Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Book 1 of the Dawnwalker Cycle
Out at the new school addition, Randy got into the bright red four-wheel-drive Dodge Dakota and tossed his hardhat onto the seat. Even though he'd driven it for a little over four weeks, it still smelled new. As he started it up, the smell started a train of thought. If women really use perfume to attract men, why use fragrances that would gag a bumblebee, when something that really did the job worked better -- say, something like essence of new car? Or, maybe Hoppe's #9 gun oil, for hunters and shooters, or even polyester resin for surfers and sea kayakers -- sure, it stank, but that new fiberglass smell was exciting . . .
He was starting to get used to the new truck, now; in the beginning he wasn't sure how he was going to like it, and in fact had been thinking more along the line of a Jeep Cherokee. But the truck was practical; there always seemed to be something that had to be hauled out from the construction yard to the site or something, and since he was going in the right direction, it made sense. Besides, he didn't have to depend on Joe or Rod to get back to Quaker Rapids anymore.
But there wouldn't be any going out there tonight. Quaker was starting to get down; it was still runnable, but there just wouldn't be the time. He'd learned real quickly why Brent had been slow to bid on the job: the state school board, fire marshal, and this and that other agency seemed to require the weight of paperwork on the building to equal the weight of bricks and mortar before they'd approve anything. All sorts of awkward and extremely expensive delays would come up if the right piece of paper wasn't filed with the right agency at the right time. Mike Baker, the construction superintendent, knew about all there was to know about doing the job, but paperwork had never been his strong point, and he'd been reluctant to take it until Brent told him, "I'll have Randy give you a hand with the forms and stuff." Giving him a hand meant about eighty percent of his waking hours, plus all the other chores and administrivia Brent had him doing around the office. He'd pretty well worn a groove in the pavement between the school and Clark Construction.
Today the hassle was fire alarm wiring. They were at least a month away from the first wire going in place, although they'd been pouring races for the wires right along. The fire marshal had demanded one wiring plan; the state school board inspector had demanded a second -- not the same -- and Greg Schoonover from Jasper Electric, the electrical subcontractor, sat them both down with the BOCA code book and insisted they were both wrong. It wasn't ironed out yet, but it had to be before they got to actually stringing the wire. Randy knew that eventually Greg was going to have to do it either the fire marshal's way or the school board inspector's way, but since neither of them could agree, they were going to be lucky to work something out before the school was breathing down their neck about the occupancy permit so they could start moving in desks and chairs.
Erecting the building was easy, compared to all the petty crap. Randy once again made a mental note to tell his grandfather that the next time he felt like bidding on a school project, to go somewhere and lie down until the feeling went away . . . but no, there were specs for a new addition to the Warsaw School being worked over for bid in the engineering office. That job probably wouldn't come down till fall, but, darn it, it was a long drive to Warsaw, not like the run across town here.
When he could look at it objectively, and he occasionally could, Randy realized that he was learning an awful lot about the operating side of construction management that he hadn't learned at Northern, and this job was turning into a hectic but thorough graduate course in the subject. Like it or not, it was going to be the focus of his life for many years to come, just sorting out those kinds of issues.
His dad had spent a share of his time over the last two years getting involved in the business side of Clark Construction -- financial issues, personnel, union contracts, things like that. Really, it had been easier for him, since those were the sorts of issues he dealt with every day out at the plant. If something came up where he needed real expertise, he wasn't above borrowing someone from Clark Plywood to lend a hand.
Just last week, a new regional rep from the Carpenters Union got huffy about Jasper Electric being non-union (although employee owned) and made some inane demands that had nothing to do with the contract; he'd found himself backing down real hard after having to sit down across the table from Steve Augsberg from Clark Plywood and a couple of the plant's labor attorneys from Camden.
The joker had been out there yesterday, and had pitched a fit when he found Randy driving one of the concrete trucks. Randy was management, even though the truck driver's wife was in the hospital having a baby. Randy brought that one to a stop, real quick: "You like to see my journeyman card?" And, he had the piece of paper from the Laborers Union in his wallet, paid up through the end of the year. The joker tried to argue with that, but probably it wouldn't require calling Augsberg and the labor attorneys in before it was over with, and Randy made a mental note to never -- not ever -- let his union dues lapse. Damn, life would be a lot easier with a shovel in his hand.
What would be even easier, and more fun, would be hiking on the trail with Diamond. Nicole wasn't back yet, although was due back either today or tomorrow, so if things had gone according to plan Diamond would be in Maryland right now, closing in on Pennsylvania. But still, he wondered how it was going, and since the people in the office would be at lunch, he decided to take a few minutes to swing by Nicole's house to see if she was back yet.
That was a bummer, too. He wouldn't be seeing much of any of the girls this summer. Nicole had gotten out of school a week behind him, but had only been home for a couple of days before heading out to join Crystal in Virginia. Clear back in Florida, the original idea of a week or so on the trail had grown unstoppably until it virtually filled the hole between the time she got back from college and the time she had to leave for Mosquito Valley. With Crystal on the trail all summer and Myleigh wrapped up in that research project and special courses at Cornell, that meant he wouldn't be seeing any of them until maybe the end of August, when he'd promised to go to Cornell to pick up Myleigh and take her to Athens University for her doctoral program. Nicole would be back by then, scratching at all the mosquito bites, but she'd only be a couple weeks or so from having to head back to Weatherford. It looked like a lonely summer; maybe it was just as well that he was busy.
Sure enough, Nicole's car was sitting in the driveway -- she must be back! The hell with fire alarms that didn't have to be installed for a couple months yet, they could wait a few minutes. He swung into the driveway and parked behind her car. She must have just gotten in, he thought; the trunk was wide open, and her pack was laying in it. Being a nice guy, he grabbed it and headed for the back door just as she came outside. "Hi, Nicole," he said, seeing her.
"Why not just call me 'Marlin?'" she grinned. "I've gotten used to it, now, and they'll be calling me that for the next two months."
"Good trail name," he said, looking at her. She looked tan and muscular, and about as healthy and good-looking as he'd ever seen her. Three weeks on the trail had obviously been good for her. "How's Diamond doing?"
"Just fine," she grinned, taking him in her arms and giving him a quick kiss. "We made it to Harper's Ferry with a day to spare, so I spent an extra half day on the trail with her. She's looking good, feeling good, no problems."
"Good, that's a relief," Randy said, still holding on to her. God, it felt good to have her in his arms again. "I know she was bummed there for a while after Scooter had to quit."
"Guess she got over it," Nicole/Marlin smiled. "I guess Scooter had been slowing her down some. If we gained a day on the schedule, I don't think I could have slowed her down much."
"You like it?" he asked.
"Good grief, yes," she said with a huge grin. "I even considered calling Mosquito Valley, telling them to bag it, and going on to Maine with her. I just couldn't bring myself to dump on them at the last minute."
"So, now you're planning a thru-hike, too, I bet," he grinned.
"Thought about it all the way back," she told him. "I don't see how I could do it unless I bagged next spring semester, and that'd ball things up royally. I don't want to still be working on my teaching certificate when I'm going gray. I'll probably get over it, though. Darn. Maybe the year after, if I'm not teaching or something. Gonna have to think about that, some. God, I've got Springer Fever already."
Randy laughed. He'd heard Diamond and Scooter talking about Springer Fever -- the urge to set out from Springer Mountain in the spring, and head for Katahdin. Hearing from Diamond, and now from Marlin, about the trail gave him a touch of it himself. Too bad it could never happen, now. If he hadn't decided to go into the family construction business . . . oh well, spilt milk. No chance, now. "That's all I need," he grinned, trying to shrug off the regrets.
"I just hauled Diamond's stuff inside," Nicole/Marlin said, breaking out of the hug. "Since you're here, I might as well haul it right back out and you can take it with you."
"Yeah, might as well. Any idea how the new gear is working out?"
"I was only with her for a few miles, but she said it feels fine," she replied, taking her pack from Randy and starting for the door; he followed along. "A lot lighter. She says she wants to burn off some miles in the next few weeks."
The Harper's Ferry gear exchange had been one of the things that had been talked about lots back at Buddha and Giselle's, back in December. Crystal had come up with the idea of switching to an ultralight load for the summer, cutting the weather protection a little tight, and taking advantage of the fact that most days she'd be passing places where she could buy food, except for one short stretch in Pennsylvania. He'd already mailed the package with five days food in it to Duncannon, PA, but she'd only be taking one more mail drop, in northern New Jersey -- and that mail only, with no food -- until reaching northern Massachusetts, 600 miles and perhaps five weeks north of Harper's Ferry.
"Jeez, if she's going that well, maybe I'd better be getting the Vernon drop sent off," he said.
"Not later than the first of the week, she said," Nicole/Marlin smiled as she carried the pack inside. "She's saying now she wants to try to get all the way through with the big daypack and the ultralight gear, so she doesn't have to swap back to the heavier stuff in the fall."
"She's going to have to burn some miles to do it," Randy commented, thinking about it as he followed her into the living room, where the gear Diamond had sent back was piled. The original plan had her getting to Williamstown, Massachusetts by late July, but if the lightweight gear and pushing hard helped her cut a week or more out of the schedule, she'd be there in mid-July, with six weeks or so of summer weather to use the lightweight gear and go faster for the tougher last 500 miles of the trail. "Holywa, she could be done before you have to go back to school."
"That's kind of the plan, and I think she can do it," she told him. "If she can get done early enough, she can spend a few days with Myleigh."
"Yeah, that'd simplify things a bit," Randy said. That was one of the brighter spots he had to look forward to this summer. Cornell had been just too far to go and visit Myleigh, but now she was going to be at Athens for her doctorate, only about 300 miles to the south. It had been a good deal for her. She'd gotten a good grant to go with it, and it was one of the better schools in the field. As far as he was concerned, it was within range for a weekend trip to go see her once in a while. It was a very condensed course -- three years' worth of work compressed into two, with course work and research all through the summers, and not possible even then without some course work she was doing at Cornell this summer. In a little over two years Myleigh would be "Dr. Harris." It was hard to believe; time was passing quickly. "It'll be a bit crowded with four of us in the truck, though," he smiled.
"Well, it may not come off at all," Nicole shrugged. "It all depends on her getting done with the trail ahead of schedule. She said she should know by Williamstown whether she'll want the heavy stuff sent to Hanover."
"I'll find an hour to go through it, clean it up and make any repairs I can see need doing," Randy told her. "Might as well have it ready if she needs it."
"Diamond said everything is in good shape, but it will need cleaning," she reported. "Oh, there's a couple of loops on the tent that may need some sewing, but she says they're pretty obvious."
"So, how'd it go otherwise?" he asked. "I take it the two of you got along pretty well."
"Just like sisters," Nicole giggled, then sobered. "Well, not like her and her sister. We didn't talk about that much. In fact, she only mentioned her sister a couple times, and she used the word 'asshole' when she did."
"Do you know if she ever called her mother?" he asked.
She shook her head. "She didn't say, and I didn't ask."
"I've had calls from Karin three or four times now, wondering if I've heard anything, and I hate lying to her. I guess when Diamond calls again I'll have to ask about it."
"Still pretty sensitive, I guess. I didn't pry, but I guess she's resigned to it," Nicole/Marlin said. "She called herself a 'homeless person' the one time we did get near the subject, up near Harper's Ferry."
"That's pretty sad," Randy said. "Really, it's true, I guess, but it's still sad."
"She told me not to worry about it. She says there's things she can do. It's not like she has a couple of kids and has to live under a bridge some place. She's living like she wants to live right now, anyway. She'll be OK, Randy."
"Yeah, I know," he nodded glumly. "It's just that I hate thinking of her like that."
"She'll be all right," she reaffirmed. "Hey, I stopped at a one-hour place in Maryland and got my photos developed. You want to see?"
"I'd love to," he shook his head, "But I've got to get back to the office. You would not believe the horseshit I've got going over these fire alarms."
"Maybe tonight," she suggested. "I've got to take a shower, and then start getting stuff repacked to go to Mosquito Valley."
"I don't think so," he said. "Unless you want to do it later. I've got to get a bunch of stuff done, then go to the local school board meeting and watch them hunt around to find something to piss and moan about. That'll probably wind up nine, maybe ten. I could drop over then."
"Cripe, no. I'm running on sun time, and I'll be falling asleep by nine. I don't want to get off schedule, since it'll be early to bed, early to rise all summer at Mosquito Valley."
"Well, tomorrow night. You'll want to have dinner with your family and give them the news tonight, anyway."
"Uh, no. I want to get heading for Mosquito Valley in the morning. We've got a couple meetings before the kids get there, and some counselor training."
"Good grief," Randy shook his head again. "You're cutting it pretty tight, aren't you?"
"Yeah, maybe too tight. I guess I should have skipped that last day, but it was hard to leave."
"What time are you getting up?"
"Like I said, with the sun. I should be up by five or five thirty."
"That'll work," Randy told her. "I'll pick you up at five thirty, and we can go out to the Spearfish Lake Cafe for breakfast. I don't have to be out to the site till seven-thirty, so there should be plenty of time to go through the pictures."
"That'll work. They're keeping you busy, huh?"
"Darn straight. It's the height of the construction season, and I'm busier than I've ever been before."
"Maybe you could get free some weekend and come down and visit me at Mosquito Valley," she suggested.
Randy shrugged. "I'll try, but don't bet on it. I promised Myleigh I'd haul her to Athens, and I'm going to have a hell of a time getting away for three days or so to do it. I don't know how my grandfather kept this pace up for fifty years."
"Randy, I'm sorry we can't spend more time together, but this time, it's just got to be a night stop. We should be able to get together for a while later in the summer."
"Yeah, at least Weatherford is close enough for me to run down there in the winter once in a while."
"I'll be home some, too. I guess that's just the way it works out. It'd be nice to get away with you for a day or two," she said with a smile that indicated exactly what she was thinking about, "But it's just not going to happen this trip. Maybe we can think about going to Buddha and Giselle's over Christmas again, just you and me."
"Hey, I'd like that," he told her, brightening at the thought. "My surfboard has done nothing but gather dust. I ought to be able to get away. Have to wait till we get closer to be sure, though." He glanced at his watch. "Nicole, I'm sorry," he told her. "I'd love to sit down and hear all about the hike, but I've really got to beat feet out of here."
"That's all right," she smiled, turning to kiss him again. "I'll see you in the morning."
At least they had a nice long kiss before Nicole helped him haul Diamond's gear back out to the truck. Somehow, it smelled of trail, of azaleas and pine. It was the pack he'd seen Diamond carry up the trail out of Amicola Falls, back almost three months ago, now, and it hadn't seemed that long, and it seemed like a lifetime since he'd seen her. He put the gear in the front seat -- it was already pretty dirty, construction-site dirty in the back, and he made a mental note to hose the bed liner out before he went to Ithaca to haul Myleigh back to Athens.
He stopped to kiss Nicole/Marlin again before he got in the truck. This time, it lasted a minute or two. Damn it, except for a couple half-awake hours in the morning, that was going to be about the sum total of his girlfriend contact until the end of August. He couldn't help but think how spoiled he'd gotten in past summers, only working eight or ten hours a day, and having Myleigh or Nicole or both of them to look forward to at the end of it, or an evening on the river, or up at Spearfish Lake Appliance. He hadn't been there in a couple weeks, but maybe tomorrow night, as long as Nicole was going to be gone. Yes, the childish things had been put away with a vengeance, and they seemed far away.