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

Pulling Even
Book Seven of the Dawnwalker Cycle
Wes Boyd
2004, 2009, 2011

Chapter 4

Randy had wanted to get over and see Danny Evachevski at Spearfish Lake Appliance earlier in the day, but there were some things from the office that he needed to take with him. Predictably, once he got into the office, it was just one thing after another, so the afternoon was getting pretty well shot by the time Randy finally got away from Clark Construction, carrying a clipboard with several notes on it.

Rather than just head over to the appliance store, Randy wanted to swing by Danny's new building first to have a word with Rod about a couple things. What with everything, it had been a couple days since Randy had been by the site, but even as he pulled his pickup into the parking lot, he could see that Rod and the steel crew had been making good progress in spite of the rainy, crappy weather. That was good, because they were rushing to have the building at least closed in before deer hunting season opened in a little over two weeks. Randy knew when that happened progress would slow to a crawl, because most of the crew would disappear off into the woods for a period from one day to up to the full season. He didn't particularly like it, because deer hunting always raised hell with jobs that they were rushing to finish up before hard winter set in, but the hunting was traditional and there was no way Randy dared to get on anyone's case about it, like it or not.

At a glance, though, it appeared that they'd meet their goal of having the building closed in and the important exterior work done before the hunting season lead flew. That would allow the crew to do the interior work at leisure while it was too cold to work efficiently outside. Although in recent years, Clark Construction had been doing more and more work in the winter, in the deep snow country around Spearfish Lake there was a limit to what could be done in the depths of winter.

The building was pretty much a standard steel building, although the exterior would have a higher level of finish since it was primarily going to be used for a retail business. In recent years, the price of steel had been steadily dropping while lumber prices kept going up and up, so there was a price issue involved. That and the fact that the steel building structure could be put up more quickly than a balloon frame wood building, the result was that the Clark Construction steel building crew stayed busier than most others.

This building hadn't even been conceived back in the spring when Randy and his grandfather were trying to set up the schedule for the year. It probably wouldn't have been started until spring if the steel crew hadn't been ahead of schedule on some other jobs for the year. The building was set to mostly be the new Spearfish Lake Furniture and Appliance store, although there were a couple other things that were going to go into it as well. The only thing about it that was in the least bit out of the ordinary was that one end of the building was going to be heavily soundproofed so Jennifer and Blake could use it as an office and a recording studio.

Though the building was primarily intended to be the home of the new furniture store and the studio, it was being built for a company named JPD Holdings. Randy figured it was at least partly a tax dodge for Jennifer and her brother in law, Phil Wine, but Danny Evachevski was officially the President and go-to guy. It had to pretty well represent Jennifer and Phil's money, since Randy knew Danny had been through a nasty divorce the year before and had arrived home in Spearfish Lake after a number of years' absence with barely two nickels to rub together.

Randy had known Danny back in growing up days, since they lived only a few houses apart from each other. Danny was several years older, and Randy hadn't known him well in those days. Back the previous winter, they'd renewed acquaintances a little, when Danny was still shaking off the divorce and seemed a little bit at loose ends. Danny had gotten over it; he'd been working hard for his dad, Gil, at the appliance store, and if that weren't enough he'd held down a fulltime job as a railroad brakeman for Josh over the summer. On top of that, Danny was now living with his new girlfriend, Debbie Elkstalker, who was a full-blooded Shakahatche from the Three Pines reservation off to the northwest of Spearfish Lake. While Randy still didn't know Danny well, the new Danny was a far cry from the morose, lonely, and distracted soul Randy had met last winter.

It didn't take long to take care of the real business that Randy had with Rod, so he hopped back in his pickup and drove the few blocks to the old Spearfish Lake Appliance store. It was a storefront in an older brick building that could have been in better shape. It would be unfair to say the place seemed empty these days, but it was less jam-packed with large appliances than Randy had been used to seeing. Danny was trying to sell the stock down so there'd be less to be moved to the new building in a few months.

Business first; there were some issues with the wiring plan that needed to be settled. The building was being designed and built on the fly, rather than with lots of planning ahead of time, so naturally there were going to be some issues like that – it went with the territory on a quick build job like that. For the most part, the questions had obvious answers, and all Danny had to do was sign off on them, so that step didn't take long. They batted some conversation back and forth about the building for a while, but that well soon ran dry, too. Finally, Danny asked, "So, can I help you with any appliances today?" It was almost a joke; Randy's house was less than two years old, and had mostly been fitted out with high-end appliances that could be expected to last for a while, and Danny knew it about as well as Randy did.

"Well, yeah, maybe," Randy said offhandedly. "You have clearance prices on any hot tubs?" Spearfish Lake Appliances dealt in hot tubs, along with a lot of other things, and had for over thirty years.

"Hell," Danny snorted, "I have a clearance price on anything in here that's not nailed down and some stuff that is. Do you know what you're looking for?"

"Not really," Randy shook his head. "Nicole thinks it would be a good idea, and I don't know that I disagree. You know the side porch on the north side of the house, between the house and the garage? Something that'll fit in there without having to rip a wall out to get it in."

"Let's see," Danny said thoughtfully, recalling a couple times he'd been over to Randy's for dinner. "As I recall, you've got sliding glass doors on both sides, something like six-eight high, but they probably open up a good four feet or more. That about right?"

"Yeah, six foot eight doors, and they open a good five feet."

"Shouldn't be any major hassle then," Danny smiled. "You got 220 on the porch?"

"Yeah, and a water hookup. We'd planned on putting a tub in there sooner or later."

"No big deal, then. I've got a Wind Dancer 320 hot tub that we could roll right in there and hook up in a matter of minutes. It's the floor model in the back. It's not quite as sexy as a spa but a little more energy efficient. I could cut you a good price on it, just to give me a little floor space. Let's go back and take a look."

One look told Randy it looked like a classic redwood hot tub, deep and comfortable, but with a fiberglass interior and extra insulation. It would look good on the porch, and he didn't think there would be any problem getting it through the double doors if it could go in sideways. "Looks good, bearing in mind that I don't know jack shit about these things," he said after looking at it for a moment. "I'm in your hands on this, Danny."

"I think it'd work for you, and I'll cut you a damn good deal," Danny shrugged. "I'll deliver and set it up for you free, and give you and Nicole a lesson on the care and feeding of these things. And hell, I'm in your hands on the new building."

"OK," Randy nodded. "You want a check now, or on delivery?"

"Whatever works for you," Danny said. "I'll have to scare up a couple hands to help me with it. These things aren't that heavy empty, but they are bulky. I'll have to do the delivery myself after I close up, and I can't do it tonight, I've got class."

"Yeah, it could get a little tight on time for me, too," Randy nodded. "Tomorrow night probably won't work. It's Halloween and we'll have a pot load of kids at the door."

"Yeah, me too," Danny agreed. "Debbie and I will have to stay around home, too. How about Thursday?"

"That looks good to me. I can help you with the moving, probably Nicole, too."

"Well, I'd probably volunteer Debbie to help," Danny nodded. "As far as I know, things are clear for her."

Randy thought for a moment. "What do you say we make an evening out of it?" he said finally. "I'll get Nicole to do dinner, and we can sit around and shoot the shit or something. Maybe we could even try this thing out."

"It'll take three or four hours to bring the water up to temperature," Danny replied. "It'll hold the heat pretty good; it's just that it'll take it a while to get there. It just means we'd have to get an early start."

*   *   *

One of the things Randy enjoyed in the slow months of the winter, that helped him stay in shape and give him something to think about, were his workouts with the martial arts group that met in an empty room above the old Spearfish Lake Appliance store. The group had been going on for years, sometimes more busy than others, clear back to before he had been in college, and would continue in the new building, where there was a special room set aside for the activity.

He'd learned a great deal from the more or less nameless group. Randy had needed those skills a couple times back in his college days, and he was considerably more skilled now. But really, it was recreation and exercise; those incidents were more or less self-defense, and Randy hoped there'd never be another one.

The sessions, usually on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and sometimes on Saturdays, were a good way to work off frustration, and although Randy had seemed placid, he'd been counting the hours until this evening so he could do a little violent exercise. For that and one more reason, Randy was in a little better mood when he walked up the stairs next to Spearfish Lake Appliance and into the bare room, which only had mats strewn about. Several of the regulars were there already, along with a couple of students.

"Hey, Gil," Randy said to Danny's father, who was the leader of the group, as much as it had a leader. "Before we get started, I got a question to ask. You got any old keys?"

Spearfish Lake was small enough that it didn't have a regular locksmith, and Gil was about as close as they had. He could do some work with locks, made keys, and the like, mostly as one of many hobbies.

"Oh, I can probably dig around downstairs and find a few," he said. "What do you need old keys for?"

"I need more than a handful, I need a couple hundred, minimum," Randy said. "More would be better. It's for a little practical joke."

"Oh-oh, this sounds like a good one," Rod grinned. Rod was Clark Construction's "big projects" construction superintendent, the steel crew guy he'd talked to earlier in the day, and also was one of Randy's two whitewater kayaking buddies in the spring – the other one didn't do martial arts. "Anybody we know?"

"Yeah," Randy smiled. "Crystal. She's getting married in a few days." They all knew Crystal; she'd been up and worked out with them several times, all of them years before. She was a karate black belt, although her skills were pretty rusty.

"Randy, I gotta ask," Gil laughed. "Is this something Nicole thought up?"

"You got it," Randy grinned.

"Say no more, I get the picture," Gil grinned. He'd been to Randy's wedding, as had Rod. "If you're thinking what I think you're thinking, it might even work better if we went to the trouble of just getting new blanks. It'd be a lot of keys to cut, though."

Randy contemplated the idea for a moment. "If we can find a couple other key machines, I'll bet I could find the people to run them," he said, with an evil glint of retribution in his eye.

*   *   *

Nicole wasn't exactly a big fan of Randy's workouts with the martial arts group, although there had been times she'd been grateful he had the interest. It gave him something to look forward to, something to work off tension and energy. Randy was normally an upbeat sort of guy, but she knew well enough that he was still upset about the sailing trip – well, not so much the trip as what it represented. Although anyone else would have been hard put to see it, she could tell that it still was bugging him. Randy had as much interest in getting out and having adventures as she had, as Crystal had – but he just hardly ever got to do anything, except for an occasional evening or weekend grabbed on the fly.

There was nothing she would have liked better than to take off with him for a three-month hiking trip or some other adventure like it, but it just wasn't going to happen, not now, not ever. She'd always realized it in her head, but only now was coming to the understanding in her gut. Like Randy, she was going to have to do some readjustment in her thinking, some revision of her goals. She'd had a chance to do several big adventures, and Randy had only managed a few. Tonight, she was especially grateful that Randy was off doing his martial arts practice so she could lay back in the big couch facing the fireplace and come to grips with reality.

It was likely Scooter would come through, but Nicole wouldn't know until after Scooter came out of the Canyon in a week and a couple days. If she did, then that would take some of the immediate heat from the problem. It was important that Randy have a chance to even things up a little, whatever happened in the future; if anything, it was more important to her than it was to him.

After that, though, they were going to have to work on doing more things together. The problem was the same as it had always been – only two weeks a year when they both usually had free time to make a major trip together, right around the Christmas holidays when there were other things that often had to be done. There was no chance of doing something this year, because of holiday commitments already made, as well as Myleigh and Trey's wedding, but that didn't preclude things being planned for future years. Someplace different, someplace new. Buddha and Giselle were good friends, but going there was familiar. She needed to think of someplace different, someplace warm. But "where" could be figured out in the future. Her problem now was "when."

This whole thing would be a whole lot simpler if Randy had local friends who held similar interests and had similar time availability. It would be so much easier if she could just say, "Why don't you and X go off and go surfing or something to get out of this snow?" But she had no idea who X might be, because anyone she could think of either had work or other issues that kept them at home as much as school kept her home. At some point in the future, Trey might be a possibility; it looked like his job for Jennifer and Blake was going to be a little flexible. But, it probably wasn't going to be this winter since both he and Myleigh would remain in Kansas City until spring.

Maybe Randy had taken a step in the right direction by inviting Danny and Debbie over tomorrow night, she thought. She didn't know either of them well and just barely knew Debbie at all. Nicole knew Debbie was big into her tribal culture, but she also knew she was a friendly, talkative sort of person with quite a bit of college. Danny had seemed like an interesting guy when Randy had him over for dinner the previous winter, but at the time he'd clearly been getting his life back together, too. There had been some discussion then of going snowboarding sometime, but that had been about the time the winter snow was disappearing, and Nicole didn't know if it could be brought up for this winter, or what. Something to bring up tomorrow night, she thought.

That was one of the keys, too, she thought. While the potential for big trips seemed limited, it didn't mean they couldn't get away for a day or a weekend sometime in the warmer months and do, well, something. The key to that was making Randy's schedule a bit lighter. While the ownership of Clark Construction was clear – Randy's grandfather Brent owned it, except for some token shares – in recent years the management had gotten a little complicated. While Randy's grandfather still owned the company, he'd had a heart attack a while back, and Randy now did the nuts and bolts management, mostly relying on Brent for policy decisions, advice, and looking over his shoulder. Randy's father Ryan was also heavily involved but hadn't been until recently. He now spent a lot of time overseeing the financial and business side of things while Randy handled the operations. Things weren't likely to change in the near future, either, even if Brent were to die or take himself out of management entirely. In fact, Brent's health was the only reason Randy had moved into management so quickly – someone had to do it, and he was available, like it or not. At least now, he had someone to turn to in times of trouble. It was an awkward arrangement that might not have worked if the Clarks weren't a close family, but it worked because they were close.

Nicole had made up her mind that she'd go to Ryan or Brent, if necessary, and plead a case for something to lighten up Randy's schedule; however, she didn't want to do it unless she had to because it would most likely cause resentment from Randy if no one else. She didn't want to do it right now, anyway, since Randy had said he needed some time to figure out how to delegate some of the work load; so about all she could do on that front was to keep the idea alive. Nicole did have one other angle on the issue – she could go to Randy's mother and enlist her in the effort. Linda was a teacher, although fourth grade rather than high school and in a different building, but for the most part, she and Nicole got along well. Going to her wouldn't be pleading, but woman talk, and Linda could talk to Randy's father in a way that Nicole wouldn't be able to.

On top of that, Nicole realized she was going to have to become closer to Randy. In a way, she was a little surprised she was married to him at all. That she'd been the most available at the right time was the only reason she'd wound up with him in the first place. Three or four years ago, if either Crystal or Myleigh had shown any interest in marriage and living in Spearfish Lake, she would have been the one on the outside, and she knew it. Back before they'd gotten serious about each other, Randy had once told her flat out that he'd ask either one of them to marry him if he thought they'd say yes. Neither one ever had, and it left him available to her.

It wasn't as if she thought Randy loved either one of them more than he did her, because times had changed, but her hopeful romance with Randy had been shaky for a long time because of the other two girls. Randy still thought highly of the other two, and as far as that went, so did Nicole; Myleigh had become an especially close friend, and she looked forward to spending more time with her when she and Trey moved to town in the spring.

The problem was Nicole and Randy were both strong individuals, each with similar but differing goals in life. There were a good many times when Nicole had gone and done something that had taken her away from Randy – the AT hike, Mosquito Valley for several summers, and the second raft trip last summer were the high points. Even after they'd been married, several times Randy hadn't been the highest thing on her priority list – not that she thought he'd go astray on her; he wasn't that kind of guy, but it wasn't right, she'd known it, and she'd done it anyway.

That has to stop, she thought. We have to maintain our own interests, but we can't have a touch-and-go marriage like our touch-and-go romance any longer. It was not a happy thought, and she realized she'd been more the sinner than the one sinned against.

She was getting stiff from lying back on the couch, staring at the fire. It wasn't as if she hadn't realized the problem existed, because she realized it had long before they were married. There were things she could have done to fix them, and she hadn't. Thank God Myleigh was getting married, she thought; if Myleigh had moved to Spearfish Lake without Trey, Nicole didn't think there would have been much chance for her marriage in the long run. Not that either Myleigh or Randy would have wanted it that way, but things could easily have happened . . . there was still an undeniable magic between Randy and Myleigh, and only the fact that the magic between Myleigh and Trey seemed deeper gave Nicole any solace.

She could increase her own magic with Randy, and it would be easy to do. She should have started earlier. Their marriage had started out with frequent and intense sex, but like many newlyweds, it had eventually tailed off to some degree, a bigger degree than she wanted, probably than Randy wanted. But it always seemed as if one of them was gone, he was exhausted after his killer days, or something. That was part of the reason she'd suggested the hot tub, and she'd known it at the time – it would give them incentive to be naked or nearly so with each other more often, and could be made to lead places where both of them wanted to go. It would give her a little reason to dress, well, a little slutty for him, which would be fun. It would also be fun to think of ways to turn him on, and the results would be fun, too. When he'd come home last night all down about the sailing trip, she'd realized coming on hard would seem like a mercy fuck to him, and he'd resent it. But, the hot tub was a good reason to ramp things up the way she'd instantly realized they needed to be.

Oh yes, she smiled to herself. This was going to be fun. What's more, it was something they'd do together, and it would help take the sting out of the loss of some other adventures he might have had.

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To be continued . . .

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