Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
The storm that hosted Roger and Catalina's two days of rainy-day loving had blown out overnight, leaving the air crisp and as clear as Roger had ever seen it on the Gulf Coast. Both the heat and the humidity were dialed way back, to the point where Roger actually wore a flannel shirt for several hours while working on getting roof trusses on the house.
The weather really broke after that. Winter, such as it was, had come to the Gulf Coast. Some days were cool enough to wear jackets, and one night it got down below freezing -- Roger and Catalina were actually surprised to look out the window of the RV and see frost. They finished that house, then another, and another after that over the course of the next few weeks, all right in the same neighborhood.
For those weeks both of them spent the nights together in the RV. They only rarely had the intense, ongoing sex that had happened their first couple days, mostly because they were working six and a half days a week most weeks and didn't see much point in wearing themselves out. Oh, they managed to do something virtually every night, but for the most part didn't go crazy about it. An evening could easily involve just sitting back and reading, or some gin rummy, or occasionally inviting in some of the other volunteers also camping on the lot for dinner, coffee, and conversation.
Thanksgiving came and went with little fanfare. It was another work day, in fact with a larger crew than normal since there were some volunteers who had taken advantage of the long holiday weekend to pitch in and help. Somebody managed to come up with a catered Thanksgiving dinner for the volunteers, and they were grateful for it.
November became December, and then it was getting to be the latter part of December as they were finishing up on the last of that series of houses. While there were going to be more Habitat houses going up, this group didn't plan on starting another one until after the first of the year in order to allow the volunteers from out of state to take off for a few days at home. That announcement, of course, begged the question for Roger and Catalina of whether they were going to go back to Michigan themselves.
"I really didn't plan on being gone this long," Roger admitted over coffee in the RV that evening. "I really wouldn't mind being with my family over the holidays. My folks are going to fly in, and it's always a big deal, mostly over at my brother's house. And, I've got a few odds and ends that I probably ought to do in person, like paying my winter taxes."
"I wouldn't mind going myself," Catalina admitted. "I haven't been home for Christmas in three years even though it hasn't been a big deal around our place for years since it's just my mom and me since my dad died. He had a fairly large family in the area but we don't see much of them anymore."
"All right," Roger nodded, "I guess that leads to the question of whether we're coming back down here in the fairly near future. If yes, we might as well take your car and save on gas. On the other hand, if we're going to stay up north we'd better take the RV, too."
"Hell if I know," Catalina shook her head. "I've enjoyed what we're doing, but I wouldn't mind finding something else to do if the opportunity were to arise. On the other hand, the weather is going to be a damn sight nicer down here than it will be in Michigan the next few months."
Roger nodded his head. "I agree," he said. "I really would hate like hell to be down here in the summer. Even with air conditioning it has to be ungodly hot, and I don't even want to think about what the mosquitoes must be like. But I wouldn't have much problem in our taking a long break and then staying here until the weather warms up."
"What are you going to drive at home if we leave the RV here?" Catalina asked.
"The Taurus I left in the garage at home," Roger shrugged. "Look, if we drive straight through it's maybe eighteen or twenty hours from here. I could go that long, but I don't want to kill my ass doing it. Why don't I call around and see if I can find a campground where I can leave the RV for a month or so? Then we can get up in the morning, store the RV, stay someplace like Nashville, and still make it home at a reasonable hour of the day without being totally trashed."
There was a little more to their planning than that -- for example, they moved Catalina's camping gear from the trunk of her car to the RV to free up space -- but a couple days later they were on the road. They left the RV in a campground at Hattiesburg and continued north, planning on taking their time.
It was late in the afternoon when they pulled into a large chain motel on the north side of Nashville. Since they had several hours to kill, Roger had decided to reserve a room in one of the nicer places, where they would have some chance to relax after their long drive. The motel had a pool and a hot tub, and it didn't take much to convince each other to head down and make use of them before they went to dinner. They took the time to change, and Catalina came out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her for the walk down to the pool. When they got there, she unwrapped the towel, to reveal the hot thong bikini she'd last worn the night she and Roger had first had sex -- he hadn't seen it since, but then there hadn't been any opportunity for her to wear it, either. She looked hotter than ever wearing it now, and after a gentle couple laps of the pool they settled into the hot tub. With the bikini top wet and clinging to her, Roger could make her nipples out clearly.
"I knew there was a reason we needed to go on a road trip," he joked.
"Darn right," she grinned. "We've got two beds in that room. I figure we can totally tear up one of them and when we're finally done we can sleep in the other one. Roger, I don't like to complain, but the bed in the RV could be larger and more comfortable. Don't get me wrong, it beats the hell out of sleeping in a tent, but why not take advantage of opportunity when it knocks?"
"We don't have to limit it to here," he smiled at her. "If you want, I can fill the hot tub on my back porch and see if it'll still heat up. I haven't used it in a couple years, but there's no reason it shouldn't work."
"You have a hot tub and don't use it?" she frowned. "Roger, we're going to have to do something about that."
A little to their surprise they managed to get up and on the road in good order the next morning. The drive on the Interstates was just about as long and dull as it had been the day before, but it wasn't dark yet when they pulled into his driveway in Wychbold. It had been well over three months since he'd been there, and much had changed in his life in the interim. "Roger," she said as she put the car into Park, "I don't have to head back home tonight, I can stay a while or stay overnight if you want."
"As always Cattail, it's your choice," he replied. "But I pulled the thermostat down all the way before I left, so it's going to take the house a while to warm up." He smiled and added, "And I won't be able to get the hot tub working tonight, anyway."
"Well, in that case . . ." she frowned.
"I need to do some running around tomorrow, too. Why don't you call tomorrow afternoon and we can work out what we're going to do?"
"I suppose," she sighed. "I'll probably have some things to do, too."
It was with more than a little sadness that Roger watched her taillights disappear into the failing light as she headed for Amherst. He'd only been with her for a little over six weeks, but he knew he would miss her. The bed was going to feel awful empty that evening.
• • •
It was true that Roger had things to do the next day, but there weren't many of them. The Taurus started right up -- a new battery last summer had something to do with that. He headed down to Becky's, to find pretty much the same crowd as always there. "Roger, where have you been?" she asked. "You disappeared without hardly a word to anyone."
"Been busy," he admitted. "Working on cleaning up after Katrina in Gulfport, Mississippi, mostly with Habitat for Humanity."
"Oh, man," Jason, the insurance agent, shook his head, "I hear that's pretty bad. Insurance premiums are going up all over the place as a result of it."
"Tell you what, it's going to be years before they get everything put back together," Roger said. "Some places are just plain totaled, and there's huge mounds of debris all over the place. I'm just back for the holidays; I'm going to head back down after the first of the year. So what's been happening around Wychbold?"
"Not a whole lot," Becky said. "Same-old, same-old. You must be the one with some stories to tell."
Roger talked for a bit about working with the Amish, and later building the prefab houses for Habitat for Humanity. He didn't get into any great detail, and just tried to pass along a few observations.
"That's pretty cool," Jason said. "I've heard the stories on the media about all that, but I haven't talked to anyone who's been down there helping until now. Is there any chance I could talk you into speaking to the Kiwanis about it this noon?"
Roger tried to brush it off. "Well, uh, I'm not much on making speeches," he said.
"Oh, no big deal, it's just a bunch of people. You probably know everybody, anyway. In a town this size it's usually pretty hard to find someone who's done something new to give a program."
It took Jason more arm-twisting, but eventually he got Roger to agree to do the presentation. After a second cup of coffee, and then a third, he felt like he really had better be getting to doing what he had to do or noon was going to be there before he knew it.
There wasn't a whole lot of running to do, but a few important things, like renewing his driver's license, which had expired more than a month before. The run to the Secretary of State's office in Bolivar took him longer than it should have, and he barely made it back to Wychbold in time to go to the Kiwanis meeting.
As Jason had said, the meeting was mostly people he knew, although some of them not very well. He pretty much covered the same ground that he'd covered talking over the breakfast table at Becky's that morning, going into more detail at some points, but not bringing Catalina up at all -- she really wasn't part of the story. It turned out that the editor of the local weekly newspaper was there; he took notes, and got a picture of Roger before he left, so it seemed that the story would be in the Observer the next week. Roger wasn't sure he wanted that kind of notoriety, but if it encouraged someone to go down and help out Habitat for Humanity or some other group in the next few months, he supposed it was worth it.
The rest of the meeting shot an hour in the but. There was the benefit that he got to renew acquaintances with some people he hadn't talked to for some time, like Ralph Gerjevic, who ran the law office in town, and who had handled all the paperwork following Colleen's death, being fair and gentle about it. Another person he got to talk with a bit was John Castle, a retired sawmill owner that he'd known casually all his life. John had been retired for years and years, but he kept in touch with the business. One local wag had once said of him, "John can take a walk with you through the woods, tell you what kind of tree you're looking at, the number of board feet in it, whose initials are carved in the trunk, and whether the marriage lasted or not." John had a ton and a half of stories, and was always fun to listen to.
As a result, the hour that he'd expected the Kiwanis meeting to last took more than two, but he didn't consider the time wasted. He made a quick stop at the grocery store to stock up, since he'd cleaned the house out pretty well to stock the RV three months before, although there was still quite a bit of stuff left in the freezer. He headed home, set the hot tub to filling, and turned on the heater to make sure it worked. A little to his surprise, it did. He was inside making a cup of tea -- coffee was something he'd forgotten at the grocery store -- when Catalina called.
They talked around the "how's it goings" for a couple minutes before she got down to the meat of the call: "Roger, is there any chance you could come over tomorrow?"
"Nothing I can think of to keep me from it," he replied. "What's up?"
"I've got to meet with a lawyer about the estate of a great uncle of mine. I'm not clear on the details, but he had a hundred and sixty acres outside of town and apparently I'm supposed to get part of it. The only problem is that a cousin of mine is involved. He's a sanctimonious prick, and I don't trust him as far as I can throw a fit."
"I can come," Roger said. "But I'm no lawyer. If you don't trust him, I'll tell you right now not to sign anything until you've had your own lawyer look at it."
"I'd pretty well figured that," she replied. "The problem is, I don't have a lawyer. I've never needed one. My cousin Delmer is pretty well known around here, and I'm not sure I'd trust anyone who knows him, anyway. Do you know of anyone?"
"Funny you should mention that," he told her. "I had lunch today with the guy who handled all the details when Colleen died. He's pretty decent and has a good reputation around town."
"We'll probably have to talk to him," she sighed. "But let's at least see what this is all about before we jump in with both feet. You're coming, then?"
"Sure, if you want me to. What time?"
"We have to meet with him downtown at ten, so I suppose if you're here at nine or so it ought to be fine. Mom is looking forward to meeting you, so plan on blowing up the day."
"I can do that," he told her. "I'm going through my list of things to do faster than I expected. The hot tub is filling, but I doubt it'll be up to temperature before tomorrow night, if then."
"Well, then, maybe I'll have to plan on coming over tomorrow night and stay the night or something."
"You'd be welcome," he said. "Your mother wouldn't say anything?"
"Besides, 'go for it'?" she laughed. "You haven't met my mother yet, have you? The problem will be keeping her from joining us."
It was no great trick to find Catalina's house the next morning, and Roger was there in plenty of time. Bonnie Smith, Catalina's mother, turned out to be a tightly wired bundle of dynamite. She had tons of energy for a woman in her sixties -- at least Roger surmised she must be all of that as he guessed Catalina to be in her mid forties but wasn't absolutely sure -- and Bonnie definitely didn't look her age. She looked older than Catalina, not much older, and there was lots of family resemblance. Her hair was as black as her daughter's, and cut much the same. She was about the same height, and had a rugged, ageless beauty. "Mom, this is my boyfriend Roger," Catalina said by way of introduction. "Keep your hands off him, he's mine."
Roger noticed the sparkle in Bonnie's eye and suspected she wouldn't mind getting her hands on him.
They had time for coffee around the kitchen table before heading to the lawyer's office in downtown Amherst, which like Wychbold didn't have much of a downtown. "Delmer has been bugging me for months, wanting to talk to Catalina," Bonnie reported to bring Roger up to date on the situation. "I know it involves her great-uncle's estate. He died back in the spring. He was Catalina's father's father's brother, and he was a sour old fart all the time I knew him, so I guess I'm just as glad that I didn't know him all that well. He never got married, your typical bachelor farmer, so the estate would probably go to his brother, Catalina's grandfather, who's also dead. Catalina's father Doyle and Delmer were the only kids her grandfather had, so I take it that she's got something coming. Knowing Delmer, he thinks it's too much and wants to beat her out of it."
"From that, I'm beginning to think I should have brought my lawyer friend along right from the beginning," Roger commented. "I'm familiar with the old saying, 'Where there's a will, there's a lawsuit'."
"You sure got that right," Bonnie snorted. "I don't trust lawyers much."
"Me either, unless I'm the one paying them," Roger replied sarcastically. "And then not very much, because who knows what they'll sell out for?"
Knowing they would be going to a lawyer's office, Roger had dressed much more nicely than he normally would -- a suit and tie, rather conservative, that he had last worn at Colleen's funeral. Catalina and Bonnie were also dressed pretty conservatively, not the casual or flirty that Catalina normally wore, and that Roger suspected was also true for Bonnie.
After a brief wait, they were led into a conference room at the law office, where Roger met Delmer Smith for the first time, and was introduced to him as Catalina's 'friend.' Roger's first glance at Delmer put Roger in mind of a weasel -- he had a face that seemed to come to a point at his nose, almost no chin, and a sloped forehead. He was smaller and older than Roger, thinner, nearly bald, wearing blue jeans and a work shirt.
Harold deBoer, Delmer's lawyer, was a big man, well over six feet, with thinning wavy gray hair and wire-rim glasses. He looked like a lawyer to Roger -- and a lawyer he wouldn't trust, even if he was the one paying him. "Miss Smith, Mrs. Smith, I'm glad you could make it today," he started out. "The situation with the Homer Smith estate has been lying much too long, and we need to get things settled. The situation is fairly simple: the largest part of his estate consists of a hundred and sixty acres of mixed farmland and woods in Section 4 of Ramsdell Township. He had some other assets, including a house and equipment that were disposed of to help pay his expenses in the nursing home where he spent his last years. The hundred and sixty acres consists of about a hundred acres of mixed woods and the rest is fairly decent farmland. The other land that he farmed in his last active years was leased, so doesn't figure into this. Farmland around here is taxed at around $2500 to $3000 an acre, so, being generous, it's worth about $180,000. Mr. Smith is the executor of the will and has administered the property for several years, and in order to get things settled, he's willing to make a cash settlement of $90,000 for your share of the whole property."
"I'd like to get this done today," Delmer said sharply. "This has been screwed around with long enough. Where the hell have you been, Catalina?"
"Mostly down in Mississippi, cleaning up after the hurricane," Catalina replied with an edge to her voice. "I didn't check my mail every day, but at least once a week, and I called home fairly often. The day before yesterday when I got back is the first thing I heard about it. I didn't even know Uncle Homer was dead, but if he died before June I was in Korea."
"Be that as it may," deBoer said smoothly, obviously seeking to head off an incipient family feud, "You're here now, Miss Smith, and this is a valid offer. I see no reason why you can't accept it today."
"Not today, in any way," Catalina replied, a hint of anger in her voice. "I need to think about it."
"Why can't you accept it today?" Delmer snorted. "Ninety thousand is a hell of a lot of money, Catalina. I need to get this settled so I can get on with things."
"You've waited at least six months," she said. "There's no damn reason why you can't wait another day or two."
"Ninety thousand is a fair offer," Delmer replied, trying to keep his temper under control. "Very fair, considering the miserable way Homer's will was loused up."
"Mr. Smith . . ." deBoer said sharply, trying to head off Delmer from saying something he shouldn't.
"Just how was his will loused up?" Bonnie asked.
Delmer had his steam up now, and there was no way deBoer was going to stop him. "You know damn well how it was loused up. My family and I spent years caring for him, taking care of his investments. If his will had been at all fair, it would have been divided evenly between Catalina, my kids and grandkids, and myself. Your family contributed nothing, not a damn thing, to taking care of him. Yet Catalina is supposed to get half! That's a sack of shit! Ninety thousand is a hell of a fair offer, and I'm going to have to scratch to come up with it. What's not very goddamn fair is the way that your family has contributed nothing."
"Jesus, what a sack of shit," Bonnie exploded. "We were never allowed to contribute anything, even when Doyle was still alive. If anything had been fair, the farm would have been divided equally when your father died, but no! Doyle was offered a settlement that wasn't even worth ten cents on the dollar. I told him you were screwing him blind, but the dumb shit took you up on it anyway." Her voice, already loud, went up to the point where she was screaming as she continued, "That is one hell of a huge contribution to your family, Delmer, and don't ever try to tell me it wasn't, and you never so much as said thank you."
"Bonnie, that was a fair settlement, Doyle told you . . ."
"It's a sack of shit and you're a lying sack of shit . . ."
It was easy for Roger to see the two were just about to break out the skinning knives, and deBoer had nothing much he could do to bring them under control. He sprang to his feet and yelled, "All right! Everybody just shut up!!"
Amazingly enough, the outburst brought a moment of calm, into which Roger said. "Look, it's easy to see we're not going to get anything done here today no matter what the offer is. I suggest we just all back off and get our tempers under control. I wouldn't advise anything being signed the way everybody's angry today. Mr. deBoer, if you could give us a copy of the will, the land description, and the draft copy of the settlement agreement, we'll review it and get back to you in a couple days."
"Jesus," Delmer said. "I've got to get this settled."
"There's no way it's going to get settled today," Roger told him. "As I told you, we'll review the offer and get back to you in a couple days. That's the best we can offer right now. Ladies, I think we'd better get out of here before someone bursts a blood vessel."
"You're probably right," deBoer sighed. "Thank you for coming today, and thank you, counselor."
"But . . ." Delmer started.
"Delmer," deBoer said directly to him. "My colleague is right, there's no way this is going to be settled today, not with everybody's temper running high. Under the circumstances I don't see how you can consider anything else."