The Master 

Dr. Nicholas Anthony has never liked the holidays, but this year might be the exception. Stranded in the Sierras with a family of half-lutin runaways he's about to have the most unusual Christmas of his life.

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Excerpt

"Doctor? Thereís a new patient in four." Nurse Larkin added softly: "A child, age five. It isnít so bad."

Dr. Anthony sighed. "Fracture, or extraction?"

"Extraction. Itís another light bulb." The nurse grimaced and handed over the chart. She was new but had already learned that Nicholas Anthony had no patience for certain types of injuries.

"Where is it lodged? Ear canal?"

"No, nasal cavity. I havenít heard the whole story but it seems to involve an older brother and a dare."

"It always does. What does the brother say?"

"That it isnít his fault. Heís using the Darwin defense."

"I see. Well, he may be right. Some people really are too stupid to live. This is a small twinkle light, isnít it? Not a large outdoor one?"

"Of course, doctor." The nurse was shocked.

"There is no of course about it, Nurse Larkin. Youíll learn that soon enough."

***

"Doctor? Iím sorry."

Dr. Anthonyís eyes narrowed. Iím sorry was a clue. They only said that with a certain kind of injury.

"Yes?"

"We have a compound fracture coming up from x-ray. Heís being taken to six. Iím afraid heís very verbal."

"I see. Roof?"

"Yes," she said reluctantly.

"Lights, or Santa Claus?"

"Santa -- they already removed the costume," she added hastily.

"Santa. So there is alcohol involved?"

"Um, yes. Quite a lot. But heís been sick several times, so much of it has been purged. The only lingering effect is that he wonít stop cursing."

***

"Doctor. We have a child, Jeff Santos, in one." The nurseís face was a study in blankness.

"Whatís wrong? Not a car accident?" That was his greatest dread, seeing the small bodies crushed and lacerated because forgetful parents hadnít used child safety-seats.

"Oh no! Nothing as bad as that. Heís just swallowed a bell and his mother is tired of listening to him jingle and wants us to uhó make it stop. Apparently this has happened before."

"I see. Perhaps Iíd better have a word with Mrs. Santos about what constitutes an appropriate diet for a child."

***

"Doctor, we have a slight problem in number seven. Itís a potential facial trauma."

"Potential?" Nicholas raised an eyebrow. He didnít usually see accidents before they happened. At least, not in the E.R.. People werenít that far-sighted about planning their emergencies.

"Well, Mr. Cleary was having trouble keeping his beard on at the Christmas party and asked one of the elves to bring his facial adhesive. Only the child couldnít find the make-up kit. So instead he brought some super glue. The tubes looked the same soÖ."

Dr. Anthony sighed.

"This is why people should always wear their glasses."

"Mr. Cleary forgot those too. He was running late. This is a very busy season for rent-a-Santa."

"I see. And does Mr. Cleary have a real beard, or is he clean shaven?"

"He has a beard."

"Then he is a lucky man."

"You know how to get super glue out of hair?" the nurse asked hopefully.

"No. But it shouldnít be any worse than a waxing."

"But that kind of hair removal is very painful," the nurse pointed out.

"Not as painful as having your skin ripped off," Nick replied callously.

***
"Um... Doctor, there is one other thing. You asked me to remind you about Christmas shopping."

"You already have. Several times, in fact." In point of fact, he hadnít said anything except to ask the staff not to mention Christmas shopping in his presence until the Thanksgiving leftovers were gone. It seemed indecent to even consider Christmas before December. But that time was past, and he couldnít expect those who had made care-taking a profession to ignore what they saw as his weakness, so Nick added politely: "Thank you."

"Yes, but, Doctor, itís after twelve now -- that means itís Christmas Eve. You actually have to do your shopping today. Thereís no putting off any longer."

"Christmas Eve?" Suddenly Dr. Anthony looked more cheerful and Nurse Gwynn noticed how attractive he was. "Why so it is."

"Youíre happy about going to see your family?" the nurse asked naively as she handed him the patientís chart.

"Donít be ridiculous." Dr. Anthony pushed through the curtain around the bed in room three. "Christmas Eve means that we only have one more week of this stupid holiday madness. Eight days from now and we can go back to normal, reasonable emergencies like car accidents and gunshots wounds."

Nicholas didnít see, but the nurse wrinkled her nose at him and then stuck out her tongue. The patient in the bed was in less pain now that the drugs were kicking in and he managed a small laugh at this act of rebellion.

"Iím glad to see you are in high spirits, Mister Anderson," Nick said gently as he examined the compound fracture. Bone was protruding from the skin in two places. "Weíre going to get you fixed up. It wonít be too bad. As my grandmother always said: youíll be as good as new in two shakes of a lambís tail."

"Son," Mister Anderson answered looking down at his leg. "I donít mean to be impolite, but youíre grandma must have either been nuts or a damned liar."