking her in the eye. "Why don't we sit down, have a cup of coffee, and I'll tell you all about myself."

"That's a good idea. And I've got a special blend I get from a coffee dealer in Rome."

"Practically next door," the other woman quipped.

They both smiled, then Pat led the way down to the kitchen.

The smell of coffee beans was wonderfully heavy in the air. The kitchen had a small table-for-two near a window and a lower terrace with a garden. Carrie sat at the table while Pat fixed the coffee and brought down some pastries.

"So what's Doc told you about me?" she asked.

"That you're his cousin, and you've been through quite an ordeal lately. That you've gotten burned by a close friend and were almost killed. He cares for you very much, you know."

She nodded. "Yes, I know."

As they sat and enjoyed the repast, Carrie opened up about herself. She told about her marriage and premature widowhood at the hands of a drunk driver; about her daughter Dorothy, now grown and married; and about her career as director of the Serenity Drug and Alcohol Freedom Center in New York.

"That's how I came to meet Clark," she explained. "He and Perry brought in a homeless man for detox. After the man got cleaned up, he was sent to a group home in Portland, Oregon. Last I heard, he's doing just great."

"Sounds like Doc, all right," Pat commented with a smirk. "He hasn't changed, he's just adapted to the times."

"Yes," agreed Carrie. "He's a wonderful man."

"You sound like your interest in him is more than a passing friendship," intoned Pat.

"I will admit, he'd make a good catch for any woman. But, truly, we're just good friends."

"What about your parents?" asked Pat.

"My father's still alive. My mother deserted me when I was a baby," she replied with a hint of bitterness that Pat avoided commenting on.

As they continued, Carrie related the Central Park story, when Clark foiled a purse thief, intercepting the runner while wearing rollerblades. "They were the skates with the really big wheels for tackling any terrain, and he sailed through the park like he was born with them!"

"Rollerblades? Doc?" she laughed. "I'd love to have had a picture of that!"

Carrie shared in the laugh. "So would I, and I was there!"

Pat changed the subject. "Did you know when they visited me in disguise?"

Carrie paused briefly, and her face got serious. "I knew they went, but I never did get all the details. What happened?"

"I was surprised and angry when I saw him for the first time in fifty years. I blamed him for a lot of my problems." She paused and shrugged. "He wasn't there, so he made a good scape goat. And I ... was stupid." She let her voice drift off, and the subject drop. She didn't mention the fact that she had had them both knocked out, and planned to fly them to the island on a one-way trip. The thought even now embarrassed her.

As they talked into the evening, Pat was careful about opening up to Carrie. She didn't want to be vulnerable again.

She was looking for a reaction, good or bad, before continuing. But she was surprised. Carrie was extremely diplomatic, and never reacted negatively. As a matter of fact, hardly anything shocked her. Pat attributed the unflappable exterior to years working with all manner of substance abusers in New York City.

That evening, Clark called as usual.

"Okay, I'll admit I was very apprehensive of you sending Carrie to me," she started, speaking from a separate room. "But she's okay. I've asked her to stay in one of the guest rooms while she's here."

"Good, Pat! I'm glad! She's a very special lady, and I knew you two would get along well."

"Yeah, you may be right," she agreed.

Carrie stayed in the guest room for the next two weeks, and they became fast friends. There was something about her, something Pat couldn't put her finger on, that made Carrie easy to be around -- and to open up to.

They spent their days working around the house, exercising in the weight room, and laying out in the Mediterranean sun. Both of them checked in with their offices, to see how things were running in their absence. They had leadership in common, and shared their struggles without hesitation.

Then one day, Carrie knew the time was right.

It was afternoon, and they were doing a little martial arts sparring in the weight room.

"I have to confess something to you," she said.

"What?" answered Pat, sending a straight-arm punch to Carrie's head.

Sweeping roundhouse blocked the punch. "We've met before." Punch.

Forearm intercepted the punch. "Really? Where?" Kick.

Leg swing deflected the kick. "A little place on the Oregon coast." Straight-arm punch with her right fist to Pat's face. "Lincoln City."

Pat's block froze far short of the intercept. Carrie pulled her punch, and her knuckles lightly brushed against the tip of Pat's nose. The effect, however, was explosive. Pat's head snapped back as if she had collided with the business end of a baseball bat. She staggered back and fell in a clumsy heap. Pointing an accusatory finger, Pat yelled, "YOU!"

Carrie casually folded her arms across her chest. "Yes. I was the one."

Pat was instantly overcome with emotions: frustration, anger, fear, betrayal, confusion. Suddenly her lips pulled back in a feral grin, and she took off in an animal-like leap for Carrie.

But the redhead had expected this move. She sidestepped the woman, causing her to crash into some exercise equipment. Unfazed, she got to her feet and charged again. Carrie went into a low crouch, grabbing Pat's outfit as she passed close, and used her own weight against her. She hit the floor in a wild tumble. This went on for a full ten minutes as Pat charged like a rabid bull and Carrie ducked, dodged, or otherwise kept from being hurt. The final move was when Pat landed flat on her stomach, knocking the wind out of her, and Carrie pinned her arms to her side and landed on her back.

"You done?" asked Carrie, not even out of breath. "I have a few things to tell you that you probably won't like."

Pat's response was a barrage of cursing while bucking like a wild bronco. But she didn't have a third of the strength left, so was tired within a minute.

"Good. Now listen up. I work with substance abusers every day. And God knows I've seen enough over the years. So I know what I'm talking about when I say that you fit the profile."

"I don't ... take drugs," grunted Pat between profanities.

"What about the silphium?"

"Silphium is an herb!"

"So's cannabis. But both can be dangerous if abused."

"I don't abuse silphium!"

"Don't you?" A laugh exploded from her mouth. "Look at you. You're over eighty, yet the silphium has made you look half that. You've even had to invent a daughter so you could walk around in public safely."

"But you don't see what it's doing to you. It's eating you alive. Your body requires larger doses just to maintain your youthful image. Eventually the doses will become so large that you'll need them constantly just to keep the illusion alive." She paused. "You're no better than a Skid Row crack user. You're both slaves to your 'drug of choice', and you're both running away from something."

Pat's breathing had increased, and she shifted uncomfortably under Carrie.

"You're afraid -- afraid of getting old, afraid of being alone. Well, you brought this on yourself. You gave away everything close to you. Your life ... your love ..." She paused and lowered her voice. "And your daughter."

Carrie wasn't entirely prepared for the strength of Pat's reaction. She bucked like a pack of mules, tossing Carrie ungainly onto her backside. The two of them wrestled about the floor of the weight room, finally resulting in Pat being pinned again, but on her back. "WHAT GIVES YOU THE RIGHT TO TALK TO ME LIKE THAT?" Pat screeched.

Carrie said nothing. She simply swept her red hair away from her face and looked at Pat.

For several seconds they looked at one another. Then, suddenly, the strength seemed to drain from Pat. "Your ... eyes. Flecks of gold?" she observed.

"It's a family trait," explained Carrie, standing up and sitting on the floor a few feet away. "I got mine from my mother."

Pat sat up, her face pale. She looked over at the other woman and squeaked, "Caroline?"

Carrie took a deep breath, exhaling it in a sigh. "Mother?"

Pat sat still, looking at Carrie from a whole different perspective now.

"Clark called me into this to bring us together, to give us a chance to finally talk." Carrie rubbed a sore knee. "Well, we've talked."

Pat's mouth opened a couple of times, but no sound came out.

Carrie continued. "Be honest with me ... were the things I confronted you with true, or not?"

Pat looked down at the floor. "True." Then she sighed heavily, "I'm scared. I've screwed up my life and I'm scared that there's no hope for me now."

"Oh, I wouldn't say that," she said almost jovially. Then she changed the subject. "Have you met Perry and Dot?"

"Yeah." She looked up and smiled. "They both saved my life. They put their own lives on the line ... for me."

"Dot ... is the Dorothy I told you about. She's my daughter."

"My ... granddaughter?" she gasped, and went dead pale.

Carrie nodded, and watched as Pat sat motionless for almost four minutes. Then the emotional barrier Pat Savage had built around her and kept maintained for decades, fell like the Berlin Wall. She took in a sudden deep breath, lowered her head into her hands, and exploded into uncontrollable sobbing.

Carrie watched her biological mother's tears for only a few seconds before her own heart was broken. A moment later she crawled over to Pat's side, put her arms around her, and they cried together.

Go to Chapter Twenty-One

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