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 20

Saturday, December 15, 2001

As things turned out, Saturday was a great day for skiing. The overcast and threatening snow moved out overnight, leaving a clear, bright winter day, if on the chilly side. There was nothing wrong with that; both Randy and Nicole were northerners and were used to cold weather. Skiing and snowboarding on a day like this held the prospect of the day being enjoyable, as long as business didn't get in the way too much.

Randy and Nicole left for Three Pines before the crack of dawn, which came late on this winter day. Considering that it was intended to be at least partly an evaluation, there were both skis and snowboards in the back of Randy's pickup. The drive up to the reservation was fine, while Nicole and Randy talked about several things. It had been arranged to meet Norm, Tom, and a couple others at the restaurant in the main casino for a brief breakfast meeting so that Randy and Tom could get to know each other a little and discuss plans.

Randy didn't mind the casino; he'd been there before, even though he'd never dropped so much as a quarter into one of the "one armed bandits", which were all electronic now in any case. Even considering the hour, the place was moderately busy, and the dinging and whirring penetrated the restaurant. Randy had been a little concerned about Cornplanter, at least partly from not knowing him; he suspected he might have been hired for the job because he was an Indian, rather than because he knew anything.

In any case, Tom proved to be quite different from what Randy had expected. He was older, for one thing, about forty to look at him, and in a few minutes Randy found out that he'd been in the business for years, and had only recently decided to branch out as a ski resort specialist. He seemed to know what he was talking about, and was genial and talkative, so that made things a little easier. Randy was afraid that his own relative youth might be a little off-putting and wished for a moment he'd brought one of his superintendents with him, Rod or Don or someone, but the chance for that was past, and he had to make do. Early on, Cornplanter said, "Norm told me that you people did this building. Nice work."

"We prefer to do nice work," Randy told him. "I wasn't actually with the company when this part of the building was built; it was done before my grandfather came down with heart trouble. I've been involved with a lot of the work around this complex, though."

"Clark Construction has been our primary builder around here for years," Norm explained. "There have been times we've had to get into a project without clear plans, and they've always come in ahead of schedule and under budget. We trust them and work well with each other. I'd be very reluctant to get into a project of this scale and this time frame with a builder we don't have that kind of relationship with."

"That's good to know," Tom nodded. "Have you ever had any problems?"

"Not really," Randy said. "We had one job a few years ago, where we had some construction workers sneaking off to play the slots when they were on clock, but my superintendent and I put a stop to that real quick. I don't mind if the guys play them on their own time, but not on ours."

"What Randy didn't tell you was that all he had to do was make a couple threats to have his word stand," Norm laughed. "Don't let this little shrimp fool you. He has more black belts than he has waist, and there's nobody, and I mean, nobody on a construction site who will fuck with him. Except maybe for the superintendent he was talking about, who has about the same number of black belts."

"Is that the superintendent you're going to be using on this job?" Tom asked.

"Not at this point," Randy shrugged. "We're planning on him doing a new school gym down south of here this summer. He and his crew are more steel and masonry oriented, and I'm guessing you don't want this ski resort to look like an institutional building."

"I hope not," Tom smiled. "Nothing's settled yet, but right at the moment we're sort of thinking about doing a log building. Do you know anything about them?"

"We've done logs off and on over the years," Randy said. "I have a superintendent who's familiar with the style, and if we really get stumped, so to speak, we can still call my grandfather in for a consultation. He's forgotten more about building with logs than you or I will ever know."

"Are there any examples of your work with logs that I might be familiar with?"

"Hard to say," Randy shrugged again. "There's several places I could take you. The place we're proudest of is a place called 'Commons', which is about an hour east of here. It's been in several architectural books; the one I have is Great Log Structures of the Midwest. It's over fifty years old, but it was my grandfather's and Clark Construction's first big project. My grandmother's, too; she designed it. We did a major renovation last year that we're fairly proud of. You can't tell the new work from the old."

"I've heard of the building," Tom replied, visibly relaxing. "I guess I knew it was around here. Do you think that there's a chance I could see it sometime?"

"I'm sure it could be arranged," Randy said. "A close friend is the chairman of the board of directors. They close it down entirely for the winter, so I'm sure it would be cold in there and nothing would be plowed out, but I could find a dog team if we wanted to go check it out."

"No rush," Tom smiled. "I suspect we'll have the chance. I think we're going to have plenty to do today, anyway. I think I'm going to enjoy working with you."

As soon as they were finished with breakfast, they headed out to the proposed site for the ski lodge, which was in a narrow valley about three miles from the casino complex. The half dozen of them gathered around their vehicles while they waited for the promised snowmobiles to show up. "Yeah," Randy commented. "This is where I was thinking you were wanting to put this. You've got a pretty nice, open slope for an intermediate hill that's not going to require a lot of grading and finishing, a potentially good spot for a bunny hill, and plenty of room for the lodge and parking with some room for expansion. On top of that, with a lot more site preparation you've got a couple potentially good advanced runs on either side of the valley, and more room farther on down if you want to expand some more."

"You read it about like I read it," Tom said. "The road access isn't particularly good, but it's better than the other sites we've considered. There are a couple places where there could be a somewhat superior hill, but with more site preparation and not the room for expansion. The only thing is that the last time I was here it was all bare ground, so I'd like to know what it's like to ski."

"Well, I guess we're going to find out if those guys with the snowmobiles ever show up," Randy said. "And I hear snowmobiles off in the distance. I don't know if those are our guys or not."

"Norm," Nicole said. "I've got a question, if you don't think it's out of line for me to ask."

"I doubt you would ask it if it was too far out of line," he smiled. "What is it?"

"Randy has been telling me for years about the projects over here, so I know quite a bit about the hassles you've been going through," she said. "How come you guys have had so much trouble with the government over the new lodge or the lodge addition down at the casino, but not with this?"

"You answered it. It's at the casino, so every nanny bureaucrat thinks they have to have their fingers on it because they obviously know better than we do," Norm replied sarcastically. "Otherwise, they wouldn't be the bureaucrats and get to throw their weight around. We've never had any static about the golf courses, which are as big an investment and almost as big a revenue producer, because they don't involve gambling, at least in an organized sense. Same here. It's not the casino, so we've already had general approval from a different office. Of course," he grinned, "That doesn't mean we're not going to have shuttle buses running continually between the two."

The answer satisfied Nicole. Randy had often wondered about the same thing but hadn't bothered to ask. Randy knew that twenty years before, the Shakahatche had been about the poorest tribe in the Midwest, and if it hadn't been for the casino and resort complex it still would be. The Shakahatche had the advantage of watching the mistakes that other tribes had made and had learned from them, so that was all to the good. Debbie Elkstalker had lived through much of the change and improvement, and had talked about it to Nicole and him in the hot tub the other night; there were still many improvements needed in the tribe, for a few lush years don't wipe out generations of deprivation and poverty. But the changes were coming, and not everything was hinged on the gambling. "I'm guessing you're talking about getting the logs from your mill," Randy observed. "Are they going to be able to supply everything?"

"Should be able to," one of the others in the group said – he'd shown up at the gathering a little too late for the round of introductions. "We've been stockpiling a little, and we've got some fairly seasoned stuff stacked up and ready to mill. It's not impossible our orders could increase this spring, but we could put on a second shift if we had to."

"You run the mill?" Randy asked.

"Yeah, I'm Larry Elkstalker. "I'll put up our quality against anyone's in the Midwest, and we should be able to save some bucks on this project," he replied. "Are you going to be able to cut us a deal on composition board?"

"We get a special rate," Randy smiled. "It has something to do with my dad making the stuff, and being a part owner of Clark Construction. It sure helps out at bid time."

"I'll bet it does," Tom laughed. "It's got to be nice when you can keep it in the family like that."

"It cuts wholesaler and shipping costs," Randy shrugged. "In this business it'd be foolish to turn down an opportunity like that."

"Are you any relation to Debbie Elkstalker?" Nicole asked. "She lives down in Spearfish Lake, we're good friends with her and her boyfriend."

"She's a distant cousin," Larry said. "Of course, on this reservation everyone is a distant relation to everyone else."

It proved that the snowmobiles that Randy had been hearing were the ones coming for them. There were half a dozen or so, mostly driven by men who had worked on construction jobs in the past. Randy recognized most of them, although he didn't always know names. One of the reasons that Clark Construction got a lot of business out of Three Pines was that they hired people from the reservation whenever possible. His grandfather had told him that in the past the skill levels and work ethic of the workers had been pretty poor, but those days were gone, too. A large part of the Clark crew were skilled trades people from the reservation, and the company was still involved with some special apprenticeship programs in the winter months. This was also a reason why Clark Construction had an inside track with projects at Three Pines.

"Well, let's go check it out," Tom said. "I think we'd better take it a little conservatively at first. After all, these aren't groomed runs, yet."

"Yeah, I think I'll take the first run or two on slats, rather than on the board," Randy said.

"You go ahead and be conservative," Nicole said. "I don't get the chance to snowboard a virgin hill very often."

"Suit yourself," Randy shrugged.

Getting up the hill on snowmobiles turned out to be a little cumbersome, as Randy had figured it would be. The hill was steep enough that the passenger had to hang on very tightly, which made it difficult to hang on to skis or a snowboard. Fortunately one of the snowmobilers had brought a trailer sled, something like a dogsled, and wound up hauling everyone's gear up the hill at once. The drivers kept well off to one side of the hill, where they wouldn't carve up the skiing surface, and they managed to keep things moving reasonably smoothly.

The hill was indeed virgin snow, smooth and loose, the kind of things that dreams are made of. It was not the well-packed and groomed place that it would be later. Randy's first impression was that it was a little ambitious for an intermediate run, but reasoned that a groomed hill might not be as bad.

After a couple runs, he switched over to his snowboard, like Nicole. For as much free time as Randy had in the winter, he didn't get out on the slopes as much as he would have liked. It had been nearly a year since the last time he had been out on the snowboard. His skills were a little rusty, and he took a couple of tumbles, but nothing he couldn't get right up from and continue his run.

The skiing and snowboarding went on for an hour or so before Tom called them together at the bottom of the hill. "I think it ought to be pretty darn good," he said. "I can see there are some moguls we'll want to shave down and a few other things. It shouldn't be a lot of grading. What does anyone else think?"

"I think you're going to have a pretty darn good ski hill here," Randy said. "For an intermediate hill, I think it ought to be pretty good. Of course, it's going to be the advanced hills where you'll make your reputation."

"I agree," Tom said. "Right at the moment I'm looking at that little dip in the opposite valley wall for the first advanced run, but there's going to have to be a lot of wood taken off of it before we could ski it. Larry, do your crews do logging on a hill that steep?"

"They're not my crews; they're independents," Larry told him. "But some can handle that kind of slope. Randy, what's grading it going to be like?"

"Heavy equipment, on a slope like that?" Randy frowned. "It can be done, but it's not going to be real easy. I'll have to talk to my grading super. That's getting a little out of my field of expertise. We probably aren't going to be able to give you a real answer until we can see it with the snow off."

Several other people offered comments, but for the most part they were very favorable. There were possibly a couple better sites for the ski lodge, but they were much farther away from the casino, and the road access was much worse. After it had all been talked around, the general agreement was that this was a very good spot and the slopes were good. "As long as we're out here, we might as well do a little more skiing," Tom said. "Then we can head back, have some lunch, and kick things around a bit. I've got a pretty good idea of what needs to be done here, but I'll tell you right now, it's going to be a lot of work. All of us are going to have to get rolling if we're going to have it open this time next year."

The skiing went on for another hour or so – still good skiing – and Randy suspected that this wasn't the last time he was going to be spending time on this slope. It was hard to quit when they called a halt, but this really was a business trip after all. Finally, they wrapped it up; the snowmobilers headed back where they came from while the rest of them loaded ski gear into and onto their vehicles.

Lunch was back at the casino, and it was a working lunch in every sense of the word. After some discussion, Randy was starting to look at his watch; it was mid-afternoon and he had to be thinking about getting back when Tom summed it up: "I think I've learned about what I could learn today. Since the holidays are coming up, none of us are going to get much done. I think what I need to do is to head back to Denver and try to get some of my ideas on paper, at least some renderings, and maybe some rough floor plans and site plans. We're not going to be able to finalize everything about the site plans until the snow is off, but we've got more than enough to get started. I should have time to do that by the end of the month, even with the holidays. I think that we need to have a meeting, most of us, right after the first of the year to iron out some details. Randy, you might want to bring some of your people so we can get their input, too. I'm thinking we're going to want to put two or three days into it so we can iron out what we can before we get started on this thing. Anything we do now is going to be something we don't have to do once the snow is off."

"Right," Randy agreed. "I think it's going to be about the only way, if we're going to do this before next winter. Norm, without even rough plans I'm not ready to sign a contract with numbers in it, but I'll certainly commit to the job assuming we can work out some numbers."

"I figured you'd say that," Norm smiled. "Even with only doing first phase work, I think this is going to be the biggest single job that you've ever done for us."

"No question about that," Randy agreed. "And good grief, there are any number of details that need to be worked out. Just as a for instance, you're talking about at least two ski lifts. Those are very specialized, and you're going to want to come up with a company that does that kind of work because of all the special materials involved. I don't know how much involvement we're going to have to have with it, whether you guys deal with them directly or we bring them in as subs, or what."

"I pretty well know who I want to do it," Tom said. "The only problem is that I haven't talked to them to see if it can be done in a reasonable time frame. They might want you to do some of the work, like the piers, but I don't know and won't know until I can talk with them. That's why we need a meeting. What do you say the third and fourth, and we can carry on into the weekend if we need to?"

"It's about going to have to be something like that," Norm said. "I'm leaving for Washington on the sixth along with some of the council members to have another fight with the BIA over the new casino lodge."

Randy rolled his eyes. The surfing trip to Buddha and Giselle's had just taken a shot through the heart, and he knew it. "Well, I'd planned to be in Florida that week," he conceded reluctantly. "But given the tight time schedule a little vacation shouldn't be allowed to hold things up that much, so I guess I'll have to cancel it." He glanced up at Nicole, to see a stony expression on her face. This was going to be trouble and he knew it. "I'm sure this meeting is going to cause me a lot of work, and that's fine," he added. "But I have another vacation scheduled at the end of January, so I'll give up the early January dates if we can keep the end of the month clear."

"That should work," Tom said. "I should have things far enough along by the first of February so you can get started on estimates and like that, but I'd say be ready to work when you get back from your vacation."

*   *   *

"Darn it, Randy," Nicole said just about as soon as they were in the truck to head back to Spearfish Lake. "I'd really hoped that you could go on that surfing trip, but I guess it's off now, isn't it?"

"Not really a whole lot of choice," he frowned. "Not when it's presented to me like that. I'm sorry we won't be able to go, babe, but it's not a total loss. We stand to make quite a bit of money on this project. I can't say how much yet, but Norm knows we're not in business to take a loss."

"Yes, but you deserve the chance to get away!"

"Hell, I know I do," he said as he flipped on the turn signal for the turn out of the casino parking lot. "Why do you think I threw in that quid pro quo about leaving the end of January free? That means that I still have a chance to make the sailing trip. Are you sure you can't take off? It would be neat to have you along."

"In theory, I could," she sighed. "In practice, I caught enough hell about taking off last spring that I really shouldn't. Besides, Randy, I've told you a hundred times, you deserve to have a trip without me once in a while."

"And I've told you a hundred times I'd really rather have you with me," he said, shaking his head. "Look, I'll be honest. Somehow I never could quite believe that the surfing trip was going to come off. Besides, there's always the chance the surf could be lousy. We'll be seeing Crystal and Preach for a few days anyway, along with Al and Karin. Scooter, I'll be seeing on the sailing trip, so that's not quite as important and it's not like she's that close a friend, anyway. This isn't like that other deal that came up. That meeting would have been worthless, didn't mean a damn thing, and we all knew it. This one is important, and if I went to Florida a lot could happen, the least of which is I'd spend most of the time worrying that I should have been here for this meeting."

"But Randy, it's just not fair!"

"What's fair?" he shrugged. "At least I'm getting used to it. I don't like it, but I've come to expect it. I sure as hell don't want to get balky with the tribe about a week's surfing trip and have them decide they want to talk to Solkow-Warner or someone like them. Hell, Solkow-Warner would bid way low and take a loss just to get their foot in the door. We're not done building up here yet, not by a long shot. There are at least two summers worth of projects near enough to taste, not counting this one. I'll tell you what, Nicole, I don't want to lose our good relationship with the tribe because it could cost us an awful lot in the long run."

"Oh, I understand it," she sighed. "It doesn't mean I have to like it."

"I don't like it, either," he said. "I'll tell you one thing, next year we do something special over the holidays, and that's a given. Preferably somewhere way the hell away from here, and I plan on leaving my cell phone and laptop at home. Nicole, the dam is starting to break, at least a little. I told you about the Gutierrez kid. If he comes I don't know how much his being here is going to free up my summer, but it should at least a little bit. We'll have to wait and see."

"Do you think he's going to come?"

"I hope so," Randy shrugged. "In fact, if I hadn't left his number on my desk, I'd give him a call right now. Tom just about gave me fair warning that he's going to have a number of his people at that meeting on the third, so I'll want to have some of ours there, too. If I can get this Gutierrez guy up here on the second, maybe he can sit in on the meeting for a day or two. It'll give him a better idea of what he's going to have to deal with and will make our contingent look a little stronger."

"I suppose," she said. "It would allow him to get here before his father gets operated on. I just wish it had worked out that we were going to be at Buddha and Giselle's."

"I do, too," he sympathized. "You know, it was real nice to head down there when we were kids and didn't have a care in the world. It was fun to surf all day, then sit around a campfire and shoot the shit most of the night. I'm going to miss that, in a way. But, I think we've got to get real, and that includes the fact that those days are behind us, like it or not. I'd like to go down to Buddha and Giselle's, but not at the expense of a real vacation somewhere else or work stuff that really needs to be done. You get right down to it, I think we've gotten past hanging around down there a little, too. I like the camping out and the primitive stuff all right, but I think there are other things we need to be thinking about doing."

She shook her head. "You seem to be taking this awfully well," she sighed again. "The last time that trip blew up, I thought you were going to start breaking things."

"Like I said, the last time the trip blew up, it was for no good reason; I knew it and they pretty well knew it, although everybody had to be straight faced about it. This time, it really means something. Like I said, Nicole. Given a choice, I would rather go to Buddha and Giselle's with you, but given a chance, I'd just as soon go somewhere else with you in that time frame. It's just that the surfing trip got planned a long time ago. It's important to spend time with our friends, but we're going to manage it in spite of everything. We may not be able to do it as much in the future, especially with Crystal and Preach, so we'd better make the best of it while we can."

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To be continued . . .

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