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 6

Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Randy was sitting at his desk the next day trying to make sense out of some quotes on specialized steel when Don Bailey walked in. "So, what's happening around here today?" Don asked.

Randy leaned back in his chair – the quotes on the steel didn't interest him anyway. "Not a whole hell of a lot," he replied casually. "I'll bet the rain screws up the trick or treating tonight, though."

"Supposed to let up later," Don grunted. "I'm just glad I don't have to go through that hassle any more. There are some advantages to being a grandparent."

"Yeah, I suppose I'll find out someday," Randy agreed. "So what have you got on your mind today?"

"I guess it's more a case of what have you got on your mind?" Don replied. "I heard you were looking for me."

"Yeah, I've got something I need your opinion on," Randy said. "It's going to take an hour or two. Some friends of mine are looking at buying a house, and they'd like someone to go through it to get a professional opinion on what it's going to need."

"In other words, how much fixing up they can stick the seller for," Don smiled. "Shouldn't be a big deal. Is this going to turn into a job?"

"Might, although not right away," Randy told him. "I don't know what changes my friends will want to make on top of anything the house needs. They won't be moving in until spring, so whatever happens, it looks like most of it might be a nice inside job for the winter."

"Always can use more of those," Don agreed. "No reason I couldn't do it right now."

"Fine, I'll call Binky and see if we can get in," Randy said, reaching for the phone.

Fifteen minutes later Randy drove his pickup into the driveway at what he already thought of as Myleigh's house, to find Binky waiting for them. "That was quick," Don smiled. "She must not be very busy today."

"This is all but sold, assuming you give your approval," Randy replied, shutting off the truck and opening the door. "She's going to grease the skids as much as she can to make it a done deal."

"That's Binky for you," Don agreed as he got out of his side of Randy's pickup. "She doesn't like to let a live one get away."

The middle-aged Vietnamese woman got out of her car as Randy and Don walked up. It was generally agreed around Spearfish Lake that Binky Augsberg held the hot hand in real estate in Spearfish Lake. She made a lot of money at it, and plowed a lot of that money back into real estate investments of her own. She and her husband Steve lived in a modest house across Hannegan's Cove from Randy; it was generally agreed they could afford a lot more but that most of her money was tied up in real estate around the area. In fact, Randy was a little surprised that she hadn't already taken this house off of the hands of the owner to sell at a markup. "Good to see you guys," she said with a smile.

"Yeah, always good to see you, Binky," Don smiled back. "This used to be Lisa deLine's house, didn't it?"

"Still is," Binky agreed. "She wanted the earth and the moon for it, so it's been on the market for a while. She just cut the price since she's got plenty of other real estate she needs to get out of."

That answered the question in Randy's mind about why Binky hadn't already bought the place – not enough profit margin. Binky wasn't in the real estate business to lose money, and she didn't. Randy knew that Binky had almost died escaping from Vietnam on a leaking fishing boat, but along with just about everyone else in Spearfish Lake, Randy thought it was a good thing that she had made it out of there since she was too thoroughly a capitalist to have been able to make it in a communist Vietnam.

"I didn't know she was into real estate," Don commented.

"She wasn't," Binky grinned. "She was into being a pain in the ass, which is her normal thing. Her daughter always said that when she graduated, her goal was to get as far away from Spearfish Lake as she could. She told her mother she'd been accepted at State, but didn't tell her she'd also been accepted at University of Alaska, Fairbanks, which is about as far away as you can go to college and still be in the country. Lisa couldn't stand to have her daughter out from under her thumb, so she moved to Fairbanks and bought a condo. Right after that, her daughter transferred to the University of Miami and told her mother that if she followed her there, she'd transfer again. So now Lisa is stuck with two places she doesn't want and can't afford to move again unless she can sell at least one of them."

"Jeez, Randy, I don't know that you want your friends to have this house," Don said. "I'm not into that New Age shit, but there has to be a load of bad karma hanging around here."

"Right," Binky grinned. "I recommended an exorcist."

"Sounds like a wise move to me," Don agreed with an even broader grin. "Let's get this done."

It wasn't the first time Randy had been on a home inspection with Don, and as always he learned a lot. While Randy may have studied and was proving good at construction management, he wasn't the kind of craftsman who could actually do the work, or even necessarily know what he was looking for. Don, with decades of experience, knew what to look for and how to find it. He picked out things that Randy would have not been likely to see after years of experience, and once again he was glad he had someone like Don working for him. Don wound up going through the place for a couple hours, while Randy carefully kept a list of what he'd found.

"Not as bad as I would have expected," Don summed up finally. "There's lots of little diddly things that really should be dealt with so the house will be up to snuff. Stuff like painting and decoration can't really be charged back to the seller, and there's a couple rooms there that are really kinda sick."

"No fooling," Binky agreed. "Who in their right mind would paint a bedroom that shade of chartreuse?"

"We're talking about Lisa deLine, who was never in her right mind in her life," Don snorted. "If it were me, I sure as hell would strip all that woodwork in the living room. There's probably some beautiful stuff under all that paint, but again, that's something that can't be charged to the seller. Might be something that a homeowner that likes piddly projects might want to do."

"I strongly doubt that Myleigh would want to do it," Randy replied thoughtfully. "Trey, I don't know, and I doubt they're planning on being back in town much before Christmas. About all we can do is run it by them and see."

"Well, get me an estimate," Binky told them. "I'll run it by Lisa, and see how she wants to do it. Randy, as soon as you get me the estimate, I'll run it by your friends, then Lisa. I don't think we've come up with anything here that could be a deal breaker."

"Me either," Randy said. "Don, you want to come back to the office and help me work this up?"

"Might as well, so long as we can swing by the job site and see how they're coming with that trim work."

"Sure, might as well," Randy said. "I've thought I ought to poke my nose in there just on general principles, but I'm reluctant to do it without you being there."

It didn't take long for Randy and Don to pull together an estimate, with Don estimating time and materials needed, while Randy priced out things he didn't know off the top of his head and worked up a list on his computer. The little list totaled out to almost five thousand dollars' worth of work. "Well, I guess we'll see what happens," Randy said as he e-mailed the estimate to Binky. "I doubt like hell we'll be able to get started on the job until the first of the year, and then I don't know what Myleigh and Trey might want to add to it. But like I said, it's a no-rush deal, but it'll probably turn into a couple weeks work for your crew."

"Fine with me," Don smiled. "I'd a hell of a lot rather take a layoff than work outside around here in January and February."

After Don left, Randy turned back to the steel quotes with little enthusiasm. These weren't likely to be the best quotes he was going to get for the gym. There would be plenty of time to deal with that issue when the better ones came in, anyway. He sat and stared at the computer screen for a moment, tempted to send an e-mail to Myleigh telling her of the house inspection, but realized he shouldn't, at least not yet. He didn't want to get between Binky and Myleigh if he could help it; he was willing to give advice as a friend, but there was a limit to how far he could go with that. Besides, knowing Myleigh, she would consider this something he would take care of without bothering her.

Fuck it, he thought. There's not that much to do here today and I need to do some shit at home. I need to get the porch cleaned out so we can get the hot tub into place tomorrow night, and I see enough of this place anyway. He shut down the computer and cleaned his desk, then grabbed his rain jacket and headed for the door. He stopped briefly at Regina's desk to let her know he'd be at home if something came up, then went out to his truck, and headed off of the property.

The rain seemed to be letting up a little, he thought. Maybe the kids will be able to have some fun trick or treating tonight after all.

For once he beat Nicole home. That didn't happen very often, and usually when it did, it was in the dead of winter. The house seemed strangely quiet without her there, quiet in a way it rarely did when he was home alone in the summer. There really wasn't much to do on the porch, just move some furniture and rugs. It was something he could have put off until the next evening, but at least it had served as an excuse to take off from work. It seemed somehow obscene that he was sitting here with nothing to do. If things had gone a little differently, he might be out on the Colorado with Crystal and Preach right now. Where would they be? Somewhere around Redwall Cavern, most likely; he knew the trips usually stopped for their third night somewhere around the huge yawning sand-filled abyss. He glanced at his watch; considering the time difference, they were probably still on the river. Oh, well, too damn bad. He might make the trip again, and maybe not, too – like it or not, his life was drawing away from Crystal's.

Though there was still some magic in his heart for Crystal and Myleigh, he had long realized the time had come to put them behind him. He and Nicole fit together like he never would have with Crystal or Myleigh. Though sometimes it seemed that there wasn't quite the magic there that he'd had with the other two, there was more than enough to hold him. It would most likely just continue to grow, if for no more reason than they were a good fit together and shared a host of common interests, even if there were only rare opportunities to share them.

*   *   *

Nicole frowned when she opened the garage door and saw Randy's pickup sitting inside. Although she already knew Karin's planned trick to pull on Crystal at the wedding, he couldn't know she knew it yet, because it would have revealed her call to Canyon Tours the day before. It was a cute idea and ought to add to the fun, and Randy would get a kick out of it. But, she'd wanted to get home early enough so she could tell Randy she'd gotten a call from Karin explaining what was coming down, and today was the day she'd planned to do it. Well, so much for that great notion. Maybe it would work tomorrow.

Oh, well, at least no papers to grade tonight. Although high school kids were supposed to be too old for Halloween hijinks, it never happened that way, so she made a point of not assigning much homework since she knew it wouldn't get done. She was going to have to devote more time to it over the weekend than she wanted to, because there were going to be quizzes and papers due, but that often happened on the weekends. She was just going to have to do it, although she had made a mental note that she needed to spend some alone and heart-to-heart time with Randy this weekend, maybe part of it in the new hot tub. She and Randy only rarely had the chance to enjoy hot tubs, and never alone, so she was pleased that he'd hopped on the idea so easily. A little quality sex, far away from Monday's disappointment, ought to go a long way toward taking the sting out of Monday for her husband.

For now, she gathered up her things and headed inside. Randy didn't appear to be around the house, in spite of his pickup being in the garage, and she began to get a little worried before she discovered him sitting on the porch. "So what brings you home this early?" she asked.

"Don and I went through the house Myleigh and Trey are looking at buying," he reported. "We found some piddly stuff, nothing real major. By the time we got the estimate wrapped up it was too late to start anything else, so I decided to come home and clear the spot for the hot tub."

"Looks like a good spot for it," she smiled. "We ought to be able to use it in the nude without the neighbors being able to see us."

"I thought of that," he grinned. "Actually, I can only think of one downside to it."

"And what might that be, you lecher?"

"It takes away the fun I can have taking a swimsuit off of you," he smiled. "Undressing you is one of the main joys of my life."

"Having you do it is one of the great joys of mine," she smiled, glad to see that he was in a good mood on the surface, at least. Almost instantly, a good idea sprang to mind. "You know, maybe I ought to see what I could do about getting some really outrageous swimsuits, something I'd never wear out on the shore, just for the fun of it. Maybe, one of those slingshot things that don't cover anything and don't seem like they'd stay on for an instant."

"Yeah, that could be fun," he agreed. "Maybe come summer, we could go to one of those deserted little lakes out in the woods and take some cheesecake shots, just for the hell of it."

"That means we'd have to get a halfway decent digital camera," she smiled. "There's no way I would want you running a roll of those kinds of shots through the film processing at the Super Market."

"I've been thinking about just that," he conceded. "I didn't really have that in mind, but there are some job things that would be handy to document. Hell, like today. The deLine woman is going to squirm about some of the stuff we found. It would be nice to have the photos for evidence."

"Don't get into too big a rush," she replied. "I have no idea what I'm going to get you for Christmas, and that has possibilities."

"Let me do a little research," he offered. "I don't know jack squat about them, but just thinking about it, there might be potential at a hobby that doesn't involve having to go out of town."

"I suppose," she said, realizing the implications of that statement immediately. He was trying to put a good face on it, but he was still down and probably bitter about the sailing trip going down the tubes, as well as the surfing trip over New Years. Well, he had a right to be bitter about it, and although she knew better news was probably coming, she was going to just have to put a good face on it. "It'd be handy on trips, too," she said noncommittally.

"Yeah, I suppose," he replied, confirming Nicole's suspicions. "You know, I was thinking about it a few minutes ago, that maybe a year from this Christmas we could plan a big trip someplace. Go somewhere, I don't know where, someplace where Crystal or Myleigh or Scooter have never been and aren't likely to go to, just so we could have something to make them jealous for once. But hell, I dumped the idea. Like I said, there's no point in planning for something that far ahead, getting my hopes up, and then having something come up that will just blow them to hell."

"The Christmas holidays are a good time for a trip like that," she said in mild protest. "I mean, nobody plans anything for that period anyway, since people are always gone."

"Sounds good, but what screwed up the surfing trip?" he snorted. "On top of that, it's just as well we didn't decide to go to Patagonia or Tasmania or something this year, since we didn't expect Myleigh's wedding. About the best we can do is try to keep the period clear, and then about a year from next Thanksgiving, if everything is still clear, we might consider something. I don't dare pin any hopes on it."

He was still worked up about it – there was no doubt about that. Nicole wished she could tell him what she knew from the discussion with Al the day before, but she knew Randy would really resent her sticking her nose in like that. "It's not that bad," she sighed. "Sooner or later something will break your way. Try to not be so negative about it."

"I'm trying to not be negative," he shook his head. "I'm just trying for realistic. Hell, you were the one who said we need to do things on the weekends rather than focusing on big trips that never seem to happen. I'm trying to do that. Much though I would like it to be different, big trips just aren't going to be in the cards for me very often. You have the chance to go, but I don't. I'm trying to think of alternatives, something we can do together without having to have it hinge around a big trip somewhere. The hot tub was a good idea, and we'll get a lot of fun out of it. As far as that goes, I'm willing to cut back on some of the stuff I do with the guys, like martial arts, if we can replace them with things we can do together. Believe me, Nicole, I'm looking for your input and I want your ideas. We've followed our own paths for too long, Nicole. We need to find more where we can share our experiences with each other."

"I'm impressed," Nicole said, finally sitting down in one of the porch chairs that Randy had moved to one side. "I'd been thinking that you were just bitter, but now it looks like you're at least trying to think constructively."

"Well, I am in construction; that counts for something," Randy smirked.

"That's not what I mean and you know it," she grinned. "What's more, I think you're right about doing more stuff together. I hope you're wrong about being able to take big trips, and I hope the chance will come up for you to be able to take one now and then whether I'm with you or not, since you deserve the opportunity. But we're going to have to learn to make use of the opportunities when they arise. And, on that thought, have you done anything to reschedule that meeting so we can spend the time we planned at Buddha and Giselle's?"

"No, I haven't," he admitted. "I pulled enough damn strings to move that meeting, I don't want to have to push them back where they came from."

"Well, you might sound it out, at least," she replied. "If people were that negative about moving the date maybe they'll be happy to move it back. Worst case, maybe you can at least tell them something has come up and you won't be available after all."

"Yeah, you might have a point at that," he conceded. "To tell the truth, I'd really like to do something a little more ambitious than that with the time, but we're sorta committed to going there if we go anyplace at all. Not that I mind going there, but something new, something other than Florida, might be worth the effort, too. Whatever happens, let's not commit ourselves for going there next year in that time period. Maybe a long weekend if it's during school, but if we're going to take a week, it's not that much more flying to go to Mexico or Hawaii or something."

"I suppose you're right," she nodded. "There is a certain amount of 'same old, same old' involved with going to Buddha and Giselle's." She let out a sigh. "I wouldn't mind going someplace else, either, but it would be nice to spend some quiet time with Crystal and Preach. We don't get enough of that and will probably get less in the future."

"I'm afraid you're right," he agreed. "We're still going to see them from time to time but our lives are really heading in different directions. Myleigh and Trey are a different story, though. With them living right up the street, we're probably going to be hanging out with them fairly often."

"That's true, and it's a bright side," she grinned. "More Lake Superior surfing. Maybe we can drive around to the downwind side of Lake Michigan some time when there's a good wind forecast."

"Yeah, that has possibilities, and we're all flush enough that we don't absolutely have to sleep in tents, either," he smiled. He thought for a moment, then let out a big laugh.

"Now what?" Nicole grinned.

"Buddha and Giselle's," Randy smirked. "I have no idea what Trey and Myleigh have planned for a honeymoon, but I know at one point they were planning on spending the week there, too."

"I can just see our dear, sweet Myleigh spending her honeymoon in a tent in a primitive campground on a surfing safari with a gang of surfing friends. Randy, I know our honeymoon didn't work out very well, but a romantic like Myleigh doing something like that is just a little too weird to imagine."

"Yeah, you're right," he grinned. "Maybe I ought to call Trey and warn him that something a little more, uh, conventional might not be a bad idea."

"I don't know," Nicole laughed. "He's got a streak of romantic in him, too. But we'll have some fun if they do show up there."

"Oh, yeah," Randy grinned. "I guess we'll just have to wait and see. Let's see, we have trick or treaters tonight from six to eight, right?"

"Something like that," she said. "I hope I have enough for them. We'll probably get a bunch, like we did last year."

"It's not even four yet. We don't have a hot tub yet for inspiration, but what do you say we head upstairs and pretend that we have it? I can even practice taking your clothes off."

"Great idea, but what about supper?"

"Oh, we can have a sandwich to hold us until after the trick or treaters," he grinned. "Then maybe we can find something in the freezer before we head back upstairs."

"Works for me," Nicole grinned as she got to her feet. This wasn't going to be a mercy fuck, by any means. Things were looking up. "There's not much better that we can do together."

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