Facing the Storm

"A Spearfish Lake Story"

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

Chapter 25

The traffic was heavy heading out of the racetrack, even as sunset approached, but had died down from earlier. Blake and Jennifer were happy to be in the quiet comfort of their rental car. It had been a long day, and they were tired.

"Blake, did I rain on their parade?" Jennifer wondered.

"I donít think so," he told her, keeping his eyes on the driver in front of him. Race fans got a little hyper after a race, especially one with an ending like that, and liberal beer consumption made the driving more hazardous than normal, even well past the peak rush. "In fact, I think you managed to handle it about as well as it could have been handled."

"I tried," she told Blake as she watched him battle the post-race traffic without trying to take too much of his attention, "But itís not good news for them, and I hope I pointed out how itís potentially a blessing in disguise."

Once the celebration in Victory Lane and the pits started to die down, Bubbaís victorious #27 Chevy had been loaded back on the transporter, and the crew broke out the beer for more serious celebration. Josh and Tiffany had made their departure for Atlanta, fighting the traffic in hopes of making their plane. Jennifer and Blake stayed around, waiting for the traffic to die down and got Bubbaís team owner off to the side.

"Iím just sorry that Iíve never been able to give you the support you deserved," sheíd told him. "Today proved that youíve got all the pieces to be the success you deserve to be, but I know you canít do it without a higher level of support."

The team owner had protested that theyíd been doing fine with her help, but yes, more money would be welcome.

" With this win today, youíve got a better chance of success if you were to shop around for a sponsor that can do a better job of supporting you," sheíd told him. "Iíll maintain the current level of funding as long as I can, but I may not be able to do it next year, and definitely not if Wonderful Winter World is cancelled."

It wasnít the kiss of death, and Jennifer had handled it as gently as she could. She hadnít planned on handling it that way, at all, but then, she hadnít planned on Bubba winning a major race in such a dramatic fashion, either. On the other hand, it gave her the best possible chance to be gentle and put a positive spin on it.

Blake slowed slightly to give the driver ahead more space. This wasnít a race, after all. "Well, itís not like we know for sure that WWW is being cancelled," he said. "And, weíre good for this year."

While theyíd been doing interiors and looping for the next show, there had been meetings with network executives, who complained that while Wonderful Winter World still pulled good ratings, it was getting stale. It wasnít as if it was something that they didnít already know; theyíd had a much better run out of the annual special than they had ever dreamed. The original show, eight years in the past, had been planned as a one-shot, so theyíd gotten a much better ride than they could have hoped for.

But the handwriting was on the wall, and the word was around the industry. If there had been any question of that, there had been subtle approaches by three different cable networks to pick up the special in future years. Of course, they wouldnít see the money that theyíd gotten from the broadcast networks. Theyíd talked about it off and on for two weeks now, and hadnít yet made up their minds if it would be worth the trouble to continue the production. A decision on that didnít have to be made for months yet, but some preparations had to be made for whatever happened.

" True," she replied. "But frankly, Iíve gotten all I ever wanted to get out of Bubba and more, and if WWW does get cancelled, heíll be costing us real money, not just tax write-offs."

"Oh, I couldnít agree with you more," Blake said. "You know, Iím just a little concerned that maybe Bubba didnít wind up sending the message weíd intended to Josh and Tiffany."

Jennifer frowned. "I was hoping that theyíd have some fun, and perhaps see that what weíre supporting them with is really small change, even compared to a small-bore NASCAR operation. But Bubba, in his words, Ďdone showed íem different.í"

She could see Blake nod, while still watching the traffic, and heard him reply, "Yeah, Iím afraid they got the message, hang in there, give it all youíve got, and weíll be with you."

"Well, who would have ever believed it out of Bubba?" she laughed. "Even lovable losers win once in a while, I guess."

"They had a good time, Iím sure of that," he said. "If they can just lighten up a little, theyíll be fine."

"Weíre just going to have to keep on them," she agreed. "Gently, of course, and not get down on them."

"We could invite them somewhere again if we wanted to," Blake said. "The supplemental security idea worked well, and would make a good excuse if we ever need it again. Oh, they watched the race, but they were keeping an eye on you and the people around you, too. Theyíre unobtrusive and fit into the scenery. It didnít come down to it, but like you said, theyíre not prone to panic when things go bad. I suppose their racing has something to do with that. They tend to be able to be aware of whatís going on around them and still keep their minds on what theyíre supposed to be doing."

She laughed at a vision that crossed her mind. "I canít imagine what would happen if we had to ask Bubba to do something like that. Someone would step out of line, and theyíd get a wrench Ďup side da haid!í"

Blake laughed at the vision. "Now that would get you some press. Maybe not good press to some people, but there are some fans of yours thatíd think it was."

That set both of them to laughing. Once they settled down, Blake continued, "Well, if we were to call on them on a regular basis, I suppose I ought to get together with them and give them a course in the fundamentals."

"Thatís a possibility, I suppose," Jennifer said. "But, letís keep it casual. I donít want to lay any more on them than they already have to deal with. They really donít have the time for that sort of thing very often. If they can get their time problem under control, perhaps we can sort of reward them. Iím still a little sorry I had to get down on them last month about their time issues, and I still want them to think of us as friends, not sponsors. Weíre going to have to do some other things to help put them at ease with us. Something casual, not a nuthouse like that race."

"Iím sure we can think of something, like maybe take a weekend kayak trip. Maybe we can work it around so they actually suggest it."

"Thatíd be fun," Jennifer agreed. "A little sightseeing, some swimming, a nice campfire. Itíd be something in their territory, and that would loosen them up. Itíd be nice to do that sort of thing with friends more often." She left unsaid, but Blake could hear her meaning that close, casual friends who could accept her as Jennifer were sometimes a little hard to find, and not common, even in Spearfish Lake.

"We need to do something with Brandy and Phil, too," Blake said.

"Brandy hasnít said anything, but I can tell sheís having trouble with the notion of staying home," Jennifer agreed. "I think I can understand why. Iíd find it hard to sit home all the time and have nothing to do. I donít know what Iíd do if I ever lost the desire to make music."

"Itíd be hard," Blake agreed. "But, we can usually think of something to do. You know, I was thinking about it today, and I had what might be a cute idea for something low budget that would be fun."

"Whatís that?"

" Say, we rent the Pike Bar back home and put together a bar band. Get, oh, Bob and Shovelhead and someone on drums and you and me, and tape a sort of "Saturday Night with Jenny Easton," although thereís got to be a better name. We could do a bunch of honky-tonk stuff thatíd keep the country fans happy, maybe mix in a little rock, maybe even Pipeline. Thereís a couple of cable networks that would hop on that real fast."

"Thatís a good idea," Jenny said brightly, deciding to shift her position and snuggle up beside him. The traffic was lighter now, and it wouldnít cause that much of a problem. Besides, it felt good. "I canít tell you the last time I played a bar, although it was long before you were with me. Think of the number of fans thatíd give their right arm to spend an evening like that! And, the Pike would be perfect, right down to the deer heads and football schedules on the wall."

"Weíd have to change one thing," Blake laughed.

"Whatís that?" she said,

"Weíd have to get rid of that cotton-pickiní Dale Earnhardt poster and get a Bubba Winslow poster up there instead."

*   *   *

As they could have predicted, Josh and Tiffany didnít get much sleep sitting in the airport in Chicago Sunday night. The traffic had been tough getting out of Talladega, and they were glad that Blake had suggested taking their rental to the track Ė theyíd never have been able to make it back to Anniston to pick up the car and still make the redeye out of Atlanta. But, they did manage to get on the early flight to Camden, and were heading up the highway to Spearfish Lake, a little worse for wear by ten, and made it in by noon.

They were still a little stunned from the weekend. They went back to the trailer to change out of the clothes theyíd slept in, and then a yawning Tiffany hopped in the Jeep and headed for the store. Josh headed for bed, to try and get ready for the night run that would be coming up in a few hours.

About five Josh was awakened by a banging on his door. It proved to be his brother, looking for help in unloading the truck into their fatherís garage. "Give me a couple minutes to pull myself together," a sleepy Josh yawned. He checked the clock. "Guess I might as well get ready to go. There wouldnít be time to come back here before I have to take Keyhole out."

"We could do it tomorrow," John offered.

"Oh, hell, Iím awake now," Josh said. "Iíd have to be getting up in an hour or so, anyway."

It took Josh a few minutes to get shaved and cleaned up, get work clothes on. Then, he came out to the kitchen to make a lunch and a pot of coffee Ė the Spearfish Lake Café would be long closed by the time Keyhole rolled back through town Ė and otherwise get organized. He hadnít run with the Davis kid much, and he hoped the kid could hold up his end of a conversation to help him stay awake. John watched while he started in on lunch. "So, how was the weekend?" he asked.

"A heck of a lot of fun," Josh said, still yawning. "It was just today that sucked. My heart is still pounding from that last lap."

"I flipped it on toward the end," his brother said. "That was one heck of a finish. It even had me yelling."

"You think you were yelling," Josh said, getting the coffeepot going. "You should have been in the pits. You never saw people go so totally apeshit in your life. God, I was standing there watching and remembering the time Tiffany almost beat me down Front Street. It was the same thing for Bubba, except it was like Iíd had Swenson on my ass, instead of Tiffany."

"I didnít realize till after it was over with that Jenny Easton was the sponsor. Howíd that come about?"

"Itís a long story," Josh said. "I donít know all of it, and I donít think Jennifer would want me to tell, anyway. You ask her sometime."

"We saw you and Tiffany and Blake there in the winnerís circle with Jennifer," John smiled. "That was the high point of the weekend."

"Yeah, it was pretty cool," Josh said, prowling around in the refrigerator. Thereíd been some leftover ham that might make a sandwich.

" Not that," John smiled. "I was laughing at Candice. She was looking at the screen, and I heard her yell, ĎMy God! I didnít know Tiffany owned a skirt!í"

Josh laughed at that, too. He liked his sister-in-law, but she could be a little stuck up at times. "Actually, I think there may be another one back there, if she hasnít used it for a cleaning rag," he grinned. "But she does look pretty good when she dolls herself up, doesnít she? I want to tell you, there are some exceptionally sharp-looking women running around those pits."

"Hey, Iíve got to thank you for the use of your truck," John said.

"Any time," Josh said, opening a loaf of bread. "At least as long as I can use your car while youíve got it. It gets a little screwy getting around on one set of wheels, and Iím not real crazy about taking a bike to work from here."

"No problem. Now, if I were to get a rental truck, is there any chance you and Tiffany could get loose on the weekend after Memorial Day to help us move? Itíd be like a day down, a day loading, and a day back, and then unloading."

Josh frowned. "Tiffany, I donít know. Jackie mostly can babysit the store, not much else, and I hate to ask any more out of her than I do. And, uh, let me check." He walked over to the calendar and counted weeks down. "Thatís what I thought," he said. "Thatís a short weekend. Weíll still be running the way freight at night then, so I wonít get in till early Saturday, and then Iíll have to take Beepit out Monday morning. In theory, I could swap out the night run, but itíd have to be with Anson, and heís sticky about running any more nights than he has to. Sorry, bro. Try Phil and Brandy, maybe?"

"If theyíre back, and not up to their hind ends in software," John said. "Theyíre still in Denver as far as I know, and I donít know when theyíll be back. He was into the office one day last week before they left, and he said theyíd been hitting the midnight oil pretty bad on some software package."

"Oh, we can come up with someone, if you just need hands and a driver," Josh replied. "Maybe the Aho kid whoís been helping us with the dogs. Heíd have to skip some school, though, unless you pushed real hard. Iíll help with the unloading, in any case."

John shrugged. "Itís nothing that we have to settle right now. Itís still a month off, and there are other ways I can do it."

"You got the truck pretty well loaded?"

"To the roof. Nothing real heavy, but some of the stuff is awkward."

"Letís get going as soon as I get this coffee done. I figure Iíve got an hour I can help, if I want to grab some supper before I have to be over to the yard. If we donít get done, Iíll take your car to work, and we can swap back tomorrow morning after I get back."

*   *   *

Phil and Brandy didnít even know the race was on and missed it entirely. They were standing at the south rim of the Grand Canyon just taking in the colorful view at the time Jenny Easton climbed onto the top of Bubba Winslowís car and didnít even catch a film clip of it on the news that night.

Theyíd had a pretty good week. They may have seen some great scenery coming down the Alaska Highway back in March, but that was rather eclipsed by some of the redrock country they saw in southern Utah, while heading from Capitol Reef over to Zion National Park before they went to the Canyon. They were close to Vegas, but decided to give that a pass; neither of them were much for cities, and gambling left them cold. Finally, when they thought they couldnít stand much more of the view, they got back in the rental car and headed south to Flagstaff to find a room for the night.

But that was pretty much the climax of the trip. "Iíve pretty well had about all the tourism I can take," Brandy grumped as they drove into Flagstaff. "Letís go home. I donít know what Iím going to do when I get there, but I donít know what Iím doing, here, either."

When she thought about it, she was still a little sore at Phil for eliminating her diversion from the empty hours she now faced, but usually she managed to drive the soreness away with thoughts of why he had done what he had.

On Monday, they drove on over to Santa Fe, and on up the road to get out of New Mexico. Brandy spent a lot of time staring out the window and thinking, without saying much. Finally, once into Colorado, she asked, "Is there any reason we couldnít swing by Boulder?"

"Not that I can think of," Phil said. "What do you have in mind?"

"I keep thinking I ought to swing by the university and see what Iíd have to do to pick up the work on my doctorate," she said.

"I thought youíd given up on that."

"Itís not a solution," she shrugged. "And really, when you get right down to it, Iím not all that interested in getting my doctorate," she said. "But it might keep me busy long enough to think of something else."

"Thatís something," Phil said.

"I just basically have to come up with a dissertation," she expanded her thinking. "Like you said, I probably could patch something together from all the work I did on the magres without half trying. But, maybe Iíll think of something else to work on, something that doesnít involve the magres at all. After all, Iíd have to go back to Front Range and ask them to use the data for it, and they might be a little sticky about it, after the stunt you pulled."

"Well, I do have one shot left in the locker for them, but it wouldnít work right away, and Iíd hate to have to rub their noses in it," Phil said.

Brandy frowned. "What are you talking about?"

Phil grinned. "I didnít plan it, but their own lawyer wrote up that contract so fast that he missed one little element. Not a major one, but one they might be sorry about if theyíre not nice."

"Phil, quit being so obtuse, and tell me what youíve got up your sleeve."

"I granted them an exclusive right to use the software for commercial purposes, but I didnít give them the source code."

"You mean . . .? Phil, thatís nasty!"

"Like I said, it wasnít my idea. They can point their finger at their own lawyer. It just came to me when we were driving down Utah 12. They donít even have the source code. Oh, I suppose they could come up with a decompiler, but they canít legally upgrade without it. But, I suspect that if you want to use magres test data, you shouldnít have any problem. Just tell them that I had an idea for an upgrade myself. And, who knows? You might come up with something when youíve got the time to think about it."

"I donít know that I want to work with the magres anymore," she said uncertainly, after reflecting on what he said. "Youíre right, itíd just suck me back in. You worked hard enough to get me out."

"True." There wasnít a lot more that he could say.

"On the other hand," she continued, "It may be so much piddling around to finish up on the doctorate that I wonít want to deal with it. As far as that goes, Iím not so sure that I want to do much more with geology, anyway. Iíve seen a lot of interesting formations the past few days, and Iím not seeing rocks, Iím just seeing scenery. Maybe Iím over geology."

"Iím not so sure that thatís not a blessing in disguise," Phil told his wife. "Look, Brandy. I know itís hard on you. I know youíre the kind of person who has to have something to do. Maybe the thing to do is to quit grasping at the past and start thinking about something new."

"Phil, Iíd like to," she said. "I just donít know what it could be."

"I donít know, either," Phil said. "Maybe the thing to do is learn to not worry about it. Let it come to you. Thereís something out there, and I suspect that when it comes, youíll look up and say, ĎOh, yeah, that was it. I should have seen it all along.í"

"Phil, youíre such a damn optimist," she said. "I think thatís why I love you. Letís not go to Boulder. Letís just go home."

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