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



Dawnwalker

Book 1 of the Dawnwalker Cycle


a novel by
Wes Boyd
2002, 2008




Chapter 39:
May 1996

"Frankly," Mr. Gravengood said, "This thing is a piece of shit."

Mark Gravengood had been considered the leading computer wizard in Spearfish Lake ever since he'd built an Altair 8080 from a kit twenty years before. He'd never been able to get it to do much, mostly because it wasn't capable of doing much, but when the Apple II came along he had the first in the area. A few years before, he'd taken early retirement from the phone company and started Marlin Computer along with the related internet service provider, 'marlin.com.' Normally, one of the people he had working for him would have handled this, but Mark had been on the Toivo expedition with Randy's father, so Randy knew him pretty well and could ask a favor.

"Hell, I know that," Randy said. "I don't know how they managed to keep it running this long."

The computer in question sat on a bench in the back of Marlin Computer, which Randy remembered as once having been the best pizza joint in town, back when he'd been in middle school. A hint of the aroma still lingered. Technically, it was Crystal's computer -- Pete had recycled the old 386 from Hadley-Monroe four years before, and given it to her to take to college, but she'd immediately offered to share it with Myleigh. The girls had kicked out a lot of papers on it and its associated dot-matrix printer, but when they had been loading up at Northern a few days before, Crystal had told Myleigh to keep the whole system -- she'd need it for papers in grad school. Crystal didn't expect to have to do many papers in her remaining semester, which would be mostly practice teaching, and figured she could do any needed papers on Randy's machine.

The problem was that somehow, in some inscrutable computer way, the main box had refused to boot up when it had been reassembled two weeks after their return from Northern in what had once been Rachel's room, overlooking the lake. Privately, Randy thought the old 386 had done great service and was long past its time, but he couldn't tell Myleigh that -- she was depending on it for her graduate work, and the thought of the expense of a new computer really distressed her. Randy decided that the only thing to do was to take the situation in hand himself.

"It's probably the power supply," Mark said. "Hell, they don't even make those anymore, but I maybe could find one in the junk pile somewhere. She really ought to have a new computer."

"I know," Randy said. "That's why I came to you. I need your help to pull a fast one on her. She's very sensitive about people giving her things, and a new computer with all the trimmings is going to cost maybe a grand, right?"

"About that," Mark said. "Maybe a little less if we're picky and leave out some of the bells and whistles."

"She's very careful with her money," Randy explained. "She has to be, since she doesn't have much. What I want you to do is to jack up the cover and drive a new computer under it, then give her a bill for, oh, some odd figure around seventy or eighty bucks. Then send me the bill for the rest."

"She's gonna see real quick that she's got a hell of a lot hotter machine," Mark said, shaking his head.

"I know," Randy said. "We're going to have to lie a little, but I'll do most of the lying. We'll tell her that there was a lot wrong, but you scavenged some old junk parts you had lying around. I don't want you to build the hottest thing on the block, but I do want something that's going to be about as bulletproof and unbreakable as a computer can be. It's going to have to last her three years or more."

"This girl must be something special to you."

"She is," Randy admitted. "Not the way you think, but she's a real good friend."

"I can do something like that, sure. It ought to work, just so long as she doesn't know much about computers."

"I don't think she does," Randy said. "She knows how to use one for what she needs, but I think she'd be equally surprised to look inside one and see chips or Chip and Dale running around in a squirrel cage."

"In that case, we can get away with it," Mark grinned. "But that's not all the problem. That's the monitor, right?"

"Yeah," Randy said. "It's a piece of shit, too, and jumps around a lot. The color has gone goofy."

Mark took a quick look at it. "640 by 480, 256 colors. I haven't sold one of those new in a long time, and from the smell of it, it's getting set to blow any time. Frankly, she needs a new monitor. I don't have any used ones worth a shit lying around right now."

Randy stopped and thought for a moment. "No way to put new guts in the old case, right?"

"Right."

"Well, let's get her a new monitor." Randy grinned. "We'll take it out of the box and take all the wrapping off, and you can let it run for a few hours to get the new smell out of it. I'll get a Clark Plywood property tag, and we can tell her that Dad came up with it, and that they were going to throw it out from the plant."

"That'd work," Mark laughed, getting the idea, now. "I can dirty it up a little, and then not clean it up too well. Maybe put a couple cigarette burns on it or something."

"Yeah," Randy smiled. "That'd work."

"What does she use for a printer with this?"

"An old Epson dot matrix. Good printer, but it's an old dot matrix."

"If she's going to grad school, she needs a better printer," Mark said. "Tell you what. I took an old HP3 laser printer in the other day. Heavy as hell, but they don't break, ever. The cartridges last a long time, but they're expensive."

"Well, let's get her several of 'em," Randy said. "They'll have to last a while. I'll get a Clark Plywood property tag for it, too. We can tell her they aren't using that style of printer anymore, so the cartridges came with it."

"No need for the Clark Plywood tag on that one," Mark grinned. "It's got one. That's where it came from. In fact, I should be able to peel up a tag from something else and glue it on the monitor. Look, I'll give you the printer, but you're gonna have to pay for the cartridge refills."

"How much is all this gonna set me back?"

"Don't know yet," Mark said. "On a deal like that, I can maybe do some scavenging on the box out of parts lying around here. I should be able to keep it under a grand."

"Do it," Randy told him without blinking at the cost. "I was thinking about replacing the car this summer, but I don't need to. I can tear the old one up for another year."

"This girl is really pretty special, isn't she?"

"Mr. Gravengood, Myleigh has mostly made her own breaks in this life. She deserves to be given a couple, even if she doesn't believe it. That's why I'm willing to sneak one or two past her."

"Well, I'll do what I can to keep the cost down so it doesn't bite you in the butt too bad," Mark grinned. "You better let your dad know right away that he's giving her some used stuff from the plant, so she doesn't surprise him too bad when she thanks him."

"Yaaaah," Randy said, thinking about it. "Guess I'm going to have to let him in on it. Can I use your phone?"

"Sure," Mark said. "Use the one over there."

Randy walked over to the phone and dialed the plant number. He knew his dad's direct number by heart, of course, but Myleigh was working the switchboard, and it gave him a chance to talk to her. In a few seconds, he heard her voice: "Clark Plywood. May I help you?"

"Got the word on the computer," he told her. "Mr. Gravengood's going to have to rebuild it, but he's got a bunch of used parts he can put into it, so it shouldn't be too bad. Under a hundred, he thinks, and it'll be better than new."

"Oh, that's very good news, Randy," she said. "I was so worried!"

"Yeah, it is," he said. "So, how's things this morning out at Clark Plywood?"

"Very nice," she said. "I think it safe to say this is better than running a floor polisher all summer. I think I have all the extension numbers memorized now."

"Well, you can give me 221," he said. "I gotta talk to Dad for a minute."

"What's up, Randy?" Ryan said when he heard his voice.

"I'm down here with Mr. Gravengood," Randy said. "The computer is shot, but he thinks he can rebuild it. The problem is that the monitor is shot, too. I'm going to get her a new one and let her think it's something that got thrown out from the plant, and a used printer, same thing, too. When she thanks you for it, that way, you'll know what's going on."

"This going to cost much?" Ryan asked.

"Not bad," Randy said. "I'll take care of it."

"OK, at least you warned me," Ryan laughed. "She takes her pride seriously, doesn't she?"

"Darn right," he replied. "Hey, gotta run, we're pouring this afternoon."

"Good deal," Ryan told him. "See you tonight."

"See ya," Randy said, and hung up the phone. "Thanks, Mr. Gravengood. No big rush on this, I guess. Let me know if you need anything. I gotta get back to work."

"Sure thing, Randy. Take care."

Randy hustled for the door; he was running a little late now, and he didn't want Rod to get uptight, what with a concrete truck scheduled to arrive soon. Behind him, Mark shook his head. Ryan Clark had been a good friend for a long time, back long before Randy was born. Ryan and Linda had raised a hell of a good kid, he thought. He turned to the computer. An old beater like this, he knew, wouldn't have anything in it worth salvaging.

The phone rang, three or four times. Mark knew most of the staff was out to lunch, and Dan must be busy with a customer or something. He picked up the phone and answered, "Marlin Computer."

"He gone?" he heard Ryan say.

"Yeah, just went out the door,"

"How bad?"

"Honestly, a new box out of the package would be cheaper," Mark told him. "If I cut some corners, a grand, maybe a little less."

"Do it right," Ryan told him. "Only give him half the bill, and send me the other half."

"You too, huh?"

"Runs in the family," Ryan laughed. "No point in him cutting himself short. He doesn't throw his money around, but she deserves some breaks."

Mark smiled. "That's what he said. This girl has got to be something special."

He heard Ryan's laugh over the phone. "You know, Mark," he said, "For two kids going out of the way to say they're not in love, they sure like each other a hell of a lot. I don't know her that well, but yes, she really is something special."

"Future daughter-in-law, maybe?"

"Randy says probably not, but you never know. I wouldn't mind a bit. But, she's got a doctorate to get first, anyway. After that, well, who knows?"

~~~~~

The pour had gone later than they'd all expected, and this was a Spearfish Lake Appliance night, so Randy decided to cut a corner and do burgers at the Frostee Freeze. It'd mean that he wouldn't see Myleigh that night, but that wasn't anything new. Even though he lived right up the hall from her, he hadn't seen much of her in the two weeks they'd been in Spearfish Lake. He missed her at breakfast, since he had to be out of the house an hour earlier than anyone else, so he'd gotten used to getting up alone. He'd fallen into the habit of having breakfast with most of the construction crew and some railroad workers at the Spearfish Lake Cafe, where his dad had breakfast most mornings an hour later. Linda and Myleigh usually had a light breakfast together, then Linda would drop Myleigh off at the plant office on her way to school.

But, they didn't see each other much in the evenings, either. Myleigh faced a big job of cataloging all her books, and the Clarks had all suggested that she get on with it if she were going to do it in the attic, since it got oppressively hot up there in the summer. That was just as well, since Randy was back to the routine of the early part of last summer, with workouts at Spearfish Lake Appliance on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and kayaking with Joe and Rod on most Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings. That rush was showing signs of dying out pretty soon. It had been an early and a warm spring -- Quaker Rapids was already down to the point where they had to be careful in a couple spots or they'd drag bottom on the upper run, so the good water couldn't last much longer. He'd been on long kayaking weekend trips with Joe and Rod both the weekends he'd been home, but that would probably die out pretty soon, too.

Myleigh hadn't restricted her evenings entirely to her books; she had spent several weeknights and Saturday mornings with Jennifer and Blake, working to incorporate the harp into some other pieces they'd done. He hadn't heard a great deal about the outcome of those sessions, but he had the impression there was going to be at least one more cut on At Home With Jenny Easton that featured the Celtic harp, if the album ever got finished.

The upshot of the whole thing was that Randy and Myleigh were leaving the impression that they weren't exactly having a torrid love affair, which was exactly their goal when they'd worked it out on their way back from spring break.

While his evenings were busier than he really wanted them to be, meaning that he didn't see Myleigh all that much, she seemed to be settling in well in Spearfish Lake, at least on a temporary basis. He was musing a little sorrowfully that it would be nice to find an excuse to go some place and drag the trip out enough to allow an overnight stop when he noticed someone sitting down on the picnic table next to him.

"Hi, stranger," Nicole said. "What drags you away from your girlfriend?"

"What girlfriend?" he smiled. It wasn't the first time he'd heard that accusation; news got around Spearfish Lake a lot faster than the local paper could ever dream of managing. It was part of the reason that he and Myleigh had decided to not be seen with each other more than necessary.

"The girl you're living with," Nicole grinned. "Hey, I'm not on your case about it. We had an agreement to not have an agreement, you know."

"She's living with my family," Randy told her. "She's not living with me. Yeah, she's a friend, she's a girl, I guess maybe she's a girlfriend in that sense, but she didn't have a place to stay for the summer before she starts grad school in the fall. My folks decided to take her in."

"Oh," she said, "I thought it was something a little more serious, from what I heard."

"Don't believe everything you hear," he said. "Myleigh's not that kind of girl. What are you going to be doing this summer?"

"Mosquito Valley, again," she sighed. "I'd hoped to find something around here. I had a lead on that receptionist job out at the plant, but you and she beat me to it."

"Sorry," he said. "It wasn't my idea, it was Dad's."

"Maybe if I hadn't dinked around so long it would have been different," she shrugged. "I can deal with Mosquito Valley. I'm taking a case of industrial-strength bug dope."

"Better watch it," he grinned. "Causes cancer."

"Yeah, but those little gray bastards will suck you dry quicker."

"When do you leave?"

"About three weeks," she replied.

"Look, things are sort of busy around me right now, but let's clear away an evening or two and get together before you go."

"Tired of your girlfriend already?" she smirked.

"Nicole," he said, looking straight at her. "She's staying with us for the summer. After this fall, I probably won't see her again, ever. I don't want people getting the wrong idea. Maybe if people see you and me going out together, they'll get the message."

She cocked her head at him. "You mean it, don't you?"

"Nicole, I'll be honest. I wish it wasn't that way. But it is, and I've known it as long as I've known her. She's heading places that don't include Spearfish Lake, or me. So, let's have dinner some night, maybe go have a few beers and go dancing."

"Is she going to understand?" she asked.

"She'll understand," Randy said. He wasn't going to mention to Nicole that he and Myleigh had already discussed the possibility of him taking Nicole out some evening, just to help create a cover story; in fact, it had been partly Myleigh's suggestion. He'd have felt better about the idea if he hadn't spent the night with Nicole back in January, but he couldn't tell Myleigh that. Damn, this was getting complicated, he thought as he continued, "How about Friday night?" The forecast showed that it was probably going to be too wet and lousy for kayaking, but maybe that would keep Quaker Rapids from going down quite as fast.

"Fine," she said. "It'll be busy out at the Inn. I think they have a band there. Hey, I'd like to meet this girl sometime. She sounds interesting. How about bringing her along?"

"I'll ask," Randy said. "She may have something going. She's been doing some sessions with Jennifer, and said something about Friday with her."

"With Jennifer?" Nicole frowned. "What's she doing with her?"

"She plays the Celtic harp. Quite well, too; I've come to appreciate it."

"This kid must really be something." Nicole frowned and changed the subject. "So, are you going to wrap college up this year?" she asked as he sat back down.

"Looks like it," he replied. "I've got everything I need on the schedule. There's one class I don't need but would really like to take that's in a schedule conflict, but they had enough people sign up there's talk of a second section. Other than that, yeah, I'm done next spring. How about you?"

"I switched back to education," she said. "That means another year, what with practice teaching."

"Myleigh and I have a friend who got bit like that," he said. "She's got like two classes and practice teaching this fall. She's not real happy about it."

"I'd have been in better shape if I'd kept my mind on what I was doing," she shook her head.

"Don't let it bother you," he advised. "Hell, I pretty much changed horses in midstream myself, and the only way I'm getting through it is by carrying twenty and twenty-two hours next year."

"Didn't you pull twenty hours both semesters this year?"

"Yeah, but it worked; I was on the Dean's List both semesters."

"Wow, you are a glutton for punishment, aren't you? Nothing but studying, I bet?"

"Well, I managed to have a good time most of the time, too," he told her. "There's nothing wrong with being busy. It beats sitting around and wishing you had something to do."

~~~~~

The Spearfish Lake Inn had been built nearly thirty years before, as part of an expansion of a nationwide motel chain that planned to sweep all before it. They built it big, with plenty of rooms and lots of amenities, including a large lounge with one of the better bars in town, an excellent restaurant, an indoor pool and spa, and meeting rooms. The chain figured on cornering a lot of the local tourist business and out-competing most of the seasonal mom-and-pop motels in the area. It had been a nearly million-dollar project in those days, costing almost as much as the new high school built a few years before.

It was built in a heady era, when all seemed possible. Unfortunately, shortly after it had been built, Nixon was elected -- to a small extent funded with donations from the motel chain's management. The economy did what it usually does when a Republican is in the White House: it tanked big time, inflation went through the roof, and the favorable interest rates used in the expansion over the previous decade didn't look quite as favorable as they once had. The chain wound up filing bankruptcy, and as part of the reorganization, a number of the motels that were marginal or losing propositions had to be spun off, and that included the one in Spearfish Lake.

In fact, it was one of the losing ones, and for a number of reasons. Partly, business was extremely seasonal; while it might be full on a few summer weekends, there were times in the winter when having five rooms rented was a big deal. In order to keep the bills paid -- and finance corporate political donations -- room rates were higher than any of the mom-and-pop places, and the ones that stayed open for the winter tended to siphon off the business not on a corporate expense account. About the time Nixon left office with his tail between his legs, the Spearfish Lake unit was on the block at nearly tax-sale prices, and one of the owners of the despised mom-and-pop places picked it up at a good price.

It proved to be a good deal. Relieved of the need to charge high prices to support a crushing corporate debt, the new owners were able to cut prices and increase service. As a result, the motel, now renamed the 'Spearfish Lake Inn,' had become a profitable, comfortable, and well-run business for the new owners. The restaurant at the Spearfish Lake Inn was generally considered to be the best in town, and the bar and lounge was considered one of the most respectable places in town for a night out.

To help bring in local business to the restaurant and bar -- which was actually the main profit center -- the owners brought in a band most Friday and Saturday nights, especially in the winter, when people had enough cabin fever that they'd welcome a night out. But, they usually had a band in on summer Fridays and Saturdays, partly for the sake of the resort traffic.

As often as not, it was the Lazy River Band. This local group started as a garage band back in the seventies, and their first real gig was the last of the infamous Spearfish Lake Chili Festivals. They'd been part of the reason it was the last one -- they'd had more amps than they'd had musical talent or repertoire in those days, and dentists around Spearfish Lake had been replacing fillings for months afterward.

But over the years, they'd cleaned up their act. Nowadays, they were a good local bar band, made up mostly of the original talent, and their repertoire of music, mostly oldies, would outdo a karaoke machine for selection. They played the Spearfish Lake Inn a lot, but they also played weddings and parties and festivals -- even a bar mitzvah once. Band nights always brought a good crowd to the Spearfish Lake Inn, not because of the Lazy River Band, per se -- they weren't the only group that played the place -- but people often showed up because every once in a while, never with any warning or announcement ahead of time, there might be a real treat.

Randy and Nicole were sitting in the Spearfish Lake Inn, a couple beers apiece in them following a good dinner. While Randy had sort of intended it as a "cover" date for his relationship with Myleigh, they'd been thinking about hanging it up early and calling it a night when the band finished its nine-o'clock set. The band filed off of the stage, heading for the bar to have a beer -- they tended to get a little tanked before the night was over with, which was part of the reason they'd stayed a local bar band -- or to the rest rooms to get rid of the last one, along with a lot of the customers.

"You wanna leave now?" Randy asked.

"Oh, let's have one more beer," Nicole said. It was the first summer that they'd been old enough to actually be legally in a bar at that hour, and it was a new experience.

Randy nodded, "Fine with me." A waitress happened to be going by just then, and he ordered two more drafts.

Halfway through the break, they realized they'd made a really good move by waiting it out. A side door opened, and a different band walked in -- a tall woman with long, straight blonde hair carrying a guitar led the way, an even taller, very handsome man carrying a string bass; a somewhat shorter man, with a long full red beard, wearing biker leathers, carrying a violin; and a short woman, with long, full dark hair, wearing a short skirt and carrying a dark blue Celtic harp, hanging from a shoulder and waist harness so she could play standing up. They took over the Lazy River Band's microphones, and spent a minute settling in.

"Oh, my God," Nicole breathed as she saw the four enter, and a hubbub of excitement rose in the room as everyone else present realized what was going on. "We caught a trial session!"

"Yeah," Randy grinned widely. He'd heard these people play at a party, but this was the first time in front of a bar crowd. "This ought to be good!"

"I know Shovelhead," Nicole said. "Who's the girl with the harp?"

"Oh, that's Myleigh," Randy said.

"The girl staying with you? You knew about this?"

"She didn't tell me," Randy shook his head. "She may not have even known herself. Blake tells me that sometimes they'll just be hitting 'em off real good and somebody will suggest, 'Hey, let's go do the Inn.'"

"She's kind of cute," Nicole said. "Looks a little stuck-up to me."

"She comes across like it sometimes, but she really isn't," Randy grinned. "Maybe we can get together sometime."

The tall blonde stepped up to the microphone. "Looks like we got a good crowd here tonight," she said in a sexy alto voice. "You probably know who I am. We decided to let the guys in the band hang out at the bar for a set while we try out some new stuff in front of a crowd. This is the first time we've tried any of it out in public, and we hope you'll like it."

Without further discussion, Jennifer swung into a fast, hard rocking guitar lead, and started to sing as the band followed along. By the time they reached the first refrain, Jennifer had the crowd clapping along -- it was a song with a hell of a beat, even with no percussion. Randy's eyes -- and Nicole's eyes, for that matter -- were mostly on Myleigh. Randy knew that rock wasn't exactly the kind of music Myleigh played, but he could tell that the harp was adding a heck of a bunch to the song. It showed up even more when they hit the bridge before the last verse -- Myleigh led that on the harp, played into a microphone set up near the soundboard. Randy had never thought of the harp as a rock instrument, but by the end of the bridge, he didn't have any doubts. As the last of the bridge ended, Jennifer swung into the vocal bridge, then the finale, which really shook the rafters. The song ended to solid applause.

"That was called Tangerine Boogie," Jennifer said. Those of you who have seen us before, you might notice that someone new has been added. This young lady with the harp is Myleigh Harris, who's staying in Spearfish Lake for the summer. Last winter she taught me some of the possibilities of her favorite instrument, and she really showed it in one of Blake's and my pieces we call Dawnwalker. It's kind of a change of pace, but I think you'll like it."

Randy had heard the tape the four had made of Dawnwalker the previous winter, but it was evident that they'd worked on it more since. Yes, it was a change of pace; no, it was not a bar piece, but you could tell it hit the crowd hard. Randy had played it with Myleigh many times, had heard her sing it many times, but the power and range and sweetness of Jennifer's alto gave it even more power and passion. But how would the crowd respond?

As the last bars died away, he found out -- thunderous applause, even better than for Tangerine Boogie, which had preceded it. "Damn, she's good," Nicole said.

"Yeah, Jennifer can belt 'em out," Randy said.

"No, I mean your friend with the harp. That was really something."

Jennifer stepped back up to the mike. "Yeah, we sort of like that one, too," she said. "I suspect you may hear it again some time. We've got another one we've been working up with Myleigh that Blake and I call Lost in the Travel Section."

That was one Randy and Myleigh had worked up the winter before, but had never been entirely happy with -- it took more than the two of them to make it work right, and Crystal wasn't musician enough to make it three. Being critical, Randy thought that even with this group playing it, it still needed more instrumentation, but it was a lot rockier piece than Dawnwalker, and Jennifer managed to carry it off.

The next one was mostly country, where Jennifer's popular roots were, called A Month Of Sundays. At least it sounded pretty country here; he and Myleigh had done it as a ballad. That song had a lot of possibilities, he thought.

That was the last of the pieces he'd worked up with Myleigh; the rest of it was stuff that he'd never heard before. Some of it was better than others, but he knew that the crowd reaction here at the trial sessions in the Spearfish Lake Inn was an important part of the decision about which stuff Jennifer would record for real. After nine pieces, all of which got good crowd reaction, Jennifer told the crowd in the Inn, "That's it for tonight. Thanks to Blake Walworth, Shovelhead Metarie, and Myleigh Harris for sharing the stage with me tonight. Like I said, you probably know who I am," she said with a big grin. "We're glad you put up with us, and we'll return you now to the previously scheduled performance."

There were cries of "No!" and "Encore!" but the musicians walked off the stage, while the Lazy River Band put down their beers and started to go back to work. Jennifer and Blake headed into the crowd, to get a little further audience reaction; Shovelhead headed for the bar, and Myleigh came over to join Randy and Nicole.

"Jeez," Randy said, "That was pretty good!"

"Every one of them is still pretty rough in spots," she said, sitting down awkwardly, with the harp still strapped to the harness. "But we decided to come over here anyway because we thought you and Nicole would be here."

"I thought a couple of them were a little rough," Randy said. "Lost In The Travel Section needs drums."

"Jennifer thinks so too," Myleigh admitted. "She's got a guy coming up in a few days to work with us."

"By the way," Randy said, "This is Nicole Szczerowski. Nicole, Myleigh Harris. Don't let that harp fool you -- English lit is her specialty."

"That's really awesome," Nicole said. "How'd you wind up playing the harp?"

"It's a long story," Myleigh grinned, and briefly gave the public version of the "Jews-harp" story Randy had heard from her long before -- the real version, she'd only told to Crystal and him, as far as he knew.

"I guess it was a blessing in disguise," Nicole told her at the end of it. "I never knew you could do stuff like that with a harp."

Myleigh grinned. "Actually, I'm learning a lot from Jennifer, Blake, and Shovelhead, but it seems to be working out pretty well."

Jennifer came by the table just then. "Hi Randy, Nicole," she said. "We're going to head back now and critique. How'd you like it?"

"Pretty good," Randy said. "Travel Section really needs percussion. Sundays sounds better as country than it does as a ballad." He made a couple other comments and finished up with, "You guys are so good that I may never play Dawnwalker again."

"Don't feel that way," she said. "You and Myleigh were the ones who showed me the possibilities it has. We've got some other stuff we're working on, too. Guess we better be going."

"Catch you around, Jennifer," Randy smiled, as she and Myleigh left to join Blake and Shovelhead.

Randy and Nicole watched them leave, as the leader of The Lazy River Band stepped up to the mike. "Hey, now, that's a tough act to follow," he told the crowd. "And it's not the first time she's done it to us, but since she didn't do Smoke-Filled Room, I guess we'll have to do it for her."

Smoke-Filled Room was Jennifer's first big hit, done in Nashville while she was in college, a real cheatin', honky-tonkin', and drivin' pickups song that Randy knew she'd come to cordially hate but still had to do on occasion, preferably as rarely as possible. "I don't know that I'm ready for that," Randy leaned over and said loudly in Nicole's ear. "You ready to get out of here?"

"Yeah," Nicole grinned. "I don't think I can hack it, either."

Apparently a lot of people couldn't; many headed for the door along with them. It was cooler outside, and the air smelled clean out of the smoke-filled room, which was sort of what the song coming through the doors was about, anyway.

"You say she's just a friend, huh?" Nicole asked as they walked out to the Dodge.

"Yeah," Randy said. "Like I said, she's going someplace different than I am."

There was no way he could tell Nicole, since he really couldn't find words to even put it to himself, but somehow, after watching Myleigh play with Jennifer and the others, something told him that she was going to that someplace different a little faster than she had been before. Not that it surprised him, after all, but he was a little sorry to see it coming so soon.



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