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 7

Thursday, November 1, 2001

Randy felt just a little bit smug as he walked into the Spearfish Lake Cafe the next morning, but he tried to look normal. He and Nicole hadn't had a night like that in far too long. Until recently, he'd often felt too busy or tired for sex, and really, Nicole did, too. But for a start in the afternoon, then a well-needed break before a second round – well, it beat the hell out of going to bed too tired to enjoy it. Maybe they'd learned something; if so, it was about time they did.

Pretty much the usual crew was around the big table in the back of the place – it was never the same from day to day, but usually didn't change much. The dog town gang was there, even Candice, which was a little rare; usually she tried to get her kids off to school before she headed out to the dog yard.

Although he pitched in with helping to train the dogs from time to time, Randy really wasn't the committed dog musher that people like Phil, Josh, Tiffany, Duane and Candice were. In a way, it was kind of a shame, because it was something he could do in the winter when times were slow, and could lead to some real adventure. Two years ago, Candice had been a bookkeeper in a bank and had never been behind a dog team, but after she and her husband John moved to Spearfish Lake, she'd gotten involved, at least partly because Josh and Tiffany were brother and sister-in-laws. She liked it, had some talent at it, and now she was slated for taking Phil's junior varsity team to the Iditarod, the thousand-mile dog sled race across Alaska – just the kind of adventure that Randy could have loved, if he'd been a little more open to the idea. Well, water down the river, he thought. Another chance missed, and this time there was no one to blame but himself.

"You guys are looking a little brighter this morning," Randy said by way of introduction. "At least the rain quit."

"Yeah, but it's mud all the hell over everywhere," Josh snorted. "No snow even in the long range, just more rain. We've been kicking around the idea of loading up the prime dogs and heading for some snow, if we can find some on the ground anywhere."

"Anything close?"

"Not that we can find out. They're getting the same crap up in Ontario on the far side of the lake. It's getting to the point where it might be easier to head out to the Rockies somewhere. I know there are some ski resorts open, but that doesn't mean there's trail snow. They've got all those snowmaking machines on the slopes. We're going to have to spend some time on the Internet, I guess."

"Crystal worked one winter at a place called Cooper Hill," Randy suggested. "She said it was right up there but they had real snow early."

"I've heard of it," Duane commented. "Jim, Scooter's guy, worked there several winters. You're right, it's up there in elevation, but that might not be the best for training."

"Can't be worse than all the damn mud we have around here," Josh snorted. "On the other hand, the only sure way to get snow ass deep around here is to head off somewhere else to look for it."

"That's November for you; you never know," Randy nodded. "We don't usually get serious snow until the later part of the month, anyway."

"Yeah, that's true," Phil nodded. A long, rangy guy who had made a pile as a tech rep and writing software, he owned the operation but deferred as needed to Josh and Tiffany's experience. "Except that you know those guys in Alaska are training on snow and we're sitting around bitching about the weather. OK, Josh, let's try this idea on for size: how about if Duane and I load up the truck with as many prime dogs as we can get aboard, and come back when there's snow. I know you and Tiff and Candice can't leave for that long this time of the year, but Duane and I should be able to. That'll leave someone here to take care of the dogs left behind, and maybe do some training if the chance comes up."

"Might work," Josh said after a moment's consideration. "Let's spend a little time checking snow conditions out there before we go crazy about it, though. It's going to take a day to load up and two days to get out there, however you cut it."

"Well, Duane and I can get started with getting stuff around to load," Phil pointed out. "It's not like we have anything else we can do today, and there's bound to be snow somewhere out west. If Colorado doesn't have it, maybe Montana or something."

"I'd almost prefer Montana; it's a little closer the way the roads run and it's not quite as high."

"Look for a snow cover map on the Internet," Randy suggested. "I know I've seen one somewhere, I don't remember if it was National Weather Service or Weather Underground or some college or what. Any search engine ought to weasel it out for you."

"Yeah, that's a thought," Josh nodded. "Tiff, figure out what dogs he should take. They can take the big dog box, so that's a maximum of forty dogs. I don't think we should double bunk them for that long of a trip. Phil, you and Duane can start getting your shit together while I look for snow."

"Just as another thought," Randy put in, "Why not call the OLTA, that place Crystal and Scooter and Nicole went to? They're in Idaho somewhere, they ought to know where there's some snow and some trails you could train on. Nicole says they get a pot load of snow there in the winter."

"Good thought," Josh smiled. "See if you can get hold of Nicole, give us some idea of who to talk to."

"I'll run over to the school as soon as I get done with breakfast," Randy promised. "I'll let you know as soon as I know."

"OK, folks," Josh summed up. "It looks like we've got the outline of a plan. Hang loose, things could change. Duane, I hope this won't ball up your going to Crystal's wedding, but hopefully you'll be back here before then. If not, we'll just have to play it by ear."

"Yeah, I hope not, too," he said. "Randy, looks like we're going to have to hang loose on those plans we were talking about."

"You'll learn what I learned," Randy said, not altogether sarcastically. "Don't plan things too tightly since things come up that will change any plan you make." He lightened up a bit and continued, "I talked with Nicole about having you over for dinner one day next week to work out the details, but I guess that just got sluiced, too. Try to stay in touch, maybe it will still work."

*   *   *

Trey had thought for months that one of the neat things about being a senior was that he was able to avoid eight o'clock classes.

Though Trey had spent four years in the Army and was pretty good about getting around in the morning, he still occasionally enjoyed the pure, indolent sloth of sleeping in once in a while, and not having to drag his butt out of bed to face a cold November day.

Thus it was that Trey was still asleep when his cell phone started going off. The noise took a while to penetrate his consciousness, and it took him longer to fumble around, find it, and answer it. "Yeah?" he said sleepily into the little plastic box that had disturbed his slumber.

"Hey Trey, show a leg," Blake giggled. "Are you planning on sleeping all day?"

"Give me a break, there's an hour time difference here in Kansas City and I don't have a class till ten," he grumbled. "So what can I help you with this morning, anyway?"

"Is Myleigh around?"

"No, she had an eight o'clock class with a bunch of freshmen. Usually we get together for breakfast when she doesn't have one, but this was my morning to sleep in."

"So you just let her get up and head out by herself while you pound the pillow?" Blake teased. "I figured you'd get up and make breakfast for her, to get her out the door with a spring in her step."

"No 'let' involved," Trey replied. "We're not living together. She stays at her apartment, and I'm in my dorm room."

"I find that hard to believe," Blake grinned. "You two could barely keep your hands off of each other when you were up here last weekend."

"Believe it," Trey said. "You have to remember that this is a small college. If you think gossip gets around small towns, you haven't seen how the faculty gossip at a small college. People would really look down their noses at a professor and a student living together. In two months, I'll have graduated, and no one will give a shit." Trey almost added something more, but decided it wasn't any of Blake's business to know he and Myleigh weren't sleeping together, either. Though neither of them were virgins, they'd decided together that their marriage would be more meaningful to them if they hadn't had sex before marriage. Trey thought the decision had surprised both of them, but it set well with him, too.

"Boy, that sure seems strange in this day and age," Blake teased again.

"Says the guy who lived with his girlfriend for seventeen years before he married her," Trey teased right back. Blake had admitted to him that there was a damn good reason they'd waited so long to get married. "Besides, look at Randy and Nicole. They didn't live together before they got married."

"Small town, and the gossip works here, too," Blake shrugged. "So, are you getting used to the idea?"

"I think so," Trey told him. "Shit, a lot came down in a hurry last weekend. My head is still spinning. So, what have you got on your mind this morning?"

"Oh, Jennifer and I were just talking about plans and schedules," Blake replied, more businesslike now. "We're trying to get arrangements pulled together for the next album but there's no way we can start to record before the middle of summer, what with Jennifer being pregnant again. She says she can't sing right when she's that big. The thing is that Randy is coming along pretty good on the new studio, and we should be able to use it some along about February or March. What I was thinking is that you might like to come up here sometime before that and set up and adjust the recording equipment the way you want it to be."

A big part of Trey's new job with Blake and Jennifer was operating as their recording engineer. He'd worked with them recording Whispering Pines the summer before, and it had worked out so well that the job offer had eventually come out of it, along with doing some other management tasks for Blake and Jennifer. "Yeah, that might not be the dumbest idea I ever heard," Trey admitted.

"Once we get it up and running, maybe we can get Nola Johnson in here to work on her album. I know I told you last weekend that we had to put her off again, and she's not real happy about it."

"I suppose I could," Trey replied. "At one time I was thinking about taking some classes for my master's, but it's not clear how they'd transfer to the program at Weatherford. This is all so new, we haven't had time to check. Actually, I wouldn't mind having the excuse to put them off until after next spring."

"Add getting a new house to that," Blake told him. "Trey, you don't have any idea how much of a hassle that's going to be. Women will come up with the damnedest ideas. Some of them aren't all that bad, you can see it in how this place turned out, but it took us years to get it this way, and we gutted and rearranged the whole downstairs in the process. Hell, I was cooking on a camp stove I borrowed for part of it."

"Yeah, I suppose there'll be some of that," Trey admitted. "I could put my time up there to good use. The only thing that bothers me about coming up early is we'll have just gotten married, and I'm not sure we're going to want to spend that much time apart."

"There is that," Blake agreed. "Myleigh is pretty damn independent, she'll get along. What you're going to have to do is to wear her out so bad on your honeymoon that maybe she'll be glad to have you gone for a bit."

"I'll tell you the truth, Blake, I'm afraid it's going to be a question of who is going to wear out who. Besides, I'm not all that sure we're going to have much of a honeymoon, anyway."

"Got anything planned?"

"Well, before all this came down we were going to do another surfing trip to Buddha and Giselle's, you know, like we did last year," Trey admitted. "We really haven't had the chance to talk about it, but Myleigh is romantic and feminine enough that I'm not sure how well she's going to take having a honeymoon in a tent in a campground with only a smelly outhouse and no hot water."

"Yeah, shit, you don't want to do something like that, even if she's done it before and knows what to expect. You need to take her someplace wonderful, exotic, memorable. Maybe a place like Mexico or the Caribbean, or maybe even Hawaii. Someplace new and wonderful."

"I couldn't agree with you more," Trey said as he snuggled down under the covers again. It was cold in the dorm room again; the college was being cheesy with the heat. "Hell, I'd love to do something like that, but let's face it, Blake, I'm still a college student without the proverbial pot to piss in or the proverbial window to throw it out of. And, I'm an old fashioned sort of guy who likes to think that a husband ought to ante up for the honeymoon."

"Oh, hell," Blake said. "Go ahead and plan something exotic and memorable. I'll front you for it and we can take it out of your wages later."

"Blake, you don't have to do that," Trey protested."

"Yeah, but I'm going to. Hey, Jennifer and I like you kids, and we think you're going to make a great pair. Go do something wonderful, something Jennifer and I couldn't do because we didn't want press all over our asses."

"Well, all right, thanks," Trey conceded. "I agree, something exotic and memorable would be appropriate. You got any ideas?

"Not beyond what I told you," Blake said. "I'd suggest you find a good travel agent down there and see what they can come up with."

"It might work," Trey said. "I really need to run the whole thing by Myleigh, though. Especially the part about taking off for a while to work on the house and the studio. And, the honeymoon, for that matter. Maybe she'll have an idea."

"Just as a suggestion," Blake said thoughtfully, "You might want to surprise her a little with that, take charge of things for once. I mean, get her approval of the concept but surprise her with the location."

"We'll see," Trey sighed. "I'm not very good at keeping secrets from her."

"Hell, I'm no good at keeping secrets from Jennifer. But it's the thought that counts."

"I suppose," Trey said. "You got anything else for me? If not, I suppose I ought to hit the head and get dressed. I'm too awake now to get back to sleep."

*   *   *

As soon as he was finished with breakfast, Randy headed over to the school as he had promised. It took only a few minutes to get Nicole out of class and get a phone number and the name of a contact person at OLTA. As soon as Randy got back out to his pickup, he called Josh with the information. From what he could figure out on the phone, it seemed like things around Run-8 Kennels had hit a new level of frantic, but Josh was pleased to have the information and promised to call right away.

With that done, Randy turned off the cell phone and headed for work, thinking that what Phil and Duane were facing was one trip he was glad he wasn't going on. It was going to be hours upon hours of ass-in-the-seat time and the breaks would be worse. They'd have to stop every so often to "drop the dogs", which meant letting them out of their boxes for a little exercise and kidney draining, and then get loaded up and back on the road again as soon as possible – not easy or quick with forty dogs. Knowing Phil and how anxious he had been for snow, Randy didn't doubt they'd be driving right to wherever they were going, and if they got lucky they might use a drive-through every now and then to tank up on burgers and drinks.

Once he got to the office, Randy discovered the steel quote he'd been waiting for in the basket underneath the fax machine. As expected, it was more clearly defined than the other quotes, and the price was better. What was even better, they could easily meet the delivery date, and that was crucial for this job. While he knew he'd have to wait another couple days for the rest of the quotes he expected, he was pretty sure where the steel would be coming from, and the confirming order would be going to them maybe as early as the first of the week.

With that out of the way, Randy turned to some of the other stuff that had built up on his desk. Since the Blair School Board had approved the bid, the job was theirs now, and that meant he could start seriously shopping for materials, even though the delivery was months off. Good competitive purchasing done well in advance could be the difference between a healthy profit and a struggle to break even, so his job of getting materials figured and ordered would take a while. Like any building that size, the job was going to call for huge amounts of material, but fortunately the prints had been in their office for a while, and Randy could get started on it.

While the materials project was going to take him weeks, he got a start on it in the next couple hours. As lunchtime drew close, he began to think about something to eat. A set mealtime could rarely be planned, since once again things were likely to come up. Once upon a time, Nicole had packed a lunch for him, and because of endless delays and alternatives, like luncheon meetings, it was three days before Randy actually got to eat it. It had tasted funny, and he decided never again. Nowadays, lunch was catch as catch can – sometimes he'd go home and raid the refrigerator, and other times he might head over to the Cafe. But in the interests of more efficient use of his time, today he could combine lunch with another errand.

He had to run some paperwork over to Three Cherries, and that would eat up a couple hours at a minimum, more like three. Three Cherries was what people around Spearfish Lake in general and Clark Construction in particular called the casino and resort over on the Three Pines Reservation, even though they were careful to not use the slang term when on the reservation. Clark Construction usually seemed to have one job or another going on there, although not always with the same crew; next summer's project was going to be an expansion of the big resort hotel. Typical of the work for Three Cherries, it was not planned long in advance.

The run over to Three Cherries was a good example of the kind of thing that Randy wasted all too much time on. The other day Nicole had pointed out that he needed an assistant to carry out such errands. While it really was no big deal right now, that kind of running always ate up more of his time in the summer than he really could afford.

Besides, they had a reasonably decent and very fast restaurant at the casino, to keep the suckers they were fleecing away from the slot machines as little as possible. He could probably grab something to go there and eat it on the way back. The drive would give him a chance to think, and he'd learned a long time before that an hour or two behind the wheel was a great opportunity to think things through.

In a few minutes he was heading up the State Road toward Three Cherries. On the way, he saw Josh and Tiffany's dog truck with Phil and Duane driving. Boy, they got that done in a hurry, he thought. They must have really been chomping at the bit. Pain in the ass though that trip was obviously going to be, Randy couldn't help but wish he was going with them. It would be something different, something out of the ordinary – something out of Spearfish Lake. Oh, well, maybe he could get the meeting moved again.

His mind turned back to the question of getting an assistant. Not a bad idea, but he was going to have to figure out a way to finesse his father and grandfather. On the other hand, though, he was supposed to be making some executive decisions now and then and not bother them with the details. Maybe this could be one of them – just go ahead and hire someone and let the shit fall where it fell. He made a mental note to call one of his old professors in the construction management department at Northern and see if they might have a good prospect. It might even involve a run up to Northern sometime in the next couple months to look some candidates over. That would get him out of town for a day or two, and might even precipitate the decision.

Boy, it sure would be nice to have someone like that, though. That would really free up time to spend with Nicole, and might even free up some time to get away in the busy months. Maybe they couldn't do any big trips, but some small ones, a day or a weekend every now and then, maybe even an occasional long weekend, would be a lot of fun. To be honest, Randy had been a little surprised at how well Nicole had taken to the idea of getting some extreme swimsuits, just for fun and maybe a little photography. That surprised him as much as anything – while once upon a time, like while in high school and college, Nicole had been Miss String Bikini when the chance arose, the last couple years it seemed like those days were in the past. That was understandable; she was a married woman now, and a school teacher, so she couldn't be quite as in the face about it as she had been in those days.

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To be continued . . .

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