"A Spearfish Lake Story"
Even with the two of them working next door to each other, lunch sometimes got to be a little free-form. If Tiffany wasn’t in the store, then Candice usually couldn’t leave for more than a few minutes, and then had to put a sign up and lock the door. With three people working in the McGuinness-Archer Agency, however, it was usually possible to juggle lunch breaks, and normally John would go home to make lunch for the boys and bring something back for Candice.
Occasionally, though, the boys would be at friends’ or their grandparents’. If Tiffany were in the store, John and Candice would go home or go to the summer-only sub shop across the street. Other things might happen, and they never knew for sure until around noon.
It was a rare day when John was alone in the office, but that was the case this morning, when Candice called about 11:30. "Tiffany’s here," she said. "You want to do lunch?"
"I can’t leave, this time," he said. "How about the boys?"
"They called and asked if they could have lunch at the Curtis’. How about if I run up the street and get us some subs?" she asked.
"Fine with me," he said. "How about a coke and some chips?"
"See you in a few," she said.
Right at the stroke of noon, he heard the doorbell ring. He looked up to see Candice walk into his office carrying a white paper sack, wearing jeans and a "Spearfish Lake Outfitters" T-shirt. He remembered a time not long before when she’d have worn a business suit with a skirt to work, but then, they didn’t have lunch together in those days, either. "Sub time," she said. "So, what’s happening over here on this side of the wall today?"
"Pretty slow," he said, unwrapping the sub she’d given him. "Mark is supposed to be in today with his monthlies, and I have an appointment later this afternoon for a possible new account. Doesn’t sound like a big one, though. How about on your side of the wall?"
"Sold a Carolina to that guy who was waiting when we got here," she reported, taking a bite out of her own sub. "Got out a few mail orders, and then Tiffany and I sat down and closed out the book on the Quebec trip. We did a little better than I thought, but it’s still barely worth the effort the way we do it now."
"Are you going to quit doing it, then?"
"No, we’re going to overhaul it," she said. "Like we were talking about in the car yesterday and probably do it in two sections. It sold out fast last year, so we might as well make it worth the effort of hauling the boats and gear all the way there and back."
"Are you planning on going again?"
"Too early to tell," she said. "Josh has been wanting to make that trip, and if they don’t run next year, he may be able to work out a way to get free of the railroad for at least one of the sections. Tiffany or I would have to be there for both of them, though. Somebody has to go who knows the ropes, and I’d just as soon get another one in before I have to lead it."
"And leave me here with the boys, again."
"No big deal," she said, waving the sub around. "The boys will be a year older, and you got along perfectly well without me this year. I appreciated coming back to the house clean and the dishes all done."
"Yeah, but still." he said. "I missed you a lot. The boys missed you."
"It’s not that big a deal," she said again. It wasn’t the first time he’d been ouchy about her taking off to Quebec with Tiffany, so she thought maybe she’d better back off. "Besides, there’s a good chance I won’t have to go."
Candice thought she could figure out his ouchiness. After all, they’d moved up here so they could have better lives, and do interesting things. But, except for ball practice, the one kayak trip, and a few other little things, he was still putting in a lot of time behind a desk, looking at a computer screen, running accounts, wearing a suit and tie, while she was dressed casually, getting out more, and doing things that he’d like to be doing. Well, that was the way it had worked out, and she sure liked working at the store better than being a stay-at-home mom, especially with the boys needing her hovering over them less and less as they grew older.
"Yeah, well, whatever, I guess," he said.
"It’ll be nice when the boys are in school," she said, trying to shift the subject a little. "We’ll have to work out a different arrangement on lunch."
"Yeah, but the sub shop will be closed," he said.
She shrugged. "Once we get toward the end of September, I suppose I could put up an ‘Out to lunch’ sign, and we could go home. Or, I could pack something, and we could eat next door."
"Well, we’ll work out something," he said, as the telephone rang. He picked it up. "McGuinness-Archer agency," he answered. "Oh, hi, Blake. Yeah, she’s here . . . well, I’ll ask." He turned to Candice and stuck the phone on his shoulder. "We’re invited over to Blake and Jennifer’s tonight," he said. "Blake says there’s someone there you want to see. Do you want to go, or should we stay home with the boys?"
"I don’t know who it would be," she said. "But we’ve hardly seen them for weeks."
"They’ve been rehearsing for that taping, I know," John said. "It might be that guy from Arvada Center."
"Bob Watson? I haven’t seen him for years. Yeah, I’d like to go. I’ll see if I can work out something about the boys."
"I hate sticking my folks with them again. They hardly see their mother, anymore."
Oh, that was it, Candice thought. Ever since they’d moved up here, he’d spent a lot more time with the boys, and she’d been spending less, especially recently, what with the working out with Brandy. But there was a limited amount of time that she was willing to sit on the bleachers, too, and she’d put in a fair share. "Maybe something else," she said. "I hate to turn Blake and Jennifer down."
"Yeah, I do, too, after our trip," he said. "I guess I can call Mom again."
"We’ll try to hold it down," she promised. "We’ll be out with them a lot this whole weekend. Maybe that will make up a little."
"That’ll help," he said and picked the phone up again. "What time did you say again, Blake? . . . yeah, OK, we’ll be there." He put the phone back on the hook. "It’s dinner, we need to be there about six. Phil and Brandy are going to be there, too, maybe Josh and Tiffany."
"Look, John," she said. "I spend more time with the boys now than I did when we were in Decatur. You just spend a lot more time with them, so it seems like I don’t spend as much."
"Yeah, I suppose," he said, obviously not wanting to buy the thought. "But, I needed to spend more time with them, even back then."
"You’re managing it," she said. "Look, no matter how much we may deny it, they’re not quite so little, anymore. They do need a little space. It’s not like we have to be hovering over them every minute."
"I’d hoped that when we moved up here, we would be able to spend more time with them."
"John, we are. Both of us. Lots more, especially lots more together."
"I know," he said. "But it still seems like we’re not spending as much time as we should."
"They do grow up on us," she said. "In a few years, they’ll both be gone. You know, I was thinking about it last week, about what it will be like when we and Jennifer and Blake both have kids in school, and I realized that both of our boys will be in high school before they have their baby in kindergarten. I’m glad we got started young. Do you realize she’ll be pushing sixty before she has that kid out of school?"
"Hard to believe," he said shaking his head. "She doesn’t look that old. But then, it’s hard to believe we’re going to be over forty."
"I’m glad we did it the way we did," she said. "Granted, we missed out on some things from having kids as soon as we got out of college, but I think we’ll make up for that."
"Yeah, me too," he said. "I just hope they get the basketball program straightened out by the time they get there. They’ve got a real mess over there. We were talking about it over breakfast this morning."
"There’s a few years, yet," she said, thinking that while he was off the topic of how much time she was spending with the boys, it was an issue that obviously was not going to go away. They were going to have to really have that out some time, but she didn’t feel like getting into it right now, and maybe when the boys got back in school things would be a little different. That was only a few weeks off, now, anyway.
While he was detailing what he’d learned about the basketball trouble, she noticed a picture frame sitting on his desk. It hadn’t been there the last time she’d been in his office, but that had been almost two weeks, considering the week she’d spent in Quebec. She reached out, picked it up, and turned it around. It was one of the snapshots that Phil had taken of her in the black string bikini, out on the island. She had a mischievous, enigmatic smile; her skin was lit all golden by the low rays of the sinking sun, and the bikini covered little.
He saw her looking at the picture. "You know, that may be the best picture anyone’s ever taken of you," he said.
"Easily the sexiest," she smiled. That had been a good weekend. "I sure wouldn’t wear that on the beach here, and you can forget it when we’re with the boys next weekend, too."
"I’ve looked at that smile time and time again," he said, and I keep wondering what you were thinking."
She laughed. "Phil just said, ‘Come on Candice, pose for me,’ and I guess I was wondering if that was what he had in mind."
He smiled back at her. "Well, I was hoping it was something romantic and mysterious. It sure looks it. It’s not the picture of you from that weekend that I have in mind, though."
"Well, the only picture is in my mind, but you remember just before the storm hit, when you were standing there nude? I can’t figure out what was going on in your mind."
"Nothing much," she said. "I wanted another look at the storm before it hit, and I thought it would be fun to tease you by crawling into the tent naked, and we could make love while the storm blew around us, so I took the bikini off while I was watching. I know the phrase, ‘standing naked before the storm’ crossed my mind. I don’t remember where it came from, a book probably, and probably symbolism at that, but all of a sudden I realized that I might never have a better chance to experience it."
"It was like something out of a movie," he smiled. You looked so exotic, so . . . distant, like you were somewhere else, and someone else too, someone I didn’t know, and never really would."
Once they had the GP-9s fueled up, Josh backed Peddler down the track from the fuel hoses so it would be open later when the rock train engines had to fuel up. Stormy rode the step out to the switch to track 2 and hopped off as Josh slowed the train. He had the switch thrown by the time the way freight was coming back the other way. Once the end of the train went by, Stormy threw the switch back for track one and started the trek back to the office. There wouldn’t be much time and distance saved from walking if he were to try to ride back on a ladder on the last boxcar.
Josh had the Geeps shut down before Stormy made it back. He climbed down from the cab, another hot summer’s day of work done. He looked at his watch; maybe there’d be enough time to go to the store, hop into the swimsuit he kept stashed in the back room, and go for a swim and maybe hop in a kayak and get in a couple miles to loosen up. It would feel good.
"Josh, got a minute?" Bud called to him from the platform outside the office.
"Yeah, sure." Maybe this wouldn’t take long. The lake would still be there, and they’d run a little early.
Bud was sitting on the bench on the platform when Josh got up to the office. "Tiffany called, and said you’re going to dinner at Jennifer and Blake’s at six."
Well, so much for the swim. "Glad we got in early," he responded.
"So, how’d it go with Stormy today?"
"The kid couldn’t have done better," he replied. "But it was a light list, and from the looks of what’s coming this week, there’ll never be a better opportunity to break him in to soloing Peddler this summer. That’ll give Dave a chance to get away to that lake in Canada he’s been raving about all summer."
"I thought maybe I’d run the north half of the turn with you tomorrow, just to see," Bud said. "But, hell, you’re the guy who has to work with him, so I’m willing to take your word for it."
"He’s doing OK," Josh reaffirmed. "I don’t know that I’d be quite ready to send him out on Peddler with Dave at the throttle just yet, but I guess it would be all right if we had to."
"Your decision," Bud said. "That’s not really what I wanted to talk to you about. Are you going to mind if Jane and I take off in the motor home again?"
Josh frowned. There were a couple issues involved. "Well, I suppose not," Josh said. "Assuming nothing happens this week before Dave gets back, we should be OK until the college kids take off, and that’s what? Three weeks? I’d definitely have to have you back by then, but until then, have fun."
"I’d sort of hoped to be gone longer than that," Bud said. "We were talking about going out west."
"We’re still going to be short a brakeman once the college kids leave," Josh explained. "And, that’s assuming we have Dave back to braking. We could get along for a few days if we had to, what with Dad available, or maybe we could borrow Leo from Roger again, but I wouldn’t want to push it very far. As far as that goes, there are a couple people I could ask to just ride along on a rock train once in a while just to keep us legal, but I’d have to do all the real work."
"How about having Tiffany brake again?" Bud asked.
Josh shook his head. "I don’t want to ask her again, unless someone gets sick or breaks a leg, or something. She’s got too much else to do, and now we’re going to have to be getting training under way just as soon as the weather cools down a little. Braking and running the store back in April just about killed us."
"I thought maybe with your sister-in-law in the store, it might free her up some."
"Yeah, but we’ve still got the dogs, and we didn’t have training last spring. It’s going to be just about as bad. Besides, though Candice is picking the store up pretty fast, there’s still a lot of stuff she doesn’t know yet."
"Well, I’ll have to talk to Roger about Leo," Bud said, waving at Stormy as he got in his pickup to start the long haul back to Warsaw, where he lived with his parents. "I hate to do that. They’ve got enough work to keep them busy from now till the snow flies."
"Any chance they’re going to close the pits down early again this year? I know we’re pulling ahead of the barge loader pretty good, and the way we’re going they’re going to have to knock off a few days to get a load out, so we have more space in the yard."
"Might be," Bud said. "What do you have in mind?"
"Well, suppose you do it in two sections. You and Jane could head out west, park the motor home somewhere, fly back here till the pits close, then fly back out west. If the pits close early again this year, you might only have to be back for a month or so."
"Well, yeah, that might work," Bud replied slowly. "I’ll have to call around and see if I can get a reading on the pits and the barge loader. If they’re getting full down there, maybe we could cut back to a single rock train a day, going to each pit every other day."
"Yeah, that’s a possibility, too," Josh agreed. "You’re going to have to be the one to figure that out."
"Too bad Dave’s not here," Bud mused. "We could hop in the car, and run up to the pits and down to the loader. You really ought to get to know some of the people down there, I mean the executives, not the foremen. You might have to deal with them some time when I’m not around."
"We could swap it around for a day," Josh said. "Maybe have Dad run with Stormy, maybe the day after tomorrow or the next day. Stormy might pick up something from him that we missed."
"Let’s do it, then," Bud said. "Look, I know I haven’t been around this summer as much as I should have been, and I should have talked about this with you before."
"We’re getting along," Josh said. "Everybody knows that you and Jane, well, you need your time, the both of you. We don’t mind."
"Yeah, but we need to be able to do something more than just get along, especially if something should happen to me," Bud said. "And, after the past year or so, I know something can happen. If something does happen, well, you’re really the only one who’s going to be able to run this thing. I really needed to spend the time working with you on that stuff more this summer, but it’s just flashed by. You’ve done well handling the operations, but there’s more to it than that."
"I don’t know that I’m ready for that, Bud." Josh said soberly. Bud had been a friend as well as a boss for years, and it was hard to think of the railroad without him.
"I know you’re not ready," Bud said. "We’re going to have to work on that. Look, if we put Dave on the engineer roster next year, I think we need to have you off it, except to fill in. I need you to spend the time in the office. That’ll screw up the brakeman situation, but we’ve got all winter to work on it."
"We should have Stormy back next year," Josh said. "We’ve run all summer without one of the college kids, and we’re losing one after this year. I’ve already got someone lined up for a replacement for next year, and I’ll nose around for someone else."
"Who’s the kid you’ve got lined up?"
"Eric Aho, the kid who’s been helping me with the dogs this year," Josh explained. "He’ll be eighteen next year, and I’ve taken him on a cab ride a couple times, so he knows what he’s getting into. Anyway, assuming we get Anson back, we could do it."
"He’ll probably be back," Bud said. "He grumps about it, but he grumps about being with his wife all winter, too." He was getting off the subject he wanted to discuss with Josh, and he knew it. "But, we’ll solve it somehow, if he doesn’t. You need to get to know some of the D&O people, down in Camden, especially. The people down there have been good to us, especially some times when they didn’t have to be, even if the office people can be assholes at times. If Anson does leave, they may know of another retiree who could fill in like him."
"I thought of that when he got grumpy while we were running nights," Josh said. "But I didn’t know who to call and ask."
"Which makes my point," Bud said. "We’ve got to get you plugged into this a little more." He looked out across the rail yard for a moment, and Josh could see he was thinking about something. "Look, Josh, I need to tell you this," he said finally. "Jane and I are going to be getting married here sometime pretty soon. We haven’t set a date yet, because we needed to wait a while anyway, and there are a couple of estate and legal issues that need to get tacked down. One of them is my will, and it involves you. Josh, you know I never had any kids, but the last few years, you’ve been almost like a son to me. If something should happen to me, you get my shares in the railroad."
"Bud, I don’t . . . "
"And, that means you will have to run it," Bud said, cutting off Josh’s protest. "Now, I hope that’s going to be a few years yet, but I want you ready for it. Those shares won’t give you majority ownership, but there’s enough shares held locally by friends of mine or friends of yours to give you control. If Jennifer Evachevski by herself votes with you, you’d have control."
"I knew she had some shares," Josh said. "But I didn’t know how much."
"I exchanged some stock for cash when we bought the SD-40s," Bud said. "It’s been a good investment for her. Frank Matson also owns enough stock to make a majority with mine. I don’t think you know Frank well, but he and I have been friends for years, and there wouldn’t have been a railroad if he hadn’t supported me in the beginning and along the way when things got tough."
"I guess I knew that the bank had given us good support."
"The bank, yes," Bud said. "But Frank put up a lot of his own money, and his dad’s, too, when we got started. But all of that has changed a lot and will probably change more as times goes on. The bottom line is that you’re going to have to start planning on being around in the winters to be able to take care of that end of the business. It’s not absolutely necessary this year, but it’s going to become more important."
"After not running the race last year, I’m not all that fired up about it this year," Josh admitted. "You know our plan: we’re going to take one last, all-out shot at the top. We could cut back to one team, just for Tiffany, but just between you and me, Tiffany wants me to have one chance at the better team. It’s not quite that big a deal with me, but it’s really the only interest I have in going to all the hassle this year at all. If I should win or come real close, then I’d probably have to do it another year. But I’m not planning on another year at this point, for me, in any case, and maybe not for Tiffany, either." He hadn’t quite said a flat no, he realized, but that was just about what he meant. As far as the race was concerned, this conversation was just driving another nail into a coffin that had pretty well been closed for months.
"I can live with that," Bud told him. "I guess that means that Jane and I won’t be able to spend the winter in Florida like we’d talked about, but we hadn’t expected to do it next year, anyway."
"Hey, that’s good news about you and Jane," Josh said. "I’m sorry, but I guess I didn’t congratulate you."
"It’s a little different when you’re our ages and you come into it the way we did," Bud said. "We’re not going to make any big deal about it. It’s a darn shame that your brother and sister-in-law beat us to George Lindquist’s old house, though."
"We had our eye on it, but we were on the road, and it was gone by the time we got back," Bud said. "It would have been a good house for us, but it’ll make a good one for them, too."
"Bud, you both have houses," Josh protested.
"Yeah," Bud said a little sadly. "But both of them are a little too filled with memories." There was a heavy moment there, and he knew he had to push it past. "We’re going to wait for summer to get over with, and the prices to drop when the summer people go home, and maybe buy something out on the point, if we like it."
"Just as well if you make it back in September, then," Josh said, not wanting to get into that area, either.
"Yeah, I guess so," Bud said. "You’d better get out of here and get cleaned up if you’re going out to dinner."