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 23

Tuesday, December 25, 2001

Nicole had been decorating the house a little at a time for Christmas ever since Thanksgiving, but she'd put the heavy stuff like decorating the tree off until the week before. One of the downsides to having a house with a front window as big as theirs was that it took a big Christmas tree to do it justice. This was something they hadn't even thought about when they first agreed on the design of the house. They'd only learned it the year before, and it had caused several problems.

The first problem was that there was no door in the house quite big enough to allow a tree as broad as the window called for. Even with the double doors leading out to the beachfront there were limits, and a tree that broad would use up too much of the room. The only possible answer was to come up with a tall but thin tree. Fortunately, one of the advantages of being a Clark in Spearfish Lake was that Clark Plywood owned hundreds of square miles of forest lands in the surrounding area. It was no great trick for Randy to ask his father to get one of the logging crews to look for a tall, thin, well-shaped white cedar and bring it in on a logging truck. Cedars aren't normally thought of as Christmas tree material, but they can make nice ones, and the aroma is intoxicating if not addictive. It wasn't as if the tree was going to waste, because after Christmas it would go over to the plywood plant and be made into closet veneer, so someone else would eventually get to enjoy the smell.

You don't find commercially made Christmas tree stands of that size, but Randy solved that one neatly one Saturday the year before out in the shop at Clark Construction. He wasn't a great welder, but it was no trick to weld up a super-sized stand for the tree. Since like all cedars, the tree had been eaten by deer as high as they could reach, Randy had to trim off over eight feet of butt log with a chain saw before he could attach the stand. The tree was large and heavy with the stand, and more than Randy and Nicole could manhandle, but Clark Construction had a mini-sized travel lift that got pressed into service. It was just small enough to fit through the double doors into the living room, though Randy had to lay out sheets of wafer board so it wouldn't screw up the carpet. The main use for the travel lift was in decorating the tree. While Randy and Nicole were relatively without phobias, neither of them much cared for the idea of teetering on a stepladder fifteen feet in the air, so the travel lift was even more useful as scaffolding to place higher decorations. Though the tree was tall and thin, another problem was that it used up a lot of decorations and still managed to look a little bare.

Randy thought that on the whole, it was so damn much trouble all around that he could do quite well without a Christmas tree, thank you. However, since it was his vote against Nicole's, he was outvoted.

Knowing that they were going to have guests in the house at Christmas, Randy and Nicole had agreed to hold off on the major gifts between them this year. There was still a good pile of them under the tree, many for Myleigh and Trey, of course. These tended to run toward items that would be useful around their new house. A lawnmower was one of them, to which Trey commented, "That's something I hadn't even thought about, that I was going to be back to mowing lawns."

"Goes with the territory," Randy shrugged. "At least you don't have anything like the lawn I have to deal with."

Given that they had guests and with the Thanksgiving debacle, Nicole made the executive decision that Christmas dinner was going to just be the four of them.

While Myleigh or Randy might help out, it was, by God, her kitchen and this time there would be no arguments between the mothers on the proper way to do a turkey or serve cranberries. In fact, there wouldn't even be any arguments about how to do a turkey at all, since Nicole cooked a ham.

It proved to be a happy occasion. In honoring the tradition that Crystal and Myleigh had started, they all dressed up for dinner, Randy and Trey in suits and ties, the women in nice formal gowns. Both of them looked stunning, and it helped add to the wonder of the occasion.

It was not the first Christmas that Myleigh had spent in Spearfish Lake, and wouldn't be the last. The two years she'd been in graduate school working on her doctorate, she'd spent the holiday with Randy and his parents, with Nicole attending at least a part of the festivities. Neither mentioned it, but both Randy and Myleigh remembered the first of those Christmases as the last time they'd made love after their occasional times together for nearly three years. Randy remembered her as a passionate and intense lover, and kind of envied Trey for that. At the same time, he reasoned he'd moved on in his life, and that was the way things were.

Myleigh was remembering those days, too. "I can't help but remember how nice your parents were to me in those days. Especially after Crystal's estrangement from her parents, your home and Spearfish Lake more or less became my spiritual home," she recalled. "This last week we've spent with you has brought the happiness of those days back to me. I know it sounds strange, considering the relatively miniscule amount of time I've spent here, but even when I was alone in Kansas City, I somehow associated Spearfish Lake with home, although I never dared dream that I might someday live here."

"Well, it's good to have you home with us," Nicole said. "I'll admit, I'm looking forward to the day when it will really be your home."

"Yes, only a few more months," Myleigh said. "I fear that it may take some getting used to, but I expect that you will do what you can to facilitate things. Now, if there were some way that Crystal were able to join us, it would really seem like old times. Perhaps, Randy, you might inquire if there might be some sort of a winter position for her at this new ski lodge that you're involved with."

"Hard to say," Randy shook his head. "I know that they'll want to staff it out of the tribe as much as they can, but they'll need some experienced people, too. For that matter, I don't know how bad Crystal and Preach might want to spend the winter here, but maybe we ought to ask when they get here. I somehow doubt it, though, we could suggest the offer. They seem to be set on living their own lives. On the other hand, I don't know what they have planned. They've been married a month now and I still haven't heard a word about them. Neither have Duane or Michelle, at least the last time I talked to them."

"They were planning on being in Flagstaff for the family festivities there, am I not correct?"

"That was the plan," Randy said. "Them, Al and Karin, Jon and Tanisha, Nanci and Kevin, probably a few unattached boatmen as well. They're supposed to fly in tomorrow along with Al and Karin, and be here tomorrow night. As far as I know, they're planning on flying in normally, not the way you guys did for our wedding."

"Ah, yes, that was a bit of an arrival, wasn't it?" Myleigh giggled. "There's nothing like arriving in an executive jet owned and flown by a millionaire prostitute to add to a situation that is already more than somewhat unusual."

"I know you guys didn't plan it that way," Nicole sighed. "But that set the tongues to wagging around town, all right." Whatever else could be said about it – it was the result of an airline overbooking – it was an arrival with flair, all right. Nicole hoped that someday she might be able to live it down.

"It was actually quite a nice flight," Myleigh smiled. "For no reason I can ascertain, I was invited to ride in the copilot's seat, and the view was tremendous, especially when we flew over this house at barely treetop level."

"And somewhere on the far side of three hundred miles an hour. And she went over the house twice," Randy shook his head. "If we hadn't heard you coming I would have thought it was an earthquake. It was so loud, I thought I was going to have to get some fillings replaced. To the best of my knowledge there's nothing quite that spectacular planned for your wedding, but then, things have a way of happening around here."

"They do, don't they?" Myleigh grinned, then shook her head. "It seems hard to believe that our wedding is but a few days off, isn't it, Trey?"

"There is a surrealism to it, that's a fact," Trey admitted. "I still can't quite believe it's going to happen."

"I know how that feels," Randy agreed. "Been there, done that. Maybe Duane, Al, Preach, and I will have to haul you out to a bar Friday night. It's not Flagstaff, but it's about the best we could do for a boatman's bachelor party."

"No, you really don't have to bother," Trey said. "I'll go quietly. The last thing I need is a hangover on Saturday, and I know you guys know how to produce one. I don't think Preach had a bachelor party, mostly because he's Preach, and I know damn well that Jim didn't have one since no one knew he and Scooter were getting married until it happened. All I knew about it was that Karin told me not to waste film; there was more to happen. She kept that whole damn deal about as close to her chest as her brassiere. Crystal and Preach never said anything about it that I ever heard, but I can't help but wonder what they felt about their wedding getting hijacked."

"Aw, you expect those sorts of shenanigans when you're talking raft guides," Randy laughed.

"Besides, where Crystal was concerned, it was payback time. Preach just got caught in the crossfire. They're boatmen, they'll get over it. We'll find out for sure tomorrow night, but I expect they'll have laughed it off."

"I cannot help but wonder," Myleigh said distantly. "I confess, the fact that Crystal has been incommunicado the last month disturbs me to some degree. I should have expected that someone would at least get a post card or something. I mean, I'm used to not hearing from Crystal when she's on the river, and sometimes she manages to get through a break without giving me a call, but I find it incomprehensible that we have not heard from her in this situation."

"I'm not," Randy shook his head. "Remember when she took off on that boat to Hawaii without telling anyone a word about it, and we all went for months wondering what the hell happened to her. I'm used to Crystal getting focused and forgetting about anything else, and six will get you two that she's been focused on Preach when she hasn't been telling Canyon stories in some church basement somewhere."

"You are doubtless correct," Myleigh agreed. "Still, it's disturbing. We have mentioned that Crystal has changed more than we expected from what we remember in our college days. There is a part of me that cannot help but fear that the Crystal that is to walk in the door tomorrow night might well be someone vastly different from what we remember."

"I don't think she's changed all that much," Randy said. "You have to remember that there's another force in play, too, and that's how much she's changed Preach. I mean, I don't expect him to come staggering in here drunk out of his mind or anything, but I can't believe Crystal hasn't loosened him up a little, too."

"Randy, you are correct about one thing. We won't have to wait very long to find out if we are correct." She let out a sigh, and continued, "I cannot rid myself of the vision of a Crystal so changed and straitlaced by Preach's influence as to object to something as salacious as being nude in the hot tub with us."

"I can't believe it," Nicole snickered. "But it gives me an idea. Would you like to have a little fun with them?"

*   *   *

"You two better go get dressed," Vicky said around one o'clock on Christmas afternoon. "I told them to be over here about 1:30."

Vicky and Jason had spent the morning across the back yards, doing the Christmas gift giving. Since Duane wasn't a part of that household, he and Michelle stayed back to work on Christmas dinner, which was now well along, to Vicky's great relief. "I'll come up in a few minutes and see if you need any help."

"We shouldn't," Duane said. "I know my part and I think I can figure Michelle's out."

They headed up to his room. "You're the lucky one in this," he said as he stripped to his underwear. "It takes a while to get all this shit on, much less do it right." He started by pulling on knee socks, then ankle boots that needed quite a bit of lacing, while she stripped to her panties and pulled on the long skirt that Dayna had loaned her.

"This top is something else," she said, looking at it. "These sleeves are huge, and I swear it's cut down to my navel."

"Yeah," he said, lacing up a boot. "You don't wear a bra with that, and the neckline is supposed to just go across your nipples. You can wear the neckline under your boobs if you want."

"You mean, hanging out?"

"Well, yeah, but you won't hang out when you get your corset on over it."

"Corset? You don't actually mean . . ."

"Sure enough," he laughed. "That was what Vicky was talking about needing help. Don't worry, I'll help you. That's a renfaire outfit; it's supposed to look a little medieval. It'll help with the act."

"Well, all right," she said dubiously, slipping out of her bra. The top was voluminous enough that Duane had his boots laced up and had put on a white over shirt by the time she was done with it. "I guess I'm ready for it," she said.

"No big deal," he said, picking up the garment and wrapping it around her. It fastened with a hook and eye arrangement in the front, but the strings in the back needed to be tightened. He took his time with them, getting it quite snug.

"Hey, that might be a little too snug there," she said. "How am I supposed to eat Christmas dinner?"

"It helps with your girlish figure by keeping you from stuffing your gut," he smirked.

"Well, yeah," she shrugged. "Oooof! God, can't you make it any tighter?"

"I can try," he said. "There does seem to be a little slack here . . ."

"Hey, come on! Yeeeeowwww!"

"That ought to do it, I think," he said. "Go look in the mirror while I get started on the rest of this stuff."

"God, I can't breathe," she complained as she walked over to the full length mirror. "But I have to admit, I haven't had a waist this small since I really was in junior high."

While she watched – and occasionally with her help – he pulled on a MacRae plaid kilt, put a sash on over the shoulder, buckled on a sporran and started in on some of the accessories. They included a large belt knife, and throwing knives sticking out of each boot, much like he'd dressed at Crystal's wedding. "Faith and begorra, sir," she said as he finished up. "I must be sure to tell the raft guides how nice you look in a skirt."

"'I tole ya, lassie," he smirked, "Kilt' is wha' happens ta young Irish thralls tha' call it a skirt."

"Oh, good God, it's starting already. You know, when you get right down to it you're just about as bad as your father. Are you going to wear that outfit to Myleigh's wedding, too?"

"I don't know," he said without the fake accent. "I wasn't real happy about being the center of attention at Crystal's and Scooter's, and I don't think Myleigh would appreciate it very much."

"Oh, she'd think it was great," Michelle laughed. "Let's take it back with us, just in case. Maybe you can run it by her ahead of time."

At dinner, Duane's father was dressed in a full-out great kilt, just like Duane, except that his was even more ornate and accessorized, as befitted the patriarch of the clan.

Duane knew Troy and Brittany, and Anissa and Casey well, of course; Troy and Anissa he'd known virtually all his life, and Troy had been his buddy in some of his earlier outdoor experiences. If anything, he knew her mother and father, Mignon and Joe, even better. But he'd seen little of them in the last few years, and they'd all changed. Jason helped by keeping things formal. '"Tis good a' ye ta come join th' repast," he told them as they trooped in the door. "However, 'twould be not less than proper for me to introduce ya ta' his lady, Michelle."

"Master Troy and Lady Brittany," Duane said formally. "'Tis good to cast my eyes upon ye again. Honor demands that I introduce my lady Michelle."

"Master Troy, I am honored to make your acquaintance, sir," Michelle said humbly, getting into the spirit of the thing. Then she took Brittany's hand, and quite formally kissed it. "Milady Brittany, I am also deeply honored to make your acquaintance." She bowed her head slightly.

"Oh, shit," Brittany snorted. "It's thick in here already."

"Thick, Milady?" Duane bristled. "I hae spent many an hour teachin' th' lass the proper way to show respect and courtesy. I expect no less than proper manners from her. I canna speak for your master, but certainly he must demand some propriety from ye."

Brittany rolled her eyes. "Christ, I didn't think anyone could be more full of shit than Jason."

Duane's hand flashed to his belt knife, and hovered within an inch of it. "Sir," he said sharply. "'Twould possibly be best were ye ta ask your lady to keep a respectful tongue in her head."

"I'm sorry," Troy shook his head, not really buying into the act. "You know how she is."

"All too well, sir, all too well." Duane turned to Anissa, Vicky's sister, and her husband Casey. "Master Casey, Lady Anissa," he said, all hint of the flash of anger he'd just displayed gone. "My apologies for the slight contretemps. Those wha' insist on good manners should display them." Again Michelle greeted Casey with a handshake and kissed Anissa's hand. "Pleased to make your acquaintance," Anissa replied, either going along with the gag or not wanting to risk Duane getting pissed off again. Mignon and Joe were just a little more used to the antics that often happened around this household, and with smiles went along with the gag.

"Milady Vicky," Jason said formally. "Have we time for a wee dram ta whet th' appetite before th' proceedin's get under way?"

"Yes, Milord," she replied. "Mayhaps ye would like to sit with our guests whilst I procure th' bottle."

"Nae, Milady," Duane said. "Ye are the hostess here, and 'tis your right ta be wi' yer company. May I offer th' services of my lass ta attend ta th' pourin'?"

"Why yes, thank you, Master Duane," Vicky grinned.

"Lassie," Duane said to Michelle. "I remand ye ta' Milady Vicky. You will display proper courtesy and manners as ye assist her, then ye will return directly to me."

"Yes, Master," she replied as Duane handed Vicky her leash. "Your wish is my command." She rose to her feet and followed Vicky to the kitchen.

"Nae a bad lassie," Duane commented as they left. "She's yet a mite headstrong, but ye expect that of the Hibernians. But with enough applications of the rod she's learnin' proper manners."

"I think you have trained her well so far," Jason opined. "Aye, there are yet rough edges but enough of th' lash will wear them off."

"Aye, 'tis tedious," Duane complained. "But th' results are worth it in th' end."

There was a considerable amount of barely concealed giggles and rolling of eyes in the living room as Duane and Jason continued, in thick fake Scotch accents, to discuss the proper training of maidservants and thralls, how much they should be beaten and other such niceties. In a couple of minutes, Vicky returned to the living room, followed by Michelle carrying a large tray of glasses filled with single-malt Scotch. Michelle served each one, curtseying low with the tray to make the delivery. As was only proper, she served everyone else before offering Duane the next to last glass. "Thankee, lass," he said, taking the glass, leaving one on the tray, as she seated herself next to him.

"Master Duane," Jason said. "Would you care to propose a toast?"

"Nae, Milord," he replied. "'Twould only be proper for ye ta do it."

"Thank ye, sir," Jason replied.

"If it is yer desire, sir," Duane replied. "Lass, ye may take yon glass."

"Thank you, Master," she said contritely, taking the last glass.

"Very well," Jason said. "I should like to propose a toast to bein' together, family, and mayhaps prospective family. 'Tis all too rare anymore."

"Hear, hear," Duane replied and raised his glass.

Duane did not particularly like single malt Scotch, although this was far from his first exposure to it. He knew from a slight discoloration that Vicky's glass contained tea – she was a teetotaler, having been at one time on the verge of becoming an alcoholic. He knew, however, that it was not made for tossing off, but sipping, though tossing it off was about the only way he could handle it. Michelle, however, took a long, slow, loving drink of her glass, savoring the taste with a smile.

One of the mysteries about Michelle – and it was one to her, too – was the fact that she was almost impervious to alcohol. She could get moderately drunk if she downed whiskey like it was beer, which was why she had the justified reputation of being able to drink any two raft guides under the table. The end result was that Michelle didn't drink unless someone else was doing the buying – and willing to buy lots.

"Eeeewwwww," Brittany exclaimed, making a face after taking a little sip of hers. "I don't know how you guys can stand to drink that stuff."

"'Tis but the nectar of the gods," Duane said, shaking his head at the impropriety. He set his glass down on the tray that Michelle was holding out to him, nodded his thanks at her. "I'm sure, Milady Brittany, that should ye be enough of a 'eathen to not care to drink it, that my lass here would be glad to finish for ye. 'Tis a sin to waste good malt."

"Are you sure?" Brittany frowned.

"She's a Hibernian, as I said," Duane shrugged. "While they lack civilization in some ways, they appreciate the taste of good Highland whisky."

"I guess, if it's OK with her," Brittany said.

"Lass, if you will," Duane nodded.

"Oh, thank you Master!" Michelle replied with some excitement. She rose to her feet, then carried her tray over to Brittany, who held out her glass.

She drank it quickly, and started to return to the feet of her master, who motioned that she should assist anyone else who desired. The result was that she downed much of four glasses of pretty serious whisky in about two minutes, but was totally unfazed by it.

Since the atmosphere was so formal, Anissa decided she could open things up and get a conversation going. "Michelle," she said. "Mignon tells me that you're a raft guide, too."

"Aye, she's a raft guide, verra experienced, verra valuable to us," Duane replied for her. "If we should happen to come upon a rapids we cannot determine we can run safely, we send her down first to prove it can be done." Which was the truth in a way, although it never happened. With her experience, if a rapid could possibly be run, she would be able to run it when many other guides might not be able to. "An' bein' a raft guide demands a great deal of liftin' an' carryin'. Many's the time I've seen her don a pack over a hundredweight and carry it miles on a steep trail." Well, actually only once, he thought, and that was downhill all the way, but she was certainly capable of it.

"You're pulling my leg," Anissa shook her head in exasperation.

"Nae, 'tis the truth. Lassie, you may comment."

"It's the truth," she said. "There are places in the Canyon where a mule can't go, so it becomes necessary to carry the mule's load. It is my greatest joy to be doing a mule's work in the depths of the Canyon, or any other way that I can serve my Master."

Eventually, when Vicky's relatives were being increasingly stunned by the surreality of it all, Jason decided that it was time to serve dinner. This was done largely family style in spite of all the role-playing. Duane and Michelle both stayed in character, along with Jason and Vicky, and sometimes the comments were outrageous.

Finally, it was Anissa who broke the impasse. "Duane," she said. "I know you're crazy as hell, I know your dad is crazy as hell, but neither one of you is as crazy as you've been acting all afternoon, and I doubt Michelle is, either."

"Yeah," Brittany said. "It's a hell of an act, but you've just been pulling hell out of our legs."

Duane just shook his head, and turned to Michelle. "Lass," he said. "I fear we hae given our best efforts. Do ye concede?"

"Yes, Master," she said. "But I must commend you on your attempt. It was well done, sir."

"Thank you, Milady," he smiled. "And I'm sure there are junior swampers that will thank you at the end of the next trip as well."

"Yes Master," she nodded sadly. "I'm afraid you're right. But I suggest a double or nothing at another time."

"Aye, Lass. Mayhaps 'twill happen, but I fear yon guests knew me too well." Turned back to Anissa and said with all trace of the fake Scots accent gone. "Yes, we were pulling your leg. We had a rather nasty bet riding on it, which she managed to lose. That is a landmark in Colorado River history, since it's the first time I know of that anyone has taken Michelle on a bet on a goofball stunt. The truth of the matter is that Michelle has a black belt, and if I really treated her the way I've been acting to her, she'd break every bone in my body."

"Oh, no, Master," she smiled. "You treated me with utmost respect considering the position I was assuming. You really did quite well. I think King Shahriyar would commend you."

"I think that Scheherazade would say you did quite well, too," he laughed. "It's too bad they missed the show."

"Good God," Brittany snorted. "Now I know the both of you are crazy."


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