Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Book 1 of the Dawnwalker Cycle
"Ain't that a hell of a note?" Brent Clark said, leaning back in his office chair.
"It does create some problems," Randy agreed.
"More than some," his grandfather grunted.
One of the difficulties that had unexpectedly cropped up when Randy went to work at Clark Construction almost a year before was what to call his grandfather on the job. It had been clear from the beginning that "Granddad" or something like that wouldn't do; it would be a much-too-pointed reminder of his relationship with his grandfather, and on the job it could cause problems, although everyone in the company knew exactly what the relationship was. "Mr. Clark" might have worked, but his grandfather was too informal for that, and besides, if they went down that road, there were three "Mr. Clarks" from three generations involved in company management. In the end, they'd settled on just using first names, at least in public. Randy still had a mental block about calling him "Brent" so usually he didn't call him that to his face at all, if he could manage it.
For months Randy had been intimately involved in planning the summer's work. Sometime after the first of the year, it had become clear that there were no major school projects on the calendar for the summer, at least until late in the year, and maybe not then. Randy had given thought to going down to the Spearfish Lake United Methodist Church, getting down on his knees and thanking God for that.
There was a church on the schedule, however: the Assembly of God Church in Albany River had burned to the ground the previous fall, but the insurance package had been good and Frank Matson down at Spearfish Lake State had been pretty good about coming up with reasonable terms for a mortgage. As soon as the weather broke, the company would be starting on an expanded building for them.
There was also another new bridge -- this time out in Turtle Lake Township -- plus the usual collection of new houses and smaller projects, but the big project that had taken a lot of time since the first of the year was a big expansion of the casino over in the Three Pines reservation. Randy had to restrain himself to not call it the "Three Cherries" project, at least at any place on the reservation.
After the agony of bids and documentation involved in the school projects, this was really refreshing. The bidding had been less involved with cost -- the tribal casino committee had set a limit, and that was that, although it was easily do-able -- than it was on getting the building built as quickly as possible, preferably before the start of the summer tourist season. That wasn't quite possible, but there was every indication that tourists could be pulling levers on the slots by the Fourth of July weekend, while the time estimates from whatever competing construction companies the casino committee had talked to were more in terms of Labor Day.
It was going to be a fast job. Inspections would be minimal, rather than having to have some state inspector sign off on every form. The building would be built to code, that much was obvious and had been agreed on, but the only building inspector was tribal, and he was as anxious as everyone else to get the slots running. There wasn't even a detailed plan for the building -- the tribal casino committee knew pretty much what they wanted, which was mostly a huge barn with plenty of electrical outlets to power slot machines. As it turned out, the Clark engineering staff did most of the design, and they were already breaking ground over there.
But, this morning, a fly had landed in the ointment. Mike Baker was their most experienced construction superintendent, and the obvious person to ramrod the job through quickly. But, last night, an ambulance had hauled him down to the cardiac care unit at Camden General. Even in the best of times, he'd be out for a month and would have to take it easy all summer -- much too easy to run the casino job. Worse, he'd been making sounds about retiring for a couple years, and the odds were this would drive him over the edge.
"We could pull Dick off the church, and send him over there." Randy suggested.
Brent shook his head. "Wouldn't work, for a number of reasons," he said. "One is that he's reaching on the church job as it is now. That's a big one for him, but he can probably manage it. Second reason is, if we did, who would we replace him with? We can only drag our feet on the church job so much, and we're putting most of our effort into the casino. That'd just slow it down more."
"True," Randy said thoughtfully.
"The worst reason," Brent went on, "Is that it's his church. That's part of the reason we got the job in the first place. He's an elder there, real serious about it. I'll give you one guess what he thinks about gambling."
"Ouch," Randy grimaced. "OK, that won't work. How about Dennis, from the bridge job?"
"Don't think so," Brent said, shaking his head again. "Bottom line, he's mostly a road-and-bridge man, and you got state inspectors, there, too. He knows 'em well enough to deal with 'em."
"Jeez, it starts getting thin, after that," Randy said.
"Don't I know it. I don't want to bring anyone in from outside, either, because they'll just have to take time to learn everybody, and that'll slow the job down. The tribe is so anxious to get this thing going that they're going to put up a big circus tent and fill it with slots till the new building opens."
Randy thought hard. "OK, here's an idea," he said. "The first part of the job is all excavation and concrete. How about Rod? He ought to be able to handle that part all right, and maybe Mike would be able to help him when we get to the structural steel."
"It'd work if we could get him to do it," Brent grunted. "He's capable, and I've asked him before, but he's turned me down. He just wants to stay labor foreman, he says. No idea why."
"He'd be out pouring that basement at the Dunniston house right now. I know Rod pretty good. Maybe if you and I went and talked to him, it might work, especially if he knows we've got our backs to the wall."
"I dunno," Brent shook his head. "Worth a try, I suppose. You wanna take your truck? They carved that yard up pretty good."
Half an hour later, they were at the site of the Dunniston house. Four wheel drive or no, Randy wasn't about to drive the Dakota through that mud hole. They were right in the heart of spring breakup, and really should have waited until things firmed up some, but the Dunnistons were in a yank about getting their new lakeside house done before summer. What happened was the deeper ground stayed frozen, while the thaw worked its way down from the top. The frozen layer wouldn't let the spring melt permeate it, so the water just stayed in one place, creating an immense mud pit. Concrete trucks could wallow through a lot of mud, but they'd had to assign a bulldozer out there to help pull them up to the house and out to the road. Fortunately, he and Brent had brought tall rubber boots.
"Sure would be nice to have one of those new concrete pumper trucks here," Randy observed without trying to be too pointed about it -- getting one had been a topic of debate around the company for a while.
"Yeah, might be," Brent conceded without committing himself.
They got Rod off to the side while one concrete truck was towed away from the house, and another one was assisted by the big yellow Cat, and explained the problem. "Frankly, our backs are against the wall on this," Randy finished the explanation. "We need your help bad."
Rod shook his head, looking more uncomfortable than Randy had ever seen him before. Here was a guy who could face a roomful of drunken pulp loggers with a grin on his face, who was about the toughest guy he knew, and he looked scared. "I can't, Brent, Randy. I just can't," he said, almost with a plea on his face. "Brent, I realize the position you're in, but I just can't do it."
"I was pretty sure," Brent said, noting the discomfort. "But Randy and I thought we'd ask, anyway."
"Thanks for thinking of me," he replied. "I appreciate it, but I just can't."
"Well, thanks anyway," Brent said. "You know the problem. If you can think of an answer, let us know."
"I sure will," he said, looking less uncomfortable, now that the pressure was off. "Randy, you still want to go out to Quaker tonight?"
"Yeah, sure," Randy said. "My truck or yours?"
"How about yours? We took mine the last time."
Randy and Brent slogged back through the mud to the Dakota, and changed out of their rubber boots before they got inside. The boots would need some serious attention with a hose as soon as they got back to the office.
"That's about what I figured would happen," Brent said. "That's what happened before. I sure wish I knew why he thinks he can't handle a job like that. Hell, he's done everything involved, except maybe the wiring, and he knows enough about it to work with the electrical people."
"There's something there that I don't know," Randy replied. "Rod and I are friends, we boat together, we work out together, and I worked for him for a couple summers. Maybe your being around had something to do with it. I can ask him one on one, maybe find out what the problem is, maybe come up with something."
"I wish you would," Brent told him. "Honest to God, if you could get him to ride herd on that project it'd solve a lot of problems. I just can't think of another answer that would be as good."
"I'll try. No promises, though."
It was a nice spring day; it felt good to be outside. Spring had come a little early to Spearfish Lake, and the meltdown was well under way. The sky was blue, and it was warm, for early April, and Randy looked forward to getting out on Quaker, and some of the other little streams around the area on the weekend; all of them were raging, and it would be the best whitewater of the year. Right now, it would mostly be with Rod; until after April 15, Joe would be, as he said, "Deep in the heart of taxes. But that's not what came to Randy's mind as the afternoon rolled on. Rod's obvious discomfort was so unlike the rest of his experience with him that it was very puzzling. Nothing he could think of could account for it.
It didn't take Randy long after work to race home, change clothes, and throw the new whitewater boat in the back of the pickup. While he still had his faithful Mongoose, the process of boat accretion Joe warned him about had begun the previous spring, and now there were three whitewater boats and a sea kayak hanging from the rafters of the Clark garage. Randy had realized he was going to have to get a house with a garage sooner or later, but that was the furthest thing from his mind at the moment. Figuring he could put on his wet suit out at the rapids, he just threw it in the cab and headed over to Rod's.
A few minutes later, they were out on the highway, heading toward Quaker. Rod still seemed quiet and uncomfortable, likely just being with him after what had happened that afternoon. "Randy, I'm sorry I had to turn you and your grandfather down on that job. I realize the problem that you got over there at Three Cherries, but I just can't help."
"Why, Rod?" he asked. "Despite the fact it's a big job, it's one of the simplest big ones we've done in a while. Hell, you know the excavating, you know the concrete, you know the structural steel, and you know all the siding, roofing and stuff. Hell, compared to the last two school jobs, there isn't going to be enough paperwork to wipe a couple of butts, and the inspections are going to consist of, 'We need to get them slots going.' There's nothing there you can't handle. In fact, the biggest problem I can see is going to be keeping the laborers from sneaking off to play the slots they already got. If you can't handle that, no one can."
"Oh, I could handle that part of it," he said, smiling lightly at the joke. "But Randy, I can't handle being top boss of a job like that."
"Rod, I don't understand," he prodded. "I've never seen you back away from a tough situation before, and this one isn't even tough."
"It is," he said, extremely uncomfortable, now. "I can't handle it."
Randy thought perhaps he ought to back off -- he could tell Rod was close to getting angry, and skilled though he'd become at martial arts over the last several years, there was no way he could have handled an angry Rod, even with a .44 magnum. But, he couldn't help but ask once again, "Why?"
He glanced over at Rod, and there were tears rolling down his cheeks. "Randy, promise you won't tell anyone?"
"Sure," he said. Whatever the problem was, he was close to it.
It took Rod a moment to get it out: "Randy, I can't read."
"I've seen you read. Prints and such," he said, thinking that all the pieces had just fallen into place.
"You've seen me faking it," Rod said, still uncomfortable, but a little more easily now that the secret was out. How long had he hidden it? Randy wondered, and realized instantly that the answer was: "all his life." "I can read numbers, I can make out the drawings on prints, and sometimes I can figure out some of the words. Damn it, Randy, how many times have I asked you to read a print for me because I forgot my reading glasses?"
"Yeah," Randy said solemnly. There had been many times. How damn sad. "I see your point. Does anyone else know?"
"No," Rod said sadly, "Not even my wife. She knows I don't like to read, and I'm a lousy reader, but I fake it with her, too. Randy, I can't even read my kids report cards! I mean, I can read the letter grades, but not the explanations. That's why I can't take the damn job, even with the extra money I'd get. I mean, I can fake it with the prints a little, but there's all the waybills and purchase orders and invoices and all the other crap that I could never fake my way through."
"All right," Randy said firmly, "This job is important, and our backs are against the wall. I'll just have to tell Brent that I'll have to spend my time over there helping with the paperwork."
"Then what happens when the next job comes along, like one of those school jobs, and you can't be with me all the time?" he protested. "You and I know it ain't likely that Mike will ever be back, and then I'll have a hell of a time turning your Granddad down again."
How damn sad, Randy thought again. "How come you never learned?" he asked, thinking about it.
"I don't know," Rod told him. "I guess I was kind of dumb in school. It was a lousy school anyway, and I guess I was one of the troublemakers, so each teacher just sorta passed me along. I finally dropped out in the eighth grade and went logging. Just too damn dumb, I guess."
"Rod, you are not dumb," Randy said firmly. "In a lot of ways, you're one of the smarter people I know. If nothing else, you just proved it all over again. You can't be dumb and cover it up as long as you have. What's more, I don't think you're dyslexic, not with your hand-eye coordination and the fact that you can read a little."
"It means that your brain has trouble putting together what your eye sees," Randy said, slowing down and checking the rear view mirror. "Even if you are, it's probably pretty mild, and easily correctable. You just had lousy schooling." No traffic was coming; he threw the wheel over, and turned around.
"Hey, where are we going?" Rod asked.
"We're getting out of my depth," Randy smiled. "I've spent a lot of time hanging around with teacher ed people, but I never was one. We need to talk to my mother."
"Randy, I don't want anyone to know!" Rod protested. "Damn it, it was hard enough to tell you."
"We need to talk to my mother," Randy repeated. "You aren't the first person to come to her with this problem. Not even the first Clark employee this year. You'll just be the first one I brought in, instead of Dad. I'm not saying who else she's helped, but she's been helping adults learn to read all my life."
"I never knew that," Rod said, a little surprised.
"See?" Randy grinned, "That proves she won't tell. By the time we get through with this Three Cherries job, you won't need me to cover for you. And, you'll be able to bitch your kids out about their report cards."
Randy drew a cup of coffee from the office pot, then went into Brent's office and closed the door. "Did you talk to him?" Brent asked.
"Yeah." Randy replied flatly. "He'll do it."
"How'd you manage that?" Brent asked.
"He'll do it if I spend my time helping him," Randy replied.
"Look, you're just going to have to take it at face value," Randy told his grandfather. "I promised him that I wouldn't tell you why and I won't. But, if everything works out OK, it shouldn't be necessary the next time."
"Getting a super for that job is important enough that I won't ask," Brent said, eyeing Randy sharply. "And, hell, he's got a lot to teach you. It won't hurt. You're probably going to have to put in some evenings and weekends to do everything else, though."
"I know," Randy replied, feeling as good about what had happened as anything he'd done in a while. "It'll be worth it."
"That's about it," Nicole said, handing Randy a poorly packed box, which he set in the back of the Dakota.
"Make one last pass through the room," he advised. Go through all the drawers and closets and whatever, just to make sure you didn't leave anything."
"I know," Nicole smirked. "I've moved out of college dorms before."
"The last time is always the best. I speak from experience."
"It just feels strange. After all this time, I'm done."
"Yes, it does feel strange," Randy grinned. "Along toward the end of the summer, you'll be itching to go back, and there's no back to go to. Just think how much worse it's going to be for Myleigh. You've only had five years of college. She'll have had seven."
"And, she'll be Doctor Harris when she gets done," Nicole grinned. "Sorry, I don't think I'm quite up for that. I've sat in classrooms enough, thank you."
"Did she get off all right?"
"Yeah," Nicole told him, "She should be in England by now. Thanks for helping."
For whatever reason, the schedule at Weatherford ran a week behind virtually everywhere else, and it had caused schedule problems in the past, but this time it had worked to their advantage. Nicole had wrapped up her finals earlier in the week, but Myleigh still had to move out of her room in the graduate dorm at Athens for the summer. To temper the hassles with Olivia, Randy had picked up Nicole on the way to Athens, and tried to keep his mouth shut and act like a beast of burden. He'd basically hauled boxes of books and things out to the truck while Myleigh and Nicole had kept Olivia occupied. He'd brought them back to Weatherford, and the next day Nicole had taken her out to the Camden airport. Back in Spearfish Lake, Randy had prevailed on his dad and Rod to help haul the stuff to the attic where once again most of Myleigh's belongings were concentrated. She was traveling light this trip; her beloved overstuffed chair was in the attic, of course, but even Blue Beauty was staying behind. He had difficulty imagining Myleigh not having the dark blue Celtic harp with her.
"It's probably not going to be quite as simple in the fall," Randy said. "But it should go all right with you around." Basically the same things were going to have to go back to Athens, and since Myleigh wouldn't be needing them all summer, it was just going to be a case of hauling everything back down.
"Well, I'll be around," Nicole told him. "Have you heard from Crystal recently?"
"Nothing since I saw you last time," he said. In fact, it had been a couple of weeks. The last he'd heard had come from Cooper Hill; she was planning on heading back to Seattle. After that, she was considering heading south down to California, to check out the idea of hiking the John Muir Trail, which was part of the Pacific Crest Trail in the central part of the state. But, that could change, she told Randy on the phone.
"I was just wondering if she'd had any more thoughts about doing the AT with us next summer," Nicole said.
"She didn't say anything, one way or the other," he smiled. "But, I expect we'll hear from her sooner or later."
"Let me know if you do," Nicole told him. "I'm probably going to be a little hard to catch up with at OLTA, but a letter should get through all right."
"Will do," Randy nodded. Inside, he was a little depressed at the thought. While all three of the girls were going to be off doing something they wanted to do, and he was happy for them, they were going to be scattered even wider to the winds than they had been the year before. This year one of them was going to be in England, one at OLTA and Mosquito Valley, and the third God only knew where. Crystal could be hiking the John Muir Trail, but she could just as easily be on a salmon boat heading toward Alaska, too. In fact, the longer he went without hearing from her, the more likely that seemed.
Crystal had reported having a pretty good winter. The job had worked out all right, it kept her busy. She'd been able to considerably polish her ski skills, but the partying in the bunkhouse was as bad as she'd expected. She and Barbara had roomed together, and toward the end Crystal had reported having enough cash on hand to be able to roam a while. So, she was roaming.
"You've got what? Three days to get around before you have to leave for OLTA, right?" he said, just to make conversation.
"I'd actually like to make it more like two, so I don't have to drive like a maniac to get out there," she frowned. "I'm sorry that I'm not going to be able to spend more time with you, but the schedule is pretty tight."
"We knew that was going to happen, like we knew the schedule was going to be tight on the way back from there last fall. Like I said, I'll do what I can to help."
"At this point, there's not much I can do about it," she said. "But once it's over, I'll have some free time before school starts. Maybe we can have some of it together."
"I hope so. It's going to depend on how work is going, but right now it's going to be a little hard to say. We'll just have to keep in touch if we're going to make plans."
"I know it's a long drive, but why don't you come down to Mosquito Valley for a weekend?" she suggested. "We usually run the girls out on a Saturday afternoon and don't get the next batch till Sunday afternoon, so we could have a day and a night together."
"You're right, it's a long drive for a short time," he told her. "But, I'll try. Again, it depends on the schedule. We'll have to mess with that one, too, when we get closer."
"You're still coming to graduation later today, aren't you?" Nicole asked.
"I wouldn't miss it," he told her.
The Szczerowski family stayed around long after graduation, hanging out on the lawn in the glow of the ceremony. Nicole was Dennis and Sally's oldest daughter, and there was a seven-year spread between her and the next oldest kid, so they'd be going to graduations for a while yet. Randy knew the family reasonably well, having been in and out of their house from time to time much of his life. It was a proud moment for them; as far as anyone knew, Nicole was the first of her family to graduate from college. Her college career had been a little rocky, but she acknowledged it was her own fault for changing majors twice while on her way to her teaching certificate, and she'd really enjoyed her history major.
When he and Nicole had been down in Florida over her spring break, the surf was flat for several days at Buddha and Giselle's, so they'd taken some time to do some snooping around. Florida doesn't have quite the rich history of, say, Massachusetts, but it has its points, and St. Augustine was one of them, not far away from their favorite surfing spot. They'd explored the town for a while, and then on the way back she had treated him to a two-hour lecture, from memory, on the creation of the city, DeSoto's expedition, and the Spanish influence in general. It had been fascinating, and far more interesting to Randy than listening to Buddha and Myleigh argue over some obscure sixteenth-century English author he'd never heard of before. Fortunately the surf had come up the next day, and it was warmer than he'd ever experienced down there. Nicole surfed for hours, dressed only in her bikini, and Randy just wore neoprene shorts. Afterwards, they'd baked in the sun and discussed the Civil War. Perhaps Nicole didn't have the intellectual depth of Myleigh -- Randy didn't know many people who did, and that included a lot of Ph.D.s -- but she was far ahead of Crystal, and he'd found himself thoroughly enjoying the discussions.
He'd taken his leave while the Szczerowskis were still celebrating; it really was a family moment. Nicole didn't know it, but there was a surprise party waiting for her at home, and it would give him a chance to change clothes and still get over there in time to greet her. As he drove north, he found himself once again reassessing the year since he'd worn a cap and gown.
It had been a busy one, to be thrown right into the two school building projects one right after the other; there'd been a little breather during the coldest months of the winter, although not much of one. Since Clark Construction was doing most of the design for the Three Cherries casino addition, they'd been busy with designs and blueprints until the frost had gone out of the ground. Now, construction was in full swing, and with the need for Randy to be on the site most of the time and play catchup in the evening, he still didn't have much free time. Still, he'd learned a lot in that year -- practical experience he couldn't have picked up in his classwork, anyway. The bottom line was that he was still satisfied with his decision three years before to get involved with the construction company.
The lack of free time had cut into a lot of the things he liked to do. He was back to maybe only one night a week working out, and maybe one or two nights kayaking, even though the water held up, and it looked like Quaker would stay runnable for a while, yet.
But, there were many things he didn't have time for. He'd envied Crystal her AT trip last summer, and Nicole her proposed AT trip for the summer after the coming one; he'd have liked to do it himself, but there wasn't a chance, hadn't ever been one. So be it; when you got down to the bottom, he was still a worker bee, while at least Crystal and Nicole had a little freedom left.
Damn, he wished Nicole hadn't gotten all worked up about doing the Appalachian Trail! Once, he and Nicole had agreed there was no point in their getting serious until they were both out of college. Well, that was a long time ago, but she was out of college, now, and the proposed hike had deferred their getting together. About all he could do was wait and see what happened. For most of the past year and more, as the three girls had scattered, he'd felt the need to make some sort of decision in that area and get on with his life, but things had caused it to be put off. There was no real need to make a decision yet. Much could happen in a year, he knew very well.
He was woolgathering and uncritical in his thinking, he knew, but it helped to pass the time as he once more completed a Camden Run. He was looking forward to heading home and joining the festivities for Nicole, even though it would just be that much closer to one more time when another of the girls turned her back and walked away from him for a while to pursue her own adventure. How lucky they were. All three of them.