Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Book 1 of the Dawnwalker Cycle
The Clark family was just sitting down at the table when the phone rang. "Probably another telemarketer," Ryan snorted. "They always manage to call at dinner."
"I'll get it," Linda said, getting back up. "I don't need you swearing at them."
"Might be Crystal," Randy thought aloud. "She was supposed to leave Seattle over a week ago."
"Might be," Ryan conceded. "Wonder what's keeping her?"
"She said she wanted to make a stop or two along the way," the younger Clark replied. "Didn't say what."
"Yes, of course, he's here," they heard Linda say. She turned away from the phone and added, "Randy, you were right. It is Crystal."
Randy was on the phone in seconds. "Crystal, where are you?" he asked. "Are you all right?"
"Settle down, Randy," he heard her say. "I'm in Camden. Actually, I'm at Weatherford, with Nicole. I didn't want to call till I was pretty sure you were home, so we've been sitting and talking trail for a while. Can you come and pick me up tonight, or would you rather wait for tomorrow?"
"Better make it tonight," he told her. "I've got a meeting with the fire marshal over in Warsaw tomorrow. I'll be there in a couple hours."
"Don't break your neck. See you in a bit."
He hung up the phone. "She's down at Weatherford with Nicole," he told his parents. "I'm going to head down there and pick her up."
"Don't you want something to eat?" Linda asked.
Randy looked at the table. Ham and lima bean casserole was not exactly his favorite food. "No, I'll pass," he said, reaching for his coat. "I better get going, since I need to make it back tonight."
"Be careful and watch for deer," Ryan grinned. "I'll leave the light on for you."
Within a minute, Randy was in the Dakota and heading out of Spearfish Lake. It was spitting a little snow, not enough to make the roads slippery, although they might be later. At least it looked like they were going to get some snow this winter. He stuck his foot in the Dakota and got up to eighty on the two-lane, before he realized he'd better not be driving that fast. This was a fifty-five-mile-an-hour zone, and some of the arrogant young punks on the sheriff's department didn't have a sense of proportion like Harold. He slowed to sixty, maybe a shade over, and set the cruise control. It seemed like crawling, but maybe that would keep the cops at bay.
Thinking of Harold reminded him that this was a Tuesday night, and he'd be missing the workout again. In spite of a lot of trying, he only made it to about half the sessions, and had missed a lot of them over the summer. Now he was starting to get back into them and felt like he was getting back into shape a little. It was good relaxation, too -- a way to get his mind off of the hassles they'd had with the Warsaw school addition. On the other hand, they had the building closed in now and were working on finish work, which didn't involve quite as many hassles. Best of all, as far as Randy knew, there was no school board within a hundred miles considering starting construction in the next year, so maybe he wouldn't have to deal with that yahoo of a school board electrical inspector for a while.
And, as far as that went, he was just as glad it wasn't a Monday or Wednesday night, either. Back in the fall, after Crystal had left for Alaska, Joe had hit on him for about the thirty-seventh time about getting on the fire department or the ambulance crew. Randy was still busier than he wanted to be, but had decided to take Emergency Medical Technician classes. The decision was based less on any desire to be on the fire department than it was on the idea that people got hurt on construction sites, and having someone around with that level of medical knowledge wouldn't hurt. It was a long class, with over 200 hours of classroom time, but it was broken up into five sections, and he planned to get through section one this fall, and sections two and three when they were offered over the winter. The last sections would have to wait until sometime in the future, but even the partial EMT knowledge would be available any time it was needed.
He was hungry, and really had been looking forward to dinner, lima beans or no. But, Weatherford was on the other side of Camden, and there was a drive-through down in Meeker, so maybe he wouldn't have to starve.
Darn it, Crystal had him nervous on this trip. It wasn't like the AT, where a week or two might go by between letters or phone calls; it wasn't as organized. The first part had gone fine; it had taken her eight days of easy driving from the morning he watched her pull out of Josh and Tiffany's dog lot with the Cherokee and the Airstream, and she'd called in once from Godforsaken, Canada or some place. The next thing they'd heard had been from Shelly Goodlock, and Crystal had already left by then. Two more weeks had gone by before getting a postcard from Skagway, announcing that she was planning on hiking up the Chilkoot Pass. Then nothing, for over a month, until the phone call from Seattle, where he'd learned she'd hitched a ride on a salmon boat to get there and the Inside Passage was awful beautiful but could get rugged at times. He'd expected her in another three or four days, but over twice that had gone by, and he'd started to get worried again. He'd told himself time and again he'd better get used to it if she was going to keep wandering around, but it didn't help; he still worried.
As it turned out, he was woolgathering and drove past the fast food place in Meeker, but soon he was on the bypass and didn't want to stop. Weatherford was to the south of Camden, but once past the bypass he did make a drive-through stop to load up on a couple burgers, which he ate in the cab of the truck while driving. He'd been down to see Nicole, and knew where her dorm was. Miracle of miracles, he was able to get a halfway decent parking spot on the street not far away.
It felt strange to walk across a college campus again, sucking on the remnants of the iced tea he'd gotten at the fast food place. It had been seven, going on eight months since he'd left NMU, and already the college world seemed far away. Nicole lived on the ground floor -- about the only advantage of being a third semester senior was seniority -- and he walked down the hall to her room to find her door standing wide open, Crystal leaning back in a chair and telling trip stories to Nicole and her roommate. There was something about "God's Pocket" but he didn't catch what was going on. "Hey, Randy," she said. "You made good time."
"Actually, pretty slow," he grinned. "There was some cop only doing eighty, and I didn't dare pass him."
"Sit down and relax for a minute," Nicole said. "I want to hear how this comes out."
"Actually, there's not a lot more to tell," Crystal said. "There was this big packer there, the Frigidsea. The guys on it helped me get some tape on Chuck, and I followed them the next five days to Seattle. Chuck was feeling better by then, and was able to walk off the Glacier Bay. He called his wife; she came and picked us up and took us home. He's a tough old bird, he'll be all right, but that was a long afternoon."
That sounded like more of a tale than the 'I hitched a ride on a salmon boat and it took us three weeks to get down here from Skagway' that he knew of the story, but he guessed he'd get a chance to hear more of it. "So how you been?" he asked.
"Oh, pretty good," she said. "I had a good time. I'm glad you worked out that trip for me. Shelly is a very cool gal, and I stayed with her for a few days. She took a day off school, and we drove up to Denali. Helluva view, but I wonder what it looks like from the top."
"You'll find out if anyone does," he said dryly.
"How's the car?" she asked.
"Been ready to go for a month," he said. "I drove it for a few days, just to make sure everything seemed OK."
"Good. I've got to be heading back. In fact, we probably ought to be going, since you have to head back."
"Wouldn't mind," he said. "Nicole, I hate to run off on you, but you're going to be back next week, aren't you?"
Nicole smiled. "I've got one class Wednesday morning, that's a week from tomorrow, and then I'm heading out."
"Good," Randy said. "Maybe we can find some time. I hear they've got good snow up at Akinback Mountain. They're making it, but there's supposed to be some more snow on the way in the next few days."
"Sounds like fun. Maybe we can stay over."
Randy was a little surprised. Nicole was setting him up for a night together, right under her roommate's and Crystal's noses. "Sounds possible," he grinned. "I think I'll be able to take Friday off, but I probably won't know for sure till Wednesday."
"Great," she said, getting to her feet. "It's been too long since I've been on a snowboard."
"You two have fun," Crystal said. "I'll be long gone by then."
She wasn't fooled, Randy thought, standing up himself. Nicole came over, put her arms around him, and gave him a long, deep kiss that carried an awful lot of meaning. It said "Damn, I'm horny," and "He's mine, Crystal, don't get any big ideas," and maybe even, "You're mine, damn it." He enjoyed it a lot, but wondered if Crystal picked up that message, too.
"On the other hand, I could stay a while," he said loudly enough for the other girls to hear as they pulled apart.
"No, you better get moving," Nicole told him. "You do have to get to work tomorrow, and I know Crystal is tight on time."
"All right," he said as Crystal picked up her bag and waited for them at the door. "See you next Wednesday."
"Looking forward to it," Nicole grinned.
He turned and followed Crystal out the door, shaking his head. Sometimes he wondered about all this. All summer long his girlfriends had been gone except for a few days right at the end, and now here two of them were together. It was enough to make him a little paranoid. What else were they plotting to drive him nuts?
"What's this stuff about taking off right away?" he asked Crystal as they walked out into the dark and snowblown evening.
"I need to get moving as soon as I can," Crystal said. "I've got to sort out stuff to take with me, and I suppose there's some paperwork to do on the car, but I'd like to be out of Spearfish Lake tomorrow, the day after at the latest, and get back to Colorado as quick as I can."
"Colorado?" he asked. "What's there?"
"A ski lodge, Cooper Hill," she said. "Looks like I'm going to be instructing the bunny hill, maybe some ski patrol. They've got a bunkhouse for the winter help, so it looks like it fits together pretty well."
"Sounds like it might have some potential for you," Randy said. "You said you wanted to ski some of the big country out west."
"This is pretty big," she said. "Not as big as Aspen, but it's way up there, outside Leadville. They already got snow out the wazoo up there."
"You were there?" he asked.
"Of course," she said. "How do you think I got the job?"
Crystal, let's run the tape back a minute," he said. "The last I heard, you were in Seattle, and you were going to come straight back here. What happened?"
"Long story," he heard Crystal say as they walked toward the Dakota. "I was in the bus station, there in Seattle, and I realized the route was going to take me right close to OLTA, so I decided to stop in there."
"Check out the idea of working there next summer?"
"Well, yeah," Crystal said. "I don't actually think I'm ready for there, yet, although saying things like 'AT' did perk up a little interest. I do wanna keep my name a little familiar to them. Doesn't matter, though, since there aren't any openings. What they do have is a bulletin board with job announcements for OLTA graduates, and there was this job opening down at Cooper Hill. Actually, three or four; they need help. Anyway, there was this girl I knew a little from when I was at OLTA years ago hanging around, Barbara Sipes. We talked it over a bit and called down there. Sure enough, they were still looking, so we piled in her car and drove down. We both got hired on the spot, but I told them I had to get my car. They told me to get back as quick as I could."
"Not exactly the Keys," he grinned as they reached the truck. He unlocked it, and hit the door lock for the far side.
"Not exactly the ocean, either," she said as she climbed in. "But the bunkhouse does have rooms, two bunks to a room, and a furnace. I figure it beats a tent for the winter, and the pay is pretty good. I should have the tanks recharged by spring."
"Good," he said, starting the engine. "I'd sort of hoped to have you around Spearfish Lake, but that'll work."
"It's probably going to be more fun than subbing, and that way I don't have to leech off you and your folks."
"It wouldn't be a problem, you know that," he shrugged. "They've been worried about you, too."
"Shouldn't have been." She shook her head. "You all knew this trip was sort of loose. But, it did work out OK."
"You're going to have to tell me all about it. Like, what's the deal with this salmon fisherman? It sounded like a pretty good story, but I only caught the tail end of it."
"Nothing special. We were crossing the Queen Charlotte Strait . . . well, maybe I'd better start at the beginning."
"Way at the beginning," Randy smiled. "That's the price you're going to have to pay. If you're going to go helling around on me, you at least have to tell me the good ones afterward."
"Well, all right," she laughed, "'In the beginning, God created the heavens . . .'"
"Not that beginning," he smiled. "I mean when you left Spearfish Lake."
"Yeah, that's a long drive, you know . . ." she started.
They were a big part of the way back to Spearfish Lake before she pretty well worked herself out. ". . . so, anyway, I caught a ride down to Denver with this customer, got a bus to Chicago, and then Camden. There were some pretty grubby customers down there, and I knew I had all day to kill, so I called Nicole to come get me, and we sat around and talked AT and OLTA. Randy, I'm afraid you're going to be pissed at me," she announced.
"Well, when I was out at OLTA, I happened to notice they're having a special course out there. They call it 'Summer Camp Adventures,' or something, but it's all about leading kid's groups on adventure trips. Nicole got real interested, and is going to hit on the Girl Scouts for funding."
"So you're saying I'm not going to see her next spring, except for a couple days, right?"
"It's not a done deal, Randy."
He shook his head. "It won't surprise me in the slightest. What are you trying to do, keep her out of my reach?"
"Damn it, Randy, you know better than that. You're going to be able to run down there in only a couple hours all winter long. She may not get a shot at OLTA again. This is a real OLTA course, not that wussy WFR stuff."
"Hell of a note," Randy said, half meaning it. "My girlfriends get to do all the fun stuff, and I get to argue with electrical inspectors. No, if she wants to do it, I won't stand in her way, even if she decides to do the AT the summer after next."
"Maybe she won't," Crystal said soothingly. "She didn't talk about it much. Of course, what she did say told me she's still thinking about it. I was nice, Randy. She was talking about the late-summer OLTA backpacking course, too, but I told her she wouldn't learn much she didn't already know."
"Good," he frowned, "At least there's that."
"Of course, it is held in some awful pretty countryside," she teased.
"By the way," he said, wanting to get away from that depressing subject, "I have some good news from your mother. At least I think it's good news."
"You've talked to her? I sent her a card from Skagway, but I figured you'd tell her about the call from Seattle."
"I did. In fact, we've been talking quite a bit. Anyway, the big news is that if you go back to Glen Ellyn, you won't have the cops chasing after you."
"What?" she said questioningly in the darkness. "Oh, you mean that thing with Kip."
"Which you never mentioned to me," he said. "It appears he was too embarrassed to admit in court that a girl did such a number on him. However, to give your father credit where credit is due, he did lean on Nanci to press charges. Kip copped a plea on domestic violence. Now, Nanci's all moping around that her boyfriend gets a year in the county slammer, and your dad is pissed at you because of Nanci's moping around."
"That's not news," she said. "Dad would be pissed at me whatever I did, but good for him, in this case. I don't think Nanci has a year's attention span."
"From what your mother said, that's how I read it," he said. "I'm sorry, Crystal. I should have set the dumb fuck down a little harder."
"Oh, don't be. It had to be done."
"Your mother was a little surprised at one thing," he grinned. "She thought you'd have laid him out in one punch. She thinks you're losing your touch."
"Oh, I could have," Crystal said in a hard tone. "But I wanted to drag it out a bit, let him know he'd been embarrassed a little, just so he'd remember not to do it again."
"Shoulder separation, broken arm, busted jaw, concussion, shattered kneecap, assorted cuts and bruises, and I may have missed something. The knee sounds something like what Gil did to Harold back in nineteen fifty something, and it's never been right since. That's definitely on the embarrassed side, I think."
"Maybe I'd better call Mom," Crystal said thoughtfully. "He sort of interrupted a good discussion we were having."
"Well, she wants to hear from you," he said. "Myleigh and I have been a lot freer about telling her what you've been doing, not that we knew much."
"So how's Myleigh doing, anyway?" she asked.
"Seems to be OK. That roommate of hers is from nut city, although they seem to get along all right if it's just the two of them. I don't call her; she calls me if her roomie isn't around, so we don't often talk. Mostly, we e-mail."
"I want to go back through Athens and see her," Crystal said. "I'm not in so big a hurry to get to Colorado that I can't spend a few hours with her."
"She'd appreciate it," he replied. "Look, Crystal, I've been avoiding asking, but how's the money holding out?"
"Pretty well," she told him. "In fact, I have more of my own than I started with. I saved a bit by only getting a ticket to Skagway, instead of Seattle, and Chuck offered to pay me for being a deckhand on the way back. I turned him down, of course, and told him that just getting the ride covered it, but when I opened my duffle bag at OLTA, I found five hundred bucks in a roll of twenties stuffed in my clean underwear. I think his wife stuffed it there. I'd like to send it back, but I'd be a little embarrassed to."
"Sounds like you earned it. Keep it. You may need it."
"I may keep it over the winter for emergency money, and then drop it off with him in the spring before he heads north."
"You thinking about going with him?"
"Who knows? I might. He asked. What's more, Edith asked, too. I don't know if I want to spend a summer doing it. The part I didn't tell you is that the boat stinks to high heaven of dead fish."
"Yeah, that could be a downer," he grinned. "Any other alternatives?"
"Who knows? Three months ago, I never dreamed I'd drive to Alaska and come back on a salmon boat. A week ago, I never dreamed I'd be working in a ski resort for the winter. I'll tell you what happens when it happens."
"Well, try to keep in touch," he said, and decided he'd better change the subject. "You hungry?"
"Yes," she said. "We sent out for a pizza, but it was a medium and it didn't go far among the three of us."
"I'll bet there's a ham and lima bean casserole in the refrigerator," he grinned. "I'm hungry enough I think I want to eat it."
The morning after that, Randy skipped breakfast at the Spearfish Lake Cafe to say goodbye to Crystal, who had his old Dodge packed for adventures to who knew where. They stood outside the car, had a long kiss that might have to last a long time -- till spring, at the earliest, and Randy was aware that it easily could go longer than that -- especially if she went salmon fishing. For that matter, only her things in the attic were any guarantee he'd ever see her again. "Take it easy, Crystal," he told her.
"I will, Randy. I'm just sorry I couldn't have stayed for Thanksgiving, but I really need to be getting back to Cooper Hill."
"I know," he said. "I just hate for you to leave."
"You wouldn't want me around over Thanksgiving," Crystal grinned. "I know you and Nicole have plans. You two have a good time, and do it once for me, all right? I'm sorry we didn't get the chance this trip, but next time, maybe, OK?"
"I hope so," he said. He ought to be getting used to that sort of thing from Crystal, Myleigh, or Nicole, but he doubted he'd ever manage it. "Take care, Crystal."
"I will," she said. "See you in the spring, maybe."
Once again, for the third time in less than a year, Randy watched Crystal head from sight, perhaps for a while, perhaps forever. He ought to be getting used to it by now, too, but he knew he wouldn't be able to manage that, either.