Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
In only minutes Amherst was fading in the rear view mirror as Roger headed for I-67, which was just beyond the next town to the west. "Well," he said. "Looks like we made it."
"Yeah," Catalina sighed. "I was starting to worry that we were going to get caught by this storm and have to listen to Delmer calling every five minutes. I sure hope we'll be able to work out a settlement on this when we get back."
"I really doubt it," Bonnie said from the back. "He'll probably dig in his heels and take years trying to screw you for every cent he can. I'm just worried that's what's going to happen, and we'll have to put up with his shit forever."
"I don't know," Roger spoke up. "I mean, it seems to me like there's every chance of that happening."
"Christ, I don't know," Catalina shook her head. "I mean, it may not be a fair settlement, but right now ninety grand sounds pretty good to me. It'd sure keep me from teaching ESL in some place like Dog Eater, China, at least for a while."
"It sounds good to say it," Roger pointed out. "And it's hard to say what Ralph and his appraiser will come up with, but the off-the-cuff figures I was quoted would mean the property is worth about six hundred thousand. Even if those figures are off by twenty percent, the low end of the range is four hundred and eighty thousand. So, you're talking ninety grand against roughly half of that, or a quarter million. Any reasonable interest rate on a quarter million still isn't enough to live on comfortably, but it sure would ease things up a bit."
"Yeah, when you put it that way, it seems like it might be worth putting up with some shit from him," she agreed.
"I say stick him for every dime you can get," Bonnie scowled. "After the shit his family pulled on Doyle, it's payback if nothing else."
"You can say that," Catalina pointed out. "But I have to point out that you're the one who's going to be taking the shit from him. I plan on being off someplace where it's going to be hard to find me, not because I'm hiding from him, but because I've already spent enough time around Amherst in my life. There are other places to go and other things to do, and I plan to do as many of them as I can."
"I'm willing to put up with the shit," Bonnie sneered. "It's worth it to watch him squirm, but you aren't used to putting up with him like I am."
"Then Mom, why are you with us?"
"Mostly because I'd just as soon not have to put up with winter for a while, either. The little bastard is going to be a real pain in the ass for the next few days, but I'm looking forward to listening to him scream and shit when he realizes he's not going to railroad you. He ought to scream pretty loud over maybe a couple of hundred thousand he thought he was going to steal from you."
"Well, all right," Catalina sighed. "I may be willing to accept a less-than-ideal settlement for the sake of shutting him up, but I won't cave in to ninety grand, either. We'll just have to see what happens next Wednesday. Now, can I point out that the little pain in the ass is behind us, and he's going to be there for the next few days? I don't want to have to bitch about the little bastard clear down to the far end of Mississippi. We're supposed to be getting away from that snowstorm as much as we are him."
It sounded like a good idea to Roger, who by now was studying the mare's tails in the sky that foretold of the oncoming snowstorm and trying to tune out the bitching. They were a long ways south on I-67 and nearing Indianapolis before the two women had finally wound themselves down and conversation more or less turned to other topics. As the day wore on they pushed south, mostly with Roger driving, sometimes with Catalina filling in. The winter day was short, and night caught up with them near Louisville, which was still in the path of the storm enough that there could be little thought other than pressing on with little but breaks to fill the gas tank and empty some other tanks. Finally, they stopped for a late meal near Nashville, which was getting out of any possible path of the storm.
"I suppose we could stop around here somewhere for the night," Roger opined. "But paying for a motel room this late and getting on the road the first thing in the morning seems like just a way to waste money to me."
"This late, I suppose you're right," Catalina agreed. "I'll tell you what, I'm going to be sleeping at least a good part of the day if we push on through the night."
"Well, yeah, me too," Roger agreed. "So that pretty well blows up tomorrow for finding a place to pitch in, and wherever we go, we're going to have to be heading back north on Monday, or the first thing Tuesday at the latest. I suppose we could find something around Hattiesburg. It's nowhere near as bad as things are on the coast, but I'll bet we can find something for volunteers to do."
"That could save a day," Catalina nodded. "But it's still going to be a pretty short trip."
"True, but we knew it was going to be a short trip when we left, anyway."
They got back on the road, with Roger and Catalina trading off driving every couple hours while Bonnie slept in the back. They passed Birmingham in the wee small hours of the morning and arrived at the campground near Hattiesburg just before dawn.
"I am beat to shit," Roger announced as he shut off the Taurus. It was good to see the motor home again; as unsettled as things had been, he'd been just a little worried about how safe it was going to be while left unattended. This campground didn't seem very secure to him but it was the only one he'd been able to find where he could leave it. "I need to get a few good solid hours pounding the pillow."
"Me, too," Catalina yawned. "I'll tell you what, with a Wednesday morning appointment on that settlement, I'm all for heading back on Monday, and maybe staying a night someplace instead of driving straight through."
"I think you're right. We all need to have a good night's sleep before we have to face down Delmer."
"I'm feeling pretty good," Bonnie announced. "I could stand some breakfast."
"Of course you're feeling pretty good, you slept most of the way here from Nashville," Catalina snorted.
"Why don't you just take the car and go find some breakfast," Roger suggested. "Try not to wake us up when you come back. I'd think we ought to be up and running by noon or so."
"I might just do that," Bonnie said as she opened the car door. "Hey, it's colder than I expected."
"Yeah, lows in the thirties from what they were saying on the radio station from Meridian," Roger replied. "Highs in the fifties."
"That's better than shoveling snow in Michigan, but I had visions of lying out in the sun and catching some rays."
"It was a little warmer down near the coast, but not that much warmer," Roger replied as he got out of the car. "We saw some seventies earlier in the month, but we got frosted a few times, too."
They hauled their baggage into the motor home, got the heater going to knock off some of the chill, and in a few minutes both Roger and Catalina were sound asleep. It was their first time in several days to be together without Bonnie around, but their exhaustion overpowered any desire to do anything about it.
• • •
However much sleep it was they had, it wasn't enough when Bonnie came to wake them. Although Roger tried to fight off consciousness, he couldn't manage it. "Bonnie, go away," he mumbled.
"Roger, there's someone here who wants to talk to you," she persisted. "He's the campground manager."
"Oh, all right," he surrendered. "Tell him to keep his shirt on while I get my pants on."
Fortunately, it didn't take long to find his clothes from the night before, since they were just mixed in a pile where he and Catalina had thrown them on the way to bed. Of course the commotion woke her up, and soon she was getting dressed, too. It only took him a couple minutes to get outside, looking somewhat the worse for wear. "Hi," he told the man who was waiting outside with Bonnie. "Is there some kind of problem?"
"Sort of," the guy explained. "I'm glad I noticed someone was here. "I'm not telling you that you have to move out of here, but it would be a good idea. Since I talked to you the other day, FEMA decided they wanted to rent the whole place to put a bunch of trailers for coastal evacuees. I can use the space, and I'm afraid that any motor homes left here are going to get trashed. Some of those people are probably not going to be the best neighbors to unoccupied motor homes. They're going to give a whole new meaning to the term 'trailer trash.'"
"Well, no problem," Roger sighed, slowly trying to comprehend everything as he tried to pull himself to full wakefulness. "You need us out of here today?"
"Whenever you're ready," the guy said. "It's probably going to be a week or two before we start seeing FEMA dragging in some of those trailers, but I'm trying to tell all my regular campers that they might want to think about moving."
"OK, we'll work something out," Roger nodded. "We're planning on heading back north in a few days, but there's no way of telling how long we're going to be gone, so I guess we'd better do something before we head back. Thanks for letting us know."
"Thanks for being so understanding," the guy said. "Sorry I had to wake you up."
"You know of any other places around where I could store this thing for a while?"
"Not that I know of," the guy shrugged. "Probably wouldn't be a bad idea if you were to look around places that weren't damaged by the storm too badly. Those FEMA characters are looking for every place they can to put refugees. When they find someplace like here, they twist arms real hard."
"Work real quick, don't they?" Bonnie snorted. "Katrina was what? Four months ago? And they're just now getting around to it?"
"They could have been a little quicker getting into gear," the guy said. "In fact, they could have been a whole lot quicker, but at least they're doing something now. Anyway, glad I caught you folks."
"Yeah, thanks," Roger said again. "We'll be out of here in the next day or two."
After the guy left, Catalina let out a sigh. "How much do you want to bet that he's going to be charging the feds about double his normal rate?"
"Hell, in a way I don't blame him," Roger shook his head. "You've seen what the damage is like around here, even this far inland. The economy is going to be screwed up beyond belief for years, and his regular business is going to be shot in the ass. I can't blame him for trying to make a buck because there's not going to be a lot of them to get made around here for a while."
"There's enough other people trying to screw the feds on this," Catalina shook her head. "But at least it'll give some people some semblance of a home, rather than trying to live in a shelter. I suppose it's all right for a week or two, but from what I understand there's people who have been doing it for months."
"Yeah, it sucks," Roger agreed. "We can stand here and bitch about the government all we want, but it's cold out here. Let's go in, get some coffee going, and think about what we're going to do."
They headed back inside where the propane heater had things comfortably warm. While Catalina got some coffee going along with something to eat, Roger decided he'd better get the bed above the cab cleared out so Bonnie would have a place to sleep. It had been a reasonable place to store some things, but there wasn't a lot of extra space in the motor home, and finding other places to put the contents of the boxes took some doing. He had the chore pretty well under control by the time the coffee was ready.
The three of them sat down around the tiny table. "Well, first things first," Roger said. "I don't think it's worth trying to drive this rig north, then back down here again in another week or two. That means we need to be finding a place to park this thing again."
"I'd think we'd better get that one figured out first," Catalina submitted. "I mean, we can head down to Gulfport and find a place to work for a few days, but if it takes two or three days to find a place to leave this thing we're going to mess up our schedule for getting home."
"That's about what I was thinking," he agreed. "And I think the guy is right, wherever we go it needs to be outside the hurricane-damaged area, or else we're going to run into the same problem again. We're on the east side of the centerline of the damage, so the closest place to go is probably going to be to the east, probably at least the other side of Pensacola. Unless we find someplace that needs volunteers pretty close to there, we'd have to move again."
"That means we'd only get two or three days to work at best, and then we'd still have to find something," Catalina observed. "Hell, we might as well call this a vacation and not try to do anything much like volunteer work at all."
"That's pretty much how I read it. I guess we're on vacation after all."
"It's not warm enough for a real vacation," Bonnie protested. "A vacation to me means lying out in the sun and getting some rays."
"Preferably in the buff," Catalina snorted.
"Well, yes," Bonnie grinned. "If you're going to do something there's no point in being literally half-assed about it."
Catalina turned to Roger and explained, "I don't mind a little nudism among friends, or among others if there's a good reason about it, but let's face it. Mom is a nut."
"I figured that out," he grinned. "But then, the apple didn't fall very far from the tree, either."
"Not that close," Catalina snorted at his jibe. "Yeah, a day or two at a nude beach would be kind of fun, but it's really not warm enough for that stuff this time of year."
"Oh, we could," Bonnie smiled. "I mean, we're in the south, it's not that far to Playalinda Beach. We could duck over there for a day or two and get Roger used to it. It's on the east coast of Florida, and I'm told it's a lot warmer there."
"Just out of curiosity, where's that?" Roger asked.
"Over near Cape Kennedy," Bonnie told him. "South of Daytona Beach."
"It gets cold there occasionally, too," Roger said. "Remember the Challenger? And have you ever seen people wearing jackets and stuff at the Daytona 500?"
"I wouldn't know, I don't watch that racing crap."
"I don't much, either," Roger said. "But it makes for something to sleep through on a lazy Sunday afternoon." He shook his head and remembered that the last time he'd taken a Sunday afternoon nap during the Daytona 500 had been the previous February, while he'd still been working at Ford. Things had really changed for him since then! "Besides, I don't think it's all that close. Catalina, can you reach the Rand McNally in the back of the passenger seat?"
The map book used up a lot of the limited table space, but there was still a little room for the coffee cups as Roger used his finger as a measuring device. "Bonnie, it's not as close as you think," he said finally. "It's got to be every inch of six hundred miles over there from here. Normally I wouldn't think that would be a big deal, but it's still a day's drive over there and a day's drive back."
"So? It'd be fun!"
"So, even ignoring the fact that gas for this thing is still higher than hell, remember that Catalina's appointment with the attorneys is a week from tomorrow. After last night I think we'd better plan on two days getting back and recovering. That leaves six days. Two more days to find a place to park this thing while we're north, that leaves four. Two more days to drive over to this beach you're talking about, it leaves two. What do you want to bet that it'll be cold enough to freeze the O-rings on a space shuttle? Granted, it sounds like fun until you think about it, and I'm not crazy enough to want to do that much extra driving."
"Roger, sometimes you're no fun," Bonnie pouted. "Don't you want to see Catalina and me lying out nude on the beach?"
"It'd be fun if the temperature was reasonable," he shrugged. "But we could have stayed in Wychbold, and I could have watched the two of you nude in the hot tub while the snow was blowing in our faces, too. Frankly that strikes me as warmer and more fun than lying out on some windblown beach in fifty- or sixty-degree weather. To get warm enough to get comfortable we might have to go clear down into the Keys, and that's another three or four hundred miles."
Catalina stared at the map for a while, then said, "OK, how about this? How about if we head east until we get out of the hurricane area, and then look for a place where we can leave this thing when we head back north? Maybe we can get lucky and it'd be a place on the coast that's a little bit warmer, where we could just lie around and unwind for a few days."
"Over around Tallahassee, maybe?" Roger nodded. "It might work. It wouldn't be a much longer drive back home than it would be from here, and maybe a little shorter, just glancing at the map."
"Yeah, something like that. I don't know how hard it's going to be to find a place to leave this thing, but at least it's out of the hurricane area."
"You know," he said thoughtfully, "This thing isn't exactly set up for staying the night. We could up stakes and get out of here today, and find a place to boondock tonight, maybe the Walmart at Pensacola or something. It's a hundred miles at a guess over there, and that would mean we'd have the full day to look tomorrow."
"Sounds good to me," Catalina agreed. "Let's eat, finish our coffee, and get out of here. I never cared for this town much, anyway."
• • •
Roger wound up driving the motor home while the women trailed along behind in the Taurus. After having a decent dinner at a chain restaurant, they wound up spending the night in a far corner of the parking lot of the Walmart in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. There was still some visible storm damage to be found, but it was relatively minor after what they'd come to expect in the Gulfport-Biloxi area, or even Hattiesburg, for that matter.
As Roger had suspected, it was snug in the motor home for the three of them, and four would have been all but impossible. Even though he and Catalina had agreed without discussion to just share the big bed and do nothing more than sleep, it proved to be a good night's sleep that helped him recover from driving all night the night before.
The next morning they got around with more energy than they'd had the day before. "You want coffee?" Catalina asked as they were getting dressed and getting around.
"I could stand some," he replied. "But let's not make it. Let's find a truck stop someplace and get a decent breakfast."
"Sounds good to me, but why a truck stop?"
"I was thinking about it while we were driving over here yesterday. Why bother hunting around looking for a place to ask around for a campground when I've got the laptop? Truck stops often have phone connections for dial-up, and the laptop has a Wi-Fi capability I've never used. There's a chance I might be able to get a connection with it there, too."
They were on the road in minutes, and found a likely looking place across the bridge. Sure enough, it had phone plug-ins for a price, which Roger was willing to pay. Fortunately, the Internet service provider he used had a list of local dialup numbers nationwide, and he turned out to have it stored in a file on his hard drive. The connection wasn't terribly fast, but soon he was developing some potential spots. He wrote down phone numbers on a napkin and passed them to Catalina, who started calling on her cell phone.
The results were not promising. "All I'm getting is a lot of nothing," she reported after a while. "You're looking along the coast, right?"
"Yeah, I figured that's what we wanted, some place with a beach."
"Everything is full up, even just for storage," she sighed. "I guess you better start looking inland."
Two or three cups of coffee later the waitress came by again and asked if they were ready to order. "Yeah, I guess I need to take a break," Roger said. He gave her his order for a good breakfast, and asked Catalina, "So, are you getting any hits inland?"
"A couple," she said. "But they're well away from the coast and they're pretty expensive."
"Well, that ought to do," he sighed. "I was hoping for cheap but this time of year I suppose you take what you can get. It'll probably only be for a couple weeks. But what happens if this thing with Delmer turns out to be something that'll take all winter?"
"Maybe we could look around and find someone that'll let us store the thing in their side yard for a while," Catalina said. "It can't be that hard. There has to be something."
"Roger, I might have an idea," Bonnie said. "I'm not sure it'll work, but let me have the laptop for a minute."
"Sure, why not?" he said as he spun the laptop around and slid it across the table toward her. "I'm getting tired of this."
"Good enough," she said, taking the laptop. "Now, what was that URL? Oh, hell, I'll just Google it." Roger could see her tapping at the keys. She took a sip of her coffee, frowned, and did something on the keyboard. "OK, there you are. Now, let's see."
"Going to check your e-mail, Mom?" Catalina asked.
"I probably ought to but the inbox is probably full of crap from Delmer. I could just delete it, but maybe it'd be better if anything new he sends just bounces back at him." She waited for a few seconds, then gave a big smile. "All right, there we are. Boy, this is slow even for dial-up, isn't it?"
"It's about what I'm used to," Roger shrugged.
"OK, here we go. Three possibilities, let's see . . . boy, that one sounds good, right on the coast, too! We need to check this out, if it works it could be perfect! Catalina, hand me your cell phone."
Roger shook his head. "Bonnie, if you're that enthusiastic about it, it's probably a nudist camp."
She gave him a big grin and replied, "Of course it is. What did you expect?"
"I should have known," Roger shook his head. "Bonnie, you've got a one-track mind."
"Not hardly! I do have other interests, you know. Think it through, Roger. You were telling me yesterday that it's too cold down here this time of year for running around in the nude, and really, you're right. Don't you think that most textile tourists are going to avoid nudist camps, even at this time of year? I'd be surprised if one of these wouldn't be glad to have the business, and I can probably flash my AANR card and get a discount. And hell, we might even get lucky and get a warm day."