Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Book 1 of the Dawnwalker Cycle
The City of Spearfish Lake is a fairly large town, as towns in that part of the world go. It has about 8,000 people during the winter in the town itself, and about half that many live in the townships around the lake just outside the city limits. The population of the area balloons in the summer, as much of the accessible shore of the lake is lined with summer cottages. Lumber and wood products are still the main source of the economy, even though it was largely cut over in the great white pine clearcut of the late 1800s; trees of the size harvested then are now rare. Today the forest consists of scrubbier trees, aspen, red pine, and a dozen others, useful in making paper and other wood products. The latter is the stock in trade of the city's largest industry, Clark Plywood, which is a little misnamed since it stopped making plywood in 1984, and has since concentrated on various composition boards. While there are other industries in town, the privately owned Clark Plywood has been the most pivotal industry in the area since the 1930s.
Spearfish Lake is a pretty normal town in most respects; it has the stores, markets and services that you'd expect in a town that size anywhere. The Spearfish Lake Super Market is a full-service market in every respect, and there are several smaller convenience stores. The town is too small to have a daily newspaper, but has a strong weekly, the Spearfish Lake Record-Herald. The school system is considered to be pretty good, and the school's sports teams, the Marlins, are usually better than average, although critics contend the local fans are a little too crazy about football.
The city sits near the root of the north side of a point jutting out into the lake itself. The north side of the point is relatively high and sandy; Point Drive runs out along this ridge to the tip of the point, then a little ways back on the south side of the point before it turns to a two-rut, then peters out in swamps. Close to town, Point Drive is lined with large beachfront houses, some a century old or more, making it the best neighborhood in Spearfish Lake. People with money like the banker, Frank Matson, and Jennifer Evachevski had their homes there. So did Randy's parents, Ryan and Linda Clark, although they were fairly new to the neighborhood, having only lived there a few years after they'd sold their house in town.
It was after midnight when Randy got back to Spearfish Lake; the house on Point Drive was dark when he arrived, although the porch light was on. He was tired, so just went upstairs to his old room overlooking the lake and went to bed, leaving clearing out the car till the next day.
He woke up slowly Sunday morning, then snapped awake to the realization that this wasn't his room at NMU. It was the familiar room he'd lived in through the last of his high school years, and even that seemed strange compared to the memory of his room in the old family house in town where he'd done most of his growing up. Now he was back at home, a kid again, and college was far away. There was a strong urge to call up Myleigh and Crystal to see if they were up for going to breakfast, but that couldn't be.
Damn. Home again. It was going to seem like forever before he was back with them at NMU.
There was no point in trying to go back to sleep, although there wasn't much to do today. He got up, took a shower, got on some clean clothes, and headed down the stairs to the kitchen, hoping there might be some coffee hot. Sure enough, his mother Linda was making breakfast, while his dad Ryan was sitting at the kitchen table.
"You sure got in late," his dad said. "At least you didn't wake us up."
"Well, I tried not to," he said. "I wound up having some errands to do before I left, and it got later than I thought."
"I didn't believe it was your car in the driveway," Linda smiled. "I mean, it looks like a surfboard tied to the top."
"It is a surfboard," Randy admitted. "It's tied to the top since it wouldn't go inside."
"Dare I ask what you would be doing with a surfboard?"
"Would you believe surfing?"
"In Lake Superior?" she frowned, wondering if her leg was being pulled.
"Last weekend," he grinned. "In monster waves, ice cold water, dodging ice floes, would you believe?"
"No, I wouldn't," she grinned. Randy had always been a little incredulous at the stories some of the kids told about their bad relations with parents; it was even hard to believe about Myleigh, although he knew better. He'd always gotten along pretty well with his, and they were usually tolerant and good-natured.
"That's mostly what I did when I was in Florida on spring break," he said seriously. "Turns out it's a lot of fun. There's no chance to use it around here for the summer, but I couldn't leave it at college."
"We halfway expected you home over spring break," Ryan said. "We were a little surprised when you called and said you were going to Florida. We thought you'd dumped the idea after last year."
Randy thought hard for a moment. He hadn't mentioned that he'd been with a couple of girls on the trip in the brief occasions he'd talked with his parents since spring break, so they didn't know much about it. However, the fact that he'd been with Crystal and Myleigh was obviously going to come out sooner or later. He'd made a decision on the way home the night before that he wasn't going to cover up the fact that he'd been with them, although he didn't plan on mentioning some of what had happened, like the last activity at Myleigh's apartment the previous afternoon. But, he needed to bring it out casually, and early on, so it wouldn't look like he was trying to cover it up at all.
"It was a spur of the moment thing," he said, pouring himself a cup of coffee. "I got a last-minute invitation to go with a couple girls I know, and it was just too good to turn down. We went down and messed around on some rivers in Tennessee, and went on down to Florida and surfed for a few days."
"A couple girls?" his mother asked. Randy grinned inwardly; he was pretty sure that his mother, deep down inside, had just about the same desire to see her offspring married off as Myleigh's mother apparently had.
"Just friends," he said offhandedly. "You remember Karin Johansen?"
"You mean, the girl I went to school with? She married some guy down in Chicago. I'm not sure I remember the last name, now. I could look it up."
"Chladek," he prompted with a grin. "Yaah, that's her. One of the girls is her daughter."
"You're kidding!" Linda laughed.
"No, in fact, I met her folks when we stopped off in Chicago on the way down," he said. "Nice lady. Told me the story of the night you and her were out at the Toivo sauna back when you were in school. That was before I told her you were my mom."
Linda looked chagrined. "I sometimes wonder if I'm ever going to live that night down."
Ryan laughed. "It would help if you didn't tell the story every chance you get."
His comment was rewarded by his wife sticking her tongue out at him, before she turned back to her son. "So how is Karin getting along, anyway?"
"Seems fine to me," Randy said. "Crystal's dad seemed a bit grumpy, but he might just have had a bad day. We were only there two or three hours."
"I've met him once or twice," she replied. "He was a nice enough guy, but, well, sort of stogy. So what's the story with you and these girls?"
"Not really much of a story," Randy told her. "They're roomies, have been big friends since they started college. They're juniors, well, seniors, now. Crystal, that's your friend's daughter, is a big outdoor nut. Always out skiing, snowboarding, kayaking, surfing, that kind of thing. Good at it, too. We met at the Outdoor Club, and she helped me with my kayak roll, and we just started hanging out. Myleigh, that's her friend, is just about as opposite as you can imagine. Very nice girl, very bookish, maybe even a little strange, a wicked sense of humor, along with maybe being the smartest girl on campus. They're fun to hang out with, so when they asked me to go on spring break with them, well, I wasn't going to say no. We had a blast, just kayaking and surfing. I've got some pictures out in the car. I'll have to dig them out some time."
"Why don't you do it now?" she asked. "I'll throw on some more eggs and sausage."
Randy headed out to the car, and came back in with an armload of bags. There was a lot of stuff to go up to his room, and he might as well make every trip count. He dumped the bags in the living room, pawed in a briefcase, brought out a couple envelopes of photos, grabbed a handful from the front of the top one, and went back to the table. "These are just the best ones," he said, laying them out on the table; his mother came over to look. "Myleigh took most of them," he explained. "This first one is of me, down in Tennessee."
"Good God!" Linda said, glancing at the photo -- it was Myleigh's telephoto shot of him going over Lesser Wesser. "When you said you were going kayaking, I didn't think you meant down some waterfall. Did you know what you were doing?"
"Yeah, pretty much," he replied. In fact, he knew exactly what he was doing by exhibiting the hairiest-looking photo first, so the rest would seem tame by comparison. "I wasn't too worried since I was with Crystal. This'll be her third summer as a whitewater raft guide down there, so she knows the river like the back of her hand. She's down there now, in fact, probably she's out on the river right now."
"You weren't kidding when you said she's a big outdoor nut," his father grinned as Linda went to tend the frying pan.
"Big time," Randy grinned, making a mental note not to mention Suicide Hill at all. "Karate black belt, too, so you'd better believe I didn't have messing around on my mind." And, really, I didn't, he thought, but there was no point in going into what Crystal had on her mind. "Anyway," he said, flipping the picture, "This is Crystal, the same drop."
Linda came back from the stove to look at the picture. Crystal had gotten a big boof off the top of the falls, and was literally flying down the drop, a huge grin on her face. "You can hardly see what she looks like, with that helmet and all," she said.
"Well, I've got a better one," Randy grinned, flipping to the next picture. It was a telephoto shot of Crystal in a tiny string bikini on the shoulder of a nice wave down at Buddha and Giselle's.
"Yeah, you can see more of her there," his father grinned.
"Yes," his mother said dryly. "Considerably more. Do you have one of this Myleigh?"
"A couple," Randy said, digging down in the stack. "Myleigh took most of them, but here's one of the three of us." It was a nice photo -- Buddha had taken it -- of Randy and Crystal holding their surfboards, Myleigh in between, wearing her black string bikini, with their arms around each other's backs.
"Son," Ryan smiled, shaking his head. "I gotta admit, if I was your age and had the chance to spend a week in Florida with a pair like that, I wouldn't have turned it down, either."
"Gracious, she's big," Linda exclaimed, obviously not paying attention to her husband's words, and just as obviously talking about Crystal. "She towers over you." Randy guessed that his mother was looking at the picture for a glimpse of the future.
"She's strong, too," Randy said. "She's got the school record for the mile swim in the pool." And, while we're at it, he thought, let's not mention Baughman, either. "Like I said, I didn't even think of messing around."
"Probably a wise move," his dad conceded.
"Anyway," he said, flipping the pictures, "This next one is of me in the surf." It was a good tight shot, nicely framed, of him on the shoulder of one of the bigger waves they'd had to deal with -- around shoulder high. It was time to get the subject off Crystal and Myleigh, and that was a good picture to do it with. He quickly flipped on through the rest of the pictures, more surfing, and a little more kayaking. "Like I said, those are the best ones, but you get the idea."
"Your spring break must have been quite an adventure," his mother said as she started to serve up breakfast.
"Yeah, we had a good time," he said brushing it off. "So, what's happening on this end? What's happening with Rachel and Ruth?"
"Rachel will be having her baby in another couple months," Linda said. "I'm both looking forward to being a grandmother and dreading being old enough to be one. Ruth told us she's engaged, but they haven't set a date yet."
"That farmer, Dave or whatever, she had home at Christmas? From Iowa or something?"
"No, downstate, near Geneva," Ryan said. "And it's not really a farm. It's a milk factory, thousands of cows. He took us through it the last time we went down to see her. There are times I wish we had the plant floor organized that well. If you get the chance, go through it. It's really something."
"So, is she coming home this summer?"
"Probably for a few days, but her mind is going to be more on Dave when she doesn't have to work," Linda commented. "I don't expect we'll see much of her. So, how about you? What do you plan to do this summer?"
"I don't really have a lot I want to do," he said. "I wouldn't mind taking off for a few days and running down to Tennessee, and I want to spend two or three weekends up in Marquette, but, beyond that, Dad, we need to talk."
"Tennessee I can understand," Linda broke in, "But what's in Marquette?"
"Myleigh's spending the summer there working," Randy said. "She doesn't have a car, and, well, it's nice for her to see a friendly face and get out of town once in a while. And, the surfboard enters into it, too."
"I can see you surfing in Florida," she shook her head. "But Lake Superior?"
"It is cold," Randy said. "But we did get into some sweet waves last weekend."
"You mean you really were surfing last weekend on Lake Superior?" Linda said, her eyes wide.
"You didn't believe me before?" he grinned. "It was OK, we were pretty careful, and it was a club trip." Well, it was when we left Marquette, anyway, he thought.
"That sounds a little better," she conceded.
"It'll be warmer when I go up there again," Randy reassured her. Maybe as much as four or five degrees, he thought.
They sat and talked through breakfast, just getting caught up on things. Not a lot had happened in Spearfish Lake, at least not much that interested Randy, but there were friends to be caught up on, classes to be reported on, and it was a busy conversation. As Linda cleared the dishes away, she asked Ryan to go get the paper.
"You want to ride along, Randy?" he asked. "As long as we're out, I got a couple other stops to make."
"Sure, might as well," he said. He'd wanted a chance to talk to his dad one on one today, and suspected his dad had the same idea.
They went on out to the LeBaron and got in. As soon as they had the doors shut, Ryan said, "Your mother is a sweet person, but she can barge into a conversation without thinking about it, so I'm glad you decided to come. Now, what was it you wanted to say about this summer?"
"It's fairly simple," Randy said as the car backed out of the garage. "I don't want to sit around on my dead ass this summer. I thought I'd see if I could come up with a job, and, as long as I'm working, it might as well be something with the plant where I could get some useful experience."
"I take that to mean you're thinking about coming back here after you're out of college?"
"Yeah, I guess," he said. "Ninety percent, maybe. I mean, there's always a chance something else might come up, or you might decide to sell out, or something. The thing that bothers me is that Crystal and Myleigh have these real clear ideas of where they're headed, what they want to do, and what they have to do to get there. With me, it's well, go to work at the plant when I get out of college. It makes me feel like I'm not comparing to them very well. But, in the long run, that doesn't matter. I guess I'm resigned to it, since I don't have any big dreams to do anything else."
"I understand exactly what you're saying," his dad told him. "Hell, when I was your age, I didn't have any real desire to come back and work at the plant or the construction company. I wanted to get out, see the world, and do big things. You know the story. I dropped out of college and joined the Army at the height of Vietnam, because it seemed like an adventure. And, all in all, it was, although I wouldn't wish it on anyone. You know about that, too. Believe me, whitewater kayaking and surfing, even on Lake Superior, are much better adventures for a young man to have."
"That thought has crossed my mind a time or two," Randy admitted. "You've said that after Vietnam, the plant looked pretty good to you."
"Yeah," Ryan nodded. "And, in truth, once I settled down, it's been pretty good to me. But, I just want you to know that I understand why you're less than totally enthused about it. I've been there. Do you think you might be a little more enthused if I could offer you something of a challenge?"
"Might be," Randy said. "What's this?"
"It's fairly complicated, and probably some of it you haven't known about or thought about in the way I'd like you thinking about it. No fault of yours, since my thinking isn't totally clear either, and things could change by the time you're out of college. We don't have to go through it today, but we've got a couple hours, if necessary, without your mother interrupting."
"It might be a while before we get the chance again," Randy commented. "And you've got my mind on it, now."
"I don't know where to start," Ryan said, pulling into the boat launch parking lot and shutting off the car so he wouldn't have to talk and drive at the same time. "Jesus, I'm going to have to go back to ancient history. Do you know why the plant is still independent?"
"Because you and granddad own most of the stock," Randy said.
"Yeah, but it's much more complicated than that. Do you remember Donna Clark at all?"
"Not really," he said. "I was real little when she died."
"Yeah, guess you would have been," he said. "How about Garth Matson?"
"I know who he is. I guess I've met him a few times. Pretty old now, isn't he?"
"Yeah, and in poor health, but that doesn't matter. OK, time for ancient history. Your great grandfather, Wayne, started Clark Plywood here back in the depression, and from everything I ever heard it was a hell of a struggle. Well, when World War II came along, the demand for wood products exploded."
"I know that they built a hell of a lot of landing craft out of Clark Plywood," Randy said. "That's in the history."
"Right, but there's more to it than that. When the war started, Garth Matson was the commander of the National Guard company here in town, the vice president of the bank, and he was married to Donna. The way I heard it was that the train taking them down to Camp Knox wasn't even out of sight yet when Donna and Wayne were getting it on out in his hunting camp. Garth heard about it, and eventually divorced her, and for the rest of her life they took potshots at each other. Your granddad, Brent, also managed to get Donna pissed off at him too, and I'm not sure how. Anyway, when Wayne died in 1958, he left forty percent of the plant's stock to Brent, forty percent to Donna, and ten percent to Frank Matson, Donna's son with Garth. The other ten percent was with minor shareholders, mostly long-time employees from back in the thirties. The first board meeting after that, Donna had an offer in her hand to sell out to Mattawan-Pacific, actually at a pretty good price for 1958. Donna thought she had control of the ten percent that Frank owned, since he was her son, so all she had to do was get any employee stock. But, surprise -- he was still a minor, although in college, and Donna had done a pretty good job of pissing him off, too. So, with his assent, Garth, who was his father and legal guardian, signed Frank's voting rights over to your grandfather. I think the vote came out something like 57-43 to refuse the offer."
"I'll bet she was pissed," Randy grinned.
"Pissed doesn't even begin to describe it," Ryan grinned. "She hired a bunch of lawyers and sued for control of Frank's stock. I'm not sure why, since she really didn't have a case, but she could pay shysters, and the only reason that it ever stopped was that Frank walked into a courtroom one day and said, 'Hey, I don't know what you people are fighting over, I'm twenty-one now.'"
"That's pretty good," Randy laughed.
"It is, if you don't consider what she called Frank for years afterwards," he said. "But, that's neither here nor there. Things went on like that for twenty years, till Donna died. When she died, she left me her shares in the plant stock. All I can think is that I was someone in Wayne's family she wasn't pissed off at. We didn't get along real well, but we never had any major hassles, either, and we could be friendly, although there was a hell of an age difference. The only other person she really could have left it to would have been Frank. Besides, maybe she thought that I'd think that selling out was a good idea; I was young and stupid, then. Bear in mind, she didn't really want to sell out -- slapping your grandfather and Frank was really at the head of her list. Anyway, the rest of Wayne's money went into a foundation, the Donna Clark Foundation, which really has done a lot of good around town, including funding us when we went to Vietnam to look for Henry, but that's neither here nor there."
"I knew parts of that, not the dirty details," Randy smiled. "That's a pretty good story."
"Well, none of it is exactly secret, but it is all ancient history, but with a lesson. Here's the problem. After Donna died, your Grandfather Brent and I owned eighty percent of the stock. Shortly after that, we worked out an agreement to buy out Frank's share, and what employee shares we could. The problem with that is that we had to use real money, although Frank gave us a pretty good price. Let's face it, a couple million bucks is tough to come up with, which is part of the reason we haven't lived like we own a company that's worth, oh hell, maybe forty million today on the open market. So, for practical purposes, your grandfather and I each own half, and his half will come to me when he dies. Most of that is no secret, either, and you probably knew that."
"Yeah, but hopefully it'll be so far in the future before I have to worry about it that I haven't thought about it."
"We can hope," Ryan said. "But, when that happens, well, we might be able to squeejaw it a little, but the estate will have to be divided between Rachel, Ruth, and you. So, there we are back to split ownership again."
"Uh, yeah, I see what you mean," understanding dawning on him.
"Right. Now, add to that the fact that Rachel has no remaining interest in Spearfish Lake, and it looks like Ruth isn't coming back, either, and you'd better be prepared to be on real good terms with both of your sisters, assuming you do in fact come back to the company. But, that's a long time down the road and a lot could happen between now and then. Besides, there's another fly in the ointment, and it's more immediate."
"Yep, your grandfather's company. Back to ancient history. As I said, your Grandfather Brent was on real good terms with Garth Matson after World War II, and not on real good terms with his dad, Wayne. A couple years of fighting in Italy together had something to do with that. So, when he came back from the war, he said piss on Clark Plywood, and with Garth's help started the construction company. That's always been his baby, and while it's nowhere as big an operation as Clark Plywood, it's as profitable, if not more so, since at the plant we have to run on tighter margins."
"I hadn't realized that," Randy said.
"OK, now that you know all that, here's the problem. Your grandfather is in his seventies, and he's still running it pretty much by himself. He's slowing down, and he knows it. Now, if something should happen to your mother and me, God forbid, we've got plenty of management depth at the plant. It could carry on without us. In fact, I've told your sisters, and I'm telling you now, if something like that should happen, Steve Augsberg is completely prepared to take over the plant and run it like nothing happened. Let him do it and stay out of his way. Now, Steve will be retiring about the same time I do, but that's a ways up the road yet, and there are younger people who will probably be able to handle it by that time. We don't have any management depth at Clark Construction. Oh, there's people who know how to run jobs, engineers who can prepare bids, and like that. But, there's no one who's really prepared to take over the top spot and pull it all together."
"Right. But, your grandfather is no dummy and he knows we've got this problem. Now, I never gave a rat's ass about the construction company, which is why I went to work at the plant in the first place, but the only rational solution we can come up with that leaves it in family control is for me to take on a second career, try to learn enough about the construction company to run it, and let Steve run the plant. It's not an ideal solution, but a stopgap. But then, most solutions to anything are stopgaps that'll only work for so long, and one of the keys to management is to realize when 'too long' is and do something else."
"Makes sense when you put it that way," Randy said, beginning to see some ramifications. "You're saying you want me in Clark Construction?"
"Right," Ryan said. "What I'm thinking is that in time, among the three of us, you learning, me only able to be part time, and Brent fading, we may be able to run it until you're really ready. But, that could be ten or fifteen years, maybe not till I retire. But it would go a long way toward solving the stock problem when your mother and I pass on. It wouldn't take a great deal of juggling to leave you a big chunk of the construction company, majority control for sure, maybe the whole thing, and still leave you with a good part of the plant. Remember the differences in value and profitability. If, after I die, your sisters gang up on you and decide to sell the plant, it's not going to matter if you have twenty percent or thirty-three percent, you still lose. If your identity is tied up in the plant, it's worse."
"That's pretty obvious, too," Randy replied.
"It may not get that far. Your sisters might not gang up on you, but the time could come when an offer to buy the plant comes along that's just too good to turn down. I dread the day that happens, and I'll tell you why. It takes the control out of Spearfish Lake. If you're some manager sitting in some office in Toronto or Atlanta or somewhere, and you've got a plant of marginal profitability that needs investment, the fact that the plant has been the centerpiece of the economy of a region for seventy or eighty years means nothing to you. All you're looking at is the bottom line. That's why your grandfather, Frank, Garth Matson, and later, I, have worked so hard to keep the control local, even though I'm the only one who's had a career there. And, if it comes to that, you should bust your ass to do it, too, because if the plant goes down, the construction company ain't gonna be worth jack shit, either."
"That's a heavy load," Randy said, shaking his head. "I hadn't thought of it in those terms."
"It is a load," his father agreed. "And I didn't want to dump it on you all at one time, but you need to know what I'm thinking, because if we're going to go down this road, there are going to be some tough and hard times, and I want you to know what's riding on it. Fortunately, we don't have to do it all at once. We've got years to put this stopgap together, and, frankly, all the pieces aren't in place yet. We don't have to make a decision right away, but you should know the facts."
"Knowing that it's out there, I can juggle some courses around so they'd be more useful after I come back," Randy noted. "I'll have to take a look at the catalog and schedule to see what I can do."
"I'd like to have a little input on it, too," Ryan smiled, realizing that while the formal decision hadn't been announced, he was pretty sure Randy was going to take him up on it. "More importantly for the near future, you've still got two summers left. What I'm thinking is that in the future, when you're the guy who has to make a tough decision that may hurt some people, it'll go easier on them, and on you, if they remember that you're not just the smart-ass boss's son who walked into the job right out of college, but you were that hardworking young kid who could handle an Irish backhoe and sweat with the best of them. I'll need to talk with your grandfather and have a go-round with the Laborer's Union, and it may take a couple days to get things ironed out, but yeah, I want you out really busting your ass on some site this summer."
"You're not going to believe me," Randy smiled. "But, that's sort of what I had in mind, anyway, without the long-range ramifications, of course. It's outside, it's good exercise, and it's gotta be more interesting than running some chipper in the plant eight hours a day. I do want to get off a week or so and go down to Tennessee, and I do need to run up to Marquette a few times on the weekends, but beyond that, it suits me just fine."
"Shouldn't be a problem," Ryan grinned. "If you'd told me that in the first place, it would have saved a lot of beating around the bush."
"Maybe, but I'm glad to have heard it," he said. "It snaps a helluva big piece into the puzzle. And, you know what? I don't really want to be the young shit just out of college who comes back home and walks into the job, either."