NORTH TO ALASKA, SOUTH TO LAWNDALE
ONE SENTENCE SUMMARY: Trent learns a lesson in the Latest Great Alaska Gold Rush...
Trent looked at the sluice. It brought water down from the stream and took it past the pit Jonesey wanted to work. He and Jonesey had shoveled a huge pile of dirt into the water before Jonesey took off for town for the day. Trent was to stay behind and watch the sluice box. So far, no gold appeared in the slats. When Jonesey got back in the afternoon they would dump another big load of dirt into it, and Jonesey would take over and watch till it was too dark.
The whole thing looked a lot like the old log rides he remembered from trips to amusement parks when he was a kid. He grinned, and guessed that the log rides were supposed to look like these sluices.
The grin faded some. This was put together mostly from lumber, but also from bricks and struts torn out of some old buildings, and also sheet metal from what had once been an old truck. Trent squinted. He could still see the "BEK" of a "Bekins" logo on one stretch. It looked like it has been put together by someone who had cribbed the plans off the ĎNet.
He sighed. He wouldnít have had this job if he hadnít been broke. He wouldnít have been broke if he hadnít been too honest to fight his way to a good claim. And if he hadnít been too honest to make a fortune here he wouldnít have had the job.
He rubbed his hands together. It was spring. It was April of 2004, but it was still Alaska, and it was still damned cold. If he had to get any gold out of the sluice box, the water and the gold would be cold. Ice cold. Damned cold.
There were better ways to pass the time. He reached into his battered old leather carrying bag, dug out his hand-cranked radio, turned the crank a couple dozen times, and flipped the switch. After a momentís hiss, a voice came on.
"...all right, all right, hereís some hot news for you. Rotten Candy will be headlining at the Town Hall tonight, for all you fans of the old alternative. Itís billed as a dance night. Now, it may be no more than a rumor, but, confidentially, between you and me, there may be ladies there. Grrr!"
Trent grinned again and shook his head. There were other people from Lawndale around here, but Upchuck was the only one he had known before. Upchuck had spread himself out, deejaying at and scrounging records for Radio Gold Fields, helping file claims for miners, working as bailiff in Judge Schrecterís court, delivering what mail there was to often angry stake-grubbers, occasionally speculating in gold and food futures. Through all that, heíd evolved beyond the jerk he was in high school and was generally well liked Ďround here.
Also the beard made him look older. Trent scratched his own beard. It itched, but razors were still a little scarce here.
It was back to frowning for Trent again. He had changed, too, since he had come up to Alaska. But he was more broke than he started out; worse, he was stranded out here.
But maybe with money from Jonesey for working this, he could save up enough to buy Eddie Ageeís beat-up guitar-and-amp off him. Then he could sit in with the house band at JLís and a couple of other places and make a little more money.
Then he could get a ticket out of Alaska and head back to Lawndale...and Daria...
Trent put the radio down on a nearby rock under the sluice, and sat down on a same-sized bolder next to it. He listened a moment. Upchuck carried on. "This is Radio Gold Fields, coming to you on 540 on AM for those of you who want to pick us up way out there, or at 108 on the FM band for those of you who care about sound quality. This is your, ahem, favorite dee-jay, Upchuck Amuck, speaking to you from the be-you-tiful downtown Strike-it-Rich Hotel and Fine Gambling Emporium. Now, hereís a special treat for all of you! Weíve finally got something weíve had a lot of requests for. We all know Trent Lane, local force of nature and former big fish rock star in the small puddle of mine own old home town of Lawndale. Believe me, it wasnít easy to get a copy of this, but, now that cargo and mail from the lower forty-eight are coming in, I was finally able to get a copy of the CD single from a contact back home. So, without further ado, Iíll say adieu. Here he is, Trent Lane, with his old band, Mystik Spiral, playing an oldie but a goldie, ĎFreakiní Friends.í Hit it, Trent!"
The familiar opening chords from "Freakiní Friends" came out. Trent grinned broadly. Heíd told a lot of people that he used to record, that he and the band had a couple of disks that sold okay. He wondered how Upchuck had managed to scrounge up a copy after all these years. It must have been five years since they recorded it.
The lyrics stopped his smile. He remembered writing it when Jane and Daria hit a patchy spot in their friendship, over Janeís boyfriend Tom, who had kind of become Dariaís boyfriend without anybody intending it to happen. The three of them had spent a miserable summer obsessing over it until they put it behind them. And he had written "Freakiní Friends" about it.
Trent sighed. He remembered the last time he had seen Daria...
"Dad, no!" Daria shouted. "Donít! Stop!"
Jake ignored her and swung the bat down, smashing against the back of the couch. Trent was already up and moving; he jumped over the couch, rolled on the floor, and was up and out the fortunately-open window head-first.
"Go on! Keep running!" Jake said. He leaned out the window and waved the bat in the air. "Donít let me catch you around my daughter again!"
Trent took one last look back. Daria stood behind Jake, trying to grab him and pull him back in. Trent didnít remember ever seeing Daria so frightened before. He shouted, "Daria! Iíll write you!" He kept running...
Damn! Trent shook his head. If he hadnít loved Daria before that--- Heíd heard from Jane, in that last letter before the government shut down mail delivery to the gold fields, that Jake had calmed down about it but still couldnít stand Trentís name being mentioned in his presence.
It wasnít until after Daria and Tom broke up that Trent realized just how much Daria meant to him. She was unhappy, and he wanted her to be happy more than anything in the world, and the next thing either of them knew they were in love with each other.
But Jake--- Trent shook his head. Dariaís mother hadnít been thrilled with it, but seemed willing to let things run their course. He had thought he got on well with Jake, right up until when Jake found out that Trent and Daria were dating. After that, though, Jake changed, hating Trent with a passion Daria later told him Jake usually reserved for hating his father.
Well, Trent thought grimly, there was nothing he could do about it now, except figure out some way to get out of Alaska and get back to Lawndale. Then he could worry about Jake.
The final bars of "Freakiní Friends" faded and Upchuckís voice came on. "All right, that was our own Trent Lane with the Mystik Spiral."
There was a soft snap! behind him. Trent grabbed for the AK-47 strapped across his back. A year in Alaska had taught him to be careful. An instant, and Trent was on his feet, and the barrel of the AK-47 was pointed at the source of the noise.
To Trentís surprise, it was Upchuck. His hands were in front of him, slightly raised, and, more importantly, nowhere near the AK-47 across his own back. He was smiling. "Really, Trent, I could have gotten the drop on you."
"Youíre a good sneak, Iíll give you that." Trent grinned. He put the safety back on, and slipped the strap around and slipped the AK-47 back to his back. "What brings you up here?"
Upchuck put a look on his face, an "Iím hurt" expression that was obviously a fake look. "Canít a guy just come up for a visit with an old friend once in a while?"
"Not when heís supposed to be on the radio." Trent frowned. "Come to think of it, how are you on the radio right now?"
Upchuck dropped his hurt look and returned to smiling. He bent over and turned off the radio. "New computer. Got it and a pile of CDs. Now that we can fly things up from Anchorage or Juneau again, we can bring in all the luxuries of civilization."
"And the computer lets you tab in whatever intros you feel like?"
"Yeah, I did mine early this morning and hiked out." He grinned like some deranged evil fox. "My contact back in Lawndale sent me the CDs."
Trent had a pretty good idea of who might send Upchuck something from Lawndale. "Your mother?"
"Um, yeah." Upchuck blushed.
"Mystik Spiral among them?"
"Mmm. Iím surprised you had it in your collection."
"Hey, I saw you guys play. Why wouldnít I buy one?"
"Since we were selling them out of the back of the Tank---"
"Hey, man, at least I could finally play it for everybody who asked. Youíve got quite an underground following here, you know."
"Yeah, right." Trentís gaze fell on Upchuckís shoulder bag, some beat-up old leather thing that somebody has stapled a blue cloth flag with the US Postal Service eagle logo onto. "Wait a minute. Youíve got mail for me?"
Upchuck laughed. "I wouldnít have hiked up here otherwise. Got an envelope for you." He reached into his bag and pulled out a yellow manila envelope. "No, itís not from Daria or Jane. Mail service to the lower forty-eight is still kind of, ahem, sporadic."
He handed it to Trent. Trent glanced at the return address. Some government office in Juneau. He looked at Upchuck.
"I think itís your claim deed," Upchuck said. "A bunch have been coming through the last several days."
"Well, the worst is over now." Trent slipped a finger into the envelope and ripped it open. A glance inside revealed a deed granting him a square parcel of land measured out by lines of latitude X and Y and longitude A and B. The numbers meant nothing to Trent; he knew where the land was.
"Yeah. Weíll be getting a lot of luxuries of civilization up here. Women, even. Grrr-row!"
Trent grinned at him. "Shouldnít you be getting the mail delivered?"
"Right. Iíve got two dozen more deeds just like yours to deliver this morning. Then Iíve gotta get back to the radio station and work up my evening broadcast." Upchuck paused, then asked, "Donít let Jonesey work you too hard!"
"Right, like thatíd be possible."
Upchuck chuckled. "Yeah. Youíll be in town tonight?"
"Yeah, Iíll be around."
"See yaí then." Then with a wave, Upchuck was off. Trent watched him for a minute or so, then sat back down on the rock and pulled the deed out of its envelope.
It was sad, really. Heíd dug all over that land---that worthless piece of land---and never found a single gram of gold. When he got back to Lawndale, he would tell everybody he could that there werenít any riches to be had here, that a few sharp operators like the guy who owned this mine cornered it all. Now that civilization was making itself felt here again, big corporations would get it all and squeeze out even the sharp operators.
Nah, it was all a waste of time. Trent started to crumple up the paper, then thought back---
There wasnít much in the hospital, a few cots for beds, a few blankets. It was just a big room in the center of town. It was jammed packed full. Trent managed to see that Max had one, but it didnít do any good.
Max looked awful. The hair on the sides of his head had come in; a lot of them were gray. He was terribly thin and his skin coloring was pale and waxen.
Max coughed for over a minute while Trent knelt next to his bed. He managed to gasp out, "Iím not gonna make it, Trent."
"Donít talk that way, Max. Itís not that serious. Youíll pull through." But Trent thought about it all. The primitive conditions, the lack of any real medicine or equipment. A lot of guys had already died.
Another, briefer coughing spell, came then. Max said, "No, (cough), no, (cough)." Max gasped, then closed his eyes. His breathing was ragged, painful to listen to. Trent put his hand on Maxís arm; his skin was hot.
Eventually, Max said, barely able to get out the words. "I made out a will yesterday, Trent. I donít have a family. (cough, cough) Itís all yours, (cough), my share in the claim. All yours."
"Címon, Max, youíll get better---"
Max just exploded in coughs then. When they died down, he closed his eyes and appeared to be asleep.
Trent knelt beside him for hours, but Max never opened his eyes again.
A brief tear formed in the corner of Trentís eye. Damn! Max had died for this worthless piece of land. Trent slipped the deed back in the envelope, then folded the envelope and put it in his inside jacket pocket.
He sighed. There was nothing to do till Jonesey got back.
JLs was deserted right now...a few people around one table in the corner, George behind the bar. The lights were dim and the small stage deserted.
Trent walked up to George. George looked him over while continuing to clean the beer mug with a dirty towel. Trent did the same, seeing a short balding man with dark skin. "Hey, Trent," George said in his Boston Back Bay accent. "You gonna be playing tonight?"
"If Eddie lets me borrow his guitar tonight." Trent paused, and looked over, at the battered jukebox over in the corner. "Hey, man, let me have some shill quarters for the Ďbox." He pointed with his thumb.
"Thereís nothing new on it."
"Thereís never anything new on it. Maybe if JL would put something other than the ĎBest of Jimmy Buffettí CD on it..."
"Dunno...the customers seem to dig ĎCheeseburger in Paradise.í George handed Trent two quarters, painted with red nail polish. "Enjoy."
Trent nodded and stepped over to the jukebox. It wasnít "Cheeseburger" that he selected, but another track, "Why Donít We Get Drunk?"
The familiar lines came through, and he leaned with one arm on the top of the Ďbox, staring at the CD as it spun. He listened carefully, a half-smile on his face.
"...they say that youíre a snow queen, honey, I donít think thatís true / So...why donít we get drunk, and screw?" The line always reminded him of Daria, though he knew that she was no snow queen. Theyíd proven it enough before he took off for Alaska.
"Somebody on your mind, Trent?"
The voice behind him was familiar and Trent turned around to see. He blinked. It was Tom Sloane. The guy who had dated both his sister and his girl, and left both scarred by the experience. Same brown hair and gray-green eyes, same sweater and pants-with-thigh-pockets. He was standing there, arms folded across his chest, a smile on his face. Trent looked at him as the track came to an end. Tom Sloane was one person he never expected to see here. "Uh...Tom?"
"You remember me."
"I couldnít have forgotten the guy who---" Dated my sister and Daria, Trent thought, but couldnít let himself complete the sentence. "So...what are you doing here?"
"I flew up a couple of days ago," Tom said. "A little reporting, a little investigating for the family firm. Since theyíve lifted the border patrol, you can get in and out easy. Just buy a ticket." He paused a moment, looked Trent over head to toe. Trent felt a little self-conscious and uneasy. "So...how have you been?"
"I canít complain. Howíd you know where to find me?"
"I ran into Upchuck when I asked around the radio station. I knew he was working there. He told me youíd be here." Tom grinned. "Did you know heís got a cult following back, uh, back home? With the Internet, all things are possible."
"I hadnít heard." It didnít surprise him, though. "Have you seen Jane lately?"
"Just before I flew up. She got your letters. Sheís fine." He paused again, then said, "She wants you to come home, Trent."
Trent said firmly, "Iíll be home soon as I can. You can tell her that when you get back. Uh, how long are you going to be here?"
"A few days, no more."
They stood a moment. Trent felt an uneasy feeling in his gut as he nerved himself to ask another question. "Uh...have you seen Daria?"
Tom stopped smiling. "Sheís fine. She wants you to come back, too."
"Right." Trent let a silence fall betwen them. After a while, Trent added, "Like I said, Iíll be home as soon as I can."
The uncomfortable silence returned. Trent thought about it, then said, "Can I show you around town?"
"Sure," Tom said. His voice showed more enthusiasm. "I saw a little of it when I came in, but not much."
"Well, I know it as well as anyone." Trent turned and looked at George, who, Trent realized, had been standing there all along, quietly but visibly amused by Tom and Trent. "George. Iíll be back in a couple of hours. Tell JL and Eddie that if they get back before I do."
"Tell JL and Eddie youíre going around town with a buddy from the lower forty-eight. Right." He grinned at them.
It was evening, and dark, as they walked back to JLís. There were no streetlights in town, but some of the places burned a lot of electricity in the form of neon. This was a new innovation, with restored access to the power grids, and Trent couldnít decide whether he approved or not. But it gave them enough light to see by.
"I notice a lot of people are packing a lot of firepower, Trent," Tom said. "Youíve got that AK-47?"
"Everybody carries something up here," Trent replied. Things had eased up between them. The two of them grinned a lot and even laughed from time to time. Tom was a good guy, and what happened with Jane, and then with Daria, were things he didnít mean to happen. Even before Trent left Lawndale the three of them had all forgiven each other. Trent decided to do the same.
"But why an AK-47?"
"There are better guns, but the AK-47 is cheaper."
"Mmm. Is it that dangerous here?"
"Between claim jumpers on one hand, Army patrols on the other hand, and eco-terrorists on the third hand, it hasnít left a moment of peace."
"So much you need three hands for it?"
"Well...let me say Iíve done some things Iím not proud of." Trent thought about it---
"Max, up there!" Trent pointed with one hand while the other rested on the AK-47.
"But Trent---!" Max began.
"Iíll be all right, just cover me!" Trent waved a hand. "Go!"
Max ran off and disappeared into the darkness. Trent ran off in the opposite direction, up the side of the mountain. The AK-47 was cradled in his arms, his finger on the trigger.
Something ahead of him moved. There wasnít time for thought. Trent pointed the AK-47 and pulled the trigger. A burst sprayed out over the hillside. Someone ahead of him screamed, a short split-second sound that ended in a gurgle.
"Trent! Trent!" Max called.
"Iím all right!" Trent called back. Nobody was firing back. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a firefly stick; he broke it and held it up to light the area with his faint light.
Max ran up and looked. "You shot her!" he said.
Trent looked down. It was a girl, the body of a young girl with dark hair, wearing a T-shirt with the logo of the Protect Alaska! group. She looked about Janeís age. She had dropped an M-1 rifle when she fell...
Max slapped him on the shoulder. "You got her! Good!"
Trent felt tears in his eyes...
Tom nodded. "You donít have to go into detail."
"Well, itís nothing Iím wanted by the law for. I just donít like to talk about it." He looked Tom over. "Iíd, ah, youíd better stick with me while youíre here. You got a place to stay?"
"Weíll make arrangements after the show."
They reached JLís. The doors were open and music, live music, could be heard from within. Trent waved Tom in ahead of him and, after a glance down the street, followed him in.
The place was packed now, and there was a band on the stage. Trent looked at them. Eddie Agee wasnít on stage. Trent scowled. Heíd wanted to talk to Eddie, wanted to firm up the deal to buy Eddieís guitar.
The drummer couldnít keep a beat and the bass player kept missing the beat. But the keyboardist and guitarist seemed competent and the crowd seemed to appreciate them. It was a dance beat, but there were only guys around and they werenít dancing.
One of the guitarists spotted Trent. "Trent!" he shouted, and waved. "Hey, Trent! Over here!" Trent waved back, then looked at Tom. Tom nodded, and they both headed for the stage.
When they pushed through the crowd to the stage, the guitarist stopped playing. The others carried on without him. The guitarist bent over and shouted, over the music, "Trent, Eddie took off this morning."
"Where did he go, Raheem?" Trent asked.
"Said he had a line on a claim up at Lucky Strike. Didnít say when he would be back."
"Right." Trent scowled, realizing what was coming next. Dread weighed heavy on him.
"Uh, Trent, he took his guitar and amp with him." Raheem looked glum. "Iím sorry, Trent."
"Thatís all right. Not your fault."
"Maybe later I can lend you mine. You could sit in on a few."
"Doesnít matter. Thanks, anyway."
"Sorry, Trent." Raheem stepped back and began playing again. Trent stepped back.
"Bad news?" Tom asked.
Trent looked Tom up and down, then said, "Yeah."
A table near the far wall had opened up, and Trent motioned with his head for Tom to follow him to it. They sat down at it.
Tom looked at Trent. There was no smile on his face this time. Finally, he said, "Things not so good for you here, Trent?"
Trent hesitated before saying, "Yeah. Things are bad for me here. I want to go back to Lawndale and..."
"And Daria," Tom said. "You didnít write her, Trent."
"Uh, I was too embarrassed."
"You wrote Jane. And you should know by now that anything you wrote Jane got to Daria." Tom stopped a moment and leaned back in his chair. "She was hurt by that, you know. You told her you would write. She wrote you."
"I got most of her letters. The mail service here has been off and on."
"Look, Tom, I---"
Tom leaned forward and held up a hand. "You donít have to tell me how you feel about Daria. I know how you feel about her." He grinned without humor. "I know how she feels about you. How she still feels about you."
"I donít know." Trent looked down at the battered and grimy tabletop. "She deserves better than me. Someone who can take care of her."
"Someone like me, you mean?"
"Uh, Tom, I donít mean---"
"You think Daria deserves someone rich, somebody with money. You left Lawndale and came up here to get rich." He paused, letting his humorless grin fade from his face. "But you didnít get rich, and now youíre too embarrassed to go home."
"It wouldnít work out."
"Look, I asked around about you. I got the same information from everybody. ĎTrent is reliable.í ĎTrent can be trusted with anything.í ĎTrent will never let you down.í Now, I may not know that much about keeping a relationship going, but, to me, that sounds like someone whoíll make Daria happy."
"Iíve let her down before."
"Thatís long in the past. Youíve grown. Sheís grown."
Trent sighed. "Itís not just our relationship, Tom. I canít go home. Iím stuck here. I canít afford a ticket out of here. I---"
Tom reached down and pulled something out of his thigh pocket. It was an envelope. Tom placed the envelope on the table and said, "Thereís your ticket out of here, Trent."
Trent looked at the envelope. "Uh, I donít want charity, man."
"Donít think of it as charity. Itís not. Itís an outright gift, to you and Daria. Just take it, go home, and say you were richer for the experience."
Tom leaned back in his chair. Suddenly he looked annoyed. "Daria was and still is a friend of mine. Friends help friends. Iím just helping her get the man she loves back to her."
"But what about you?"
"She doesnít love me. She loves you." Tom frowned. "Anything Daria and I had together is over. Long over. Forget it. And if being with you is what will make her happy, Iím all for it. Go back to her, you idiot, before you really do lose her."
Trent picked up the envelope. The flap wasnít sealed and he used two fingers to open it a little so he could look in. It was a computer-printed ticket, for the flight two days from now. Trent frowned. Was two days enough to take care of everything here? Quitting on Jonesey, saying good-bye to Upchuck and his other friends...yeah, he could take care of it. He didnít have a lot of junk anymore and wouldnít want to take it home with him.
Tom grinned. "I can tell youíre going to do it."
Trent shrugged. "What choice do I have? Thereís nothing here for me."
"You said you had a claim."
"Like I said, thereís nothing here." Trent frowned again, and said, "Say, why are you doing this?"
Tom kept grinning. "Just out of the goodness of my heart."
"Not good enough, Tom."
"Hey, Daria is still a friend. Just because we broke up and she started seeing you doesnít mean were not friends."
"Come to think of it, who put up the money? I donít think Daria could get it."
"Theyíre better off now than a few years ago. But never mind. I put up the money. You know my family is rich."
"But your parents wouldnít let---"
Tom held up his hand again. He was no longer smiling; in fact, he looked angry. "Trent, havenít you heard of the expression, ĎDonít look a gift horse in the mouthí?"
Trent gave him a short, hard look, and Tom wilted a little under the gaze. Trent said, "You still love her, donít you?"
"Iím not going to answer that."
"No...you donít have to. Iíll let it drop."
They both fell silent. Trent thought about what Tom had said. It all added up...but it would be a sad thing to press Tom further on the issue. Even though Trent thought it was true.
Finally, Tom said, "Just one more thing, Trent."
"Write Daria a letter. Tell her youíre coming home."
"Yes. I said she was hurt when you didnít write her." Tom paused, then said, "If you mail it tonight itíll go out on tomorrowís plane. Sheíll get it before you get there."
"Mmm." Trent nodded.
Iím coming home. Tom found me and talked me into coming home with him. By the time you get this, I should be halfway there.
I hope you still feel the same about me. My feelings for you are stronger than they were before. I can only hope you still care for me, and that my long absence hasnít changed anything between us.
I know I havenít written before. Iím sorry. I was too embarrassed to write. Things didnít work out like I expected. I hope you can forgive me for leaving you and coming up here.
I know Janey has told you everything I told her. You know what it was like up here. It wasnít a fun experience at all.
But Iíve learned a lot about whatís really important while I was here. Iíve got the deed to my claim, and, well, letís just say Iím richer for the experience.
Whatever comes, Iíll see you soon. Iím mailing this on the 9th, and I should be back on the 12th if I make all the connecting flights. Please tell Jane Iím coming.
I miss you terribly,
Lawndale looked the same from the air. Trent had drawn a window seat and looked out. All the times he flew over Lawndale, try as he might, he could never pick out the Lane house. He could see the Miskatonic River over on the horizon, the Seven Corners intersection, even Lawndale High with its faded-but-still-garish Ultra Cola sign on the roof. But he could never figure out exactly which house was his home.
Trent felt uncomfortable. On the layover in Seattle, Tom had gotten him some new clothes. Tom had wanted him to get a suit, but Trent drew the line at that and just got some clean casual clothes. Tom had also seen to it that he shaved. He ran his hand over his chin. It was weird. He hated growing a beard; it itched. But now that it was gone, and the face that stared out of the mirror was the face of the innocent guy who left Lawndale, he kind of missed it.
It had been a hell of a bash before he left Alaska. Upchuck had thrown a live remote broadcast "Farewell to Trent Lane Night" over Radio Gold Fields, and everybody who was anybody Ďround town dropped by. He auctioned off all his stuff except the clothes on his back and his AK-47; he needed the former and he gave the latter to Raheem. The only thing he kept was his carry sack and that worthless claim deed. He attempted to play "Freakiní Friends" and "Behind the Eyelids" with guys from a half dozen bands, and drank more than his share of homemade beer that everyone shoved on him. When he and Tom climbed on board the flight out, they were both really hung over.
They had switched to a 747 in Fairbanks, then to another in Seattle that made stops in Denver and Chicago. Tom had left him in New York, both of them sobered up by then. Tom wished him well and took a flight back to his college. Trent took the commuter flight to Lawndale alone.
Now the plane was landing on the one strip at the Lawndale airport. He felt a gnawing sensation in the pit of his stomach. Did Daria know he was coming? Did she get his letter? Did she still care? Tom said she cared, but was it true, and would it last?
He closed his eyes as the plane rolled down the runway. He was over-worrying the situation. He would just have to live with it, whatever "it" turned out to be.
Once in the airport terminal, he walked out with head held high and eyes looking all over. Was Daria here? Or Jane? Or---
Then he saw him. Dariaís father. Jake Morgendorffer. He was sitting on one of the benches in the middle of the terminal. Trent stopped walking and started to reach for his AK-47 before remembering, first, he had left it behind in Alaska, and second, it would be very, very, very wrong to gun down the father of the woman he loved.
Jake looked much the same, still thin, maybe a little more gray on the sides. He was looking around for something, too---then his eyes fell on Trent and he stood up. Trent cringed. What was Jake going to do?
But then Jake grinned. "Trent!" he shouted. "My man!" But this time there was no anger in his voice. Trent thought he sounded, well, glad to see him.
Jake ran over to where Trent stood. "Boy, Iím glad to see you, Trent!"
"Uh...yeah." Trent let Jake grab his hand and pump his arm. It gave him a chance to look into Jakeís face. No, there wasnít any anger he could see. Jake seemed, somehow...eager. It was hard to pin down.
"How was Alaska, son?"
"Yeah, I expect it would be." Jake put his arm around Trentís shoulders and firmly led him along. "Címon, címon, letís get out of this crowd and go somewhere where we can really talk!"
Trent let him lead him off the main course, into a lounge down one corridor. It must have been the VIP lounge, though Trent didnít see any signs. Jake seemed to know the place. "Two beers, over here! On my tab!" he shouted to the bartender, and led Trent to a table in the back.
The whole thing was starting to weird Trent out. Here was Jake, all friendly and eager. The last time he had seen Jake his face was red with anger and he had been swinging a baseball bat at him. He didnít know what was up, but he sensed something was.
After the bartender left two bottles of beer on the table, Jake said, "So, Trent, how was Alaska?"
Trent frowned. "I donít know what the news was down here---"
"Oh, we got it all, son. I know it was a rough time for you, but you came through and are richer for the experience!" Jake grinned. "Hah!"
He read my letter to Daria! Trent thought. It bothered him. Was Jake stealing Dariaís mail now? But why was he friendly? Just what was he up to?
"Yíknow, Trent, son...can I call you son?"
"Uh, sure, Mr. Morgendorffer."
"Son, then. Youíve been like the son Iíve never had!"
Trent kept frowning. He remembered staying a couple of times at the Morgendorffers, back when Daria and Jane were still in Lawndale High, back before he and Daria had started dating. He remembered getting full parenting from Helen, but Jake had been a different case altogether. "How so, Mr. Morgendorffer?"
"Jake. Call me Jake."
"Uh...Jake...what are you getting at?"
Jake was smiling broadly now, even more than before. Trent wouldnít have thought it possible. "Trent...son...can I call you son?"
"You already asked me that. I said it was okay."
"Yeah, yeah! Never mind." Jake paused, and leaned forward and put his arm around Trentís shoulders. "I envy you, son."
Every time Jake notched his mood up, Trent felt his own move down. His frown seemed almost permanent now. Everybody always told him it took a load of high explosives just to get him to notice what was going on. But Jake was pouring on the emotional equivalent. Just what was Jake getting at? "Uh...why?"
" ĎCause youíve got your whole life ahead of you. Youíve come back from Alaska with a good claim, youíve got a beautiful girl waiting for you...youíve got it all!"
"I---what?" Suddenly Trent took a dislike to the way this conversation was going. He had a bad feeling.
"Trent, I wonít beat about the bush any longer. No talk, no dancing around the subject. Iíll get right to the point." Jake leaned close, and said, "Trent, son, Iíd like to buy your Alaska claim."
Trent drew in a sharp breath. "What?"
Jake said hastily, "Iíll give you a good price, Trent, Iím not without assets of my own."
"But, Mr. Morgendorffer---"
"Jake, call me Jake."
Trent held up his hand. "I donít think you understand about digging for gold, Mr. Mor---Jake."
"Whatís to understand?" Jake let go of his shoulder and leaned back. "You went up to Alaska. You came back a richer man."
"No, I didnít, I---" Trent stopped, as an awful idea popped into his mind. "Uh, you read the letter I sent Daria, did you?"
Jake looked slightly abashed at this. "Well, I didnít want to. But I saw it in the mail yesterday morning, and it looked important, so I, uh, I---"
Trent shook his head. "Mr. Morgendorffer, I think youíve got the wrong idea about Alaska and mining for gold. Thereís no easy way to wealth there. Itís tough, itís hard, itís dangerous, and you canít make a go of it. I know. I was there."
"Donít confuse me with the facts, son," Suddenly Jakeís cheerful mask slipped, and Trent saw a man full of anger and frustration. "Your claim is my ticket out of here and on the road to success! Iím sick and tired of being ĎJake Morgendorffer, the failure.í ĎJake Morgendorffer, the poor provider.í ĎJake Morgendorffer, the---í"
"Mr. Morgendorffer, youíve always been a good, uh, a good guy."
"I have?" Jakeís cheerful mask slipped back on. "Gee. Thanks. So you wonít sell?"
"Not even to your father-in-law?"
Trent opened his mouth, but the idea hit him with full force then.
"...so I sold it to him. What could I do, Janey?"
Jane stood at her easel in her bedroom. She had made Trent change back into his old clothes, and insisted on doing a life-portrait of him while they waited for Daria. Trent felt uncomfortable in his old Alaska clothes. It somehow seemed wrong, wearing them back home. Trent could see what Jane put down; it didnít seem very realistic but she seemed satisfied with it. At least she didnít make him sit and pose, but let him walk around the room as the spirit moved him.
Trent rubbed his chin. "If youíre painting me as I was up there, you should paint a beard in."
"Iíll consider painting it from the imagination," Jane replied, as she slapped some paint on the canvas.
Jane hadnít changed that much since he left. Sheíd let her hair grow out a little more and taken her earrings out, but she still had the same paint-spattered clothes and the same piercing stare. Now it was focused on him. She put her brush down and looked at Trent. "Look, brother dear, Jakeís a big boy."
"But I feel like I took advantage of him."
"Not so! You begged him not to go. Um, did he leave for Alaska right after you signed the papers?"
"I dunno. He took off so fast---" Trent shrugged. "I guess he couldíve. Iíve got to write Upchuck. Tell him to keep an eye on Jake if he does get there."
"Upchuck? Looking out for somebody?"
"You wouldnít know him, Janey. He doesnít act like he used to."
"Neither do you." Jane smiled, and picked up another brush. "You seem more together, somehow."
"Iím broke, Janey. Iíve got less than I had when I left Lawndale." Trent frowned and looked away from Jane. "I shouldnít have let Jake buy that stinking claim. Itís worthless, and, besides, itís a dangerous place."
"I said it before, Trent, Jakeís a big boy. What could be so dangerous up there?"
Trent looked back at Jane. He felt bleak and empty and, somehow, hoped it showed on his face. "I killed three people up there, Janey."
"Yeah. What?" Jane dropped her paint brush. "Whatís this? Are you in trouble with the law? What happened?"
"No, Iím not in trouble. It was self defense in each case. Two were claim jumpers, one was an eco-terrorist." Trent threw up his hands, and turned away. "Iím sorry I brought it up."
"No, itís good to share." Jane smiled. "See? I didnít waste my time in self-esteem class."
Jane picked her brush off the floor and went back to painting. Trent stared at the wall, brooding. How could he explain to Jane, to Daria, to anybody, just how bad it was? Would it be a good thing to even try to? He shook his head. He just didnít know.
After a while, Trent turned back to Jane and said, "When did you say Daria will be here?"
"Like Iíve said every time youíve asked so far, it depends. It depends on traffic and whose car she can borrow. Depending on that, sheíll be here sometime this afternoon or evening." Jane frowned. "Let it go, Trent. Sheíll be here."
"And donít grunt at me. Itís unbecoming."
"Mmm." Trent sat down on the edge of the bed, and turned to brooding again.
After awhile, Jane said, "Oh, by the way, youíre not broke."
"Yeah. What? Janey, Iíve got nothing."
Jane smiled. "Did you even look at the papers Jake had you sign?"
Trent got to his feet again. "No. No I didnít. When Jake said Ďfather-in-lawí I just---whereís my---oh, itís right here." Part of the wardrobe Jane insisted he model was his carry sack. Jake had brought all the right paperwork with him to the airport. Trent had stuffed it in his sack without reading it. He pulled it out, and looked it over, and whistled.
"Good news, Trent?"
Trent handed her the papers. "A half million dollars. I canít keep it, Janey."
"Sure you can. The Morgendorffers are prosperous, Trent. They could afford to send both daughters to the best colleges. Helen even offered me money for college. I mean, since Helenís mother died---"
"No, Janey, I just canít do it. Itís wrong. I---" Trent paused, as something finally sunk in. "Wait a minute. Iím beginning to see something."
"Donít look at the sun directly. You wonít get those spots in front of your eyes."
"Cut the nonsense, Janey. This was all planned, wasnít it? Iíve seen Daria in action. She can play her parents like a violin when she wants to."
"Always the music metaphors, huh, Trent? Once a musician, always a musician---"
Trent ignored her. "Oh, I can see it now. Daria built up Jakeís greed, and saw to it that he saw my letter to her." He frowned. "Damn. I played right into it. She sent Tom up there, to feed me that line about being richer for the experience. She even had him clean me up and make me look rich." Now he was scowling. "Oh, Iíve been played."
"Trent, youíre obsessing."
"I feel used, Jane."
Jane put down her brushes and walked over to where Trent stood. She looked at him, face angry, arms akimbo. "Listen to me, Trent Lane. Youíre suddenly in circumstance where you---you!---have money, and youíre complaining because you think youíve been manipulated! Youíre looking a gift horse in the mouth!"
Trent hesitated, then grinned. "Youíre the second person to throw that phrase at me this week."
Jane relaxed a little. "Thatís better. Youíre starting to accept it."
"I suppose. I donít know if I can keep the money, but Iíll live with the Ďmanipulationí part."
Jane shrugged. "And even if you were manipulated, youíll never find out."
"Aw, Janey, youíd tell me. Youíd know. Daria tells you everything."
Jane smiled at that. "Even if I knew anything, I wouldnít tell you."
"You might ask me," came a familiar voice from behind them. Trent turned. There, leaning against the bedroom door, was Daria. She looked the same, down to the green jacket and combat boots. Trent thought she looked wonderful.
"Daria!" Trent smiled, and ran to her and hugged her, lifting her feet off the floor.
"Uh...Trent...youíre crushing my ribs."
"Sorry." He loosened his grip, but kept her in his arms.
"Did I mention Daria has her own key to our front door now?" Jane said, grinning broadly.
They both ignored her. She slipped her arms around him, and said, "So, Trent, how have you been?"
"Oh...Iíll fill you in later. Daria, did your father---"
"I heard what you were telling Jane. Iím not going to deny it." She smiled her small smile at him as she looked up into his face. "But Iím not going to admit it, either."
"Thatís all right. We can talk later." Trent squeezed and lifted her off the floor again. "Iím just glad to see you again."
"You feel a little thin."
"Itís been a hard life."
"I know. Now, kiss me before I tell you where to go for leaving me."
They kissed. Jane smiled, and said, "Ah, true love is wonderful." But Daria and Trent werenít listening. She shrugged, and selected a fresh canvas, and began painting.
DISCLAIMER: "Daria" and the characters and settings from it are the property of MTV Networks / Viacom International.
This parody of "Daria" is copyright © 2001 by Robert Nowall. It is not intended to profit the author in any way, and may not be distributed without permission of the author. (That means please donít post or circulate this without getting in touch with me first.) For the time being, Robert Nowall can be reached at: RobtNowall@aol.com
"Why Donít We Get Drunk" written by M. Gardens, performed by Jimmy Buffett.
"Freakiní Friends" written by T. Lane, J. Moreno, M. Tyler, and N. Campbell, performed by Mystik Spiral.
Some readers may notice a similarity between the plot of "North to Alaska, South to Lawndale" and the song "Saginaw, Michigan." They would be right; my plot derives directly from it. "Saginaw, Michigan" written by Don Wayne and Bill Anderson, performed by Lefty Frizzell. (Of course, I had to work out the background and think of splicing Daria and Trent and all into it...)
Thanks to MeScribble for beta reading.
Written 2/19/01 to 4/4/01