Facing the Storm

"A Spearfish Lake Story"

a novel by
Wes Boyd
©2001, ©2009, ©2012

Part IV: Spring Break

Chapter 15

"What do you think we ought to wear?" Candice asked as she stood in John’s old bedroom, dressed only in her underwear.

"All Phil said was ‘casual,’" John told her. "The problem is, I don’t know what Phil and Brandy consider casual. What I consider casual is no tie. To Josh and Tiffany, it could mean that they hose the dog crap off their boots. Phil and Brandy are probably somewhere in between, but just where? Your guess is good as mine."

"Well, I’m not going to dress down for a wedding," she snorted, eyeing a beige skirt and blazer. "I guess basically office clothes, not just at-home clothes. What are you going to wear?"

John shook his head. "I guess slacks and a sweater and sport jacket," he said finally. "I didn’t bring a lot of dress-down clothes with me."

"I just wish we knew Phil and Brandy better, then we’d have a better idea," Candice said. "I’m not even sure why we were invited. You said Phil told you it was going to be a small family and friends affair. They’re nice people, but we’re not that close."

"Well, if it was just me, I don’t think I would have been invited," he replied. "I suspect you’re the reason, at least why Phil called."

"Huh? I don’t get it."

"Think about it. He doesn’t have any family in the area. His folks are in Florida, and not doing well. I’d guess that most of the people there will be friends or family from around Spearfish Lake. I suspect you represent Arvada Center."

Candice looked at her husband for a moment. "You could be right," she said finally. "Well, we’d better get moving."

A few minutes later, they were downstairs and in their car, heading for Phil and Brandy’s. After some discussion, they had agreed to leave the boys with their grandparents, mostly because they had never met the bride and groom. Grandma and Grandpa Archer didn’t mind, they didn’t get to see enough of the kids, anyway – and it gave John and Candice a rare opportunity to go to an adult occasion without having the boys along.

Josh and Tiffany were just getting out of the Jeep when they pulled up. Candice was a little surprised to see that Tiffany wore a pair of khaki slacks and a light blue sweater, with no jacket in spite of it being a cold, blustery day for early April. She probably considered it a warm and balmy day after all that time in Alaska, Candice thought.

"Well, there goes that theory," John said as he shut off the car.

"What’s that?"

"That she doesn’t own anything but blue jeans," he smiled. He’d noticed, too.

"And not even wearing boots, either," she snickered.

"Hey, John, Candice," Josh called as they got out of the car. "When did you make it up?"

"Yesterday afternoon," John replied. "We couldn’t leave till the boys got out of school, and that meant we’d have gotten up here after midnight if we’d come Friday. At least we don’t have to head back tonight."

Josh shook his head. "I should have come over and said hi this morning," he said. "But, with the schedule we’ve been keeping, some sack time felt good."

"Been busy?"

"Both of us have been making night runs all week, and trying to keep our eyes open all day at the store," he said. "When we do get a few hours off, it’s not hard to decide what to do. But, it’ll be nice to get an afternoon out, too."

"Do you expect this to be a big occasion?" Candice asked. If Josh and Tiffany were dressed as nicely as they were – say, about what she’d wear for an afternoon around the house when she didn’t expect heavy cleaning – then it might be more formal than they’d dressed.

"Not really," Tiffany replied. "They’ve been living together for so long that this really isn’t a big deal. Just sort of like our wedding, except in the living room, not out on the top of Turtle Hill."

Candice remembered the wedding five years before. It was a rather unusual outdoor ceremony, not long after Tiffany had graduated from high school. Candice had to admit that the view of the lake and the forest from the top of Turtle Hill was spectacular, which fit in with the informality of the ceremony. Only afterward had John whispered to her that this was the favorite spot for the local kids to come and make out. He told her that the local story was that there were more marriages made on Turtle Hill than there were in the local churches. Tiffany had been wearing blue jeans and a tank top, although Josh did wear slacks and a polo shirt. Candice had been told that there had been a rather heated discussion between the bride and her mother about whether she should wear a dress – not necessarily a wedding dress; Kirsten would have even settled for a denim skirt. It had been a small wedding, only about two dozen people or so, and the ceremony was delightfully informal. John had been the best man, but Tiffany’s maid of honor was her lead dog, George. And, he was a male.

In Candice’s opinion, the only thing that had saved the whole thing from being incredibly tacky was that a rather quiet, pretty thirtyish woman with a long blonde ponytail and a really handsome, big guy had played guitars. They had done a really magnificent version of the "Wedding Song" and a couple of popular country ballads. John had greeted her as "Jennifer," and they’d talked for a couple minutes after the ceremony about mutual acquaintances. She had seemed really familiar, and it wasn’t till they were on their way back to Camden that it struck Candice that the familiar voice singing at the wedding was Jenny Easton’s. She had been one of the hottest names in show business a few years before, and was still very familiar.

She had asked John about how Tiffany could have known Jenny Easton, and had been told that she had been Tiffany’s babysitter years before, now lived in Spearfish Lake, and had been one of Josh and Tiffany’s sponsors for the Iditarod. Then, when they’d had their evening with Brandy and Phil, it also proved that Jenny was Brandy’s sister. It seemed incredible; there wasn’t even a lot of family resemblance there.

"I suppose Jenny Easton is going to be here," Candice said.

Josh looked uncomfortable. "Uh, well, sort of," he said. "I guess you didn’t know. Jennifer really hates to be called that here in Spearfish Lake. She gets a little touchy about it, too. She said one time that Jenny Easton is a role that she has to play some of the time, but she doesn’t like to play it here. In this town, if you know her at all, she’s Jennifer Evachevski, and Jenny Easton is someone you only see on TV."

" Not always," Tiffany added with a smile. "We get film crews up here sometimes when we do takes for Wonderful Winter World. When you get on the set, it’s Jenny this, and Miss Easton that. If you call her Jennifer then, she may not notice."

"She’s always been Jennifer to me," John said. "I didn’t know her that well when we were in school, but I knew her through Brandy, and she always called her Jennifer, so I did, too."

Candice felt just a little touch of unreality. "Well, I’m glad you warned me," she said.

"Don’t worry about it too much," Josh said. "She’s good people, a good friend to her friends. Most people around here understand. She tries to be just a regular part of the community, and she is, anymore. Just think of her as ‘Jennifer Evachevski,’ a home-town girl who sings real well and just happens to resemble someone famous, and you’ll do OK. It’s when people start thinking of her as Jenny Easton and fawning over her, well, that’s when she gets uptight."

Just then a familiar V-twin rumble came up the street. John had briefly owned a Harley-Davidson Sportster when he was in high school, but it was an old bike made in the AMF days, and the maintenance almost broke him. He’d sold it when he left for college, but somehow, there was a bike bug there that still lurked deep within the surface. He looked up, to see a pair of well-maintained hogs coming up the street. Maybe someday . . . the bikes slowed, and pulled to a stop behind their car. The rides set the bikes on the stands and shut them down. "Hi Lex, Shovelhead," Josh called. "How ya doin’?"

"Oh, pretty good," came the gruff voice of the larger, more burly of the two riders. No helmet, of course, it was beneath contempt, but he did have a full beard and a brown ponytail that hung down to his waist behind his black leather jacket.

"Are they ready for me, yet?" the smaller of the leather-clad riders asked. Candice was a little surprised to hear that it was a woman’s voice. She didn’t wear a helmet, either; her hair was above shoulder length

"I don’t know," Josh said. "We just got here ourselves."

"Well, we’d better get inside," the woman said. "Tiffany, good job on the race. I thought you had Swenson, coming out of White Mountain."

"He passed me in a ground blizzard," Tiffany reported. "He’s good at that."

"You’re going to win it some one of these days," the woman said. "I guess we’d better get inside. After all, they can’t start without me. You ready, Shovelhead?"

"Yeah, let’s do it," the man said. They started for the house.

After they’d gotten inside, Candice couldn’t help but ask, "What did she mean, they can’t start without me?"

"Neither Phil or Brandy are church types," Tiffany explained. "So this is going to be a civil ceremony."

A further glaze of unreality settled over Candice. "You mean she’s going to perform the ceremony?"

"Why not?" Josh shrugged. "After all, she’s the mayor."

"She is the mayor? Of this city?" Candice thought she was a little used to the casualness of Spearfish Lake, but there were limits. This was well past them. "I wouldn’t want to meet either of them in even a light alley!"

"From what Dad says, the best we’ve had since he’s been covering council," Tiffany confirmed, "And that’s since the ’70s, sometime. She and Shovelhead are really neat people. She has the coolest tattoos."

"I admit, it does take a little to get past the rough surfaces, but, they live the way they like to live, and no one faults them for it." Josh shrugged. "Lex runs an art gallery just up the street from the shop. She really does some great stuff. She’s got a wolf painting in there that she did. I’d love to beat her out of it, but it’s just too pricey for me. I keep telling her that if she’d knock the price down under a thousand, I’d buy it, but she says she’s turned down more than that."

"She does do a lot of that," Tiffany agreed. "She’s done some dogsled paintings, too, but they’re nothing we could afford. We better get inside."

Tiffany and Josh headed for the door, with John and Candice following along, far enough behind that John could just hear her whisper, "Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore."

"Just Spearfish Lake," John smiled.

Phil and Brandy met them at the door. "Hey, you made it," Brandy said. "We’re glad you’re here."

"Glad you could make it," Phil said. "I know it was tough to get away on short notice."

"We didn’t have anything going," Candice told him. "It gave us a good excuse to get up for a few days, anyway."

"Is Danny going to be here?" Josh asked.

"No," Brandy said. "It’s a long haul from Florida, and I told him it really wasn’t a big deal if he couldn’t make it. He and Marsha are probably going to be back this summer sometime, for a while."

"Darn, I’d have liked to have seen him," Josh said. "Haven’t seen him since, well, I dunno. The last summer he braked for us, five or six years."

"Garth and Michelle wanted to make it, but one of their kids got sick," Brandy said. "John, you remember Garth, don’t you?"

"Not real well," John admitted. "He was enough older that I never really got to know him."

"Well, Terry Curtis is here, and so’s Anissa Petersen. She’s Anissa Hodges, now."

John shook his head. "It’s been years since I’ve seen them."

"Go make yourself comfortable," Phil said. "It’s going to be a bit, yet. Tara is supposed to be here, but her plane was late getting into Camden."

Predictably, John knew quite a number of people at the wedding. It was quite clearly a crowd of friends, and there were several conversations going on. Despite the fact that she was the only woman in the crowd wearing a skirt, Candice found she didn’t feel terribly out of place, but in a group of strangers, she found herself gravitating toward people she knew. There weren’t many of those, but Mark and Jackie were friendly faces, talking with Tiffany’s mom and dad. She knew Mike, Tiffany’s dad, well enough to ask, "Is that woman really the mayor?"

"That’s what they all ask," Mike smiled. "She doesn’t look like one, does she?"

"She looks more like someone you’d see in a biker bar, busting a pool cue over someone’s head," Candice commented.

"I suspect she’s been in one or two of those," Mike grinned. "Let me tell you, though, she’s done a bang-up job as mayor. Now, you have to remember, I’ve been going to council meetings longer than all the councilmen combined. They’d put me on council, except I live outside of town, which is part of the reason we moved out of town in the first place. Anyway, I’ve gotten to the point where I judge mayors on the basis of how fast they can get through a council meeting, and the meetings recently run about half as long as they used to. She runs those meetings with a heavy gavel and doesn’t put up with all the nonsense that we used to have to sit through."

"I have to wonder how she wound up as mayor," John said.

"Fairly simple," Mike explained. "I won’t go into the details, but the council elects a mayor every year. Three years ago, there were some personality conflicts, and it settled out three for one person, three for the other, and one ‘Can’t you children settle your differences?’ She was the only one both groups could agree on. They’ve elected her every year since."

"She really is a magnificent artist," a familiar voice spoke up next to Candice.

Candice looked over to see that it was Jenny – no, Jennifer Evachevski. She’d have to remember that. It wasn’t easy. Jennifer looked a little older than she’d pictured, but then, Candice guessed she had to be older than she was. She couldn’t be perpetually nineteen, after all.

"Blake and I were at a gallery on Rodeo Drive last summer, just looking around," Jennifer continued, "And I saw a couple of her paintings there."

"If she walked in there off the street, she’d get thrown out on her ear," a tall, handsome man said. "It was that kind of place." From the context, and from remembering Tiffany’s wedding, Candice guessed that this incredible hunk had to be Blake Walworth, Jennifer’s permanent boyfriend. Brandy and Phil had talked about him at that pizza party they’d had last Christmas.

"Goes to show that you can’t judge a book by its cover," Mike said. "So how goes the play?"

" Pretty good," Blake said. "Oklahoma! is kind of a hoary old chestnut, but it’s just risqué enough that there’s some laughs. There’s really nothing dirty to offend people, though. I just wish I had some kids who would perform, not just play at it."

Jennifer shrugged. "That’s always the problem."

" It could be worse," Blake smiled. "There was a group that wanted to do No Exit."

Mike shook his head. "I want to meet the kid who wants to do Sartre in a high school play. It could be worse, though. Do you remember Pat Varner? They asked him to direct one year, and he suggested doing, A Midsummer Night’s Dream."

"I remember Pat," Jennifer smiled. "I’d have liked to see him do it."

" If they have trouble with Oklahoma! how would they be with Shakespeare?" Blake smiled. "Oh well, it’s fun; I like working with the kids. I guess I’ve learned something from hanging around with Jennifer all these years."

"As if your master’s in drama had anything to do with it," Jennifer snorted.

"Well, I actually get to use some of what I learned, even though it’s not quite how it’s done in the real world," he smiled.

Brandy came over and joined them. "Blake, Jenn, we’ve got a problem. It’s going to be at least an hour before Tara gets here. About a third of this crowd are dogsledders, and sooner or later someone is going to mention the ‘I’ word, and we’ll be hearing nothing but mushing stories." Mike and Mark both smiled at that. They were two of the mushers. "Most everyone heard those at the welcome-home party," Brandy continued, with a big smile, knowing her tease had hit home. "And I wanted to save the beer until after the ceremony. Could you two dig out the guitars?"

"Sure," Jennifer replied. "No ‘I-word Trail Song,’ right?"

"You got it," Brandy replied. "Not till after the ceremony, anyway."

"We’ll think of something," Blake promised with a grin. He and Jennifer left the group, and headed over to where a couple of cased guitars sat.

"This should be good," Jackie said with a smile.

" Right," Mike agreed. "I don’t think we’re going to hear Smoke-Filled Room. She doesn’t do that with friends." He turned to John and Candice. "I don’t know if you’ve ever been to one of her jam sessions, but she usually doesn’t do any of her commercial stuff at them. She and Blake do things that they like. When I first met Jennifer, she barely played the guitar at all, just some chords, but she’s learned an awful lot from Blake."

It turned out that Mike wasn’t fooling. Candice was partial to country music, or at least had been as a girl, but it wasn’t something she’d heard a lot of from college on. She usually wasn’t around people who were into country. She thought of Jenny – damn it, Jennifer – as a country music singer, but the first bars to fill the room were from an old standby, a high-energy rock guitar piece from the sixties, Pipeline. It had no singing, just intense guitar playing. It was normally a four-part piece, but somehow Jennifer and Blake with considerable dexterity had folded it into two parts. Lead and rhythm switched back and forth between them without a fluff. It was an incredible performance.

Candice could feel the whole room let out a breath when they hit the final chords, it was that attention getting. "You should hear it when Bob Watson plays with them," Phil said quietly to her; she hadn’t noticed that he’d come over and stood next to her.

"Our Bob? From Arvada Center?"

"Yeah," Phil said. "They get together now and then. Ken and Judy brought them up here one time, and one thing led to another. Blake is about as good as Bob on an off day."

Candice shook her head. Bob had been pretty good with a guitar when he was a kid in school. One of her fondest memories was sitting out on the steps of the Legion at the graduation party, listening to Bob and an acoustic guitar doing everything under the sun, his singing overcoming his nearly-terminal stutter.

"Well, now that we’ve got everybody’s attention," Jennifer smiled, "Since this is a special day, I thought we ought to do something that has special meaning to me, and to at least a couple people here."

Jennifer picked out a short lead, and Candice heard Mike say quietly, "Oh, God, she’s not going to do it, is she?"

"Oh, yes she is," Kirstin grimaced.

"Left a good job in the city ," Jennifer sang. "Workin’ for the man, every night and day . . . "

It was one of the better ways that Candice had ever heard Proud Mary done. It was especially pretty, considering Jennifer’s husky but bell-clear voice, and they couldn’t understand why Mike and Kirstin had such stoic looks on their faces. There must be a story there, she thought.

Jennifer ran through the song, then said, "That was quite a day, wasn’t it Mike, Kirsten?"

"It’s not one that I’m likely to forget soon," Mike said. A number of people in the crowd laughed. Yes, there had to be a story there . . .

" I really shouldn’t be picking on you," Jennifer said. "After all, this is a wedding; I should be picking on the groom." She swung into The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, and it was Phil’s turn to look uncomfortable, although Candice couldn’t fathom why. Another story she hadn’t heard, she guessed. When Jennifer and Blake intentionally mangled the last verse, singing it "The night they kicked old Dixie’s ass," a lot of people in the room, to Candice’s confusion, broke out in a laugh, obviously at Phil’s expense.

Over the next half hour or so, they went through several other songs, all incredibly well performed. Sometimes Jenny sang, sometimes Blake did, incredibly competently – and most of the songs seemed to have a good-natured barb in them, aimed at someone in the room, but who, or why, she had no clue. She did figure out, for example, that Rock Island Line had something to do with Josh, but was at a loss to figure out why. But, it was an incredible exhibition, and Candice knew that she’d never be believed if she mentioned it at the office – but knew, somehow, that she never would. It wasn’t something to take back to Decatur; it belonged here in Spearfish Lake.

*   *   *

Brandy’s younger sister, Tara, showed up as Jennifer and Blake were wrapping up a Jimmy Buffett song, Cheeseburger in Paradise, and once again, Candice knew that Buffett had never sung it that well, and guessed that there was a message in there that she wasn’t hearing.

While people were getting set for the ceremony, Candice did get a chance to ask Kirsten and Mike, "What’s the deal with Proud Mary?"

" It’s a long, long story," Kirsten smiled. "But basically, the day Mike and I got going together, there was a local festival, and they had this garage band playing. About the only thing they knew was Proud Mary, but they did know how to play it loud."

"And bad." Mike added. "And over and over again."

"Jennifer was there, she won a talent contest," Kirsten continued. "At least she was smart enough not to eat any chili."

"Was that the chili festival that John told me about?" Candice asked.

"Probably, if he was telling a fart joke," Kirsten replied with a grin. "I have never had gas so bad in my life. Let’s just say that it’s hard to be sexy when you’re gasping for air."

" So, what’s the deal with, say, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down?"

"You’ll have to ask Phil," Mike said. "He tells the story better."

Just then Jennifer began to sing, a cappella, in her beautiful, clear voice, He is now to be among you, at the calling of your hearts . . . Blake joined in, and they continued, Rest assured these troubadours are acting on his part . . .

The bridal party walked into the room. Somewhere in there, Brandy had changed into something a little more formal than she’d had on earlier – a floor length skirt, and a print blouse. Tara, her bridesmaid, was wearing a short black skirt and sweater, but otherwise had a distinctly new-age appearance about her, underlined by the butch cut of her black hair and a number of piercings in her ears and nose – and, Candice suspected, elsewhere as well. Phil had changed, too, and had on slacks and a sport jacket, and a white shirt, unbuttoned at the collar. A little to Candice’s surprise, Josh was the best man.

They came to a stop in front of Lex, who stood in front of the fireplace. She had long since shed her leather jacket and was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, and Candice could see that she did have some incredibly intricate tattoos, from her wrists all the way up to her shirt sleeves.

"In a sense," Lex began solemnly, "We are gathered together here today, not for a simple wedding, but for something more than that. Brandy and Phil joined their spirits together many years ago, and the union of their spirits has endured many trials that proved the strength of the union over and over again. No ceremony that we could offer today could add to the strength of the bond between these two people. It is a bond that has held strong despite time and distance and difficulty, despite heat and cold, despite highs and lows, and all we can do is recognize that it exists. Rather, our being here today is a celebration, of the existence of that bond, and a celebration of a determination of these two people to cast off the past and change the direction of their lives. It is a celebration of the decision to cease walking through life merely side by side, and to walk through it together, as one. They have been a long time reaching this decision, and by this celebration, they signify that they do not take the decision to become as one lightly, but in honor, and in a deep and enduring love."

"Brandy," Lex continued, turning to her. "Do you take Phil to be your lawful wedded husband, from this day forth, in sickness and in health, to love, honor and cherish, from this day forth, till death do you part?"

"I do."

"Phil," the mayor said, turning to him, "Do you take Brandy to be your lawful wedded wife, from this day forth, in sickness and in health, to love, honor and cherish, from this day forth, till death do you part?"

"I do."

"Josh," the mayor said. "Do you have a ring for Phil to present to Brandy as a symbol of his oath?" Josh passed the ring that had been clutched in his hand to Phil, who placed it on Brandy’s finger. In a moment, Brandy placed a ring that Tara had been carrying on Phil’s finger.

"I now pronounce you man and wife," Lex said. "You may kiss the bride."

Phil took Brandy in his arms, and they had a brief kiss.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Lex said in a brighter, less solemn voice than she had been using, "I present to you Mr. and Mrs. Phil Wine."

*   *   *

There was a hubbub about the room; it was a little less tense than it had been before the wedding. Now, it was clearly becoming a party, a bunch of good friends having a good time.

"Lex, that was an incredible speech," Candice said, as they stood with Jennifer and a couple others, holding glasses of beer. "How long did it take you to write it?"

"Oh, I didn’t write it," Lex said shyly. "I just knew I had to say something, and said what came to mind. It seemed to fit."

"It certainly fit the occasion," Candice said, trying to keep from staring at the mayor’s tattoos. She had almost gotten used to thinking of Jennifer as a normal, real person, not as Jenny Easton, but Lex, well, those tattoos were harder to be nonchalant about.

"I’m actually a little amazed at that," Jennifer said. "Brandy has said for years that she’s put off marrying Phil because she didn’t want to become Brandy Wine. I figured she’d just stay Brandy Evachevski."

"I’m a little surprised that you weren’t the bridesmaid," Lex said. "I know that you’re closer to Brandy than Tara is."

"We talked about it," Jennifer admitted. "Tara has been, well, a little distant from the family ever since her divorce, and we agreed it might be nice to sort of invite her back into the fold."

"She’s always been welcome," an older woman said. She’d been pointed out to Candice as Carrie, who was Brandy, Jennifer and Tara’s mother. "I think she’s always felt it’s been hard to measure up to the rest of the kids."

"What makes you think that?" Jennifer asked.

"Well, the rest of you are successful, although, granted, some more than others. Everybody except her is in a stable, long-term relationship, although there hasn’t been as much marriage as I might have hoped."

"Mother . . . " It was obviously a sensitive issue. Candice knew from Brandy and Phil that Blake and Jennifer had been together almost as long as they had been, and had never been married, either.

Carrie was not to be dissuaded. "But, it has been a long-term, stable relationship that might as well have been a marriage, so I really don’t mind," she said, "You have your reasons, and I’m not arguing with them. I just hope Tara can pull herself together to do as well as any one of the rest of you have."

"Hey, great," Lex said, trying to head off a descent into places that might not be good to go at a wedding party, "Blake and Shovelhead are going to play. You don’t mind Shovelhead using your guitar, do you, Jennifer?"

"No, it’s fine with me. He’s done it before," Jennifer said.

Wondering what had happened to John, Candice glanced over to where Blake and Shovelhead were talking about what they were going to play. She imagined the big, bearded biker with the Harley-Davidson T-shirt was going to play something about ridin’ in the wind and kickin’ ass. She was surprised to hear him start in with an incredibly mellow voice, Ridin’ on the City of New Orleans, Illinois Central Monday mornin’ rail, fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders, three conductors, and twenty-five sacks of mail . . .

"I love it when he does that one," Jennifer said.

"He thought about bringing the violin," Lex said. "I wish now he had."

"Well, we’ll have to get together again sometime," Jennifer smiled.

"I’m the one that gets the deal out of that," Lex commented. "I don’t sing worth beans, but I get to listen."

*   *   *

Candice had drifted off somewhere, but John wasn’t lacking for people to talk to. There weren’t many people in the room he didn’t know, although admittedly he didn’t know very many of them well, anymore. He spent some time talking with Terry Curtis about the old days in high school; Terry had gone to college, but had come back to an executive job at the plywood plant, which was pretty much a family business. Somehow, that had morphed into a group that involved Mike, Brandy’s dad, Gil, and the only other guy in the room with a suit jacket. John was sure he remembered the face of the guy, who had to be older than Mike, but probably not Gil’s age, but couldn’t put a name with it.

"So, how’s the kayaking?" Gil asked the suited man. "I figured we were still all froze up, but I saw you heading down the street with a kayak on top of your car yesterday morning."

"I should have been working," the man said. "But there’s a spot of open water over on the south arm, and Josh and Tiffany have this neat little Kap Farvel, so I decided to take an hour and take it for a spin."

"Yeah, I remember you talking about it," Mike said. "So, how was it?"

"Neat boat," the man said. "Tracks real nice, but it turns pretty good, too. I had my dry suit on, but I didn’t try to roll it. That water’s still too damn cold. I never thought I’d find a boat that put the ’bou in the shade."

"I saw it," Terry commented. "It looked just a little bit too lively for me, but I don’t get out the way you do. Guess I’ll just stay with my Looksha, but I can sure walk in the store and get tempted. It’s still a little too early for me to get out paddling."

"There’s no such thing as too early if the water’s liquid," the man said.

"You guys and your kayaks," Gil snorted. "Joe, the next thing I know, Josh’ll be selling you some dogs. Right next to him, there, I’m surprised he hasn’t sucked you in already." That gave John enough of a clue to recognize Joe McGuinness; he ran the accounting firm next to Spearfish Lake Outfitters. He seemed to remember him being on the fire department, too.

"Don’t think I haven’t thought about it," Joe said. "I’ve been out with a team of theirs a few times, but I just don’t have enough time after the first of the year. Maybe after I retire, I might have to give it a try."

"I still get out a fair amount in the winter," Mike said. "I don’t keep a lot of dogs anymore, but if I want to run more than I have, all I have to do is go across the road."

"Do you still race?" John asked. "I seem to remember that you were one of the guys who started the dogsled races here a few years ago, back when I was in college."

"Oh, sometimes," Mike said. "Not seriously, anymore. If the weather for the Warsaw Run is supposed to be nice, and the kids left enough decent dogs here while they’re in Alaska, I may make up a team. I didn’t do it this year, all they’d left behind were pretty much touring dogs, so I just helped out with the rides down at the festival. The race hasn’t been the same since we switched to an early morning start, getting back in the evening. It’s better for the spectators, but I miss running all night."

"I really ought to try it out some time," John commented. "I mean, it’s such a family thing, and all."

Joe furrowed his brow, and then brightened. "Oh, yeah, you’re Josh’s brother, aren’t you? John, isn’t it?"

"Yeah," John admitted with a smile. "I used to have one of those Run-8 posters in my office, and people always thought I was putting them on when I told them what my brother and sister-in-law did."

"Yeah, I remember Josh talking about you," Joe said. "He said he always felt a little sorry for you, cooped up in an office all day long, with nothing to look at but a computer screen, and no fresh air to breathe."

John grinned. "He does needle me about that now and then," he said. "He told me a story one time about a couple of mushers up in the Iditarod, having to head out into this incredible howling blizzard. One of them says, ‘Well, what do you think?’ and the other replies, "It could be worse. We could be sitting in an office in New York."

"I heard that story before," Mike grinned. "That was Mitch Seavy and Charlie Boulding, up at the Topkok Funnel. I met Charlie once. He makes Shovelhead look pretty civilized."

"I guess that’s the difference between Josh and me," John grinned back. "Under those circumstances, I think I’d rather be in the office, but I’ll admit, there have been times when the alternative of a howling blizzard sounded pretty good."

"So, what are you doing these days?" Joe asked.

"Actually, not much of anything," John admitted. "I just quit Rotunda, down in Decatur. I ran the internal accounting department down there, so right now, I’m looking. Candice has got a few days off, so while we’re here, I figured on going down and nosing around Camden a little."

"Rotunda, that’s the online computer sales outfit, right?" Joe asked. "I’ve got a little of their stock. How are they doing?"

"If you’re smart, you’ll sell at the market first thing tomorrow morning," John said seriously. "And, I don’t mean the second thing, either."

"Getting sour?" Joe asked.

"I don’t really know anything for sure," John said. "Let’s just say I ran because I was afraid if I didn’t my severance pay check would bounce."

Joe looked at him for a moment, then finally asked, "You ever do any commercial accounting?"

"I’m a CPA," John said. "I did commercial accounts for Timms, Sheridan down in Camden for six years. I wouldn’t mind getting back to it. The internal stuff I did at Rotunda got a little dull after a while."

"Tax work?"

"Not a lot at Rotunda, it was handled in a different division," John said, suddenly realizing that Joe’s interest might be just a little more than just casual. "I did a lot of small business stuff and personal stuff at Timms, though, and I try to keep up on it, since I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be at Rotunda forever. I did a seminar on recent tax law changes last winter."

Joe looked at him again, then said, "I’d like to have a talk with you, but this isn’t the place. Are you doing anything the second thing tomorrow morning?"

*   *   *

"That was such a great party," Candice gushed as they drove down the street, long after dark. "I can’t think of when I’ve had that kind of fun."

"It was pretty good," John agreed. He’d pretty much stuck to ginger ale after the conversation with Joe, partly because he wanted to consider the implications, but mostly because he knew that he and Candice were going to have to have a talk, and this might be the only chance. "I guess Brandy and Phil have learned why you don’t have wedding parties in your own home."

It had taken the party a while to wind down, but the newlyweds hadn’t seemed to mind. "It does make it a little hard for them to leave the party," Candice giggled. "But one like that is hard to leave. There really were some interesting people there."

"A lot of them," John agreed. "Of course, we knew Brandy and Phil had been all over the world, but there were plenty of other people there with good stories to tell."

"You know what I kept thinking? It reminded me of when we were in college, and some people would get together after classes on a Friday night, and there’d be beer and pizza. Someone would get out a guitar, and people would start jamming and singing, just laid back and relaxed and friendly. It was just like that, but more so."

"I remember those nights," he replied with a smile. "Of course, there was a lot more beer, and those kids would hardly know how to play a guitar. I kind of miss that, too."

"You know, we don’t know anybody in Decatur who would have a party like that. The people we know, well, they’re dull."

"Like us," John said.

"Yeah, I suppose," she replied. "I guess we’re too much like all the people we know in Decatur. I can’t imagine what it would be like to live up here and have friends like that. Just friendly, open people who like to have a good time."

"Well, we might, just might, have the chance to find out."

"What?" Candice said, alertness instantly poking through the alcohol haze.

"We have to talk." John signaled for a turn, heading down to the lake. They were getting too close to his parents, and he needed the time. "I think I got a nibble tonight."

"You mean for a job? Up here?"

"Yeah," John said. "You know the guy in the suit I was talking to for a while?"

"An older guy, going gray, say, about Mark’s age?" Candice frowned. "Except maybe for Brandy’s parents, I thought he was the only normal person there besides us."

"Brandy’s folks have some interesting points, but let’s not go there right now," John said. "Joe does, too, like he’s a nut about kayaking, especially rough-water sea kayaking or difficult whitewater. The important point is that before we got talking, he was making sounds about wanting to retire, or slow down, so he can get more time on the water, and maybe do some dogsledding."


"So, he owns the largest accounting firm in town, he knows I’m a local boy who’s available, and he wants me to drop by in the morning. He says he wants to talk, and I don’t think he wants to ask me about the best line to take through some rapids."

"Do you think there might be something there?"

"It may be nothing." John said. "I don’t have any idea of what he’d be offering. I doubt like hell that he can offer the kind of money I made at Rotunda, but he might be able to offer something like what Walker, Wade was talking about. I don’t know."

"What do you know about him?" Candice asked, seeing that there were several things here that needed to be talked about. She wished she hadn’t been drinking quite so much.

"Not a lot," John said. "He’s been here for years, and apparently has a good reputation. He does Gil’s books, and Josh’s. Josh thinks he’s great, but Josh knows about accounting like I know about dogsledding. Joe is also the fire chief, for what it’s worth," he added. "That’s actually a pretty good recommendation."

"I don’t follow you on that one," she shook her head.

"You just about have to be born into the fire department here to become chief, Mike tells me," he explained, turning to follow Point Drive down along the shoreline. A sliver of moon hung low over the frozen lake, reflecting off the wet ice. "The best recommendation is that your father was chief," he continued. "Joe’s only been here twenty years or so, so the firemen must think he’s pretty solid. Look, this is beside the point. I don’t know what he has in mind. What I do need to know, tonight, is if he comes up with something that’s fairly attractive, are you willing to consider moving up here? I don’t need a yes, I just need to know if you’d consider it."

"Of course, I’d consider it," she replied. "It’d have to depend on the offer, I suppose, assuming there is one. We wanted to get back closer to here, anyway, but it could mean a cut in expenses, too."

"It would solve some problems," John agreed. "Especially the school problem, and a lot that goes along with it. And, I mean a lot. But, there are some obvious downsides, too."

"Like, it’s a small town," she agreed. "The horizons are sort of limited, the nearest mall is in Camden, people’s attitudes tend to be, well, provincial, and it is kind of a fishbowl. You forget that this is the big city, compared to Arvada Center."

"I hadn’t forgotten," he laughed. "I just wanted to make sure that you hadn’t."

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