Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Chapter 1: Prologue
August 6, 1998
Three times a week during the summer the Bradford City Recreation Department paid for a school bus to take kids to the pool in Hawthorne, the county seat twenty miles away. For Emily Holst, that meant that three times a week, Kayla and J.J. would be out of the house for four hours. It was time that she could concentrate on other things – mostly just relaxing from all the one-on-one time with the kids, which could get to be a hassle in the summer. It wouldn’t be long, she knew, before they could be left alone in the summer, at least for a while – and not long after that, they’d have summer jobs, and all too soon they’d be gone. It was hard to believe that almost exactly ten years had passed since realizing she was pregnant with Kayla.
But just now, there were other things to do rather than just chill out. Driving home from work, she’d seen Dayna and Sandy’s motor home sitting in the driveway, so that meant they were back for at least a few hours. They were gone so much that she knew she’d better talk to Dayna while she had the chance. At home, she got out of the red pinstriped gray Spee-D-Mart uniform, pulled on shorts and a T-shirt, then dialed the number of her friend’s house. Sandy picked up the phone, and Emily asked, "Are you two going to be around for a while?"
"Probably just overnight," Sandy informed her. "We’ve got a gig in Chitown tomorrow night, then we’re going to have to bust our fannies to get back for the opening at Maple Leaf. Then we’re heading north after that. We just dropped by to make sure the house was still here."
"I need to talk to Dayna for a few minutes," Emily said, "are you going to be around this afternoon?"
"Yeah, sure, come on over," Sandy replied. "It’s always good to see you, Emily."
It was just a short walk to Dayna and Sandy’s house, and even though it was a hot day, the walk was pretty shady through the older section of town. Bradford was not large, only about twenty-five hundred people, and of a high school graduating class of eighty-one, Dayna was one of the few besides Emily herself who still called Bradford home. Dayna wasn’t there much because she had the most unique job description in town: Wandering Medieval Minstrel – that was what her business card said. She and Sandy had started playing gigs together at renaissance faires and elsewhere within hours of when they’d first met in their college dorm room almost ten years before. They hadn’t quit since, except for a few months during Sandy’s brief, disastrous marriage. In the old days they had been on the road all the time, only stopping off at Dayna’s parents occasionally for a few days. After the two got back together they’d decided they needed a home to call their own just to be off the road and away from the stresses of living in a motor home all the time. Their latest CD, Experience of Survival, had been enough of a success that they were trying to back off from being gone all the time.
Even though Dayna was one of her best friends from the Class of ’88 who still lived in the area, Emily always felt just a touch nervous around the two musicians. Bradford is a small town, the rumors fly hot and heavy, and Emily admitted to being one of the main rumor mongers, at least as far as it concerned her high school class. Although there had never been any sort of admission from Dayna and Sandy that she’d heard of, the two were quite close, and the betting around town was about seven to three that the two were lesbians, or at least bi – they had been known to date guys, after all. It wouldn’t have surprised Emily either way – she tried to avoid passing along hearsay, and tried to keep things as factual as possible, but still, there were things that people didn’t tell her. She had been the class president in her senior year, and since she was still in Bradford it pretty much made her the de-facto permanent class president – she was the main contact person for the class, which was what this trip was all about.
Even with an air conditioner running, Dayna and Sandy’s house seemed stuffy. It was a small house and had been closed up for weeks. It felt good to sit in the cool air in the living room though, talking to the tall, dark-haired Dayna and the slightly shorter Sandy. "So," Dayna asked, "what’s this all about?"
"Long story." Emily said. "A couple weeks ago, Shelly dropped by, and Vicky and I had a long talk with her. We were the only three kids from our class who went to the school’s annual reunion last spring. I’d hoped to see more kids from our class. We thought maybe we could have a tenth reunion of just our class on Homecoming weekend, in October, and we might get a few more people."
"It sounds like it’d work," Dayna replied, nodding. "But, Sandy, we open in Lexington that weekend, don’t we?"
"Afraid so," the blonde musician said, "but we could probably juggle it around. I could do it solo if I had to." Sandy was a terrific instrumentalist, but had a squeaky, whiny singing voice best used with country-western music so tried to sing as little as possible. Most of the time the two let Dayna’s husky, sexy voice carry the singing load.
"We’ll work it out," Dayna shrugging. "I’d like to see some of the kids again. So, Emily, what is it you need from me other than that?"
"We’re trying to track everybody down, so we can at least send invitations. I’ve got good addresses for more than half the class and some leads on a few of the others, but a lot of people have evaporated into thin air."
Dayna shrugged again. "Gonna happen, I guess." A lot of people were counting the days until they could blow this town and take the freeway on-ramp to somewhere else. Some of ’em, to anywhere else. Hell, I was one of them."
"That’s true," Emily said, "but I remember you saying two or three years ago that you’d run into Jennlynn Swift out at some renfaire out west."
Emily caught Dayna flashing a smile at Sandy, and the blonde gave a quick grin back. "Yeah, we did," Dayna said tentatively, "must have been right after Sandy and I got back together. She said she was working at some engineering company, making good money."
"Wasn’t she the pilot?" Sandy said a little gingerly. Sandy was from the Detroit area, and didn’t know very many of the Bradford ’88s.
"Yeah, it was kind of a little sideline business for her," Dayna said in a near snicker. "She said she was doing pretty well. Sandy, you want to run out and get the journal? I may have written down an address for her."
There’s something there that they are not saying, Emily thought as Sandy got up to go outside. I wonder what it is? She’d talked to Jennlynn years before, but she still didn’t believe what she’d been told. "That’ll be a big help," she said. "I think I was the last person to see her in Bradford, right after her folks threw her out. I took her up to the airport in Hawthorne, and she was crying her eyes out. She got in her little green and white plane and flew off, still crying. Nobody has ever told me what went wrong with her and her folks."
"I don’t recall asking," Dayna said. "Sandy and I didn’t get to talk to her long; it was between shows with a crowd around. You know how that works."
"Sure do," Emily smiled. In the period while Sandy had been married, and Dayna was slowly recovering from an illness that had nearly killed her, Emily had been a volunteer roadie at one of the renaissance faires that the two had spent much of their careers playing. What was more, she’d gotten some other people from the class to pitch in. Dayna had been trying to build a solo career after losing Sandy, and was well on the way when Sandy’s husband beat her up, and she left him. Vicky had helped get Sandy back together with Dayna again. "Look, I’ve got the list of people we’re looking for," she said, still wondering what Dayna wasn’t saying. "Maybe you can look it over and see if there’s somebody you might have heard about."
Dayna took the small notebook that Emily held out to her, and glanced it over. "Shae Kirkendahl and Denis Riley," the musician shook her head. "I can’t believe that you couldn’t get hold of someone in the office out at General and track down their folks, real easy." "General" was what everyone called the General Hardware Retailers Distribution Center out at the edge of town, the biggest employer in the area. It had been located near there because it was close to a major Interstate intersection near the Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana state lines with easy access to many major population centers in those states, plus Illinois and beyond. Both Shae’s and Denis’ parents had been top executives there, although they’d long been transferred out.
"It’s not as easy as it sounds," Emily shook her head. "Denis’ folks are retired, and their checks and benefits go directly from their retirement accounts to some bank. The address the company has isn’t current; apparently they just moved somewhere. I’ve got a phone number for Shae’s folks, but don’t get an answer. He’s still in the headquarters, but his secretary said they’re on a long vacation. So, I suppose I’ll get hold of them eventually."
"Shae, Shae," Dayna furrowed her brow. "I saw her on TV a while back. A couple of years, anyway, down south someplace. She was doing local sports for some TV station."
"Somehow, that doesn’t surprise me," Emily smiled. Shae and Cindy Dohrman had been the spark plugs of a girls’ basketball team that had gone to the state finals three years running, winning them twice, the only state titles Bradford had won in thirty years. "You have any idea where this was?"
"I may have written it up in the journal," Dayna said. "I’ll skim through it when Sandy gets in." She let out a sigh. "The thought crosses my mind that she might know about Denis. They were pretty close there for a couple years, and that always seemed a little strange to me."
"Me, too," Emily admitted. "I always figured there was a little General politics involved in that."
"You mean like his dad asked her dad to have her keep her eye on him?" Dayna smiled. "Could be. They were really the odd couple, even in spite of the physical difference. I mean, Shae was about as jockette as you can get, and Denis about as non-jock as possible. There were a lot of kids who thought he was gay. He got the shit kicked out of him more than once, and was always getting put down. Then, he hooked up with Shae, of all people, and a lot of that stuff got toned way down."
"That’s why I think there was something coming down from their families. Denis took a lot of heat, and then all of a sudden, they were boyfriend and girlfriend. I mean, it didn’t take much walking down the hall holding hands to make it show, and they did it a fair amount. I remember a few serious lip locks, too."
"Could be," Dayna said again. "I know a lot of the heat died down after they started going together, but you hardly ever saw them around town together outside of school. Then his family left town right after he graduated. I know that transfer had been in the works for a while; his dad had already left, and he and his mom moved on like the day after graduation. I think it was the main office in Denver, if I remember."
"To the best of my knowledge, he’s never been back here," Emily nodded. "I saw Shae once real briefly the year after we graduated. We talked for a couple minutes, and I remember her saying that she was going to visit a friend in Vermont who was going to have major surgery. Her folks transferred out not long after that, and your mentioning she was on TV is the first I’ve heard of her since."
"People get their own lives," Dayna shrugged. "With their folks gone, neither of them had much reason to come back here."
"Denis especially," Emily nodded as she saw Sandy coming back inside. "People were pretty mean to him for a long time. I’ll bet we don’t see him at the reunion."
"Wouldn’t be surprised," Dayna nodded, taking the loose-leaf notebook from Sandy. "Do you remember when I mentioned seeing that kid I went to school with doing sports on some TV station down south somewhere?"
Nodding, Sandy said, "I think so. Strikes me it was at the Carolina Renfaire, the fall of the year we got back together."
"You have a better memory for that stuff than I do," Dayna shook her head.
Given that much of a lead, it didn’t take long to track Shae down. The Carolina Renfaire was outside Durham, and information came up with the phone number of a local TV station quickly. The sports guy there said Shae was hard to forget, which Dayna and Emily knew to be true indeed. Shae hadn’t worked there, but at another station in town, and had moved on to another city. He wasn’t sure where, but he was able to give Dayna the number of the other station, and a guy there said she’d gone on to the World Sports Network in New York, and was now covering the WNBA and other sports. In five more minutes, with Emily on an extension, Dayna had Shae on the phone. "Good grief," their old friend said, "I never expected to hear from the two of you. What’s happening with you, anyway?"
"Pretty much the same as always with me," Emily told her. "I still work at the Spee-D-Mart, and I’m still a small-town mom. Dayna’s still a professional wandering musician; she and her friend Sandy have cut several CDs."
"Anything I would have heard of?" Shae asked.
"The one that’s best known is Experience of Survival," Dayna said. "It got on the charts a little a while back. Pick Me Please has been out longer."
"Oh, my God!" Shae exclaimed. "You two are the Dayna and Sandy who did Pick Me Please! I heard that and remembered going to school dances hoping someone would dance with me. I quit going to them because I hardly ever got picked."
"There are covers of it out, but we wrote and recorded the original version," Dayna snickered. Most people thought school dances were what Pick Me Please was all about, but it was actually something quite different. "There was a certain little teenybopper singer who cut it later and didn’t want to pay rights. She wound up buying our house for us when our lawyers got done with her."
"I’ve heard both versions, but I like yours better," Shae said. "You’ve done some blues stuff I really adore. So, are you married? Kids or like that?"
"No, not married, no kids," Dayna said. "How about you?"
"Not married, no kids," Shae admitted. "I’ve got a pretty serious boyfriend, and we’re sort of engaged, but we’ve decided that we don’t want to get married until he retires. That’s probably another three or four years off, maybe a little longer. We both travel too much; we barely see each other as it is."
"Retires?" Emily said, frowning. "Is he a lot older?"
"Oh, no, he’s about our age," Shae said. "But there’s not many people who stay in pro basketball after their mid-thirties. You might have heard of him, Larry McDowell, he plays for the Nets."
"I seem to remember something about him signing a helluva big contract a while back," Dayna admitted, impressed. She wasn’t really a sports fan, but liked to listen to the radio in their RV while they were on the road, and it struck her that the contract was in the nine-figure range.
"It was pretty good," Shae agreed. "There are some career issues, but I like what I’m doing. I’ll be doing some NBA floor coverage this winter that should be fun."
"Looks like I’m going to have to watch sports on cable more," Emily smiled, and went on to explain about the reunion.
"Boy, I’d sure like to go," Shae said. "It’s been years since I’ve been in Bradford; I’ve often wondered what’s happened to some of those kids."
"I try to keep up on everybody," Emily admitted, "but it’s easy to lose track. Most everybody is pretty normal, I guess. There’s a couple kids who have been a little unusual. You and Dayna probably head the list."
"We’re talking the second Saturday in October, right?" Shae said. "Let me check for a minute." The phone went dead.
"I’d say she’s doing pretty well," Dayna commented across the room, "network sports, covering the NBA? And sort of engaged to one of the richest white basketball players in the league?"
"Yeah, that strikes me as pretty good," Emily agreed.
In a few seconds Shae was back on the line. "Wonder of wonders, I can make it, at least at this point, if things don’t change," she replied exuberantly. "I have to be in Chicago that weekend, but it’s an off night."
"Good, it’ll be great to see you," Emily smiled. "Shae, I’m going through the hassle of trying to track down missing persons right now, and Dayna suggested you might have a lead on Denis Riley."
There was a hesitation before Shae replied, and her manner was noticeably reserved when she replied, "Oh, yeah, uh, Denis is still about my best friend. We don’t get together as much as I’d like to."
"What’s happening with him?" Emily asked, curious at Shae’s change in manner.
"Oh, doing pretty well," Shae said tentatively. "Married now, got a Ph.D. in psychology a couple years ago, in a big group practice on the north side of Philly. Very happy with the way life has gone."
"Cool, glad things worked out for him," Emily said. "I know he had a rough time of it in school. Could you give me a number or an address so I can contact him about the reunion?"
"I’m not so sure how much, uh, Denis would want to come," Shae said uncertainly. "The term I usually hear used about Bradford is ‘that hellhole.’ It hasn’t come up much in the last few years. Emily, I don’t know how to say this, but things have changed more than you can imagine. I mean, we’re really not talking about the same person he was back then."
"If it was that big a change, we’d like to hear something about it," Emily submitted.
"I’m not so sure about that," Shae replied. "Look, I don’t know if anyone there ever heard the story, but there’s some people in our class who are probably alive today because I decked him one time."
"Decked him?" Dayna asked. This was news; she hadn’t heard anything about that. Denis wouldn’t have been the only one Shae had whacked. She’d drawn a lot of cheap shots in her basketball career, and knew how to hit back and make it count, sometimes not even drawing a foul in the process. But, despite being a jock, anyone who knew Shae wouldn’t believe she’d pick on someone as small as Denis had been.
"It may well be that only Denis’ family and I knew anything about it," Shae replied obliquely. "It was after that when things started to turn for the better, and they’ve come a long way. I watched most of the biggest part of it, and I don’t always believe it myself."
"What kind of changes?" Dayna asked.
"Big changes," Shae sighed. "It’s nothing I can go into over the phone, especially since I’ve got a meeting in a couple minutes. Look, I’ll run it by. There’s a chance that returning like that might wash some of that old horseshit out of the system, but I’m not the one to make that decision. Look, give me your phone number. I’ll ask, OK? But I don’t want to make promises."
"I really can’t ask much more," Emily smiled, with her curiosity intensely aroused, but realizing she wasn’t going to get any more information than what she had. It took a couple minutes to exchange addresses and phone numbers, and then Shae protested that she really had to run.
"You tell me that there’s not a lot she knows that she’s not saying," Dayna said as she hung up the phone. "She was really being careful with what she said."
"No fooling," Emily agreed. "How much you want to bet gay?"
"Wouldn’t surprise me, either way," Dayna nodded. "There’s a story there that I’ll bet I’d like to hear, but odds are we’re not going to hear it."
Emily shook her head. Dayna and Sandy were clearly one story she didn’t have all the parts to, and the way the two of them had acted when Jennlynn’s name came up told her that there was another. And now this, whatever it was. What other secrets lay in the Class of ’88, in those names she had no contact information for? Or even those she did?
* * *
Shae let out a sigh as she hung up the phone, mentally reviewing what she’d said. There had been no dead obvious giveaways that she could remember, but she knew she’d passed on the message that there was more to the story than she was letting on, no matter how much she wanted to cover it up. She didn’t have a meeting; in fact, things were rather slow – but the danger of slipping up about her old friend had been just too great. There were things there that she had no right to pass on without permission, had never had it, and she wasn’t about to take the risk.
Not that she wasn’t pretty open about it in some circumstances, but anywhere near Bradford had never been one of them. Denis had taken just too much shit from a lot of the kids there, and the thoughts were still painful, Shae knew all too well; otherwise she wouldn’t have had to flatten him when all the shit got to be just too much. But, like she’d told Emily and Dayna, that proved to be the point where things started to turn up for him.
She glanced at her watch; better hold off a few minutes before calling, she thought. She leaned back in her chair and stared at the wall for a moment. It was hard to believe how much change there had been in Denis’ life since those days – it was even hard to use that name; it had been mostly abandoned ten years ago, although Emily and Dayna could not have known that.
Shae couldn’t help but think back to that afternoon years ago, remembering Denis in tears, so beside himself in anger and depression that it seemed as if his soul had been stripped bare – and in truth, it had been, or what happened never would have come about. She’d been the strong, confident one; the one with things under control; the one who had reached out her hand to help. Now she was the one who found herself with a life not heading where she wanted it and not able to do much about it. The thing that had eaten at Denis had been fixed; it hadn’t been easy, but there had been a fix. There seemed to be none for her. She’d carried her friend for so long that it was hard to ask for help, but it might not be such a bad idea. Two heads had proved better than one for years, after all.
Her thoughts were going negative, and she knew it – it was time to think about something else. Her coffee cup was empty and there were a couple things she wanted to iron down with Mike, including getting away for the reunion a couple months off. She grabbed her cup, stood up, and headed down to the office coffeepot, ducking her head under the ridiculously low door frame out of force of habit.
Mike proved to be at the coffeepot, along with some guy she hadn’t seen before. "Mike," she said as she stood in line, "any chance I can see you for a couple minutes this afternoon?"
"Yeah, sure," he said. "This is Rob Myers; we’re doing the nickel tour, looking at him to replace Johnson. Rob, this is . . . "
"Shae Kirkendahl," the new guy finished for him, eyes wide, jaw slack. It was the look that Shae had gotten thousands of times before on first meeting someone. She was used to it and amused by it, at least normally. In the frame of mind she was in right now, it wasn’t that amusing. "I’m pleased to meet you," he managed.
Might as well be friendly and do the standard routine. She looked down at him and smiled, "Welcome to WSN. It’s a small place, but there are those of us who like it. Six-eight and a quarter, in the morning, anyway. Usually a little less by evening."
"Huh?" he said, confused.
"Wasn’t your first question going to be, ‘I hate to be rude, but how tall are you, anyway?’ It usually is," she laughed. "I just look taller since I’ve got heels on."
"I’d seen you were tall on sportscasts, covering the WNBA," he stammered. "But, it’s more striking in the flesh. I . . . I guess it’s just surprising to see you covering the league, rather than playing in it."
"I’m a lousy shooter, always was," she said casually, bending over to fill her coffee cup. This was just as much of an automatic and practiced response as her first. "There’s some sort of spatial referencing skill that I lack, more than just hand-eye coordination. I had a pretty good career in high school based on defense, rebounds, dunks, and the fact that I never went up against someone within six inches of my height. I was more of an average player in college. I scrimmaged with WNBA people more than once, and I found there were girls who were close to my height, had all my defensive skills, and could shoot, too, so I went into broadcasting. It was a good move. I still scrimmage with some of the WNBA girls sometimes, and every time reminds me of why I’m in television."
She wasn’t going to say it, but her height was the big reason she was in television, at least at WSN. There were a handful of players, especially in college basketball, who tended to talk down to interviewers and their audience due to their height differential. When she had on five-inch heels like she often did, there were only a handful of men in basketball who were taller, and then only marginally. Her height and her enjoyment of drawing attention had opened a lot of doors for her – and a few for Denis, back in the bad days – and had given her a full-ride scholarship to a good college. But she’d burned out on basketball a long time before, and now she was finding it very hard to hang on around the edges. Something else to talk to Eve about, she thought. Maybe it was the main thing.
Like many people, Rob turned out to be all right once he got past the shock of her towering over him. Her height was intimidating and made her memorable, which was part of the reason that she usually wore heels that made her have to duck going through door frames. Most of the reason, though, was that heels brought door frames down to something approaching eye level, so she’d remember to duck in the first place. In any kind of regular shoes, say athletic shoes, she was just a touch too tall for most doors, and she’d whacked her head more times than she wanted to remember. Door frames fell into that "spatial referencing skill challenged" category; she’d learned clear back in middle school that it was either wear heels or a hard hat. She’d told kids clear back then that if she was going to be a freak, there was no point in being half-assed about it.
But thinking about that phrase after she’d automatically used it to Rob brought back a memory that was lingering near the surface anyway. She took her coffee and headed back to her tiny office, sat down on the desk, remembering that day long ago when she’d held Denis in her arms, crying his eyes out on her chest, while she desperately tried to think of something that would calm him down, make him feel better. Then he’d opened the door, the first time he’d told anyone. It proved to be the first step toward a new life, and one of the most interesting adventures that she could have imagined. Well, she couldn’t have imagined it until it happened around her. There had been time and time again that she’d wanted to tell the story, but it wasn’t hers to tell – so, she never had. Oh, little corners of it got out once in a while, like she’d hinted to Dayna and Emily, but never the whole truth, let alone the whole story. She didn’t know all of it herself, anyway.
She didn’t have any problem with going to the reunion and keeping her mouth shut – she’d kept it quiet now for nearly a dozen years. But yeah, it might heal some old wounds, too. She picked up the phone and started punching numbers. "Matthews, Barkley, and Associates," the girl said as she picked up the phone on the second ring.
"Shae Kirkendahl for Dr. McClellan," she said. "Personal."
"Oh, hi, Shae!" the receptionist said, more casually. "I can put you through in a second. Boy, the Flames sure kicked butt last night, didn’t they?"
"It was a great game," Shae agreed. She’d met the receptionist two or three times, but couldn’t bring up the name – but remembered that she was a WNBA fan, so she must have seen the game Shae had helped cover last night. "Even though that Henson girl is a shrimp, she’s got some great moves. I’ve scrimmaged with her, and I have trouble defending her."
"Yeah, she’s quick, but everybody’s a shrimp to you," the receptionist agreed. "All right, I can put you through to Dr. McClellan now."