Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
If he had been given a choice in the matter, Randy would have preferred to sleep in most mornings, but he rarely got the chance to do it. The alarm went off at six o’clock whether he liked it or not since Nicole had to be at school at 7:30. His time of getting into the office was a little more flexible; in theory he didn’t have to be there until eight, but in practice in the summer he had to be there earlier and could let it slide some in the winter. Still, he didn’t think it was fair for Nicole to have to get up and around while he stayed snug in a nice warm bed, which seemed empty without her in it anyway.
He was still half-awake, cursing the alarm clock as an instrument of the devil, when he noticed that the wind noise that had been so prominent the night before had died down significantly. The storm was supposed to blow through in the night, and apparently it had. Nicole’s pregnancy meant that she had first call on the bathroom off the bedroom in the morning. While she headed that way, he sat up, groaned, cursed, farted, then pulled on underwear, a T-shirt, and socks as his concession to the fact that he was going to have to face the day.
On his way over to the closet to select pants for the day, he stopped and took the time to look out the bedroom window, which overlooked the driveway. Preach and Crystal’s car was pretty well buried in snow, six to eight inches of it from what he could tell in the yard light. He could see that the street beyond had been plowed, although it still bore a thin skin of snow; the street crews had been out early. "Jeez," he said loudly enough for Nicole to hear, "It looks like we had a pot load of it."
"I thought so," her voice came drifting from the open door of the bathroom. "It’d be nice if we had a snow day. I could stand to go right back to bed."
"Fat chance," he snorted in reply as he pulled a flannel shirt from a hanger and began to put it on. No real discussion was needed; they both knew that the schools in Spearfish Lake were rarely called off on account of snow. This was snow country and people were used to it.
"Well, I can hope anyway," she replied. "Especially with Crystal and Preach here." A few seconds later the sounds of the local radio station could be heard from the radio in the bathroom. They usually didn’t listen to it, but it was the easiest way to find out if school had been cancelled.
Randy wasn’t paying attention; with that much snow he’d have to be up and moving whether Nicole got to go back to bed or not. He pulled on a clean pair of jeans and began to load his pockets from the dresser. "Guess I’d better go do it," he told her. "It’ll have to get done one way or the other."
A few minutes later he was in the garage. Fortunately, Crystal and Preach had parked to the house side of the driveway, which meant that his Dakota wasn’t parked in. He opened the garage door and skinned a little snow back from under it eyeing the driveway carefully. About once a winter he had to break out his cross-country skis when the snow was too deep even for four-wheel-drive. This time it didn’t look that bad, so he got in the pickup, started it up, took a deep breath, and gunned it. He had about a length and a half to pick up speed, but it was enough. The pickup made it through the fresh snow all right, but when it ran into the berm plowed up by the city snowplow it began to bog down. "Come on babe, you can do it!" he yelled at the truck, and it could – with the last of its momentum it managed to stagger out into the snowplowed street.
About as expected, the streets had been plowed, but not very well at this hour of the morning. Still, it was no problem to make it over to the Clark Construction office, although finding a place to park wasn’t the easiest thing in the world. He didn’t even bother to head into the office, which was still dark in the predawn hours, but headed right out to the big machinery barn, went in a side door, and hit the opener for the big overhead door.
Clark Construction did a lot of excavation work and had the machinery to do it. They preferred to keep it inside when possible during the winter months, which was maintenance time. One of the advantages of being the de facto general manager of the family-owned business was that no one squawked too loud if he used some of the machinery for things other than strictly business.
One of the things that Randy had come to like doing in his years with the company was running the heavy equipment. He didn’t often get the chance to do it anymore – he was management, after all, and since Clark Construction was a union shop, the steward had a tendency to gripe if he used the equipment on a job, unless it was an emergency of one sort or another. Still, Randy did use it now and then, sometimes for practice, sometimes for non-job things, like when he’d donated his time and some equipment hours to grading a new soccer field for the city the previous fall. He’d been able to spend several hours with the big Galion grader then, getting to know how to really use it. In fact, Randy knew how to operate all the machinery the company owned, even if he wasn’t a real expert with any of it. If nothing else, it gave him a feel for what was needed on the jobs the company did.
The piece of equipment Randy knew how to use best was the company Bobcat – a small white skid-steer front loader. It was useful for a number of things, some of which the designers could never have dreamed, and as far as Randy was concerned it was the perfect weapon for removing snow from his driveway.
The Bobcat started right up. He let it warm up for a minute, then ran it outside, stopping to close the doors to the machinery shed, then climbed back over the bucket arm, opened the door and got in the seat. There were several driveways that would need cleaning out, starting with his own, since Nicole would need to have it cleared out to be able to head to school. There was no hope that the Chrysler could make it through that mess, even in the track the Dakota left when it had barely clawed its way to the street.
The Bobcat wasn’t real fast, but it didn’t take much longer to get back over to his house than in the pickup. Cleaning the driveway out was a little more complicated than normal since Preach and Crystal’s minivan was sitting there, but since the Bobcat could swing around in its own length it wasn’t bad. Randy couldn’t clean snow off the vehicle with the loader, but he could clear around it easily enough. As he did, he remembered the days when he had been going to college with Crystal and Myleigh, up at Northern Michigan University in the snow belt around Marquette.
In those days, it just wasn’t worth the trouble for he and Crystal to keep both their cars dug out, so one winter Randy had let his old Dodge Diplomat get snowed in for three months, while they got around in Crystal’s Cutlass Ciera. To be fair, the next winter they’d let the Cutlass get snowed in and got around in the Dodge. A loader like the Bobcat would have been a godsend both years when March rolled around and they finally had to dig the cars out.
Good God, he thought. That was ten years ago! Where did the time go? We have come one hell of a long way in ten years!
Ten years ago he and Nicole had stopped going together – he hadn’t even seen her in over a year, and in fact she’d been engaged to someone else in there for a while. He couldn’t have said he was on the rebound or even looking when he first got to be friendly with Crystal and Myleigh – the two had been so close that being friends with one meant being friends with both. The three had shared a lot together, including their music and even surfing on Lake Superior. Randy had even come to the aid of each of them with his martial arts skills in separate incidents. For a long time he’d thought he might marry either Crystal or Myleigh, but that hadn’t worked out. Ten years ago, he’d never have dreamed that he would have married Nicole instead, nor that she’d be pregnant with their first child. Even though he was still close with both Crystal and Myleigh – the latter especially so since she lived right up the street – he’d come to believe that it had worked out for the best all the way around.
He took three or four more passes with the Bobcat to finish things up, stacking the snow far back from the driveway so there’d be a place to stack more from future storms, then drove the Bobcat up the street. It was only a matter of a few minutes to clean out Myleigh and Trey’s driveway – he saw Myleigh give him a wave from the breezeway; he waved back, and went back to cleaning up the snow, since he expected he’d be seeing her later.
After finishing up with Myleigh and Trey’s house, Randy spun the Bobcat around and headed for Danny and Debbie’s, a couple doors back toward his house. He’d known Danny Evachevski about as long as he had known Nicole, which was to say most of his life, but hadn’t known him well until after Danny came back to Spearfish Lake from Florida a few years previously. Randy hadn’t met Debbie until after he was out of college, but had been impressed with her from the first. A full-blooded Shakahatche Indian, Debbie was a tribal katara, which was something like a shaman, and about as unique as Myleigh in her own right. Danny and Debbie were a few years older, mid-thirties now, but they were all of an age where it didn’t matter like it had when they were kids. Now they were close friends, about as close as Trey and Myleigh.
Danny and Debbie had a boy, Sky, just about a year old, and another kid on the way, due in the early summer. It had probably been their example more than anything else that got Randy and Nicole to thinking about having children of their own. The three couples had hung out a lot together the last few years; Danny had even been on the winter Grand Canyon trip with Randy and Trey the year before. Even though he’d been the only canyon newbie on the trip, he’d had a great time and fit in well with everyone. The guys had been on some other winter adventures together, although that had been the big one; the three couples had also done a number of summer weekends together.
Danny and Debbie’s garage door tended to catch a lot of snow for some reason, and Debbie opened the door when she heard Randy working on the driveway. Like Myleigh, she gave him a wave and he waved back. Again, he’d be seeing her later; the plan was for the Evachevskis to come to dinner that evening.
Having the garage door open speeded the process up considerably, and it only took a few minutes to finish the job. Once he had it done, Randy headed back up the street, stopping to clean out a couple other neighbor’s driveways for the sake of neighborliness – although only ones that wintered over. There were a lot of snowbirds who summered at Hannegan’s Cove, so there was no point in being too neighborly.
That only took a matter of minutes too. That finished up the snow removal that Randy regularly did around Hannegan’s Cove, although he also had a few other places to do. Even though the sun wasn’t up yet it was starting to get light now, light enough to see across the lake. As he headed across town in the Bobcat Randy could look out between the houses and see the tip of the Point, the neighborhood where he was headed next. Beyond the Point, he could see the bulk of Horse Island out in the lake, but the Woodlark Islands were hidden by the bulk of the bigger island.
Still, Randy could see the Woodlark Islands, especially Little Woodlark Island, in his mind’s eye – at least as they had been a little over six months ago, where he and Nicole had enjoyed a memorable couple of days, and where most likely he’d gotten her pregnant. They’d known her most fertile period was coming on, and both of them felt the need to do something a little out of the ordinary to mark such a momentous occasion, something more than the usual bedroom action. Randy had been able to take some time off in the middle of the week, something just about unheard of, and the two of them loaded their sea kayaks with camping equipment and paddled out to Little Woodlark. There they’d been absolutely alone, nearly castaways in a part of the lake that was rarely visited except on weekends. Nicole had only worn a tiny and nearly transparent thong bikini when she’d bothered to wear anything at all, which was only a small part of the time. They’d made love out under the open sky several times, both day and night, and had enjoyed the experience immensely. In spite of having been married several years and having made several trips together, they both agreed that this time together had been the best of all.
* * *
As he drove the Bobcat on down Lakeshore Drive, the lake looked awfully cold and white; spring seemed far away, and it was. Lakeshore Drive near downtown fronted on a beautiful beach. In the summer it seemed alive with people, and even though Randy had been married for a while he usually took the time to scan for swimsuits when he drove that way. There would be no swimsuits seen on the Lakeshore Drive beach today, unless whoever was wearing it had a hole right straight through their head. Today, especially, winter was on them and summer seemed far away.
Lakeshore Drive came to an end just past downtown, and Randy tweaked the steering levers of the Bobcat to head down Point Drive, which had been plowed out about as well as everywhere else in town, which is to say passably, but not perfectly. As much as Spearfish Lake had an upscale section, this was it, even though it wasn’t technically in the town itself, the same as Hannegan’s Cove, where Randy and Nicole’s house was. The houses here were older, and some of them were huge old "cottages" from over a hundred years before, an era when both carpenters and good white pine lumber were cheap. The biggest was the old Wayne Clark mansion, Randy’s great-grandfather’s, a huge Victorian monstrosity with roughly half a zillion rooms, much gingerbread woodwork, and very little insulation. Randy had always figured that it must have taken about a wagonload of coal a day to heat it when it was new. He remembered his grandfather telling him that even Wayne abandoned most of the house in the winter, only trying to heat a few downstairs rooms mostly with waste wood from the plywood plant.
But that was long ago. The house wasn’t in the family anymore, and hadn’t been for over twenty years. It sat empty for several years before some ostentatious fool from Chicago with more money than sense bought it for a summer home, back when Randy was still in grade school. Now it was surrounded in snow, obviously unoccupied as he drove the Bobcat past, glad that he didn’t have to deal with the maintenance.
A quarter mile farther on, Randy came to his parents’ house, the house he’d lived in during his later school years. It was a relatively big house, "Big enough to be comfortable, not too big to be ostentatious," his father had remarked on occasion. While his father and grandfather owned Clark Plywood, they didn’t like to rub people’s noses in their wealth, which Randy knew was more than most people guessed. The house was actually a little smaller than the house they’d lived in on Oak Street in his younger years. His parents bought it when his oldest sister, Rachel, was in college and his next older sister, Ruth, was a senior in high school. Now that it was just his folks living there by themselves, it seemed a little overlarge to Randy, but he had never heard his dad or mom complain about it. They liked it where they were and didn’t plan on moving anytime soon.
One of the things that had been in Ryan and Linda Clark’s minds when they bought the house was that if the driveway wasn’t long it would take less snow plowing. It was still a hell of a job to clean out with nothing more than a snow shovel. Randy knew that from the bitter experience of several occasions when his father had to get to the plant, and the guy with the four-wheel drive pickup and blade hadn’t shown up when he was supposed to. Those days were in the past; now Randy just cleaned it out as a matter of general principle since he had the Bobcat out to do his own driveway.
Randy was about halfway done with the job when the garage door opened; he saw his father standing there as if he wanted to have a word with him. Randy idled the Bobcat, opened the door, and said loudly, "Enough snow for you?"
"Goes with the territory," Ryan replied. "There was a little more snow at the plant than the pickups could handle, so I called Bob and asked him to take the Galion over there."
"No problem, he needs the exercise," Randy said. "That means I’d better get hopping, since they’ll want this thing back to clean out the lot."
"Don’t want to hold you up. Did Crystal and Preach make it in all right?"
"Yeah, before it got real bad." Randy told him. "I’ll give you a call a little later."
"Good enough," Ryan replied as Randy revved up the Bobcat and closed the door; in seconds he was back to moving snow while reflecting that some people might split a gut at the frankly incestuous relationship between the two companies.
Though both Clark Plywood and Clark Construction were independent corporations, the two of them were almost entirely owned by Ryan and his father, Brent. Many years before Wayne Clark had spread a little stock in the company around among some valued long-time employees, about three percent of Clark Plywood, but that was the only outside ownership. Even Randy didn’t own a piece of either business, although it seemed likely that he’d get a chunk of both as a legacy, all in good time.
Since it was virtually all in the family, when interests crossed there was a certain amount of sweetheart dealing going on, since it was mostly moving money from one pocket to another in the same pair of pants. For example, when it was needed, Clark Construction could buy chip board or composition board from Clark Plywood at manufacturer’s wholesale price and without shipping costs, which could make a big difference when bidding a job. Conversely, when Clark Plywood needed snow moved or logging roads graded, they automatically got a better deal from Clark Construction than they would anywhere else.
Just to make life interesting, Randy’s father Ryan was the president of Clark Plywood, but in his spare time was chief financial officer of Clark Construction; Ryan’s father, Brent, owned the construction company but also served as the chairman of the board of Clark Plywood. The whole deal made sense to Randy, who was general manager of Clark Construction, but it would confuse people who didn’t realize just how closely the family businesses were held.
Thinking about it made Randy grin as he cleaned out the driveway a couple doors down the street, owned by his friends Blake and Jennifer Walworth. Jennifer had been Randy’s babysitter a couple of decades before, and now when needed he played bass guitar in their band. Jennifer had become wealthy as a country music singer, and now she and Blake were building new careers as owners of an independent recording and production company. Once again, plowing the snow was a good deed, a friend helping a friend; Blake and Jennifer had done an awful lot for Randy in the past, and it was a way to repay the favor.
It didn’t take a lot of work with the Bobcat to do the heavy snow removal from Jennifer and Blake’s driveway; with that done, Randy headed on about a quarter mile farther, to his grandfather Brent’s house. This was a little smaller than his parents’ house, but set farther back from the road, so the driveway took more work. Brent had lived there for a long time; Randy wasn’t sure how long, but knew that Brent had moved there with his only son sometime after his wife Ursula had died in a car crash in 1959.
It took a while for Randy to dig his way up Brent’s driveway, but soon he was near the garage door. After a moment, Alma Johansen opened the garage door, and again Randy idled the Bobcat to have a word.
Alma had been Brent’s housekeeper for . . . well, longer than Randy had been alive, that was for sure, clear back into the days when his father had been living there. She was in her early seventies, at least that was what Randy suspected. She’d been a widow for about ten years, and after Brent had his second heart attack a couple years before she’d agreed to move into the house with him, mostly so he wouldn’t be alone if another one hit. Randy didn’t think that there was anything romantic between the two, but she and Brent were awfully good friends and had been for many years.
"Hi, Alma," Randy called. "How’s Brent doing today?"
One of the difficulties that had unexpectedly cropped up when Randy went to work at Clark Construction was what to call his grandfather on the job. It had been clear from the beginning that "Granddad" or something like that wouldn’t do. It would be a much too pointed reminder of his kinship with his grandfather, and on the job it could cause problems, even though everyone in the company knew their exact relationship. "Mr. Clark" might have worked, but his grandfather was too informal for that, and besides, if they went down that road, there were three "Mr. Clarks" from three generations involved in company management. In the end, they’d settled on just using first names, at least in public; after several years it had become a habit, especially since Brent didn’t mind.
"Not bad, a little grumpier than usual and I don’t blame him," she replied. "He’s not getting around very well and seems weak. I don’t know if he’s planning on coming in today or not."
"There’s not a lot at the office he needs to do," Randy told her. "I’ve got friends in and probably won’t be around much myself."
"That was what he was saying. Let’s face it, he has some cabin fever and I don’t blame him a bit."
"Me either," Randy agreed. "And we’ve got a lot of winter to go. I could head in and see him for a minute now, but I know Bob is going to want this thing back pretty soon. Tell him I’ll give him a call when I get back to the office."
"He’ll appreciate that," Alma told him. "Try to give him something to think about, to keep his mind occupied."
"There’s not much this time of year and he knows it," Randy nodded. "But I’ll try to think of something. I’ll try to find a few minutes to stop in today or tomorrow."
After they said their good-byes, Randy powered the loader back up and went to work on finishing off the driveway, thinking that it had been frightening how much his grandfather had gone downhill in the past few years. Back when Randy had gone to work fulltime for the company after graduating from Northern Michigan University in 1997, Brent had been active and vital. He knew he was getting on up there, and as a result had tried to teach Randy as much as he could about the business and company, since even in those days it had been clear that Randy would be his eventual successor. Randy figured he’d learned a good share of what he needed to know but hadn’t by any means learned it all. But after Brent’s first heart attack in the summer of 2000, Randy had been forced to pretty much step forward and take up the slack before he felt he was ready to. There had been some tough times and some mistakes made as a result, but these days Randy ran the company for the most part, while his grandfather only gave general guidance and made policy decisions.
But to Randy’s eye, Brent had been sinking fast this winter. He’d not done well the past few years winters, but this year had been worse than normal. Randy knew that sooner or later the whole load was going to be in his lap, most likely sooner than he wished – and almost certainly before he was totally ready for the responsibility. That reality lay hard on him as he finished up the driveway and turned the Bobcat back toward Clark Construction.