Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
They got the third coat of clear dope on the wing later that evening, before he took her home. It was late, and not wanting to go to bed smelling of aircraft dope, she took a bath and washed her hair, resolving to sleep in the next morning. When she got up, it was close to time to have to go to work, but, on her way to Rickís, she stopped off at the body shop, just to see how Mark was coming. The smell told her he was deep into another coat of clear dope, and they made a date for supper again. "I should smell better, tonight," he told her. "Silver dope doesnít smell as bad."
She was a little surprised to see him walk into Rickís a couple of hours later and order a cup of coffee. "Carlís spraying a coat of silver dope on the wings," he told her. "Thereís nothing much I can do to help him. I donít know if heíll get another coat on yet this evening. I should go out and work on the fuselage, but thereís not enough time left this afternoon to get started buttoning it up."
"What youíre saying is youíve got a free evening and donít know what to do, right?"
"Yeah," he said. "Thatís a little scary, when you put it like that. I guess Iím going to have to learn to slow down and enjoy free evenings."
A glimmer of an idea rose in Jackieís mind. "Dad had to work a double night last weekend, so heís got two nights off. Heís going to be home tonight. Why donít I call home and have Sarah hold off on supper until after I get off work?"
Remembering their conversation of the night before, Mark thought he had a pretty good idea of where her idea was leading. It smacked of bringing the boyfriend home for the parentís approval, but it did indicate Jackie was still giving consideration to going with him on the trip. That was kind of a hopeful sign, and of course he went along with it.
* * *
After he finished lunch, Mark went back over to the body shop. By then Carl had a coat of silver dope Ė containing powdered aluminum Ė on the wings. He eyeballed the paint as it was drying; it would need a little sanding before the finish coats of enamel could be applied. Once again Mark went over his decision to paint the wings white; white enamel had been part of the paint and dope included with the plane, along with some red, for trim, but he decided trimming out the wings would look funny without painting the fuselage, too. With the trip coming up and weight at a premium, both the time involved and the weight of all that paint seemed excessive. Gray and white wouldnít look bad, anyway, once he got the fuselage buffed out.
He was woolgathering, and he knew it. He was trying not to think about the upcoming evening with Walt Archer. He knew the only thing to do would be to play it straight, whatever happened. If Jackie wanted to bring up the trip, then heíd talk about it. If Jackie wanted to talk about going with him, then it was up to her. Perhaps the best thing to do was to make a good impression, and it meant getting a haircut and cleaning up. "You going to need me around here anymore this afternoon?" he asked Carl.
"Naw, not really," the older man said. "Iíll get another coat on in an hour or so, and the last one first thing tomorrow morning. Itíll be tomorrow afternoon before you can start sanding, anyway."
With his hair shorter, he felt more natural. He drove on home, shaved again, and showered. There was a limit to how much he was willing to dress up for Jackieís dad, but it wouldnít hurt to wear clean clothes.
Mark did not know Walt Archer well and hadnít talked to him since before he went into the Army, but he remembered him from when his parents had played cards with Walt and Sarah many years ago. It turned out Walt was an easy guy to talk to, and they discussed railroad engines and flying for a while before Jackie brought up the subject of the trip. Mark gave a brief explanation of what he planned, all things Jackie had heard before, but he left out the idea of Jackie going along with him.
"Sounds like a hell of a trip," the older man said. "You take it easy and take it as it comes, and youíre going to have a good time. I just wish I was young enough and free enough to go with you. Back when I was your age, maybe a little younger, I spent a summer seeing the country, hopping freights, mostly. I went to a lot of places, and it was an adventure of a lifetime."
Jackie and Sarah had heard some of the stories of Waltís hobo trip, which had happened back about the time Mark was born, but neither of them minded hearing them again. Walt had a bunch of stories about his trip, and it kept him going for a while, with Mark drawing him out, only building up his desire to get going on his own adventure.
It had been a memorable trip for Walt as a young man. He had started for Texas, to go see an old school pal who had moved south during the war; somehow, he never got to see the old school pal. He related the story how he got on an empty boxcar in Minneapolis, thinking it was going to Kansas City, and was a little surprised to find it was heading west, instead, so he rode along. He almost froze, sitting in the boxcar going through the mountains in Montana, but the views had been something to never forget. He wandered up and down the west coast, then worked his way back across the country, and when he got back to Spearfish Lake he went down to Camden and put in his application with the D&O. Railroading had grown on him, and heíd been riding the rails ever since.
"I met a lot of good people out there, saw some great sights, and had a lot of fun. If your trip turns out half as good," Walt told him, "Youíll remember it all your life. It takes a little courage to get up and do it, but itíll be worth it."
Jackie had seen an opening coming, and now was the chance: "Werenít grandma and grandpa a little upset at you taking off like that?"
"Well, yes, I guess they were," Walt said. "They knew things can happen out there. But it was worth it, and they never held it against me afterward. I think Dad kind of envied me for taking off like that, and I never had any reason to be sorry about it."
Mark raised his eyebrows, and looked at Jackie, but her face was noncommittal, and she said nothing. They sat and talked for a while longer, and when the talk died down, they turned on the TV for an hour or two, but didnít say much of anything while it babbled away. Finally, it was starting to get late, and Mark got up. "Big day, tomorrow," he said. "If I can get a good day in tomorrow and Saturday, I might be able to get the wings finished."
"Will I see you for lunch?" Jackie wanted to know.
"Probably," Mark told her. "If I donít lose track of the time."
* * *
When Jackie came downstairs the next morning, she saw her father sitting at the kitchen table, having a cup of coffee. She had plenty of time, so stopped to join him.
"Mark is a nice kid," Walt said. "Seems to have his head screwed on pretty good."
Jackie nodded as she sipped her coffee. "I just hope we can get something going when he gets back from his trip."
"Yeah, thatís going to be quite a trip. Heís going to see a lot, have a lot of fun."
"Iíve been fascinated with the trip, ever since I heard about it," Jackie admitted. "Itís too bad I canít go with him. Thatís one of those things a guy can do but a girl canít, at least without people getting ideas."
"Yeah, I suppose thatís true," Walt said. "Boy, Iíd sure go, though, if I had the chance." Jackie wondered if she heard an implied, "if I were you" in his statement, but didnít know if she had or not.
"Well," Jackie said, taking another sip of her coffee, "Iím sure it would be fun, but it probably wouldnít be the right thing to do."
Her father nodded. "Yeah," he said. "Sometimes itís a little hard to figure out whatís right and whatís wrong, and sometimes itís not what you think it is. Sometimes you donít get a choice between right and wrong, but between bad and worse, and there are times that itís your decision." He changed the subject. "Are you going to be seeing Mark again tonight?"
"I suppose so," Jackie said. "I want to spend all the time I can with him before he leaves."
As Jackie drove Sarahís car down to Rickís, she didnít know what to think. She hadnít told her father she was thinking of going along with Mark, but he seemed to be saying, "If the opportunity comes, grab it."
On the other hand, he almost seemed to be saying, "We can depend on you to be a good girl." It was hard to know what to think. She had wanted to tell her dad she had the opportunity to go with Mark, but couldnít bear to make herself say so Ė perhaps from fear of being told she shouldnít go. Whatever the decision, she had to make up her own mind about it, and the safer course was certainly to stay home. If Mark came back, well, fine. If he didnít, well, there was always next time. Probably the best course of action was to not say anything to Mark, either way, and hope the idea died on the vine.
Donna greeted her as she walked into Rickís that morning, her last weekday there. "Hjalmerís over in the corner," she told Jackie. "He was wondering if you had come in, yet."
Jackie walked over to see what he wanted. "We still on for tonight?" he asked.
"Iím going to have to give it a pass for tonight," Jackie said. "Iím going to be busy for the next couple of weeks. After that, Iím going to be pretty much free, though."
As the lunch crowd came and left, Jackie and Donna were busy, but all the while Jackie thought about her brief conversation with Hjalmer. Picking back up with him was something Jackie could look forward to when Mark left, and she wasnít sure how much she looked forward to it. If she kept going out with Hjalmer, sooner or later it was going to come down to a wrestling match in the back seat of his car, something sheíd just as soon avoid; she had no doubts about the right and wrong there. On the other hand, if she went with Mark, sooner or later it might come down to a wrestling match in a tent, somewhere far from home, and that would be a whole lot harder to walk away from. On balance, though, if it came down to having to have a wrestling match with either one of them, she found herself thinking sheíd rather it was with Mark.
Still, she couldnít get the thought of the trip out of her mind. Over the next hour or so, half a dozen times Jackie had made up her mind to tell Mark sheíd go with him after all, and half a dozen times, she talked herself out of it.
It was the middle of the afternoon before Mark walked in. "Howís the silver dope coming?" she asked.
"Pretty good," he told her, as she set down a cup of coffee in front of him. "When the coat we just got on gets dry, I can start sanding, and it doesnít look like itís going to take a lot of sanding. Carl said heíd come in tomorrow and paint the wings, so probably Monday I could take them back out to the hangar and get them set up to hang on the bird."
"Thereís not a lot left to do, is there?" Jackie asked. In another week, or maybe a little more, he could be gone, she thought. "Are you going to get started on the fuselage tonight?"
"No," Mark said. "Last night reminded me I need to spend a little time with my parents, too. Why donít you figure on coming over to the house after work tonight?"
* * *
On Saturday afternoon, Jackie stopped by the hangar to let Mark know she was off work and to come over and pick her up. It was a fairly decent day, overcast but warmer than it had been. All the snow from earlier in the week had gone, but there were still patches of dirty white, hidden deep in the shadows.
"Thereís not really a lot you can do, right now," Mark told her. "Maybe hand me a tool now and then, or something."
Jackie looked in the cockpit of the little Cessna. It was kind of a mess. "I think Iíd better bring a vacuum, some rags and stuff, and clean this thing out," she said.
"I cleaned it up pretty good," he protested. "You should have seen it when I got it, before I put the new upholstery in."
By the time they decided to call it quits it was after dark. The inside of the airplane was a lot cleaner, and it was beginning to look more like an airplane, anyway. As they stepped outside, Mark looked at the sky and saw the moon looking back at him. "Hey, would you believe it? Clear skies!" he said. "Too bad the moonís out, but the moonís kind of fun to look at. You want me to get the telescope out?"
"Sure," she told him. Since last Saturday the skies hadnít been clear enough at night to do any stargazing, and she had hoped theyíd have the chance to get the telescope out at least one more time before he left.
It only took him a few minutes to get the telescope set up. "Itís a little hard to think of the moon as mysterious anymore," he said. "The guys walking around up there every few months have kind of taken it out of the class of being an astronomical object. But, itís still pretty to look at."
Jackie stared in the eyepiece, once Mark had the telescope pointed. "What you want to look at is the terminator," he said. "That is, the line between the lighted and dark parts. The shadows are long right in there, because the sun angle is low, and sometimes there are some really interesting things to be seen. Like, thereís a place where thereís a crater where the top of the central peak is lighted, while the crater floor isnít."
"Oh, I see," Jackie said. She guided the telescope up and down, taking it all in.
After she had looked for a while, Mark asked, "What say we slide past the Pike Bar and have a beer or a Coke or something?"
"Itís kind of late," Jackie told him. "And I really donít want to go into the Pike on a Saturday night."
"Yeah, I guess I donít, either, now that you mention it," Mark said. "Well, when youíre done, Iíll put the telescope away and take you home. Weíve put in a good dayís work today, and ought to be able to again tomorrow."
On the way home, Jackie realized Mark had not brought up the subject of her going on the trip with him for days. Maybe heíd gotten the message. It was going to be hard to see him leave, but perhaps it was for the best if he left without her. "What are we going to be doing tomorrow?" she asked.
"Well, Iím planning on buffing out the fuselage before you get out there," he said. "It looks kind of gray and dingy right now, but a buffing and a couple of coats of wax will help it out a lot. Are you any good with a paintbrush?"
"Pretty good," Jackie said. "I liked art when I was in school."
"Well, thereís something you could do tomorrow," he said. "After I get finished buffing the aluminum, the numbers will have to be repainted. Iíve got a can of red enamel, but Iíll have to stop and get some brushes. I donít want to screw up good watercolor brushes with enamel."
"No problem," Jackie said. "Iíve got some oil brushes I havenít used in a while. They ought to be all right for lettering."
The next morning at Rickís was a long and slow one, the way most Sunday mornings were, and knowing it was her last day of work didnít make the morning go any faster. A few days after the job was over, sheíd be losing her de facto boyfriend and many of the activities that had kept her life interesting the last couple weeks. It was going to get boring, real soon, and she knew it.
Out at the airport, Mark had gone over the plane with an electric buffer, and now the fuselage looked a lot better than it had. Once Mark had told her what he had been doing that morning, she opened a can of red enamel paint, grabbed her brushes, pulled up a stool, and began to redo the registration numbers on the side of the plane.
At one point, Mark came over to check her work. "They look like factory numbers," he told her. "They donít look like youíve just laid them on with a brush, freehand. Thatís good work."
"Glad you like it," she said. She finished the numbers on one side of the fuselage, and went around to the other side. The work moved along smoothly, and she lost track of time.
"Shit!" she heard Mark say, from up in the engine compartment somewhere.
"Whatís the problem?" she asked conversationally.
It turned out a bolt head had broken off in an inconvenient place. "Now Iím going to have to take the whole fitting back to the house, drill it out, and retap it," he said. "It shouldnít take long."
"I think Iíll just stay here and finish this up," she told him. "Itís easier when you arenít shaking things, anyway."
"Fine with me," he said. A couple minutes later, she could hear the Ford start up outside and drive away.
It didnít take long for Jackie to finish up the numbers, but it was obviously taking Mark longer than he had thought. She sat back on the stool and, with nothing to do, started to feel the emptiness of the building.
She would really feel empty with Mark gone. Perhaps there was something she could do to make him think of her, to at least give her the hope he would come back. An idea crossed her mind; she flipped it over in her conscience for a few minutes and thought it was a good one.
She looked over at the engine cowling Ė it was on the left side, next to the hangar wall, the side away from where Mark had been working. She stared at the cowling for a moment, then went into the office and found a pencil and a ruler.
It only took her a few minutes to lay out her job. She didnít need to outline every letter; she could do it freehand, but keeping the letters and some of the longer lines straight called for guide marks. Hoping Mark would not come back before she finished, she took a stiff brush and the can of red paint, and started to fill in the lettering. That took the longest; the other part, also freehand, went quickly. Done at last, she stepped back against the hangar wall and looked at what she had done.
There on the cowling, lettered in red italics about an inch high, was the word "ROCINANTE". The word was underlined by a stylized medieval lance; by the "R" was a small silhouette sketch of a windmill, about twice as high as the lettering. By the "E" was a silhouette of the helmet of a knightís armor.
It was several hours before Mark discovered the logo on the cowling. "Hey," he called to her. "How can this be Rocinante if I donít have my Sancho Panza?"
"I thought youíd like it," she smiled. "Call it a good-luck and come-back present from me."
"I think it fits. I guess the planeís name is Rocinante," he said. "But weíve still got work to do."
On Monday morning, they took the truck and trailer over to the body shop and brought back the wings. They were a dazzling white, and Mark set each one up on sawhorses and went to work on them. There was quite a bit of finishing work to be done before they could be mounted on the plane. Jackie could do some things, like removing masking tape and mounting navigation light lenses, but there were jobs where Mark needed extra hands. Several inspection holes had to be cut in the wings, reinforcing rings mounted, cover plates fitted, and a lot of odds-and-ends work that took much of the day. "When does Rocinante get her wings?" Jackie asked at one point.
"Tomorrow, if the weatherís clear," he told her.
Getting the wings on the next day proved to be a fairly quick job. It only took about half an hour a side to get them fixed in place, but there were control lines and gas lines and electrical lines to be hooked up, fairings to be put in place, and it all took time. Mark and Sawyer worked hard at the final details, and Sawyer worked at a few things Mark couldnít do while Jackie watched or helped where she could. Finally, Sawyer completed his inspection of the plane and signed the logbook.
By this time it was mid-afternoon of a bright day, although one on the cool side. The three of them rolled Rocinante out into the sunlight and over to the fuel pump, where Mark pumped a few gallons of gas into both tanks. He and Sawyer inspected everything for gas leaks; finding none, Mark pulled the propeller through by hand for a few strokes, then got into the plane. "Well, Ken, Jackie," he said. "Here goes nothing." He primed the engine a couple of shots, flipped on the magnetos, and hit the starter. The engine turned over a couple of times . . . and caught. Eyes and a smile beaming, Mark let the engine run at an idle for a few minutes, just to clear out the cobwebs. "Ken," he called, "You want to come along, or do you think I ought to do this solo?"
"Oh, hell, Iíll come with you," the mechanic said, climbing in the right side.
Jackie sat on the fender of the Ford as Mark taxied the gray and white plane out to the runway. She watched as he and Ken ran the engine up, giving it a thorough checkout, then watched, with more than a little alarm, as it started to roll down the runway. She could see the tail come up; then she could see it break ground and begin to climb out. In but a minute or two, it was just a dot in the distance.
Mark and Ken were back in only a few minutes. Mark landed, rolled to a stop, and taxied up to the hangar. "No question about it," he told the mechanic. "Weíre definitely out of rig."
"Is it something major?" Jackie asked.
"No, just an adjustment," the mechanic assured her. "Just want to pull to the left, is all."
Mark and Ken had to make several brief flights over the course of the next couple of hours to work out all the bugs and make minor adjustments. "I think sheís about as good as sheís gonna get," the mechanic said. "Why donít you take Jackie for a ride, Mark? Sheís been aching for one, all afternoon."
"Yeah, come on, Jackie," Mark said. "Weíll take a trip around the patch, then maybe go over and give the folks a buzz to tell them to come out to the airport."
In a few moments, Jackie was in the right seat of Rocinante, while Mark climbed in beside her. They were sitting even closer together than they had sat in the Stinson, if it were possible, but they had more headroom and, amazingly, more legroom than in the four-seater. It was as if the seat had been built for her. She was surprised to see she could see over the nose much better than she could in the Stinson. Mark started the engine, which didnít have the growl of the bigger planeís either. A few minutes later, they were over Spearfish Lake, and Jackie found herself near tears.
She wanted to go on this trip with Mark so bad she could taste it, and riding in Rocinanteís right seat only brought home to her what she could be doing if only she admitted to herself that she could do it. The country, the oceans, the mountains, the lakes, and skies she could see from that seat, with only one word of approval . . . but somehow, it didnít feel right. As it was, she might fly with Mark again in the next few days, but it would not be long before he was gone.
When they got back to the airport, Markís parents were there, and nothing would do but for each of them to take a ride with him. After a while, Sawyer hopped in his plane and headed back to Lordston, and Jackie and the Gravengoods put Rocinante back in the hangar, then went over to the Spearfish Lake Inn for a well-deserved dinner and celebration.
After dinner, they went back to Markís house. He got the telescope and tripod and the accessories out of the trunk, and set them up for a few minutes so they could have another look at the moon. Then they took the whole rig down to the basement. While Jackie watched, Mark cleaned it and packed it away in the special box that would protect it in the plane. He took it over and set it next to a small pile of gear by the cellar stairs. "Youíre all packed, arenít you?" she said.
"Except for a few small items, like my razor and filling the water jug, Iíve been packed for weeks," he told her. "There were some crappy days back there last winter when working on the gear was about all I could do."
Jackie stood looking at the pile in silence. It wouldnít be long now, she knew.
By now, Mark had pretty well given up hope that Jackie would be going with him. They had not talked about it for a week, except for his wisecrack Sunday. It was a shame; it would have been fun to have her on the trip, to share it with her, and perhaps let a relationship grow along with it; but if she couldnít bring herself to do it, there was no sense in pushing her. If he did, it probably wouldnít work.
The next day they did a fair amount of flying, allowing Mark to better get the feel of the Cessna. He was admittedly rusty, but the practice with the Stinson and the Cessna from Lordston had gotten him to the point where his skills felt adequate, although he knew heíd better not push them too far, at least for the first part of the trip. In the time left over, they cleaned up the mess in the hangar and swept it out. By the end of the day it was as if they had never done anything there at all. Rocinante sat in the front of the hangar, with the Stinson in back, and Jackie felt Markís coming departure even more. Only a few more days . . .
The next morning, Jackie came downstairs to find the house empty. Her father, she knew, was off on a run; a note from Sarah was left on the kitchen table: "Johnnie is at preschool. Iím going shopping, then will bring him home. If youíre not with Mark, Iíll leave him with you this afternoon."
Jackie shook her head. As soon as Mark left, she was going to be the automatic babysitter again, taken for granted. She was actually relieved to hear the rumble of the Ford outside once again. She grabbed her jacket and headed out to the car. Mark helped her get in through the tricky door, then started for the airport. "Whatís on for today?" she asked. "More practice?"
"No," Mark said. "Thereís going to be a front coming through tonight, and itís going to be crappy for several days afterward. I donít want to wait it out. You can drive this home, and call Dad tonight; heíll come and get it and do something with it."
"Youíre leaving today?"
"Iím leaving now. I told Mom and Dad goodbye before they went to work."
There just wasnít a lot to say the rest of the way to the airport. They parked next to the hangar door and opened it. Loading the gear did not take long; some of it had been loaded the day before, things like the tool kit and the tie-down kit that would stay in the airplane.
With that finished, they rolled Rocinante out of the hangar and over to the gas pump, where Mark carefully topped off the tanks. He put the hose away, and walked over to where Jackie stood, next to the planeís left door. "This is it, I guess, isnít it?" she said. "I mean, I know it sounds corny, but Iím going to miss you."
He took her in his arms and held her tight; she found her arms around his back, holding on to him, trying to hold him so close to her that he couldnít get away. After a moment, helpless to stop themselves, their lips met and their mouths locked together, neither of them daring to let the other go.
Finally, their mouths pulled apart, and Jackie laid her head next to his, still holding on for dear life. "I canít bear to have you leave me," she heard herself say. "Would you still take me with you?"
"How long would it take you to pack?" he whispered in her ear.
"Not long," she promised.
They hopped in the Ford and roared back over to Jackieís house. A mad half hour followed, in which she grabbed camping gear from the attic, clothes from her room, stuff from the bathroom. Fortunately, she remembered the list she had made days earlier, and it was still in the pocket of the snowmobile suit. She left a note of her own on the kitchen table, then they got back in the car, made quick stops at the bank and sporting goods store, then went out to the airport.
Her gear fit comfortably in Rocinanteís baggage compartment, along with Markís; they had figured it well. She got into the plane and buckled her seat belt, while Mark climbed in the other side. He started the engine, taxied out to the end of the runway, and ran the engine up. Finally, he turned the plane down the runway, and brought it to an idle. "Still want to do it, Jackie?" he asked.
"Yes," she said, wondering if Sarah had found the note yet. "No turning back. We donít come back until weíre ready to stay."
"Good enough," he smiled, then, louder: "Sancho! My armor!"
They laughed, and then he pushed the throttle forward, to give Rocinante her spurs.
The little Cessna raced down the runway, then rose above the trees. Mark dipped the wing slightly to turn south, toward the oncoming spring, but neither of them looked back at Spearfish Lake dwindling behind them in the distance.
* * *
Dad and Sarah:
I have decided to go on the trip with Mark, and we left this morning. Perhaps itís not the right thing to do, but I know Iíll never have another chance like this, either for the trip or for Mark. Iíll try to be good and not make you sorry that I did this, and I hope for your blessings and forgiveness.
Iíll write often and call whenever I can, but I donít know when weíll be back.
I love you,
PS. Dad, Markís car is out at the airport. The keys are under the seat. Would you see that it gets back to his dad, somehow or another?