Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Book 1 of the Dawnwalker Cycle
It was just getting dark when Randy pulled into the driveway. It was a long drive back from Warsaw, and that made the day longer. They were only a couple days into the project, and it was still all excavating and shooting grades, but they'd be able to start with the concrete work on schedule. If nothing came up, he might be able to spend the day in the office tomorrow -- that was good, because there was a pile of paperwork he still needed to get caught up on. He'd get a good hack at getting it started if he could have a full day in the office without having to make a couple runs out to Warsaw and back, but he didn't want to bet on what the chances might be.
But, that was tomorrow. Right now, all he really wanted to do was to have dinner, maybe a beer, take his shoes off, let his socks smell up the place, maybe watch TV, maybe catch up on a magazine or two.
Living with his parents was starting to bother him a little, although it was the logical thing to do. It'd be nice to be able to live on his own schedule, which tended to run a little earlier than his parents,' to be able to come home and play music, or watch the stuff he wanted to watch on TV, or not watch it as the case might be, maybe even have a garage of his own so he wouldn't have to leave the Dakota parked outside in the winter. In the back of his head, he'd been thinking about looking around this winter, when things slowed down to a crawl, maybe buying a small place of his own that needed fixing up. He could do some of the work himself, or, in the slow season, hire a laid-off carpenter or two as day labor to help with the stuff he couldn't handle alone. But, it hadn't reached the point of being an issue, yet, and he didn't really have the funds in the bank yet to do it, either. Maybe another year.
He was just walking in the back door when he heard his mother say, "Oh! Here he is now! He just walked in, Crystal."
"Trouble?" he asked softly, thinking the worst -- that she and her father had gotten into it, that he was in the hospital, and she was in jail somewhere.
"Afraid so," Linda said, handing him the phone.
"Hi, Crystal," he said. "What's up?"
"The Olds is broke down bad, Randy," she said. "I was just coming into Moffat when it went 'bang-bang-bang THUD!' and quit. I just managed to coast into this store here, and now there's a big puddle of oil under it. Now, it won't even turn over."
Well, at least it wasn't jail, but 'bang-bang-bang-THUD,' a big puddle of oil, and not turning over didn't sound very good. "All right, I'll come down and get you," he said. So much for being able to sit around with his shoes off. "Figure an hour, hour and a half."
"But Randy, I don't want to leave the car," she said. "The rest of my stuff is in it."
The car wouldn't be so full that he couldn't get it all in the Dakota, but from the sound of it a retrieval was going to be necessary, anyway. "All right, make it two, two and a half hours," he said. "Where are you?"
"Midway Mini-Mart, on the south side of Moffat," she told him.
"OK, I know the place. I'll be there as quick as I can."
"Trouble?" his dad asked as soon as he hung up the phone.
"Sounds like a blown engine to me. Rod, maybe. Probably totals the car."
"That's going to be tough on her," Ryan said as Randy dialed the phone again.
"Afraid so," he agreed. "That's about the only home she's got."
About two hours later, Crystal was sitting on the steps of the convenience store, feeling very dejected, when a big, dirty white pickup truck with a "Clark Construction" logo on the side pulled into the parking lot, towing a huge flatbed trailer. It swung around, and began to back the trailer up to the crippled car. "Got here as quick as I could," Randy said, hopping out of the cab.
"Do you think there's anything we can do here to fix it?"
"From what you told me on the phone, no," he told her as he unfolded ramps on the back of the trailer. "We'll take your car out to the house, dump off your stuff, and drop the car off at the dealership. They'll be able to get a reading on it tomorrow."
"God, Randy, I'm sure glad it broke down where you could come and get me."
"It'd have to be farther than this," he grinned. "A lot farther. The moon, maybe. You might have to wait a few days, but all you need to do is call, Crystal, and I'll be there as quick as I can."
A few minutes later, he'd extended a cable from an electric winch on the front of the trailer, and pulled the Olds up onto it. It took a few minutes longer to get the tie-down chains rigged -- the trailer was normally used for hauling a backhoe, which Randy'd had to unload before using it, and which would have to be reloaded when he got back to Spearfish Lake -- and then they were heading up the road.
"I know you didn't even look at the car," Crystal said. "Do you think it could be serious?"
"I saw all I needed to see, and the answer is 'Yes,'" he said. "How serious, I can't say."
"I hope it isn't too bad," she told him. "Look, Randy, I had some money saved up when I started out on the trail, but I blew through it a lot faster than I thought I was going to. I don't know that I can afford major repairs, or a new car."
"We'll work out something," he assured her. "It might not be that bad. As far as that goes, I've still got the Dodge, and I'll just give it to you if you need it. The only thing is, it's getting to the point where it's so far gone I'd be reluctant to give it to you the way it is now."
"It runs," she said. "That's more than the Olds."
"Yeah, but it needs a lot of work, and it's getting a little rusty, too," he told her. "It uses oil, brakes are bad, and more. But it still might be cheaper to fix up than the Olds."
"Well, maybe. Let's see about the Olds, first."
"Worse come to worst, you can hang around Spearfish Lake and work for a while," he suggested. Mom says they're screaming for subs, and I know you've got a teaching certificate."
"Look, Randy, your giving me your old car and storing my stuff at your place is one thing, but I don't want to leech off you and your folks."
"Well, we're not going to let you sleep in a tent out in the yard in a snowstorm if there's a bed available," he replied. "My folks think you're all right. I know you don't know them real well, but you've got a good reputation from Myleigh and me, and they know something about what you're facing."
"Well, for a few days, anyway, Randy," she told him. "I've pretty well figured out I'm going to have to get some kind of job for the winter, something to restock the bank account, something I can live cheaply at. While I was sitting back there, I got to thinking that if I can get the car fixed up reasonably, I might be able to head back down to the Keys, be a deckhand and run the dive boat for that guy at Underwater Safaris a bit, and I could live in the tent there. That proved to be a pretty good deal for a couple months last winter. Damn, I'm glad I took that Coast Guard test for the six-passenger license last fall. That six-pack paid for itself ten times over last winter."
"Well, there might be another idea or two out there," he said. "Seriously, we'd have to talk to Mom to be sure, but I'll bet they could have you subbing most of the school year. Maybe there's somebody you could be a roomie with if you absolutely don't want to stay with us. We'll figure something out."
"That's a possibility," Crystal said. "I don't want to get tied down. There's some things I still want to do."
"Such as?" he asked, more to make conversation than anything else.
"Oh, I want to do a long canoe or kayak trip sometime, down the Missouri and the Mississippi comes to mind from time to time. Go to Alaska and bum around a bit. Spend some time in the Inside Passage, maybe in a sea kayak. Go and surf in Hawaii. Make a long ocean passage sometime, too. Go do the Grand Canyon, like Mom did. Do some skiing, out west, I mean, up in the mountains. Do a big mountain expedition, sometime. Maybe hike the Pacific Crest Trail, that's sort of like a longer, higher, wilder, version of the AT."
"That's a fair list," he grinned.
"That's just a start," she said. "It goes on from there. Add places like Newfoundland, Ireland, Norway, New Zealand, and Japan."
"Japan? That's crowded as hell."
"Only along the coast," she said. "There's mountains there that are as wild as anything on the AT. Oh, yeah, add places like Chile, southern Argentina, and the Himalayas. Iceland. Labrador. I don't have any trouble figuring out things I want to do; I just have trouble figuring out which one to do next and how to pay for it."
"Face it, Crystal. You're going to have to find a rich husband who'll let you run free. I'll support you a little when I can, but I can't afford all that."
"Nicole told me you're coming into some money," she said. "But not soon, and not real spendable."
"Yeah, don't count me as rich," he said. "I'd still be willing to qualify on the husband part, if you want, but I couldn't do much more than provide you a place to come home to, not for a while, anyway."
"I know. Like I said, Nicole told me. I was a little surprised. You never acted like you have money."
"That's because I don't. Oh, I've got a few thousand in the bank right now, but that's because I'm living at home and stashing away cash. I figure on buying a house, maybe this winter if I have to, next winter if I don't."
"Well, if we were to get married, I wouldn't want to live with my folks," he said flatly. "It'd be a reach to afford something this winter, but well, if I had a wife who was working, I could probably do it. Give me another year or two, and I can probably afford to do it on my own."
"No, Randy," she said, "I don't want you to marry me out of pity. Damn it, that didn't come out sounding like I wanted it to. Let's just say that I don't think I'm quite ready to be a wife yet, not yours or anyone's. You see, while I was out on the trail this summer, I found that I enjoyed the freedom."
"I'd be surprised if you hadn't learned it. Hell, just watching you this summer made me wish I could do it. But, I can't. If Nicole told you about the money, you know why."
"Yeah," she said, "I understand. Hey, I'm not turning you down yet, either. I just don't think I'm ready."
"We've both known that. I told you, I don't mind waiting for a while," he told her. It really wasn't a topic he wanted to discuss again; they'd been around it a lot, especially on the trip from Katahdin down to Ithaca. This was just a bump in the road, after all. Even if the car was a total, what with major engine work on top of its age, it didn't have to be a disaster. From the moment he'd heard about the engine trouble, he'd been thinking he might have to pull some sort of deal like he did with Myleigh and her computer, but what the guy at the garage said would have to be a part of that decision. In any case, it wasn't something to worry about tonight. Maybe he should change the subject. "So, how did it go in Glen Ellyn?" he asked.
"It went," she said glumly. "I didn't see Dad, but Mom made it clear there wasn't any point in it. She did help me get the rest of my stuff out of the house, not that there's much there I couldn't have walked away from if I'd had to."
"So what's the deal with your mom?"
"Maybe we can be friends again someday," Crystal said sadly. "I don't think so, not while she's with Dad. Even if she doesn't believe all that shit she gets from him, she hears it enough that sooner or later she's going to believe some of it. You know, that Hitler stuff. Tell even a big lie often enough and people start to believe it."
"What's happening with Nanci?"
"Running true to form," she said. "She's been in a bunch of shit, and Dad pretty much lets her get away with it. There's been some boyfriend trouble, and she's gotten the shit kicked out of her a couple times. Guess she probably deserved it, though."
"Damn," he grunted. "And your dad probably still blames you."
"Right," she snickered. "But there is one thing that makes me feel better, a little. You remember how Dad promised Jon a new car when he became a junior?"
"I remember you ranting about it a couple times," he laughed.
"Well, he got one," she reported. "According to Mom, Jon said, 'Thank you,' got in, and drove out to Phoenix for a summer job. Dad had all this work lined up for him at Hadley-Monroe, and he was about half fit to be tied."
"Jon didn't want to get in the middle, right? Wise of him."
"There's more than that," Crystal said. "Mom thinks there may be a girl involved, although Jon told them next to nothing about one. I think I smell Tanisha in the story somewhere."
"The black chick I caught him feeling up in his room down in Atlanta that time," she laughed. "I mean, I don't know for sure, not a bit, but I've had warm visions of the heart attack Dad'd have if it were true and he found out."
"You didn't tell your mom, did you?"
"Oh, hell, no. She might let it slip. Don't you tell her, either, or even tell Myleigh. I only told you because you already knew about her, and I just had to tell somebody."
There wasn't much atypical about the Spearfish Lake Cafe. It was like what at least ten thousand other little breakfast-lunch places were like, right down to the deer heads on the wall and the basketball schedules for a season long over hanging underneath them. There was a counter at one side, and booths along the far wall. In the back corner of the room there was a big table with three or four chairs empty, the rest filled with construction workers or railroad crewmen.
Randy was groggy when he sat down in one of the empty chairs at the big table the next morning. It had been a late night. It had taken a while to empty the Olds of Crystal's stuff. It had mostly just been piled on the garage floor, and then unload the Olds itself out in back of the Chevy-Olds dealership. After that they had to go back out to the Clark Construction yard, reload the backhoe and tie it down -- it had to go to Warsaw in the morning, and was probably already on the way. The end result had been not much sleep; in fact, he figured Crystal was still sleeping, with plans to take it easy today, although Randy expected that she'd be hauling the stuff from the garage to the attic.
"Coffee, Randy?" the waitress asked.
"Sure thing, Bev," he told her. "Straight and naked. If you've got anything extra strong back there, I need it."
"Same old same old," she told him, pouring him a cup.
"Then keep it coming. And bring the regular."
"Late night, Randy?" Josh Archer said from across the table.
"Yeah," he said. "A friend's car broke down in Moffatt, and I had to run down there with a flatbed and bring it back. So, how goes the training?"
"Getting a good start," Josh told him. Josh was a few years older than Randy, but not enough that they hadn't both been in school at the same time. A lot of people thought that he and his wife Tiffany were a little crazy for running the thousand mile Iditarod dog sled race up in Alaska for the last three years. No, a lot crazy. "Cripe, the termination dust is gonna be flying up there before long, and we're still gonna be running on wheels while they're training on snow."
"I'll bet it gets busy along about this time of the year for you," he said.
"Good God, yes," Josh said. "We try to stay at least level with the training the people in Alaska do, but all the while I'm working twelve and seven, trying to get the stone yards at the barge loader full before the snow flies." Randy knew he spent half his time at the throttle of some big diesel railroad engines, hauling limestone from the pits up north down to Camden. What time he could spare was spent at the back of a pack of huskies. Randy didn't know what Josh did for sleep, but theorized that it was training for the race, too; the story was that they didn't get a lot of sleep out on the trail. "Anyway, it means there's a lot of stuff that needs to get done that doesn't get done."
"Like what?" Randy said, just to make conversation to stay awake. Maybe breakfast would help when Bev brought it, get his blood sugar up a little.
"The biggest thing that's bugging me right now is that I've got to get a travel trailer to Alaska, out to where we train at Talkeetna in the winter," he said. "We've driven the pickup with the camper, and hauled the dogs on a trailer in the years past, but it's a pain in the butt, and I think riding in the trailer may not be helping the dogs," he said. "Too much exhaust from the truck. I'd really rather have a dog box on the back of the truck, and haul a trailer with gear, but that means we don't have a place to stay. I've got this trailer, a big old Airstream, sitting out at the dog lot that I've wanted to get up there for two years now, but I just never have the time to get it moved in the summer. I mean, I'd pay someone to haul it up for me."
"You'd think that someone would want to do a cheap trip to Alaska," Mike Baker said from down the table.
"Yeah, but somehow, it never seems to work out," he said. "Part of the problem is that it's a twenty-eight-footer, so it's too damn big to haul with a car, unless it's a big old hooter like a Lincoln or a Caddy, or maybe one of those old monsters from the seventies, so you're talking pickup or maybe a sport-ute. Damn, I don't want to have to live in the camper again this winter. Every time you want to go somewhere you have to dig it out and tear everything down. Usually it's just easier to drive a team into town, and dog teams and roads usually don't get along too well together."
"Damn, I wish I'd known about that back in college," Randy said. "I'd have given a lot for a good excuse to go to Alaska." He thought for a moment. "That does give me an idea, though. I know someone who would sure like an excuse to go to Alaska."
"They got wheels?" Josh said.
"Unfortunately, they're sitting out behind the Chevy garage right now," he said. "And they're not big enough for a trailer like that."
Josh frowned. "Well, maybe I got another idea," he said. "I won't know till I get back tonight and can make some phone calls."
Randy felt better the next morning. In spite of a lack-of-sleep headache that had lasted all day, he'd been able to make quite a dent in the pile of paperwork, and that made him feel better all of and in itself. The good feeling was increased after he'd had a discussion with Josh over breakfast that morning, but now there was one final piece to put in place, and after a couple more phone calls, the news wasn't quite as good as he'd hoped. Might as well get it over with, he thought, picking the phone up again and dialing home. "Clark residence," Crystal answered.
"So, how's it going?" he asked.
"Bored," she said. "I was thinking about hiking down to the school and seeing about subbing, even for a few days."
"Hey, look," he snickered, "I got to run some prints out to Warsaw, and see a couple people. It shouldn't take long. You like to ride along?"
"Yeah, sure," she said. "It's something to do."
A few minutes later, she was standing outside when he pulled up in the Dakota. Once he got turned around and headed down the street, he told her, "Well, I've got good news and I've got bad news."
"The bad news is the Olds, right?" she said.
"To sum it up, it'll cost more money to fix than it's worth. I did talk to a guy I know who does major repairs like that on the side out at his house, and we talked about putting a new engine out of a wreck into it. He said he could do it, but it'd still cost a lot. Let's face it, Crystal. It's showing a lot of rust after all that time in Marquette. The guy at the Chevy place said it needs a lot of other work, too. For instance, I thought the brakes weren't very good when I drove it back last spring, and he said he's surprised they work at all. That's another couple hundred right there."
"So, I guess that means the Dodge, right?" she said dejectedly.
"Yeah," he said. "But, give me a little time to work on it. I talked to my buddy about it. He's kind of backlogged right now, but give him a little time and he should be able to fix it up at a pretty reasonable price."
"Well, that's better," she said brightly. "I'll pay to have it fixed up. I don't want to have to rely on your charity. Guess I'll have to look into subbing."
There was no way he was going to let her get away with paying full price. The Dodge needed a lot of work, too, and he wasn't about to let her have it until it was in as good a shape as possible. Pat was a good guy, and Randy was sure he could get him to write two bills and keep quiet about it, just like Mark had done with Myleigh's computer. The big thing was that it was going to take time, and it'd be best if Crystal weren't antsy about it to suspect what he was up to. "Well, there is good news," he said, changing the subject. "While Pat's working on the car, how'd you like a free trip to Alaska?"
"It's not a done deal yet," he said. "But your agreeing to do it is one of the pieces. You remember Josh and Tiffany, don't you?" He explained about the need to get the big used Airstream travel trailer to Alaska. "The problem is wheels to pull it with," he said. "Well, it seems that there's this gal who Josh's older brother went to school with, Shelly Goodlock. She teaches school up there. She helps them out with race stuff. She's their local contact, lives outside Anchorage some place. Anyway, cars are quite a bit more expensive up there. Hell, everything's more expensive, so whenever she's gotten a car in the past, she's picked it up at home and driven back. Pays for the cost of the trip. The last time she was home she bought some kind of sedan, and has now decided that she doesn't like it and wants four-wheel drive, but since school is on now she doesn't have time to come home and get one."
"So, delivering the car is part of the deal?"
"Brand new Jeep Grand Cherokee, forest green. There's one sitting down at the showroom ready to go. All they need to do is put a hitch on it and deal with the paperwork. Josh and Shelly will split the gas; Josh will front the money and settle up with her next winter. Everybody comes out ahead on the deal. I think it's kind of cute, myself."
"But that only gets me to Alaska," she said with a frown. "How do I get back?"
"I talked it over with Josh," he said. "Unless you want to hitch, the cheapest way to do it is take the Alaska state ferry down to Washington, Bellingham or someplace like that, it's near Seattle. You go as a deck passenger, and have to sleep in the deck chairs or the day cabin. I figure you can handle that OK, a lot of people do it. Then, take a bus back to Camden, and I pick you up there. It's not much cheaper for a bus ticket from Camden here than it is from Seattle to Camden. Don't ask me why, it doesn't have to make sense. They'll cover the cost and throw in a little extra and still come out money ahead on the deal. I know you've got some food for the trail that you didn't use. Take that, and maybe a small camp stove, oh, and Josh says to get a standby ticket on the ferry, and you'll stand a chance of coming back in two or three weeks with a few extra bucks in your pocket."
"And, I could poke around in Alaska a bit," she said brightly. "I couldn't afford to stay a long time, but I'd get a feel for the place, maybe."
"And, the Inside Passage, too," he said. He didn't tell Crystal, but if she went for it, he'd sweeten the stipend a little so she'd have money to spend more time to bum around. "Get a feel for that. Maybe not go straight through, you could stop at one or two of the towns in the panhandle and poke around. If it takes a month, six weeks, fine. I wish I had the free time to do it."
"Good God, you told him yes, didn't you?" she exclaimed.
"Well, I told him probably," he said. "We'll have to call tonight to sew it up, and then it'll take a few days to get the loose ends tied up. Middle of next week at the earliest, considering the holiday and all. Then when you get back, I'll have something worked out on the Dodge for you."