Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online

Busted Axle Road
a novel by
Wes Boyd
Copyright ©1993, ©2001, ©2007, ©2013

Chapter 30

If there was one purely social event in Spearfish Lake that got talked about, planned for, rumored over, recriminated as a result of, or preached against, it was the annual Halloween Party at the West Turtle Lake Club. In other words, it was usually far and away the most memorable social event of the year.

Like many things with a reputation all their own, it started innocently enough, when Gil and Carrie Evachevski decided to have a few friends over for a little party the weekend before Halloween. Since it was right around Halloween, somebody suggested that costumes would be nice – something Carrie hadn’t thought of, but she liked the idea and then had to amend the invitations.

Mike and Kirsten were among the twenty or so people who had been there. It had been a nice enough party; everybody had a lot of laughs, and several people suggested to Gil and Carrie that they do it again next year.

It was hard to keep the guest list down for the second party. No one knew how many people had actually shown up for it, but the house was jam-packed. The party reached a critical mass of its own accord and sort of got out of hand. Harold and LeRoy, the town cops on duty that night, got called to the scene three times before it died down, but they got paid back by making three DUI busts of homeward bound party-goers.

Needless to say, when the party was over the house qualified for federal disaster relief, but Gil and Carrie were too bombed to care and just went to bed.

Gil and Carrie weren’t usually more than light drinkers, though they did enjoy a beer now and then, but this time they’d overdone it, along with everyone else. As they surveyed the wreckage the next morning, they were nursing heads as big as county fair pumpkins. They were still groping for coffee and trying to come to grips with the mountain of debris when Mike and Kirsten showed up to help with the cleanup, unbidden and still nursing hangovers of their own. Mike and Kirsten weren’t even in the door yet when Frank and Diane Matson pulled up in their car.

It was a while before anyone had been very effective – every one of them had drunk way more than normal – but they started in as best they could, with frequent breaks. "God, that was a great party," Kirsten commented on one of the breaks. "I don’t know how you’re going to top that next year."

"Never again," Carrie replied, shaking her head. "Never again. Look at this house!"

Frank shrugged. "Yeah, things were a little cozy in here."

Gil shook his head. "Well, we could have it out at the post. It’d be easier to get cleaned up if it got trashed like this."

"The post is so dingy," Diane commented. "Why not have it at Commons, out at the club?"

Since a falling feather would have made their heads ring just then, the idea hit them like a brick. The implications were obvious.

Even though the West Turtle Lake Club had been out north of Spearfish Lake since shortly after World War II, probably not one Spearfish Lake resident in a hundred had ever been out there. Every one of them had good friends who wouldn’t be caught dead anywhere near the place, at least not in the summer.

Yet, the nudist club members – and there were more of them from Spearfish Lake than just the Matsons and Evachevskis, those sitting in the destroyed living room – were proud of what they had out at the club. Not just the beautiful wide beach, or the cozy summer cottages. Commons was the showpiece, the huge Ursula Mandenberg-designed log dining hall, built in the fifties. It had won architectural awards when it was built, and was featured in magazine articles and architectural books. It may have been the most famous building in the county, yet to most people from Spearfish Lake it might as well have been on the back side of the moon.

But a Halloween party outside the normal season would be a different story. Even if a guest didn’t want to admit that they’d been there, it was a costume party, and if they could stay incognito, no one could ever prove whether they’d been there or not.

Kirsten was the first to speak: "Great public relations."

"You could do it right," Diane said. "BYOB, or a cash bar. An admission charge to cover the costs. Caterers. A band. Almost two months to get the decorations right."

"Janitors," Gil said, surveying the shambles. "Backhoes, if it got real bad."

Mike shook his head. "You’re going to have to do something about people driving home drunk. Last night isn’t going to look good in the police report."

"We tried," Carrie said. The plan had been for the two oldest Evachevski children, Jennifer and Garth, to drive home party goers who were a little out of it, but it had broken down with the number of people involved.

"You’ll have to try harder," Mike said. "Harold and LeRoy could sit out on the state road, call all their buddies, and have a feast."

"If you had a shuttle bus bring people out from town, then they wouldn’t have a car to drive home," Diane observed.

Frank nodded. "Get the Students Against Drunk Driving chapter from the school to run it, maybe for a donation. Let them see what kind of damn fools adults are when they get a load on."

The party had been held at Commons at the West Turtle Lake Club for seven years now, and it had become famous and notorious. Among other things, it had gained a reputation for being very wet indeed. The cost was twenty bucks a head, whether paid by the guest or the host, but the invitations had to come from a club member. Hundreds of people who would never have come to the club otherwise had been there over the years, and invitations to the party were highly coveted, especially since from the first year, the party strained the limits of even Commons to deal with the guests.

The party officially started at eight, but there were any number of pre-parties in the cottages scattered around the club, and many of the guests were pretty well stonkered even before getting to the Commons.

There were both alcoholic and non-alcoholic punches provided, but beyond that, there was a cash bar. The food was nothing less than sumptuous, although there had been a little problem with that at first; it was the only time of the year that Commons wasn’t strictly vegetarian, and Helga Matson had insisted that every dish in the building be washed three times afterward. Carrie usually hired not one, but two bands, one sixties/rock and the other country-western, so the music would never have to stop.

But the costumes were what everybody remembered. There was no sneaking out to the thrift store a couple days ahead of time for some old rags to wear; some of the costumes were worked on for months and agonized over all year.

There were some of the usual Halloween weirdities, of course, but most people took it as a chance to explore their fantasy worlds, and almost everything under the sun could be seen at the party. There was only one unbreakable ground rule: nudity was not an acceptable costume.

Overtly, it was not possible to tell the club members from those who weren’t, although Binky Augsberg, who most considered a less culturally biased observer, had noticed one thing that sometimes helped to differentiate the two: "If you see a woman dressed in Gay Nineties style, or in hoop skirts with seven layers of petticoats, then she’s probably a nudist," she told Steve. "If you see a woman dressed in just lingerie, or dressed as a stripper or a hooker, or in one of those Elvira outfits with the neckline slit down to the waist, then she probably isn’t."

Steve had looked around him, and realized there was some sense to what Binky had observed. "But what about that . . . uh, person over there with the flesh colored long johns painted to look like a naked woman?"

"What I said," Binky laughed.

Binky actually had a reputation as one of the more inspired costumers at the party. The first one she had gone to was in 1983, right after she married Steve, and she was still getting culturally acclimated to Spearfish Lake. She’d admitted to being a little bit confused about the whole idea. However, she’d taken her misgivings to Diane Matson, who’d been a big help.

"There’s no need to do anything too far out," Diane had told her, "especially the first year. Why don’t you just wear that Vietnamese dress . . . what do they call it?"

"An ao dai?" Binky prompted. "I haven’t worn one of those in years, not since I was a little girl."

"Perfect," Diane had counseled. "Go with your fantasies. Go as the woman you might have been."

"But," she protested, "I don’t even know where I’d get one."

"No problem," Diane said. "We’ll make one."

Binky’s ao dai might not have been the most spectacular costume there, but it was one of the more memorable ones, mostly because it had seemed so appropriate on the slight Oriental girl. She’d easily walked off with the award for most convincing; it had been like shooting ducks on the water.

By the time another year had passed, Binky had adapted a lot more, and had gotten a bit of a reputation as a hard-nosed real estate salesperson. The reputation got subconsciously a little harder yet, when she’d gone to the party as a North Vietnamese Army cadreman, with the baggy gray fatigues, Lenin hat with red star, and the very real, although unloaded, AK-47 that Steve had brought home as a souvenir. That outfit had several of the Vietnam veterans there, including Steve, subconsciously grabbing for their M-16s all evening, and had Diane Matson wondering about her advice.

*   *   *

It made Mark a little sad to look in the full length mirror in Mike and Kirsten’s cottage.

It had been a lot of work to get the costume together. He did have on an Air Force flight jacket; he’d always wanted one, and that made the $89.95 a little more palatable. Over one breast, a blue name tag had "GRAVENGOOD" lettered on it in white letters; the silver leaves of a Lieutenant Colonel were on his shoulders. On the helmet, which had an oxygen mask dangling from one side, was lettered a fighter jock’s nickname: "GRAVEDIGGER."

The toughest part had been the pants for the G-suit; Jackie had found a pair of women’s spandex pants, dyed them olive drab, then with Kirsten’s help had affixed grommets and lacing up the sides of the legs. If the light wasn’t real good, it was hard to tell from the real thing.

If it weren’t for the need of two lousy pieces of glass an inch and a half across, the rig he was wearing might not have been a faked costume for Halloween. It had been his greatest dream when he was young, and there was still some wishes remaining. In the mirror, it looked like he was ready to hop in the cockpit of his F-15 and kick the living crap out of someone.

Well, the chance for that had slipped by long ago, and there was no use spending time in recrimination now. Mark shook his head, and headed for the living room of the cottage Mike had borrowed for the evening. Kirsten and Jackie, dressed in her Red Baron costume, were waiting for him; apparently Mike wasn’t ready yet. "Wow," Kirsten said, "you look like you just stepped out of The Right Stuff. Mike’ll be along in a minute. He had to winch me into this thing."

Mark smiled. "You look like you just stepped out of Gone With the Wind, Scarlett."

Kirsten’s hoop skirt must have been close to six feet across; it arched up to a tiny waist, which was nearly overwhelmed by Kirsten’s large bosom almost popping out of the very low neckline. "I didn’t know that was your dream," Jackie commented.

"Oh, it’s not so much the antebellum south with the darkies running all around that was appealing," Kirsten said, the dark curls of the red wig wiggling beneath her bonnet, "as it was Scarlett’s tiny waistline. As big as I was with Susan, and for so long, now having a tiny waist again seems so wonderful, even if this damn corset feels like it’s cutting me in half. I mean, the time I was pregnant with Henry, I went to the party dressed as the Goodyear blimp, since I felt like one."

Mike came out of his bedroom, dressed in a white suit, with a string tie, wide-brimmed felt hat and pencil mustache. "What’s this? Riverboat gambler?" Mark asked.

"Hush yo’ mouf," Mike said. "Ah’m Rhett Butler, come to take Miss Scarlet to the party." He smiled and went on, "I mean, with that Scarlett O’Hara outfit, what else could I do?"

"You make a nice pair, even if you two don’t look like Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh," Jackie said.

Mike reached in his pocket and pulled out an old-fashioned pocket watch. "We’d better be getting over to Commons. This is one party where it’s kind of fun to be there a little early, before people get too boozed up and the costumes get screwed up, just to see what people have come up with."

"Might as well check out the debauchery at this orgy," Jackie commented.

"Yeah, that reminds me," Mike said as he led the group toward the door, "we don’t lock the doors, since if you come back blasted, you won’t be able to fumble for a key. If you’re too wasted to walk, the SADD kids have a golf cart, and they’ll pour you into bed if you need it. The only thing is, try to check your bed before you get into it. People have come to in the morning with big heads and bedfellows they didn’t expect, and sometimes are a little confused over what they might have done. Sometimes, it’s because the kids haven’t gotten people to the right cabins, but sometimes not. There have been times that people have snuck out for a little horseplay with someone else’s spouse, and woke up together in a cottage neither of them belonged at."

Kirsten laughed, "There’s probably more extramarital horseplay at any one Halloween party out here than has gone on in forty years of summers."

Mike nodded. "Some of the best creative lying in the world has been done out here the morning after some creative laying at a Halloween party."

"I’m beginning to think maybe we’d better leave while we’re ahead," Jackie said. "But I can’t wait to see if it’s as bad as you say."

It was a nice warm night for late October as the four of them walked down the lakeshore road. Over the lake, the faintest sliver of a young moon was slipping into the last dregs of the sunset. In front of them, the huge log building of Commons was lit with an eerie orange glow, with flickering lights that made it seem almost as if the building were on fire. "Nice effect," Mark commented.

"Damn tough one," Mike replied. "But they keep spiffing it up. Wait until you see it inside."

The inside of Commons was right out of Charles Addams. There wasn’t a lot of crepe paper used; some of the effects seemed horribly real. Kirsten led the group to the punch table, and loaded everyone up. "God, it feels good to be able to have a drink again," she said, downing hers rapidly.

The place was already crowded, and virtually everyone – or perhaps "everything" would be a better word – had a glass in hand. People were still arriving in a steady stream. The costumes were awesome. Some were Halloween weird, some were outlandish, and some were downright risqué. Probably only half the people could be identified; of the other half, sometimes it was a little hard to tell what sex, or even what species was wearing the outfit.

Mark and Jackie stood back and watched, a little ashamed at the conservativeness of their dress, awed by some of the costumes. "I don’t think I’ve ever seen a skimpier one-piece swimsuit on a woman," Mark commented as one outfit went by.

Jackie looked hard at the makeup. "God, I think that’s Linda Clark," she said.

Kirsten had been standing next to her. "That’s Linda," she confirmed. "You should have been here the year she got loaded and did a striptease. People were yelling, ‘Take it all off’, and she did."

"All?" Jackie said. "And that’s Tiffany’s teacher?"

"Remember where we are," Kirsten teased. "C’mon, lighten up. It’s Halloween."

About that time, the rock band fired up. It was a good band, loud but not so loud as to cause permanent hearing damage. The band members were dressed for the occasion, as well; the girl singer, who doubled at lead guitar, had an Elvira outfit on, slit well down past her navel, and she got into, and the group kicked off with "The Monster Mash." Mark was checking out the scenery, when he heard someone say, "Forsooth! A more discordant clangor has never my ears assaulted."

Mark looked up to see a guy dressed as William Shakespeare – beard, bald head, ruffled collar, baggy shorts and tights, the whole bit. Shakespeare was carrying a tray. "Methinks you need armor against the cacophony."

"Thanks," Mark said, taking a glass; his was almost dry.

Mike and Kirsten took one, too. "Thanks, Bill," Mike said.

"Shakespeare" replied, "Aye, ’tis a far, far better thing I do than I’ve ever done before," and faded into the crowd.

"Who was that?" Jackie asked.

"Pat Varner," Mike replied. "He was an English lit major, and he never quite got the bard out of his system."

"Obviously," Jackie nodded. "Makes you wonder what some of these other people never quite got out of their systems."

Mike smiled a big smile "Call in an air strike," he said. "Here’s Binky." The Gravengoods looked up to see Binky Augsberg, dressed in black pajamas, a wide-brimmed conical hat, and carrying Steve’s AK-47. "That Viet Cong outfit isn’t as good as the NVA rig," Mike commented.

"It was either this or a geisha," Binky frowned. "I haven’t run out of Vietnamese outfits, but I have run out of ones that people here can identify with. I’m not ready to do Japanese yet. How are you doing with the house?"

"Pretty good," Mike admitted.

"Glad to hear it," Binky said. "I thought you might like it."

"I hear you made quite a sale with the old Elmer Sorensen house," Mike commented.

"Jennifer may look sweet and innocent," Binky said, "but she can sure drive a heckuva bargain. That big boyfriend of hers is no slouch, either."

"Just met him the other day," Mike said. "Seems like a nice guy."

"I gotta talk with you on this snake and sewer business sometime, but not now," Binky said, catching sight of another client. "Gotta run. See ya." She vanished into the crowd.

"Makes you wonder," Mark commented.


"What she never quite got out of her system."

*   *   *

This sure is a hell of a party, the lead guitar player of the country-western band thought. I just wish Karen hadn’t been hitting the punch so hard.

Karen, the lead singer, actually could do pretty well for a country-western bar band. She had one of those thin, screechy, nasal voices that country-western fans kind of like, and she sounded a little hillbilly when she sang. But now, as she was trying to pick her way through Your Cheatin’ Heart, she wasn’t doing too well. Halfway through the song, she dropped the mike on the floor and raced for the ladies room, presumably to blow her cookies.

He glanced over at the steel bass player and shrugged. There was nothing to do but finish the song, and then he’d have to sing again, until Karen could make it back. If she did.

He was still trying to put things back together when a blonde girl in a really well-turned-out cowgirl outfit walked up on the stage, picked up the microphone, and said, "Hey, turkey. You know Smoke-Filled Room?"

"That chestnut?" the steel bass player said. This evening had been a loss, anyway, a total disaster, and now it was obviously going to be amateur hour. "Sure, we know it."

"Play it, then," Jenny said.

"Oh, well, what the hell, we’re getting paid for this," the lead guitar said.

The band didn’t know Smoke-Filled Room very well, and they were off key, but it wouldn’t matter a whole lot, with some amateur singing. They swung into the opening strains, and the girl started to sing.

She wasn’t more than about five words into the song when the lead guitar player realized that this girl really could sing. This brassy girl in the cowgirl costume and the big hat really did know Smoke-Filled Room, as she grabbed the crowd right now. Karen, the girl puking her guts out in the ladies’ room, couldn’t have handled that song like that in a month of Sundays, and it brought the crowd to their feet. Everyone was paying attention; even the dancing came to a stop to hear that bell-clear, husky voice. As it finally wound down, the room filled with applause – not the polite stuff that had been heard once or twice, but a thunder that filled the room.

"That was pretty good," the lead guitar said. "You want to try something else?"

"Sure, why not?" the girl in the cowgirl getup said. "Can you guys do Help Me Make It Through The Night without screwing it up too bad?"

"We can do that," the steel bass said. If this girl wanted to give him some lip, that was OK. She’d proved she was worth it with her singing. This standby wasn’t something that called for a lot of beat, but Karen usually screeched it so bad that they didn’t usually do this song; she was better with something with a beat.

"Take the ribbon from my hair," the girl started, in a voice so sweet and sexy and plaintive that it made you want to cry. The band swung into it, and she went on "Shake it loose, and let it fall . . . "

A hush came over the crowd. There was something about the husky, sexy way this girl sang, and the steel bass player could see that there were a lot of men in this crowd that would have loved to indeed take this girl in his arms, and help her make it through the night. By the time they’d reached the end of the song, she had the crowd totally under her control, and all of a sudden, it was more like a concert than a party.

It took a bit of talk between every song to figure out what to do next, since the girl knew a lot of things they didn’t know, and they had a lot that she didn’t sing. Still, it wasn’t any trick to put together half a dozen numbers that were as good as any that the band had ever done. The way she tied into Goin’ to the Twist and Shout was awesome. Not only did the girl know what to do with a beat, she knew how to do it showy. She danced around the stage, body totally in motion, setting the crowd to clapping along. It was a tough song to do right, but she carried it off like she did it every day.

To do it like this in Nashville, just once . . . what a dream that was.

"We better wrap this up," the girl said. "You guys know Fever?"

A couple guys in the band did, but not the whole band. "Well, fake it, and I’ll carry it," the girl said.

The couple of guys who knew some of the song picked away at it, and a couple of others joined in, more or less trying, but the girl’s opening notes brought the crowd to their feet with a cheer. Why the hell would this song go over so big with this crowd, the steel base player wondered as he mangled the backup.

Finally, the whole band just quit playing, watching with wonder as the girl went on without backup, the crowd roaring with approval. That brought the house down; cheers rolled on for a long time, before it died down enough for the girl to say over the mike, "All right, these poor guys have got to take a break, but let’s see if we can get some of those great sixties sounds from down at the other end of the hall."

The crowd howled in protest, but the other band struck up Proud Mary, and that was the end of that. The band clustered around the girl in the cowgirl outfit. "That was the greatest set I’ve ever been in," the drummer said, "and it wasn’t us. You did great."

"Yeah," the lead guitar player added. "Thanks for digging us out."

"Wow," the steel bass player said, "the way you did Smoke-Filled Room and Fever, that was great. You sound just like Jenny Easton."

"Thanks," the girl snorted, "I damn well better." She turned on her heel and was gone.

"Somethin’s funny here," the lead guitar player said.

"Yeah," the steel base player agreed. "Karen would give both her tits to sing like that."

"Karen got upstaged so bad, she may not want to sing ever again," the lead guitar player agreed. "But somethin’s still funny." He stopped one of the waiters going by with a tray full of glasses. "Hey," he asked, "you know who that girl is? The one who was singing?"

"Her?" the waiter snorted. "Hell, I thought everybody in the building knew that. That was Jenny Easton."

It was several seconds before any of the band members could say anything. It was the steel bass player who broke the deadlock: "Well, I will be dipped in shit."

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