Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Book 1 of the Dawnwalker Cycle
Every so often it got hot in June around Spearfish Lake. The temps were in the nineties, and the humidity right on up there, too. What made it bad was that people got so used to being comfortable in the winter, then spring was short and summer came with a rush, and that made it seem even worse than it was. But, the hot season only lasted for a relatively short time, while the bitter cold could go on for months, and people barely had a chance to get used to summer before it was time for winter again.
The air conditioner in the Dakota had been about the only thing that kept Randy going that afternoon. The Three Pines job was going well and was a little ahead of schedule in spite of some things going wrong. Much, however, had gone right, and Rod was doing a great job of bossing the work, which was why they were a little ahead of schedule. Even better, Rod was getting confident enough with his abilities that Randy could often sneak off for a few hours to deal with the pile of paperwork accumulating on his desk. With Mike apparently not planning on returning at all, it looked like Rod was going to be the big-project super for years to come, and Randy didn't begrudge a minute of the time it had taken him to help him along -- it'd be paid back many times over in the years to come.
The most important result, and the most immediate, was that they were going to make schedule on the Three Pines job, which was good, since Clark had won a bid in May for an expansion at Jerusalem Paper over in Warsaw. It was basically a warehouse, with less interior finish and electrical work than the casino job, but there was no way they were going to be able to get started on it until they were done with the casino. From everything they could tell about the job, it pretty well looked like it would take them until about the time the snow flew to wrap it up. Randy expected that he'd still have to help Rod some with it, but probably less than he was doing now.
It was late in the day by the time he got back to the office. They'd been keeping the air conditioner cranked up in there, too, and Randy was able to survive the heat in the brief moments he'd been outside. Maybe an hour or two of working late, and he could take off and go jump in the lake, which was still pretty chilly after the cold of winter. It'd cool him off for a few minutes, anyway.
Randy collapsed at his desk and stared at the pile. The biggest part of the pile was prints for the Jerusalem Paper job, although he only had to refer to them occasionally. Somehow, he had to work out the details to get structural steel and some other specialized components ordered, and getting the right pieces of steel without a lot of lead time was always a problem. He was just getting set to call about the steel when the phone on the desk went off. Hope it's not Rod with a problem he needs me for, he thought -- it was a long drive over to Three Pines and it would blow up the evening plans. Maybe it's something that would wait for morning, he hoped as he picked up the phone. "Clark Construction, Randy," he said.
"Randy, it's Karin," her familiar voice came over the phone. "Have you any word on Crystal?"
"Nothing new," he said. "The last thing I heard was the phone call from Seattle, and that's two months ago, now. More and more I'm beginning to think she's out on that salmon boat somewhere."
"Well, I'm starting to get a little worried. It's even worse than last year, when at least I knew you and Myleigh were in contact with her. Do you think Myleigh would have heard from her?"
"Almost impossible," Randy said positively. "Myleigh says the mail is lousy, so we get back and forth with each other by e-mail. She can only get online every so often, so days will go by. And, Myleigh left for England after the last time we heard from Crystal, and she hadn't heard any word then. I doubt very seriously that Crystal has Myleigh's address." They'd been over it before, but darn it, he was getting worried, too.
"How about that girl she hiked with last summer? Nicole, I think you said her name was?"
"I'd have heard if she contacted her. Nicole doesn't have e-mail down there, and her phone access is limited, so we don't talk back and forth much, but I did talk to her last weekend. She's worried, too."
"So, nothing new," Karin said, sounding resigned to the news.
"Like I say, I think she's out on that salmon boat. They operate out in the middle of nowhere. She may have sent two or three letters, and they're sitting on some packer somewhere, waiting to hit town."
"I hope it's something like that," Karin said. "Thanks, Randy. It's good to know someone shares my concern."
"How's everyone else?" he asked.
"About the same," she sighed. That wasn't necessarily a throwaway line, Randy knew. "Not much word from Jon, either, although we know he's in Phoenix. Pete and I just sit around and watch TV silently. Nanci is gone somewhere with her new boyfriend, and I haven't heard from her in a couple weeks, either."
"He any better than the last one?"
"Not really," Karin said. "He has a considerable number of piercings, but at least he seems fairly kind, so I suppose that's better."
"OK, well, look," Randy said, having heard more about the Chladek family than he wanted to right now, "I'll sure let you know the moment I hear anything."
"Thanks, Randy," she said. "I know you will. It's just that . . . well . . ."
"I know," Randy said. "Me, too."
Randy put the phone down. He talked with Karin each week, and each week she seemed more and more isolated. It's got to be lonely down there, he thought. Things probably seem pretty pointless to her, right now.
He worked for another hour and a half, until the rest of the staff had gone home, and then decided to do it himself. He realized that he was getting little done efficiently; he needed that swim he'd promised himself, a beer or two, maybe just sit out in a lawn chair and watch the sunset before going to bed early. Thank goodness, he had decided not to take section four of the EMT class this summer -- he'd never have had the time or the energy for it. Maybe another year.
The Dakota had warmed up quite a bit in the late afternoon sun, even with a window rolled down, but the air conditioner soon was blowing out chilled air. It wasn't a terribly long drive home, but he felt exhausted.
No one was around, but there was a note on the kitchen counter, which was the family mail drop: "At Steve and Binky's. Leftover casserole in the reefer." Ham and lima bean again probably, he thought. Well, maybe the Frostee Freeze, he thought. He wadded up the note, and noticed the postcard that lay underneath it. It said "Aloha, Hawaii," and had a collage of hula girls, surfing photos, beach scenes and the like. Idly, he wondered who he knew who could be in Hawaii. He flipped the card over and read the brief note: "Surfing in Hawaii. Way cool! Back in the fall, maybe. -- Crystal."
Hawaii!!! What the hell was she doing in Hawaii, for God's sakes? Well, surfing, obviously. How the hell had she gotten there? He'd been willing to bet good money on salmon fishing in Alaska. This was probably going to be a good one when and if he got a chance to hear it. He thought about calling Karin, but quickly rejected it -- the drill was to never call her at home, and he'd never thought about it, even with a proxy like Eloise. And, he couldn't call Karin at work in the morning; he'd be out on the site. Maybe he could sneak away to a pay phone for a few minutes, though.
There was always e-mail. Hunger put aside for a minute, he went over and booted up the computer in the living room. In moments, he was typing, "Got a card in the mail from Crystal when I got home. All it says is 'Surfing in Hawaii. Way cool! Back in the fall, maybe. – Crystal.' Guess I was wrong about salmon fishing. Will try to call tomorrow morning. Will be out of the office on a site, so may be later on. -- Randy."
He glanced it over, no obvious typos but a rush job. Oh, well, it wouldn't matter. He was just hitting the "send" button when the doorbell rang. One thing after another, he thought, getting up.
If the card from Crystal had been a surprise, the couple greeting him at the door was an even bigger one: Matt and Janelle Peckanen! He'd had one Christmas card from them, and that was all he'd heard of them since their wedding almost a year ago! "Matt! Janelle!" he beamed. "What are you doing here? Come on in, for Pete's sakes!"
"Dat's a long story, yaah," Matt said, in that familiar Yooper accent as he held the door for Janelle. "Gonna be workin' here, eh? Dey put me on at dat Record-Herald."
"Oh, yeah, I knew the last junior reporter left," he said. "I guess Mike had to scrape the bottom of the barrel. I thought you were going to be in radio."
"I was," Matt said. "But all dey would let me do is read da canned news an' da hog futures, eh? I never did no real reportin', and den one day I got tired of dat and give da whole news show in Yooper, yaah. Holywa, I taught I was gonna be cuttin' pulp after all, after dat."
"Smart mouth here let his smart mouth get away from him, yaah," Janelle smiled and said in her own Yooper accent. "I told him I wasn't gonna let 'im sit 'roun' and me do all da work, so he started sendin' out resumes."
"I guess I don' like radio dat much," Matt grinned. "No writin', eh? So, I guessed I'd better find some newspaper job, an' I remembered what you said about da Record-Herald, yaah, an' I sent a résumé here."
"So, they got you living above the office, eh?" Randy asked. There was an apartment there that had housed many junior reporters at the local paper over the years.
"Yaah, not a bad place, kinda small, but bedder dan a dorm, eh?"
"Better dan livin' wid my folks, eh" Janelle grinned. "We gotta move in yet, yaah, but can do it over da weekend."
"So how da girls?" Matt asked. "Janelle, I tol' ya how dis guy keep tree gals on da string at once, and dey all knew about each udder. Dunno how he ever did dat and survived."
"Be nice to see even one of 'em," Randy said. "They're all scattered to the winds. Nicole is in southern Michigan at a Girl Scout camp, Myleigh is in England, and I just found out Crystal is in Hawaii."
"How dey doin'? 'Specially Crystal, eh?"
"Doing fine," he said, "At least as far as I know. Haven't seen Crystal since last fall, Myleigh since April. Did see Nicole a couple weeks ago, though. She made a pit stop on the way through here from Idaho. NASCAR style, change the crap in the trunk, a full load of fuel, four tires and on her way in fifteen seconds. I was the jack man on that one," he laughed. It had actually taken about an hour, and had in fact involved a four-tire change out at the tire store. "Me, I can't tell you the last time I got farther away from here than Camden. Well, I was in Athens, back in April, it must have been."
"Dat where Myleigh goin', eh?"
"Yeah," Randy said as the phone rang, "I better get this." He picked up the phone. "Clark's."
"Hawaii?" Karin's voice sounded in his ear. "What in the world is she doing in Hawaii?"
"Surfing, apparently. Did you stay late at the office?"
"No, Pete's out mowing the lawn, and I decided to check e-mail for lack of anything better to do," she said. "How in the world did our girl get to Hawaii?"
"Beats me," Randy said. "You know absolutely everything I know. Hey, look, she may have sent you a longer letter and you just haven't gotten it yet. If you do hear anything, you let me know, OK?"
"Of course," Karin agreed. "This is a relief, I think."
"Uhhh, yeah. Sounds like she doesn't have any clear plans. 'Back in the fall, maybe' doesn't sound real specific. About all I can say is that she'll turn up here or there sometime or other, and we'll find out what happened, then."
"I suppose you're right," she said. "The mower just shut off, so I'll hang up."
"See ya, Karin," he said as the phone clicked in his ear.
"What was dat all 'bout?" Matt asked.
"That was Crystal's mother. She, Nicole, Myleigh, and I are sort of a Crystal News Network. When one of us hears something, we pass it around. Guess I'll have to drop a note to Nicole, but give me a minute while I'm thinking about it and I'll e-mail Myleigh. Grab a chair, you two! We got some catching up to do."
The computer was still online, and Randy knocked out a real quick e-mail to Myleigh, taking only a few seconds, then logged off and shut down. "You guys like a beer or something?" he asked. "Better yet, how about dinner? We'll go out to the Inn, get a good one. Hell, I'm buying."
"Sounds good ta me, yaah," Janelle smiled. "We haven't eaten yet."
"Yaah, me too," Matt grinned. "'Specially if you're buyin'."
They headed outside; Randy discovered that Matt and Janelle were driving a tiny Ford Escort. "What happened to the pickup?" he asked.
"Had ta sell it, yaah," Matt said. "Too hard on da gas."
"Married life will do that to you," Randy grinned. "Let's just take the Dakota," he said, pointing at the red pickup. "It's got some construction dirt, but it's not too bad."
"What happened ta da Dodge, eh?" Matt asked.
"Crystal's got it," Randy said. "Which means that it's God knows where if she's in Hawaii."
"Dat Crystal, she must get 'roun'," Janelle grinned.
"I don't know the details, especially the last few months," Randy grinned as he headed over to the pickup, while Janelle, then Matt piled in the far side. "But last year, she worked a dive boat in the Florida Keys, hiked the Appalachian Trail, drove to Alaska, hitched a ride back on a salmon fishing boat last fall, and wound up working at a ski resort in Colorado over the winter. Yeah, that's getting around."
"Not plannin' on marryin' any of 'em, eh?"
"Not any time soon," Randy said. "Hey, let me give you a word of advice. I don't know about you, Janelle, but Matt, I'd can the Yooper accent around here, if I were you. I know you can do it. There's not much of it around here."
"We know," Janelle smiled, and said in a perfectly normal upper Midwest accent. "But Matt said it was all right to talk Yooper around you."
"Hell, it was talking Yooper that got me into trouble at that little potboiler radio station anyway," Matt shook his head and grinned.
"Well, if it makes you feel at home when you're with me, fine," Randy said. "Takes me back to the good old days. Boy, that seems like a long, long time ago, doesn't it?"
"Yaah," Matt said, returning to form, "Da good ol' days of hangin' 'roun' wid ya, while you was surrounded wid beautiful women, surfin' Superior, and beatin' up hockey players."
"Matt, you're pulling my leg," Janelle said.
"I usually hate to admit it," he laughed. "But in this case, it's all true, as far as it goes. Boy, that sounds weird to say it."
"Been surfin' much?" Matt asked.
"Not since March," Randy told him. "Been too busy, been up to my ass in construction work. Look, you two are still up in Spread Eagle, right?"
"For the moment," Matt said. "I'm not looking forward to having to move down here with the Escort."
"Well, I can come up and help you this weekend," he replied. "I'm the one with the truck now, I guess."
"We'd appreciate it," Janelle said. "The last year has been a little difficult. Matt wasn't getting paid much, and we mostly had to live on what I made."
"What do you do?"
"I'm an RN," she said. "I usually don't have much trouble finding work."
"We don't have a hospital around here anymore," Randy said. "Nothing closer than Camden. But let me put in a good word with Shovelhead for you. He may know of something."
"Shovelhead?" she frowned.
"No point in surprising you," Randy grinned. "That's what you call him if you see him out on his Harley. In scrubs, he's Dr. Metarie. Plays a hell of a violin, too."
"Ya know," Matt said with a huge grin. "Somethin' tells me I'm gonna like dis place. I tink I'm finally beginnin' ta unnerstan' ya at last, Randy."
The high point of the summer by far came one afternoon in the middle of August, out at the company yard, when Rod and Randy pulled in from different directions at the same time. "Hey, I got somethin' for ya," Rod said, and reached in his truck and pulled out a copy of Red Storm Rising. "Helluva ending," he grinned.
Back when the Three Cherries job had been winding down, he and Randy had been having lunch one day. Rod had been coming along with the reading pretty well, after a number of sessions with Linda. It basically had proven he already had most of the pieces he needed, but just needed a little help and confidence to put them together. At lunch that day, he'd told Randy he'd like to try to read a real book sometime.
Randy and his mother had a long discussion that night, and finally settled on the early Tom Clancy thriller. It was well written, had a lot of action, had some stuff that Rod would understand and some that he could learn about, and wasn't especially challenging for a beginning reader. And, it was long enough that there would be a real feeling of accomplishment when finishing it.
"You liked it?" Randy grinned.
"Yeah," Rod told him. "Took me about a month to get through the first third, about two weeks to get through the second, and a week to get through the last third. He write any others like that?"
"A whole pot load," Randy grinned. What a hell of a victory! Rod had actually sat down and read a book for pleasure, had enjoyed it, improved his skills, and wanted more! "You want me to bring you another?"
"Naw. I'll just take a run down to the library."
"Look for Patriot Games," Randy suggested, trying to cover up his immense pride and happiness for his friend, and not doing too well. By God, Randy may have graduated from college, but this was a bigger deal, as far as he was concerned. "That's pretty good. If that's not there, try one of the others. But, there's a hell of a lot of good reading there."
Randy knew that the junior reporters at the Record-Herald were run pretty ragged, and usually didn't stay long, but he also knew the ones who proved themselves went quickly on to other things. Brenda Hodunk, the girl who had preceded Matt, had only stayed about nine months but had won two state awards, a major national award, and had accomplished a lot, some of it in some rather sticky situations. She now was city editor for the Camden Press, which is why the job had opened up again. Randy knew her work well enough to know that Matt had a tough act to follow.
Having Matt and Janelle around put a considerably different spin on the summer for Randy. One of the real downsides of coming back to Spearfish Lake in the first place was that Randy knew most of the friends he'd gone to school with were going to be pretty well gone. Only a handful of kids he knew remained in Spearfish Lake, and mostly they weren't kids he'd hung out with. The kids who'd gone to college had been the first to scatter. He had seen some of them once in a while in his summers off from college, but the year he graduated most of them disappeared like the dew on a summer's day, off to jobs here and there and everywhere, creating marriages and lives of their own. Mike McMahon, the editor of the Record-Herald and Matt's new boss, referred to them as "the exiles," and had said once, in print, "the smart ones go, but the smartest ones stay."
While Randy had many older friends, including people like Gil and Harold, up in their sixties, he'd missed having someone around his own age, especially with Nicole gone for the summer. Matt, though not a local, was a special friend, and Randy soon became good friends with Janelle too; she was easy to get to know. Though all of them were pretty busy -- Shovelhead had managed to get Janelle working with a home-care program for the elderly -- they managed to spend a lot of time together.
Perhaps it was the example of Matt and Janelle having an obviously happy marriage that started to get to Randy a little. It was all well and good to play around, but in the back of his mind, Randy started to think it was getting to be time to grow up, where the girls were concerned. Crystal was still God knew where and was coming back God knew when; neither he nor Karin had heard another word from her in over two months other than the one postcard. With Myleigh in England and increasingly out of reach, anyway, his thoughts turned to Nicole, even though the short contacts he had with Mosquito Valley seemed to indicate that she was still planning to do the AT the following summer.
But, once she returned home, and it wasn't far off, now, it looked like she'd pretty well be around Spearfish Lake until the time came to head to Springer Mountain next spring. While she'd never met Matt or Janelle, he looked forward to introducing her to them. More importantly, he really looked forward to spending some time with her, trying to establish something a little more than just friendship before she started her long walk.
So, it was with a good deal of enthusiasm that he took the phone call at the office one mid-August afternoon, announcing she was back. The pile on his desk was pretty low for once, and he'd put in a lot of extra hours, so he had no guilt about heading for the door within seconds; within minutes, he was at the Szczerowski house, where she had just started unloading the car. "God, it's good to have you home again," he said, taking her in his arms.
"It's good to be back," she smiled, giving him a big kiss, not caring whether her little brother was looking on or not.
"How was the summer?" he asked.
"Very good," she said. "I was able to make some program changes that ought to stick for a while. They really want me to come back next year, but I told them I couldn't. Jackpine and I are still planning on starting the trail in March."
"Jackpine, that's a trail name, right?" he asked.
"It's also her camp name. Her real name is Jacqueline. She's kind of tall and skinny. I was sort of hoping you could take us down and send us off from Springer."
"Probably can," Randy grinned. "I know how to find the place now. But, hell, we've got months to talk about it."
"No, Randy, we don't," she shook her head. "I'm afraid I've got some news that you're not going to like."
Oh, God, what now? Probably found a boyfriend, he thought, a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. You waited too long, dodo. "What?" he asked, the disappointment evident.
"Randy, I got a really good deal on a job. The pay is terrific, and it's just too good to turn down, since it fits in perfectly with the AT."
Well, that was a little better. At least it wasn't a boyfriend. "What's this all about?"
"This only got settled the day before I left, and I didn't have time to call you. There's a high school about five miles from the camp. There's a teacher there who's supposed to be having a baby, oh, in the next month, sometime. Anyway, their union contract says that she gets four months off after she has the baby, so they need a long-term sub for her. I can't work there over eighty-nine school days or it gets into tenure and union problems, but that fits about right with her schedule, and I get paid scale for the semester. That works out to about fourteen thousand dollars."
Randy let out a long, low whistle. "No, it'd be hard to turn that down, for three months' work."
"It's more than three months," she said. "It's school days, not calendar days, so it goes up until after the first of January, probably around the tenth, or something. It depends a little on when she has her baby."
"It's still a hell of a good deal," he told her. "I wish you were going to be here, but I can't argue with a deal like that, especially with the trail timing issues. Do you have a place to stay down there?"
"Yes," she grinned. "That's the really neat part. You know, I was really concerned about how much of the stuff I learned at OLTA last spring I was going to be able to pass on in one summer. I did the best thing I could. I kept talking OLTA to Harmony all summer. That's Tamara McKimmey; she's the camp director, and she also watches the place in the winter. Anyway, I got her interested enough that she's going to OLTA this fall, to take the course I took, WFR, and maybe something else. I'm going to watch her place and the camp for her this fall. I get paid, not much, but I get a place to stay for free, even after she gets back."
"You know," he grinned, "You may just have gotten paid back for all those mosquito bites you've endured there over the years. How long before you have to head back?"
"A couple weeks. I left some stuff down there, but I've got to change a lot around. Look, Randy, I'm sorry. I know we had big plans to spend time together this fall, but I just can't pass this up."
"No, you can't," he said, loaded with mixed emotions. "We're just going to have to spend what time we can in the next couple weeks as best we can. Is that OK with you?"
"Randy, you don't know how much I'm looking forward to it," she said. "Ever since we went to Florida, that's something I've been looking forward to. We're still going to have a couple months or so in the winter, and we can do some snowboarding, maybe even go to Buddha and Giselle's over break, like we planned last year."