Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online

The Homestanders
Book Four of the Bradford Exiles
Wes Boyd
2005, 2011

Chapter 19

Saturday, July 10, 1999

Emily’s comment about biology class threw a new factor into the knotty problem, and Vicky instantly realized Mr. Robinson had had points about a lot of things. Still, it didn’t provide an answer on what to do for the rest of the ride back to Bradford, or even in the next few weeks – other than the obvious, which was to keep trying to become closer casual friends with Jason until such time as she could dare to raise the question with him. Or, even better, maybe the other way around.

Jason didn’t make it back to Bradford Sunday night, which didn’t surprise her as she put the Street Hawk back in the garage, feeling very happy and pleased with herself. There’d only been a small chance that he’d try to drive straight through, and he’d already set up to have the next day off. However, he was back by the time Vicky got off work on Monday. She had a fine time telling him of her adventure Sunday, although she didn’t get near the course of her thinking or conclusions, if any.

The weather was lousy the following weekend, which made their sweet May Day weekend all the more sweet. The four of them had kicked around the idea of going out to watch some cannon fire, but when Emily called during the dripping rain on Sunday, Bert told her this wasn’t the Civil War. There was no point in messing up a shiny new Napoleon by taking it out in the rain and the mud. The next weekend the four of them did ride out there, though, and watched a few shots being fired. As Emily had predicted, Kevin was fascinated, only working overtime and working with Jason on knives – and a firm stand from her – kept him from getting dragged into helping with some of the chores at Malvern Hill.

Over the next month or so, they took at least a few hours every nice weekend to ride somewhere – sometimes Vicky went with just Jason or just Emily, but sometimes three or all four of them were able to go. In early June, they rode back to the Lansing area one Sunday afternoon, but to Aaron and Amber’s this time, so the hot tub issue didn’t come up, at least that trip.

A few days later, in the spirit of Scott and Sonja’s hot tub, or maybe just being a tease, Vicky ordered a really skimpy thong bikini, so thin as to be nearly transparent, especially if wet. It was so hot and daring that there was no way in hell she was going to wear it out in public, but one nice warm afternoon she took a towel and spread out on the picnic table in the back yard of her parents’ home. She knew Jason could see her from the windows of the old garage where he did his hot metal work. She wasn’t sure how much he got done but there seemed to be far fewer hammer strikes than usual.

It was a rite of passage as much as anything, for a few days later, on the inexorable march, her thirtieth birthday came along. Maybe she could wear a swimsuit like that when she was in her twenties, but it seemed a little extreme for a woman in her thirties, stories of Sonja’s mother notwithstanding. Some of the pain of the day was relieved when Jason and Emily and Vicky took her over to Hank’s one evening, to find a group of other classmates and spouses there – Aaron and Amber, Scott and Sonja, Dean and Kathy, Mike and Liz. There were no bondage games this time, just a quiet evening, and Vicky even went off the wagon enough to order a non-alcoholic beer, which didn’t taste very good so she switched to Diet Coke after that. A lot of water had flowed under the bridge since her twenty-first birthday party here nine years before, and on reflection, a lot of it had been polluted water – but now that she was turning thirty, it seemed to be finally clearing up. On a night that it would have been easy to let herself get morose about the past few years, a few friends reminded her that, well, she had a few friends, and that was worth a lot.

A few days later she broke down and traded in the Olds Cutlass Ciera she’d been driving for years, since back in Augie days, and that broke another link with him and with her twenties. It really wasn’t a bad car, but in addition to having the aura of her ex – and his sister – hanging over it, it had a lot of miles so she was glad to see it gone. She replaced it with a year-old white Dodge Stratus, kind of a middle-aged car, but then, she was over thirty now, too. It only had a few thousand miles on it, and she got it at a good price – a price she still wouldn’t have been able to afford without living at home and having the income saved from several knife sales to put toward the down payment.

As May and June passed, Jason got a card or letter from Duane about once a week, and occasional phone calls at irregular intervals. He was pretty much proceeding according to plan, sometimes a day or two ahead of where he had hoped to be, sometimes that far behind. For the most part he was hiking by himself, although he occasionally fell in with groups of other hikers for a day or more. If their speed was too fast or too slow, he didn’t mind breaking off and going at his own pace. Late in the month, Jason sent off the package with the lighter-weight gear to the planned mail drop; Duane called to say he’d received it, and there was a package heading Bradford way with the heavier stuff he wouldn’t need for the summer. Apparently everything was going well, and he was having as much fun as he’d expected.

By the end of the month they were getting ready for the Maple Leaf Renaissance Faire, where Dayna had talked them into signing up for a booth back in the winter. To be honest, there were a few second thoughts since it would blow up four weekends they could be out riding, but it offered the potential for new and different fun, especially since they’d be spending some time with Dayna and Sandy in their main element. Vicky knew it could be fun to be part of the show and expected it would be more fun with Sandy there this time, as well.

One of the complications was the booths had to look a little period – which meant no plastic canopies with metal poles; even dimensionally sawn lumber was frowned upon. That turned out to be easily solved; Liz and Mike had a patch of woods on their hobby farm needing thinning, and it was no big deal to go hit on them for a few poles still with raw bark. Honest canvas, rather than plastic, was a little harder to get but the local hardware store was able to order what they needed.

There were limits to authenticity; Jason was not about to let thousands of dollars of knives lay out on a table where they could walk off, so the usual plexiglass-topped cases he used at other shows were going to be displaying the expensive pieces. A few cheaper ones could be left out for the casual customer to handle.

The day after the Fourth of July weekend, Dayna and Sandy came rolling into town from a renfaire in Virginia where they’d been the headliners for a weekend stand. Their rolling in was a little bigger production than it had been in the past. Back in the winter, they’d been presented with a repair estimate on Home that was more than they’d paid for the thing nine years before and would go a long way toward a new motor home, so they’d started shopping. They went just a little further than they’d intended, and spent close to five times what they’d paid for their first motor home; lettered on the fender of the big blue and white Winnebago were the words Second Home. The original Home had been small enough that it wasn’t any big deal to pull up stakes and head into town for a loaf of bread and a carton of milk. That wasn’t the case with this mobile cottage, so hooked on behind was a tiny Geo Metro they called the “Toad.” Sandy reported that Second Home didn’t drive much different than a Kenworth, but you really had to hold ’er head hard to get it past a gas pump. Between that, the Geo, and the change in how they operated, it was doubtful it was going to get anything like as many miles as had accumulated on the old motor home.

By now their new album was out, titled Experience of Survival after the long main track. It was an intensely intricate and powerful piece of music, sometimes almost eerie – a long, long way from the light, rollicking renaissance fair music that was their normal stock in trade, and really showed the direction they wanted to go with their music. There were very few people who heard it and weren’t awed by it, and for the first time in a while they were actually picking up some air play.

After work on Friday Jason and Vicky got in his pickup truck – now with the camper loaded aboard – and behind Second Home, headed up to the renfaire site in Kalamazoo. It took a while with rope and hammers and stakes to get the canopy up, with a sign, “MacRae Knives”; in smaller letters was, “J. MacRae, Master Bladesmith.” On Saturday morning, both Jason and Vicky put on kilts with all the trimmings and headed into the booth just before the opening; both put on fake Scots accents as well, although Vicky’s was nowhere near as well developed as Jason’s. Sandy took one look at the blades on display and said flatly, “Raise your prices before the show opens. A lot!”

“These are already pretty high,” Jason protested.

“Raise your prices,” she repeated. “Once this gets going, walk around here and look at the crap on sale for even more money than you charge.” A little dubiously Jason and Vicky set to work on the price tags, but an hour after the show had opened, with knife sales moving steadily, both Jason and Vicky took off separately to wander around a little and found that Sandy was dead right. If anything, they were still a little underpriced.

Emily and Kevin would have liked to have been there for opening day, but it was another day he had to work overtime, so that was out, and at nearly the last minute Emily had to juggle shifts so the originally scheduled worker could go to a wedding. Unless something unforeseen happened they planned on being there on Sunday. Still, between them, Jason and Vicky could handle the booth easily, with Dayna and Sandy often around to talk music and peddle the stacks of CDs sitting on one end of the counter.

Several times between shows, either Dayna or Sandy took one or the other of them on short rambles to check out the sights, which were pretty wild. Like most renfaires, this one had a jousting field; around noon, Dayna and Vicky happened to be near the field when they saw a familiar sight. “Come on, let’s check this out,” Vicky smiled.

“But the joust isn’t supposed to start for a couple hours,” Dayna protested.

“Nuts to the joust,” Vicky said, pointing across the field. “That’s Big John; that’s got to mean Bert and Laura are here.”

“I’ve seen trebuchets,” Dayna shrugged.

“I’ve fired that one,” Vicky laughed. “That’s the gang from out north of town. He probably didn’t bring a Napoleon, but I wouldn’t put a culverin or something like that past him.”

She hit it right on the nose; Bert and Laura and a few of the other people she recognized from Malvern Hill were putting the finishing touches on getting the thing set up, pointed at a lake on the edge of the grounds. There was a little light traffic on the lake, a few fisherman, and one jetski buzzing around raising hell, some kid who apparently thought it was fun to buzz fishermen or paddle boaters as close as he could. “Och, Lord Woodward,” Vicky said loudly. “Mayhaps yer preparin’ to lob a cantaloupe at yon jetski?”

“Lady Vicky!” Bert grinned, nonplussed at seeing the familiar face in these surroundings. “I might be willin’ to try, but in truth I can guarantee hittin’ no more than yon lake. An’ we found no cantaloupe to bring, but the greengrocer had some watermelon I wouldn’t serve to a goat, so it’d be proper to loft at that buzzin’ beast. An’ who might this lovely lass ya have with ya be?”

“Lord Woodward, please forgive me,” Vicky laughed, staying in character – it was more fun that way, especially with a guy like Bert. “Ma’ boon companion is Lady Dayna, one of the minstrels from the main stage show over yonder in an hour or so.”

“Lady Dayna?” he beamed. “Now, that’d be the Experience of Survival Lady Dayna, would it not? Pleased to make your acquaintance, M’Lady!”

“’Tis I,” Dayna grinned – she’d been doing fakey renaissance faire argot so long she could do it in her sleep. “You’ve made the acquaintance of our little ditty, I take it?”

“Not only have I heard it, I find it nearly the equal of the 1812 Overture.”

That one threw Dayna for a moment until she realized who she was talking to. “Ah, M’Lord, you must be talkin’ of the last part of the symphony. ’Tis a pity we found no place for the music of a brass Napoleon, but mayhaps there will be another time.”

“’Twould be nice,” he laughed. “Methinks I’ll try to get over to yon stage and check out the performance. ’Twill not be the next show, as we’ll be preparin’ our demonstration.”

“Lady Vicky tells me this can lob a melon a right fair distance,” Dayna grinned. “Mayhaps I can watch it some time.”

“We were just preparin’ a test shot,” Bert replied. “Mayhaps ye’d do us the honor of releasin’ the trigger.”

“I couldn’t be more pleased, M’Lord,” Dayna laughed.

There was a little more fiddling around to get set. Once they were ready, Bert dispensed with the fake language and gave the familiar commands – Vicky had learned that it was standard practice. He looked out over the lake; despite what he’d said, he had an idea within a hundred yards or so of where the melon could be expected to hit. He waited until he was sure the general target area was clear with plenty of margin, and that the jetski was heading away.

Finally, when he felt safe, he gave the familiar, “Three – two – one – fire in the hole!” – a term that always made Vicky think of Sonja’s grandmother’s barbecue sauce. Dayna yanked hard on the rope. There was a gentle ‘thunk’ as the trigger released, and the long arm began to swing around. Big John moved stately but powerfully, as always, and in a moment there was the green dot of an overripe watermelon arcing high over the lake. Along with everyone else, they looked out at the lake, to see that the jetski had turned around in the few seconds that had passed since the launching and was accelerating back into the middle of the impact zone.

“Oh, shit,” Bert breathed, completely out of character. From where they stood, it looked like he’d managed to draw a perfect bead on the jetski. It kept going forward, the watermelon descending on a path that looked like it was heading straight for it. Overripe or not, there was no doubt it would hurt if it hit.

Only in the last half second was it clear that it was going to be a miss, but a close one. The watermelon plunged into the lake not two yards in front of the speeding jetski raising a huge waterspout. Surprised at the apparition, the jetskier twisted the handlebars hard – too hard, and went flying off into the lake.

“Near miss,” someone in the group around Big John said. “Maybe we’d better load up and try it again.”

“Lord Woodward,” Dayna said. “I fear the authorities are goin’ ta’ be after ya over pollutin’ yon lake.”

“With a watermelon?” Bert said, still shaken by the near miss.

“Nay, sir,” Dayna laughed. “I was referrin’ ta’ the contents of yon jetskier’s shorts.”

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To be continued . . .

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