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 11

Thursday, November 22, 2001

For reasons of their own, both of Randy's older sisters had decided to have the annual Thanksgiving Dinner with their husband's families, so that meant the Clark family dinner was only going to involve the five of them, including grandfather Brent. Somewhere along the way Linda Clark had gotten to feel that it was hardly worth the effort, and had more or less decided on just going out to dinner someplace. When Nicole got wind of it, she wouldn't have it – so the result was that for the first time she hosted the dinner at her house, and invited her family along to make it a crowd.

Not unexpectedly, it turned out to be a nuthouse for Randy, who would have liked to find some way to escape the hassle but was pretty well stuck with it. This was Nicole's show, and she wanted everything to be perfect, just to show off to the mothers that she really could do it. In spite of the large size of their house, Randy and Nicole's dining room table wasn't big enough for all the people since some extra relatives somehow got included in the affair. That meant that on Thanksgiving morning, with no warning, Randy was ordered to take his pickup, get a table from his folks and some chairs from hers. The fact that there were several inches of fresh fallen snow on the ground didn't help matters, and it took him longer than both he and Nicole had hoped to get that chore done. Then, getting the table inside the house wasn't that easy, either, especially since the new hot tub partially blocked the way. Still, he toughed it out and tried to make his escape to the garage or somewhere, but Nicole caught him at it and found more chores for him to do. This was rapidly turning into a real pain in the ass.

It was no walk in the park for Nicole, either. She felt she was perfectly capable of doing everything herself, but a mother and a mother-in-law present for much of the cooking process and each of them with their own methods really complicated things. Randy did his best to stay out of the middle of that mess, but when he watched the hassle, the words "Chinese Fire Drill" came to mind.

Then right in the middle of the whole show, there was an ambulance call. Both Randy and his father Ryan were EMTs and they knew the call list was crippled for the holiday, so there was no choice but to head to the fire station. It turned out to be a bad one, a family running off the road and into a tree out on the state road. No one was killed, but several people were hurt badly enough to need a ride to Camden General, which was a two-hour round trip. There really wasn't much choice but to load them up and go, with a cell phone call to Nicole warning her that they'd be running late.

At least it got Randy out of the madhouse of his own home, but considering how this family's holiday had been screwed up, he really would rather not have been there. "It shouldn't be that big a deal," Randy's father commented. "With all the 'help' Nicole has, she's going to be running two hours late, anyway." Randy couldn't help but think back to meals down in the Grand Canyon that were bigger, nearly as elaborate, and cooked by river guides on a four-burner propane stove using a warped griddle. Get a handful of guides together, say, Crystal, Preach, Scooter, and Jim and they would have done Thanksgiving dinner in a quarter of the time with a tenth of the hassle.

The fresh snow made the going slow, even in the ambulance, so Randy and Ryan were well over two hours getting back to Spearfish Lake. Ryan had hit it just about between the eyes; in spite of a call warning of their estimated time of return, things were still not quite ready when they got there. They did have time to clean up, and Randy was at least glad they weren't at his folks' house, where it had become traditional to be in a suit and tie for Thanksgiving Dinner – a practice that Crystal and Myleigh had started years before.

The food was good, and there was plenty, but Randy still wondered if it was worth all the hassle. Maybe his mother had a point about finding some place to eat out.

Once the dinner was over with and most of the women were working on the dishes while the dishwasher churned away at the first of several loads, several of the Szczerowski men headed for the living room and got back to the Packers game. As luck would have had it, somehow most of the dinner had been at half time, and it didn't take long before they were all snoring. Randy had never been much of a football fan, and neither had his father, so they soon gravitated to the porch, where Brent soon joined them.

"So, how do you like that new hot tub?" Ryan asked.

"It's pretty neat," Randy said. "Just the thing to relax in after a hard day. I would not be surprised that as soon as the last guest gets into their car, Nicole's heading for it leaving every stitch of clothes behind along the way, and I don't blame her one damn bit. Hell, I'll be right with her, and there's no way I had it as bad. What do you want to bet we eat out for Thanksgiving dinner next year?"

"Hell," his father snorted. "If you're smart you'll be off surfing somewhere."

"That might just be the case," Randy agreed. "If Nicole hadn't gotten this bug up her butt to host the dinner, we could be having a good dinner in Flagstaff right now, where we'll be tomorrow."

"I'm glad to see you're getting away a little," Brent, Randy's grandfather said. "I realize it's not much time off, but you've put in a lot of time the last few months, and some of it hasn't been easy."

"No fooling," Randy said, seeing the opportunity to make a point.

Clark Construction was a family business, at least sort of. Brent owned most of the company, but his heart attacks had made it impossible for him to manage the business the way he once had. These days, he only dealt with policy, but stopped in for an hour or so most days to exercise his experience on problems that Randy couldn't handle. Ryan owned the rest of the business, but since he was much more involved with the other family business, Clark Plywood, a much bigger operation, he didn't even try to keep up with the construction end of Clark Construction. He handled several administrative functions – well actually those functions were handled by Clark Plywood staff members. That made a nice backstop if something tricky came up. Randy didn't own any of the business but was effectively the manager, more or less. It really was more responsibility than he had envisioned for himself at this point in his life, and he would have been happy if it had taken another ten years to get there, but that wasn't how things had happened and he had to live with it.

"I've been thinking about some things," Randy said. "I know we don't have a Three Cherries job on the books right now, but I'll bet we'll have one by summer. A little bird told me the other day that if they get held up on this new lodge at the casino, they may work on a ski area. I don't know if it includes a residential lodge or what, but it's apparently nothing that they'll have to go begging to the BIA about. Whatever happens, it's going to be a quick build and hope the architects can stay ahead of the carpenters, so you know I'll spend half my time on the road between here and there. Then the Blair gym is a school job, and that means all those state inspectors. There just aren't going to be enough hours in the day. As soon as I get back from this trip to Flagstaff, I think I'll head up to Northern for a day or two and see if there's some nice bright young stud in the Construction Management department who would be interested in a summer internship. That might, and I underline might, keep me off the road enough to get a few other things done and still get an hour or two of sleep every now and then. I have no idea what it will cost, but from what I can find out, the interns don't expect to get paid squat, so I'll bet it will be under five figures."

"Sounds like a hell of a good idea to me, Randy," Brent told him. "One thing you've got to is to delegate authority and stop trying to carry the whole load yourself."

That just about caused Randy to mess up his pants. Brent had worked that kind of schedule for most of his life, so Randy had just presumed he was expected to do the same thing – and he had, for a number of years. "I'm glad you think so," Randy managed to say. "It's really getting to be a 'got-to' in a lot of ways. Nicole pointed out to me the other day that the reason I came aboard was you didn't have any backup if you got sick or something happened, Brent. Now, you can't work like that anymore, and I don't have the backup."

"You're right," Randy's father said. "I was thinking about that the other day. In fact, I'd almost suggest that you don't just look for a summer intern, that you look for a really good kid who's getting set to graduate so we can get started training him as a backup."

"Good idea," Brent agreed. "In fact, I'd think we can still use a summer intern for running around on the piddly-ass stuff, and just keep getting college kids for the summer. Maybe if a good one comes along, we might want to make more use of him. But yeah, find someone. I know I worked harder than I should have over the years, but part of it was because I didn't have much else to do after your grandmother died, Randy. Like I said about delegating authority – you have to do it, because it was the only way I could ever get everything done, too. I mean, you see what it's like with Don Bailey. Let him do the job he knows how to do, don't get in his way if you don't have to, and try to help where you can. Of course, we have to have people we know we can trust to do something like that, and we haven't had as many come up through the ranks as I would have liked the past few years. That's something you're going to have to worry about in the long range."

Jesus, Randy thought. As much as I've had to worry about that over the years and all I had to do was ask, or just say I was going to go ahead and do it. I wonder how long Brent has been waiting for me to learn that.

"I agree," he said. "That's a problem, and not just in the long range. If we had to do three big jobs this year I don't know where I'd find the supers to do them. Rod is going to have his hands full down in Blair this summer. If we don't have to do a Three Cherries job, then we have someone who can backstop him. But like I said, I think we're going to find ourselves doing a job up on the reservation, and if we do, maybe we ought to think about bringing in someone from the outside to backstop Rod and we can maybe build up to be a super in the future."

"That's not the dumbest idea I've ever heard," Brent replied. "I've always tried to bring people up through the company, but maybe we can't do it this time. We don't have to make a decision now, but you might want to see if you can figure out how you're going to find someone like that if we need them."

"I'll ask around the next few days," Randy promised. "I might be able to pick up an idea or two when I make that run up to Northern."

"Sounds like a good idea," Brent agreed. "This ain't like the old days, Randy. It's gotten a hell of a lot more complicated, and there's a damn sight more paperwork. I'll admit, when you first came into the job, I thought you mostly had book skills and were going to have to learn the way it was really done, and to some extent that's how things worked out, but those book skills were important too. It's going to be your business probably sooner than it is later, especially if my heart keeps acting up, but I think we'll have you about ready to deal with it when it happens. I figured it was going to take years more to do it."

Over time the talk drifted away to other things, but for the most part Randy was paying little attention. Yes, he knew his grandfather was in his eighties and had seriously slowed down over the past few years, but Randy had more or less considered him immortal, or as close to it as you could get. But to be realistic, he probably didn't have all that much longer and was going to be even less help with the management than he had been in the past. Even though this was just an informal bull session on the porch, Randy felt somehow the torch had been passed to him and he'd better be prepared to run with it. That put a different spin on a lot of things, and he wasn't sure that he even knew all the implications at that point.

At the absolute minimum, though, he was going to have his intern this summer, and that would free things up for him – and free things up a lot.

*   *   *

Randy had nailed one thing right between the eyeballs: the minute the last guest was out the door, Nicole made a beeline for the hot tub, leaving everything she wore strewn in her wake. She was down to just her wedding ring as she climbed into the tub, while Randy wasn't sure that the last car had left the driveway. Fortunately, he had anticipated it happening and had the cover off the tub, ready for her.

"Oh, Christ, what a day," Nicole sighed as the first shock of the warm water hit her. While Randy peeled off his clothes in a more leisurely fashion she went on, "Randy, for God's sake, if I ever offer to host Thanksgiving dinner again, you have not only my permission but my order to take me up to the dojo and kick the living shit out of me."

"I'd hope that we wouldn't have to do something that extreme," Randy replied. "Dad did suggest that next year we might want to consider a four-day surfing trip somewhere for Thanksgiving, though."

"Hell, it wouldn't have been quite as bad if it had been either your mother or my mother," Nicole complained. "But both of them, with me in the middle? I wanted to kick the crap out of both of them but couldn't figure out which one to nail first. And you weren't any help running off in the middle of the whole damn show, leaving me to face them by myself. Don't get me wrong, I know you had to do it, but shit!"

Yep, Randy thought. She was wound up all right. "You sound like you need a nice, soothing glass of wine," he smiled, seriously trying to help.

"That sounds good," she said. "Right after I have three or four straight shots of vodka to take the edge off. I mean, holy crap!"

"You seriously want me to get you some vodka?" Randy offered.

"No, I guess I better not," Nicole sighed. "We'll probably be doing enough drinking this weekend to hold us for a while. The wine would be good, though, and maybe some aspirin to go with it."

"I'll go get it," he said. "You just relax. You've earned it."

"Oh, shit yes," Nicole said with more than a hint of exhaustion. "At least I don't have to wonder what to give thanks for on this Thanksgiving. I'm giving thanks that it's fucking over with."

Naked now, Randy headed for the kitchen, where he knew there was a bottle of wine or two in the refrigerator, if someone hadn't been into it over the course of the day. It wasn't the sort of thing he would put past her little brother, who had been a pain in the ass as long as Randy had known Nicole, which was most of their lives. Terry was a senior in high school now, and as full of shit and testosterone as only an arrogant high school athlete could be. Sure enough, there was only one bottle in the refrigerator, and that only about half full. He carried it back out onto the porch with a couple glasses, and reported what he'd found.

"Yeah, that was probably Terry, all right," Nicole said. "I saw him in the refrigerator several times, mostly when I was arguing with one mother or another, and he seemed about half looped when he left. Your typical teenage boy."

"I don't think I was like that when I was a teenager," Randy said as he poured the wine for the both of them. He kept his small, so Nicole could have the majority of what little was left.

"No, you weren't," Nicole said. "You weren't an asshole like him. I don't think he knows what the word 'study' means, and he sure never does any of it. Christ, I wish he had some idea what the real world was like. Do you think maybe you could get him on the concrete crew for the summer, maybe get his ass worked a little?"

"I probably could," Randy said. "But don't forget, I worked the concrete crew two summers, and it's work, no screwing around. I doubt he'd last a day."

"Yeah, you're probably right. Or if he did, he'd be whining to you and me about how he shouldn't have to work that hard, and then we'd be in for it. Forget it, Randy. It was a dumb idea. He'll just have to learn his lesson somewhere else." She let out a sigh, and drained the wineglass, straight down. "Damn, that tasted good," she said. "Please sir, may I have some more?"

"You can, but it's going to kill the bottle," he said. "Then it's going to be either beer or some of that vodka we were talking about."

"Better not do beer," she said. "I don't want to have to get out of this hot tub to take a leak."

Fortunately, Randy had left the bottle within reach, so it was the work of an instant to refill Nicole's glass. Since he hadn't had anything from his own glass, he added the contents to hers. "Guess we'll have to put it on the grocery list," he said noncommittally.

"That arrogant young punk," Nicole snorted. "Christ, I hope he gets a world class hangover. At least I got him once today."

"Oh? How's that?"

"Well, he actually surprised me a little by asking if he and Meagan could use the hot tub. I said it was fine with me, but we had a rule, no swimsuits in the hot tub. He just about turned green at the thought of having to get naked in front of his sisters. Just as well, I don't want him hanging around here bare-assed all the time."

"Kind of a shame," Randy grinned. "I mean, I don't care about him, but it would have been kind of neat to see Meagan dressed for the hot tub."

"Of course you'd say that, you lecher," she grinned. "Shit, she just turned fifteen, and she's more stacked than I was at that age. Don't you realize she's a walking sex crime?"

"Well, OK, in a bikini then. Maybe something like that purple one you wore for me a couple weeks ago."

"That wouldn't be any better," she giggled. "Christ, I look more naked when I'm wearing that than I would if I was naked."

"I think that's the point of it," he laughed. "We could find out which way it really is. Maybe we'll have to invite her over sometime after Terry goes to college. That's assuming he actually manages to go to college next fall, anyway. We could give her the choice between a filter-safe swimsuit or going nude and see which one she chooses."

"Good question," Nicole giggled again. "I don't know which one she would choose. But then, I don't know which one I would have chosen when I was fifteen, either."

"You'd have chosen the bikini," Randy said flatly. "It would have made you look even sexier than you already were. Not that it doesn't hold true today."

"You were a lecher at fifteen, too," she charged.

"No question about it," he smiled. "And come on, face facts, you were wearing bikinis that summer that were only a little bigger than the one we were just talking about."

"Right, and enjoying every minute of it," she giggled. "Especially, the way your tongue hung out all the time. God, we've come a long way since then, haven't we?"

"In some ways," Randy said. "In other ways, I'm just as glad we haven't. My tongue still hangs out when you wear a really hot swimsuit; that hasn't changed."

"And thank God for that," she shook her head. "God, we sure had to do it the long way around, didn't we?"

"Maybe we're both better off for it," he said. "At least to a degree, we got to see what the grass is like on the other side of the fence."

"Yeah, that's true," she agreed. "And I guess I did more than you, but you had your adventures, too. Now, I guess we're all grown up, for what it's worth."

"Yeah," Randy sighed. "I sort of had that brought up to me today. I guess Brent was feeling his age. It almost sounded like they didn't figure he'd be around much longer."

"Well, with his heart the way it is, he could go at any time," Nicole replied, detecting the change in tone of the conversation. Randy wasn't trying to relax her by teasing her any more.

"That's very true," Randy agreed. "He knows it, and I think he was feeling it today. Dad, he and I were out here, just getting away from the football game, and the way the conversation worked around, I figured I might as well mention the idea of getting an intern for next summer. I did it in a way that it was an opening shot, and I figured we'd kick it around for the next three or four months. But Nicole, he hopped on it right now, and went me one better. He said I might want to look for a fulltime assistant as well."

"He did?" she smiled. "Randy, that's wonderful! Maybe we'll be able to have some time for ourselves this summer."

"I hope so," he replied glumly. "I just hope it wasn't his way of telling me he thinks I'll be running the whole show this summer, with a little help from Dad, of course. But I can't help but think that was the message he was trying to get across."

"So what are you going to do?"

"There's not much I can do but get as ready as I can. I'm going to take a run up to Northern sometime in the next week or two; it may turn into an overnight trip. I'm going to look for an intern, but keep my eyes open for a senior who might work out as a fulltime assistant starting next spring, too. If I'm reading my grandfather wrong, so be it, but at least I plan on striking while the iron is hot and before he can change his mind."

"Well, good," she said. "I thought both of us were going to have to battle over that."

"I did, too, Nicole. I mean, I'm glad he bought off on it that easily, but I'm concerned about what it means, too. There's nothing much I can do about it, except be ready when the time comes, and there are a few other things I'll have to do here and there to be ready." He felt like changing the subject, and found a way to do it. "On the subject of ready, are we going to be ready to blow out of here for Flag first thing in the morning?"

"Pretty much," she replied. "The table needs to go back, but that can wait until after we're back. Dad took the chairs with him, so that's done. The mothers and Aunt Jane were pretty good about helping me clean up, but there's probably a few things that still need to be put away."

"Anything that can't wait till next week?"

"Not really," she said. "In fact, we can put it off till next weekend. I figured we'd probably want to decorate for Christmas then."

"Oh, crap," he replied. "There's a pain in the ass for you."

"Yeah, but we need to do it," she shrugged. "Especially, with the guests we'll be having in for Myleigh's wedding."

"Myleigh and Trey are staying here, at least till the wedding, right?"

"Unless something's changed that I don't know about. Crystal and Preach, too, along with Al and Karin, probably Scooter and Jim, too. That's pretty much going to stack the place to the walls. That'll mean we'll have people in sleeping bags although most of them won't mind it."

"Tell, me, please, tell me that you haven't promised to do Christmas dinner for the families."

"I was going to," she replied sheepishly, "But at least I had the good sense to go through this day from hell before I brought up the idea. No, it's going to be Christmas Eve with your folks and Christmas Day with mine. I'm not expecting the Flagstaff bunch until like the 27th or 28th, but I wouldn't be surprised if Myleigh and Trey get here right after break starts. If they're here, we might just want to dump the Christmas dinners with both the folks and just have a quiet little celebration among the four of us here."

"I've spent a few Christmases with Myleigh," he smiled, remembering with real pleasure one in particular back before he'd settled on Nicole. "They tend to be pretty memorable. And, I'll expect that they'll want to get some time in here, what with their house and all."

"You have to wonder," Nicole grinned.

"About what?"

"About how they're going to react to the hot tub rule."

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