Facing the Storm

"A Spearfish Lake Story"

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

Part V: North to the Future

Chapter 18

Phil was looking at back articles about the Iditarod on the Anchorage Daily News web site, trying to find out what had happened beyond what he had been able to see, when he heard Brandy come in. It was getting late, and he had been starting to wonder.

He started to get up, but Brandy came into the office where the computers were. "God, am I glad to be home," she said, her exhaustion clear to him. "Iíd be willing to be back in Bolivia to have avoided this day from hell."

Phil swung away from the computer and looked at her. "What happened?"

She shook her head. "Tara told Jennifer and me that sheís a lesbian."

"Doesnít surprise me," Phil said with a smile. "I hadnít seen her for years, but the way she walked in there yesterday, she had Ďbutchí written all over her."

Brandy started to say something, stopped, then began again. "I guess youíre right, but I didnít see it. I mean, itís not something that you expect your sister to tell you. She was pretty scared about telling us."

"I can understand that," Phil nodded.

"Mom was coming home any minute," she continued. "Jennifer and I took her over to her house to get her settled down. God, that was tough. I mean, it was obvious that I had to be ĎThatís all right,í and ĎI understandí and ĎSo long as youíre happy.í"

"With Jennifer there, what else could you say?" Phil nodded, understanding that complexity. "And, really, what else could you have said, anyway?"

"I know," Brandy said with a sigh of resignation. "The hell of it is, part of me really does feel that way. But the other part of me, well, you remember me telling you about Torvaldsen and Dothan down at the site?"

"Yeah," he said, without amplification. When sheíd told the story in the dog truck on the way down the Alaska Highway, she had been pretty disgusted with them Ė but then, sheíd been disgusted with everything else to do with the site, too.

"I kept thinking of them," she replied. "And thinking, God, what a waste. Well, anyway, we had to go over and tell Mom and Dad."

"Howíd they take it?"

"How the hell else are they going to take it? Hypocritically, just like I did. But I could see that it was a really big thrill for them," she said sarcastically. "God, it seems like itís everywhere you turn, anymore."

"Did Jennifer have Blake talk to her? It strikes me he could have put some perspective on it."

"I thought thatís what we were going to do when we headed for Jenniferís," she replied, "But, we got there, and Blake wasnít around. Anyway, I donít know what he could have said without letting that cat out of the bag."

"I donít know," Phil said. "I mean, he was as openly gay as they come when we met him out in California years ago, but I havenít picked up that message for years. Iíve been with them a lot, especially the last year or two, and the subject never comes up. I mean, never, and they know that we know."

For a long time, they both had thought that they were the only ones in town who had known about Blakeís being gay, and it had been clear from the beginning without being told that it wasnít something to be breezed around. There had been a time or two in the early days when Jennifer or Blake being able to confide in one of them had helped to ease a rough spot. They had found out some years after Jennifer and Blake had returned from California that Mike McMahon also knew about Blake, but Mike had never said anything about it to them. In fact, it was something they rarely talked about themselves, anymore.

"Not with me, either," Brandy said thoughtfully. "I donít think heís keeping it in the closet, not after all this time. I donít know what happened."

"I think your sister got to him, just wore him down," Phil smiled. "I mean, I can understand her doing that. Give her enough time and she could wear down the Pope."

"I canít imagine them being together this long, and this close, without that happening," she smiled. "We met him right after he started working for her, and sheís had enough time. But, itís still their business, after all, and it obviously works for them." She sighed, and went on, "I guess if it works half as well for Tara, I canít complain."

"Itís her life in any case," Phil said, relieved that Brandyís tantrum seemed to be burning itself out. "We canít make those kinds of decisions for her."

"Yeah," Brandy sighed. "But, well, Christ, what a thing to happen on our first day married! We wake up with a hangover, spend all morning cleaning up the house, then all afternoon apart, and I have to get surprised with this. Itís a hell of a way to start a marriage."

"I know, you didnít intend for it to be all afternoon," Phil sympathized. "But, when you went over to your folksí house, I sort of figured it was going to be a while, so no big deal. You had something to eat, I take it?"

"Yeah, Mom threw a casserole together. Iím sorry, I should have called you over to join us, but it was sort of a family thing, right then."

"I understand," Phil said. "You donít have to apologize. Iíd have been in the way."

"Did you eat?"

"I had a sandwich," Phil admitted. "I was just thinking about going out to the kitchen and having something more."

"I donít need anything to eat," Brandy smiled. "But I think I could use a good stiff drink."

"There may be something left in the house, after yesterday," Phil laughed, getting up from his seat at the computer. "But, I think we cleaned out the cupboard pretty good."

Brandy got up to follow him. "Anything happen while I was gone?"

"Moorehead called," Phil said. "I told him you were over at your folksí house, and I didnít know when youíd be back."

"Did you tell him anything about our getting married?"

"No, I never got around to it. I figured youíd want to tell him, anyway."

Brandy nodded. "Itís just as well," she said. "Iíve been expecting him to call before this. Thatíll give me something to use for an excuse."

"If youíre just looking for an excuse," he laughed, rummaging around in a cabinet, "Tell Moorehead that youíre not going to be available for a year, since youíre going to be training a team to run the Iditarod."

It was something of a dilemma that they had discussed over and over again in the truck back down the Alaska Highway. As much as she was disgusted with the site in Bolivia, and the constant travel, Brandy did admit to some feelings of guilt about just walking away from everything at the drop of a hat. It did leave the team in a lurch, but, more importantly, Brandy was a part owner of Front Range, although she had little to do with the actual management, by her choice. She had been much happier to be involved with the field side of things, and had let the suits do the suit work. On the other hand, she had made a fairly clean break. It would have not been a big deal if she had to go to Bolivia or Rhodesia to help repair the schedule, it only lasted a few weeks, but she knew full well that it wouldnít end there. There would be another crisis, another emergency, and another month or two would slip by, and the next thing she knew sheíd be at some site or another ten months of the year, just as in the past. The best way to solve the problem was to keep Mooreheadís foot out of her door.

On the other hand, she was already getting a little bored. Not that today had been boring, by any means Ė there was any amount of boredom that she would have preferred to what had happened Ė but always when sheíd been home in the past, itíd never been for more than a month or so, if that long, and usually by the end of it she was climbing the walls. When Phil had been around for at least part of a hiatus, the time had gone more quickly, but catching up on the family, doing a few chores around the house, and having real pizza got old pretty quickly. An eternity of it now seemed to stretch before her, and it scared her a little. She knew she had to find something else to occupy her time, and fast. A lot of discussion in the pickup on the way down the Alaska Highway had done little to solve that problem.

"Donít joke about that," she smiled. "I might just do it." She knew she wouldnít. Oh, it was a challenge, of course, one that would be interesting. But she knew the bug wasnít there to do it Ė the driving obsession that it took, and Phil knew it, too. "But whether I did or not, it might be fun to tell him that."

"Itíd get him off balance, thatís for sure," Phil smiled, standing up from his search in the back of the cabinet, a bottle in his hand. "This looks like the only thing that got missed last night. Weíd better put booze on the grocery list."

It was a familiar looking bottle, maybe a third full, but one that brought back some memories. "I donít think Iíve seen any Thunder Mountain Imperial Vodka since we were at Mistake on the Lake."

"Actually," he grinned, "I think weíve had this since Mistake on the Lake. I canít imagine any reason to have bought any since."

"Boy, doesnít that bring back the memories, sitting around drinking cheap vodka and Coke?"

"Yeah, there in that little tumbledown rathole of a trailer without two nickels to call our own, drinking three-dollar-a-pint vodka and thinking that we had the world by the ass. That was a long time ago."

"Are you going to have one with me?"

"I think I will," he smiled, "Just for old timeís sake. But I think Iím going to have a sandwich, too. I suspect that Iím too old to be able to handle Thunder Mountain on an empty stomach. I think you have to be a college student to be able to do that."

"Well, Iíll see if we have any Coke," she smiled, heading for the refrigerator, while Phil got some bread. "So, what did you do today?"

"Not a hell of a lot," Phil admitted. "I took a bike ride, just for some exercise, then spent a few hours working on the notes." One of the things that Phil had decided to do on the trip back with the dogs was to spend some time writing detailed notes of the whole Iditarod experience while they were still fresh in his mind. He thought he might write a book about them someday; but if not, heíd have them available to refresh his memory in years to come.

"Are they coming along?" She found some glasses, and cracked open a can of pop to mix the vodka with.

"Yeah, but itís going to take a while," he said, pulling some leftover sliced ham from the refrigerator. "Oh, and Josh called today, and I talked with him for a bit."

"What did he have to say?"

Phil shrugged. "He wants to know what Iím thinking about the Iditarod for next year."

"Well, what are you?"

"I still donít know," he said. "I mean, in one sense, I did what I set out to do. In the other sense, if I decide not to do it, then that means that Iím going to have to find something else to do. A lot depends on what we decide to do, so I told him that it was going to be a while until I could give him an answer."

"In other words, no change," she replied, handing him a glass.

"Right." He took a sip, then shook his head. "I have to say that itís not as good as I remember, but I guess we didnít know any better then." He smiled, and continued, "Anyway, he said that he and Tiffany met with Jennifer this morning. That must have been before the deal with your sister came down. She told them that sheíll fund them next year, but if they donít figure out a way to cut their hours back and get a life, itíll be the last year."

"Good for her," Brandy smiled, leaning back against the kitchen counter. "I mean, I donít wish Josh and Tiffany bad luck, or anything, but theyíve gotten way too busy for their own good."

"Yeah," Phil said. "I suppose Iíve been part of the problem, too."

"How do you figure that?" She took a sip of her drink, and grimaced. "I think youíre right about this, but itíll do for tonight."

"Well, since Iíve been back here, I really havenít had much to do besides get ready for last month, so I helped with the training, helped with the store. That just made it easier for them to get in over their heads. Realistically, they have to find some help and delegate some authority. They dumped a lot of it on me, both in the store and in the dog work last year, but thatís not a permanent solution. I suppose if I decide to run next year, Iíll still have to do a fair amount of it, but if I donít, Iím leaving them hanging. So, I do need to come up with some sort of a decision fairly quickly, for their sake."

"Youíre probably right," Brandy conceded, taking another sip. She couldnít believe she really used to drink this stuff and like it. "You had any thoughts about what to do about it?"

"Not really," he replied, taking a bite of his ham sandwich. "Theyíre so damn busy right now, I suspect theyíre too tired for creative thinking. Since I helped get them in this hole, I might as well help them out a little. Iím thinking that while both Josh and Tiffany are taking night runs, I may just drop by the store once or twice a week and tell whoever is trying to stay awake to go home and get some sleep. But, once we get to the end of the month, and the college kids start braking, I think Iím going to find myself too busy doing something else."

"Like what?"

"I donít know," Phil frowned. "I havenít thought of it, yet. Maybe you and I could go somewhere, take a trip or something."

She shook her head. "Iíd really rather not," she said. "Iíve had enough travel to hold me for a while. My butt is still sore from riding in that pickup. And besides, I left Bolivia because I was tired of being away from home."

He shrugged. "Thereís the problem, again," he said. "I mean, it wouldnít be any trouble for either of us to be dog handlers or something, but that wouldnít be satisfying in the long run, and it would get boring after a while."

"Yeah," she said. "I mean, itís kind of fun to do once, but I got a little tired of dog shit after ten days of cleaning it up. Weíre going to have to come up with something thatís going to keep us busy together."

"Weíve been saying that since Nome," he said. "I havenít come up with any ideas. Weíre going to have to think out of the box, think of something new. Something that puts our talents to use."

"Yeah, I know," she said pensively. She took another drink, then brightened. "I think Iím starting to remember why we drank this stuff."

"Whatís that?"

She sat the drink down on the counter. "Thereís something that married couples are supposed to do that we havenít gotten around to doing yet, at least since weíve been married."

He smiled. "Now that you mention it, I do recall this stuff being involved on occasion."

*   *   *

There really wasnít much weekday business at Spearfish Lake Outfitters in April. Weekends were fairly busy as summer people came up and began to open cabins and get ready for the season, but it was rare if there was a customer once an hour.

While Phil had in effect managed the store a good deal of the time for over the past year, he had made up his mind that he wasnít going to get roped into it again. He was willing to babysit the place through the slow period, but had no intention of getting into handling mail orders and bookkeeping and the like. If he got really bored, he might sweep the floor, and if he noticed something that needed to be done, like, say, picking a fallen price tag off the floor and putting it back where it belonged, heíd do it.

But, heíd prepared for a slow time. The notes of his Iditarod story had already proved to be a bigger project than heíd envisioned, for heíd decided to go clear back to the beginning of his involvement with dogsledding. He had figured that he could get through that in a few pages, but he now had what would have been fifty typewritten pages if heíd been doing them on a typewriter, and he was barely up to the Warsaw Run back in í93. He really wasnít trying to do a quality job of writing Ė that could come later, if needed Ė but he was trying to bang his memories out onto the computer screen without worrying about mundane things like spelling, paragraphing, or complete sentences. But he could bang on the computer keyboard just about as well at the store as he could at home, with only slightly more interruptions, and maybe fewer if Brandy decided to stay at home. He was a fast typist, and could tell a story, so made good time. He was just writing how quickly Switchstand had led the team out of the starting gate and out onto the ice of Spearfish Lake when the door chimed; someone was walking in. He hit a couple of keys to save the job, and got up.

He was a little surprised at his customer Ė it was Candice. Heíd only had a couple minutes to talk to her at the wedding party, and hadnít realized that she was still up here. "Hi, Phil," she said. "I didnít expect to see you here."

"Just letting Josh and Tiffany catch up on their sleep a little," he explained. "I dropped in this morning, and Josh could barely keep his eyes open, so I told him Iíd watch the store." He didnít see any need to tell her heíd planned to drop by just for that reason. "So what are you doing?"

"Just killing time, waiting to go to lunch with John," she said. "I thought Iíd drop in and just talk with Josh or Tiffany a bit, and look at the kayaks. I thought that might be something that we could get interested in."

"Itís a lot of fun, and good exercise," Phil replied. "Josh and Tiffany got me into it not long after they started, and Iíve had a ball with it. Now that Iím going to have Brandy home, Iíve got to figure a way to get her out, once the water warms up." Not a lot of figuring was involved; sheíd already said she wanted to try it out, and Phil figured that with her athleticism, it wouldnít take long before she was better at it than he was.

"There are so many boats," she said, looking around at the colorful rainbow of plastic and fiberglass kayaks stacked on racks around the room. "I donít know what Iíd want to start with."

It was a common question, and Phil had a fairly programmed answer. "Well, Candy, if youíve never kayaked before, then the best thing to do is to wait till the water warms up some, and try out some of the rentals. That may give you some idea of what you want to do. You see, there are all these different boats because theyíre designed to do different things, like go fast, or play around, or carry loads for long trips. Usually, we like to see people just getting started get into a fairly conservative and cheap plastic boat, until they get some skills and get some idea of what they want to do with it. Then, once theyíve been around the block a few times, theyíre ready for the performance and greater expense of one of the fiberglass boats. You go what?" he said, eyeing her. "About 130 pounds, maybe?"

"A little more than that," she blushed. "I tend to put on some pounds in the winter."

Phil smiled. He knew to take a good estimate with a woman, then deduct a few pounds for flattery. "Well, a good place for you to start would probably be something like that white Necky Alsek over on the rack," he said, pointing. "Itís a good beginnerís boat, handles well, but tracks fairly straight, too. It makes a good day-paddling or exercise boat, but it doesnít have the capacity for tripping. But, once youíve paddled that a while, and want more performance, well, something like a Nimbus Njak like that one on the rack might be a good boat for you. For someone your size, itíd be a good combination of day-paddling boat and light tripping boat. You want to try it on and see how it fits, just for fun?"

"I wouldnít want to put you to any trouble," she smiled, looking at the sleek blue and white fiberglass kayak.

"Itís no trouble," Phil said, going over to the rack and lifting the boat down to set it on the floor. "Itís what Iím here for, after all."

"Well, all right. How do I do this?"

"Here in the shop, itís mostly a case of step in and sit down," he said. "Itís a little more complicated in the water, but not a lot more." He took her hand to assist her, and guided her to sit down in the padded seat.

"Thatís not bad," she said. "Iím a little snug in here."

"You want it a little snug," Phil counseled. "You donít sit in a boat like this, you wear it."

"Is it hard to learn to paddle one of these?" she asked.

"The simple stuff is pretty intuitive. The more advanced stuff, it helps to have some instruction. Iím to the point where I can teach some of the more advanced stuff, but if you want to get to the really advanced stuff, you have to go to somebody like Joe McGuinness, next door. He can do stuff with one of these boats that I couldnít even dream of."

"This is very nice," she said, rolling sideways and putting her hand on the back deck to help herself stand up. "I think Iíll have to give it a try, once the weather warms up. What do these cost, anyway?"

"The Nimbus isnít cheap," Phil admitted. "About twenty-two hundred, which is why we recommend that you start with a plastic boat. You can get into an Alsek for under a grand, new, and Josh and Tiffany might have a used one sitting out in their barn. If you buy a new plastic boat, keep it in reasonable shape, and want to trade up to fiberglass within two years, theyíll buy it back at ten percent off the purchase price."

"Thatís fair," she said. "Do you have to know how to roll one of these? I donít know if I could do it or not."

"You should know how to get out of the boat if it rolls over," Phil explained. "Itís nothing tricky, but you need to be prepared for it and not panic. But, these things donít dump very often. You donít have to know how to roll, but it helps, especially if you know youíre going to be in more difficult conditions. Itís not hard to learn, it gives you confidence when youíre on the water and frankly, a lot of fun. It does help to wait until the water gets a little warmer, though. I donít think Iíd want to do it like Judy did the first time, but then, sheís special."

"What happened?" It sounded like a good story to her.

"She was up on a canoe trip on the island. I guess it was a windy day, from the way I heard it. They battled the wind every inch of the way, and a couple guys in kayaks went shooting by them, and she got to thinking that she ought to try out one of them. So, they get into the campground that afternoon, and get to talking with the guys in the kayaks, and one of them says, sure, try it out. Well, she went out and paddled around and liked it. She was sitting in the kayak off the beach, and talking with this kayaker in the other boat, and asked him if it was hard to roll. He gave a real simple answer, like, ĎYou do a sweep along the surface of the water, and use a hip snap to bring yourself up,í and she said, ĎOKí and dumped the boat. The poor guy didnít know whether to shit or go blind, but before he could do anything, she did a picture perfect sweep roll and popped right back up as sweet as you please, and the guy is standing there with his jaw around his knees."

"Sheíd never been in a kayak?"

"Never," Phil said. "Oh, sheíd done a fair amount of canoeing, but never been in a kayak. Iíd like to have seen that, but that was long before I got into kayaking. So, anyway, they got back home, and didnít have a lot of money, so they built a pair of wood strippers over the winter and she and Ken have been big into kayaking ever since."

Candice furrowed her brow. "Ken?" she said. "Judy? You mean our Ken and Judy?"

"Yeah, our Ken and Judy," Phil confirmed. "They lead commercial kayak trips out of here on occasion. She just gets in the boat, slips her crutches under the deck bungees, and rocks out. Sheís probably on a level with Joe for skills, and Kenís not far behind."

"Well, I will be damned," she said. "I know you said youíd seen Ken and Judy, but I didnít even think of that. But, yeah, this would be something sheíd be good at."

"We get a lot of people whose legs or knees have gone bad taking it up, backpackers, bikers, like that." Phil explained. "She just proves it can be done."

"That settles it," Candice smiled. "Iíll have to give it a try if it turns out that we move up here. Now all we have to do is get Bob and Lori involved and itíd be old home week."

"They are involved, it was Bob who told me . . . " Phil was slow on the uptake, sometimes Ė " . . . if you move up here? Whatís this?"

"You didnít know?"

"This is news to me," Phil said. "I thought you two were in solid down there in Decatur."

"We were," she said with a sigh. "John left Rotunda last week, and my job got downgraded. We came up here partly so John could go job hunting in Camden, but now it looks like heís going to wind up next door. Heís been over there working with taxes yesterday and today."

"Son of a gun," Phil said. "I knew Joe had been grousing that he wanted to bring someone into the business, but I thought it was just grousing."

"Nothingís settled yet," Candice said. "John just offered to help out with the tax work so he could get a feel for the business, and this close to April 15th, Joe was glad of the help."

"Is John going to buy Joe out, or what?"

"We donít know, yet," she replied. "Thatís one possibility, but it would be a real reach for us right now. He may wind up in a partnership, or even on a salary. Thatís something that has to be worked out, but weíll work out something, I hope. We donít want to stay in Decatur."

"I can understand that. Iíve been in cities all over the world, and Iíve discovered Iím a country guy at heart."

She nodded. "Weíve pretty well figured it out ourselves."

"What time does John get free? Iíll put up the sign and take you to lunch to celebrate."

"He gets free when he gets free," she said. "Thatís how it is in tax season, I know."

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