Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Since going past his house would be out of the way, Randy took the more direct route back to Clark Construction, staying off Central Avenue but going up one of the paralleling side streets for the sake of avoiding the heavier traffic. It was time to be getting back, anyway. It was all right to play around with the Bobcat clearing his friends’ and relatives’ driveways, but there was real work for the machine to do, including cleaning off the parking lot at the company. That was something Coopshaw would have to do, or perhaps Jerry Evernham, the excavating supervisor; Randy would only get involved if they came up shorthanded, unlikely but not impossible.
The storm had passed, and there would be good light once the sun had gotten up a little. As Randy drove the Bobcat up the street, here and there he could see people out with snow blowers and other tools cleaning away the mess that the storm had left behind; several times he passed people working with blade equipped pickup trucks. Spearfish Lake was a northern town and people were prepared for snow.
As he ran the Bobcat up the street Randy happened to notice a woman in a long coat out with a snow shovel, chipping away at her driveway; it wasn’t terribly long but plugged worse than most. That’s going to take a while, he thought as he drove past, glancing up to see that the woman wasn’t merely older, but downright old, with a deeply lined face. Holy crap, he thought, she’s gonna kill herself trying to clean that mess out. Hell, he thought with a flick of his arms that made the Bobcat pinwheel in the middle of the street. Bob doesn’t need this back that bad. With a touch of the foot pedals he rotated the loader bucket forward, dropped it down to street level and plowed into the intimidating mound of snow in the driveway.
Randy wasn’t as good with the Bobcat as Bob or Jerry, but he could work efficiently with it, so clearing the driveway didn’t take long, maybe five minutes. Soon, he had the job done, except for a rim of snow right up against the garage door – he didn’t want to push into it to fill the bucket for fear of damaging the door. He idled the loader, opened the front door, and called out to the old woman, "If you want to open your garage door I’ll clean that out, too."
"Thank you!" the woman called back, her thin voice barely audible over the Bobcat’s engine. "I don’t know how I could have ever got that done! What do I owe you?"
"Not a thing," Randy smiled. "I see where your sidewalk sits. Do you have any shrubbery or something I’d tear up if I ran the bucket up that and cleaned it out, too?"
"There’s nothing, and I really appreciate it," she replied as she turned toward the garage, amazed that this miracle had come to pass. "Are you sure I don’t owe you anything?"
"No, just my good deed for the day. You take care of yourself." He closed the door, spun the machine, and attacked the sidewalks. The bucket was indeed wider than the slot that had been cleaned out in past storms, so it took a few passes to finish the job well past where he guessed the lot lines might have been. By then, the woman’s garage door was wide open, so he eased the Bobcat up to the door with the bucket rotated all the way forward, and used the back of it to drag the snow away from the door area. It took two passes to drag all the snow away, and a couple more to scoop it up and pile it in a pile to one side as the woman stood there watching. He gave her a little friendly wave, then spun the Bobcat again and headed on up the street.
At the most it could have taken him ten minutes if he’d been looking at his watch, and he hadn’t been. Yeah, a good deed well done, he thought. He had no idea who the woman was, but that didn’t matter. She could have quite literally killed herself trying to shovel all that crap, yet he hadn’t even broken a sweat – his reward had been a few enjoyable minutes more of working with a machine he got to use all too rarely.
A few minutes later Randy had the agile little loader back to Clark Construction. The parking lot had been partly cleared by now, and Randy could see from the tracks and the work that had been done that it was the work of the big Galion road grader, probably Coopshaw’s work, he figured. There was no sign of the grader now, but his father had mentioned it was needed at the plywood plant and that Bob was probably with it. The lights were on in the office, and from the vehicle sitting outside he figured that Jerry had arrived, so Randy settled for making a pass behind his truck where it sat on the street, then parked the Bobcat up by the office.
He was just climbing out as Jerry came out the door, dressed for winter as would be expected. "Figured you’d be out having your fun," he said as Randy clambered over the bucket arm and stepped to the ground.
"Nicole had to get to school, so I figured I’d better get it out of the way before you got your hands on it," Randy grinned.
"Well, no big deal," Jerry shook his head. "I just got here myself. Bob’s got the Galion over at the plant, I figure I better go over and help him out a bit before we clean up around here."
"Might as well, we’re not going to be doing much useful around here today," Randy nodded. "I’ve got guests in from out of town, I think I’ll head back over to the house and be with them a bit before I come to work for real. I’ll have my cell on if you need me."
"Good enough," Jerry nodded. "There ain’t no one else here, lock up for me, would you?"
* * *
Under normal circumstances, the normal thing for Randy would have been to get in his truck and head out to the Spearfish Lake Café out at the corner of Central and the state road for breakfast, and he thought about doing it anyway. However, Crystal and Preach were early-to-bed, early-to-rise types, at least during their working season, and he had no idea if they’d be up yet or not. They weren’t up when he left, which was late for them, but it was possible that they kept different hours in the off season – he just didn’t know. So, the only thing to do was to head back to the house and see. Maybe they all could head out to the café for breakfast or something.
It only took a few minutes for him to put the Dakota back in the garage. The Chrysler was gone from the other side, which told him that Nicole had left for school. It would have been nice if she could have been around today, he thought, but it just wasn’t going to happen – this was the only time that Crystal and Preach were going to be able to make it to Spearfish Lake, so everyone had to make the best of it. At least Myleigh would be around the rest of the week; classes didn’t start up after the Christmas break at Weatherford until next Monday, and then she’d be gone for a couple evenings.
He headed on into the house to find the smell of fresh coffee. Nicole must have left the pot on, he thought; decaf or no, it would taste good, even though it hadn’t been all that cold in the cab of the Bobcat. He peeled off his coat and hung it in the entry closet, and then headed into the kitchen to find Preach there, working on breakfast. "Didn’t know how long you’d be," Preach said. "So I figured I’d get started. I can throw something on for you. Nicole left eggs, spuds, and sausage for us."
"Good deal, I can stand it," Randy said. "You like me to do that?"
"No, I’m started," Preach smiled. "It’s not going to be like it’s much work, anyway."
"If you want to do it I’m not going to fight with you over it," Randy shrugged, getting a cup from the cupboard and heading for the coffee pot. "Crystal up yet?"
"Oh, yeah, she’s in the shower," Preach replied. "After the week we had and the drive up here last night, we decided to sleep in a bit. So how did the snow plowing go?"
"About like normal. It’s something I have to do every few days, so I’m used to it. I cleaned out around your minivan with the Bobcat, but I didn’t clean it off."
"I’ll get to it later. It’s going to seem strange to not have much to do this week."
"You know, I always thought you boatmen just took the winter to screw off," Randy said. "I mean, you’re busy enough in season. But you sure don’t manage to screw off in the winter."
"There are those who get to do it," Preach said, cracking another couple eggs into a bowl that already had some in it, obviously to make more scrambled eggs. "Dave, Mary, Scooter, and Jim are all down in Costa Rica with their surfboards again. It’d be nice to be able to make that trip sometime, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon. Al and Karin, well, they manage to find stuff to keep us on a short leash most of the winter."
Randy knew about that. Since Crystal was Al’s daughter, it was pretty well understood around Canyon Tours that she’d be taking over the management of the company sooner or later, and Al was trying to ease Crystal and Preach into it. Crystal wasn’t very happy about it; she much preferred being a trip leader in the summer months and having the winter months free to mess around elsewhere, doing fun things. But there were things that had to be done for the company off season, things like the outdoor shows, and it meant that Crystal and Preach got more than their fair share of them.
"Goes with the territory," Randy smiled. "I’m in pretty much the same boat."
"Yeah, but you’ve gotten used to it," Preach replied. "Crystal is still coming to the realization that when there’s a show on the schedule she can’t take off and go surfing instead."
"Yeah, but she got her chance to do some of it, a lot of it, even," Randy replied in resignation. It was still a sensitive subject with him, although less so than it once had been. Preach was probably aware of the problems that Randy had with it, but not to the degree that Crystal, Nicole, and a few others knew about it. "Me, one day I was away at college, and the next day I was busting my butt out on a big construction project for a school here. I’d liked to have been able to get out and screw around a bit, do some of the things that Crystal did, but I never got the chance."
"Reality came early and hard for you," Preach shook his head. "For Crystal, it involves breaking habits, and that can be harder. Ask me, I know."
Randy didn’t need to ask about that. One of the things he liked about Preach was his philosophical look at things. He had the capability to stand back and put things in perspective, even those in his own life, with a calmness and wisdom that Randy admired. Though Preach rarely wore his religion on his sleeve, he had been a Baptist minister for several years and still technically was one, on an unpaid mission from Glen Hill Road Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. For practical purposes, however, he’d mostly turned his back on his former life to follow Crystal into a new one. Randy often wondered if it had been less hard for Preach than it would have been to do it himself – something he only even fancifully considered in times of severe frustration. There were just too many good reasons for Randy to stay doing what he was doing. Yet, when the call had come to Preach, he cast aside his nets like Simon Peter and Andrew and followed a new path that was considerably different than the one he had worked toward and followed much of his life. Sometimes it scared Randy to think about it; it would not be easy to turn away from what he had come to believe was his destiny.
"Yeah, he’s not fooling," Randy heard Crystal say from behind him. "You know me, I’d rather be surfing. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. It just seems like now I gotta do it too much. Maybe when the folks get back from Truk, I guess it is, we can get a week or two to go play around in Costa Rica, but Scooter and the rest of them will be back by then, so it wouldn’t be anything like as much fun."
"It’d have to be warmer than it is here," Randy shook his head.
"You know, there wouldn’t be any reason you couldn’t come with us," Crystal suggested. "It’s not going to be so much warmer that you’ll be into construction season. We’re only talking about the tail end of February, after all."
"Not a chance," Randy shook his head. "Nicole will be getting too close to her due date, and there’s no way I’d take off."
"Yeah," Crystal sighed. "Well, maybe another year. There always seems to be something, doesn’t there?"
"Yeah, that’s the way it works."
* * *
For throwing it together and not working too hard at it, Preach put together a pretty good breakfast. The three of them sat around the kitchen table for an hour or more afterwards, talking about one thing and another, often with awkward silences. A little to Randy’s surprise, he found that they had trouble finding things to talk about.
That was a little strange. He and Crystal had been good friends for almost a decade; at one time, for several years, there had been a chance that they might wind up married, although in retrospect Randy could see that it really hadn’t been in the cards. It was the same thing he and Preach had talked about before Crystal had come into the kitchen – Crystal was a free spirit who liked to get out and have her adventures. Randy would have liked more of those kinds of adventures than he’d managed, but he’d always known that he was going to have to be a worker bee. By the time Crystal wound up running rafts in the Grand Canyon, any hopes in that direction had passed. But always in the past it seemed like there had been something to talk about, some catching up to do.
After a while, the awkwardness began to get to Randy. Finally, he made up his mind that he had to do some thinking about it. "Look, you two," he said. "There’s some work I really need to get done at the office today. If I get my act together and head over there now I ought to be able to have it wrapped up by noon or so. Maybe we can call Myleigh and Trey, and have lunch or something."
"You gotta do what you gotta do," Crystal smiled. "I was just thinking that I ought to call up Myleigh and see if she’s up to something."
"Might not be a bad idea," Randy said. He wasn’t exactly shoving the problem off on Myleigh and Trey, after all, since Crystal and Preach had come to Spearfish Lake to see them, too; Crystal and Preach were staying with him because he had the larger house. "See what she thinks about doing lunch. I’ll try to make contact before I head back from the office."
A few minutes later Randy was heading back to Clark Construction, but for once his mind wasn’t on office problems. Back when he, Crystal and Myleigh had been going to Northern Michigan University, they had been the closest of friends for about a year and a half, and had pretty much stayed friends ever since despite some gaps here and there. They’d had a lot of fun and a number of adventures, but now it seemed like it was in the past, out of some different lifetime. Each of their lives had changed an awful lot from those innocent college days when so much that had seemed so important then had since turned downright irrelevant.
Face it, Randy, he thought as he drove across town. Things have changed. Our lives have grown apart, and we’ve grown up. Myleigh was still a close friend, although the relationship he had with her was like night and day from what it had once been, back long before both of them had gotten married, and to someone else. When we get together we never seem to have trouble finding things to talk about – there’s always something of mutual interest, mostly because we see as much of each other as we do. These days Danny and Debbie were closer than Crystal and Preach, mostly because they’re living here in town, while we only see Crystal and Preach occasionally.
We’ve all changed, he thought. We’ve probably mostly changed for the better in one way or another, but things are not the way they once were. And, the change isn’t over with, what with a kid on the way; that’s going to change things more than ever.
* * *
The parking lot had been cleaned out at Clark Construction by the time Randy got there. As he pulled into his regular parking space he noticed it wasn’t a perfect job – that was close to impossible – but the worst of the snow had been removed and there was good access to all the buildings, even if lumps of snow lay here and there. But then, everybody wore boots anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal.
The office was about as quiet as it normally was this time of year. Winters were always a slow period around Clark Construction, although in recent years Randy had been able to schedule a little more work into the winter months, virtually all inside work of one sort or another. It wasn’t enough to keep full crews on, but most construction workers in this neck of the woods looked at the annual winter layoff as sort of an extended vacation while they drew unemployment.
As a result, there were only a handful of Clark employees around this morning; Regina Lawrence, the secretary/bookkeeper was doing something at her desk; Ken Halpern, the draftsman, was back in his office working on something, and Randy’s assistant, Carlos Gutierrez, had his computer going, apparently doing some pricing. Randy hung his coat on the rack in his office and headed in to see Carlos. "So, what are you up to today?" he asked.
"Pricing windows for the Three Pines Phase III ski lodge," Carlos replied.
"Get the good ones," Randy said flatly. "We don’t low-ball them. Windows, especially, if you get a low price there’s something wrong with them."
"Too well I know. A few years ago my dad did a full replacement job for a guy who wanted to bottom feed the price. Dad told the guy the good ones are cheaper in the long run, but the guy thought Dad was just a dumb Mexican and didn’t know any better. In three years the guy wound up having to eat ten grand in replacement windows."
"And blamed your dad, of course," Randy said understandingly.
"Of course. Fortunately Dad was such a dumb Mexican that he had his proposal and the guy’s response in writing."
If Randy had any bone to pick with Carlos, it was that he used the "dumb Mexican" bit a little too often. Carlos may have been of Mexican heritage, but there was also a history of five generations of American citizenship. His family had been in construction all that time, and Carlos wasn’t the slightest bit dumb. Carlos hadn’t been with Clark Construction long, not a full two years yet, but Randy was of the opinion that Carlos was at least as sharp as he was and, though younger, had a better practical depth of experience in construction issues.
Randy had been impressed with Carlos the first time he’d worked with him, almost exactly two years ago when Carlos had been at Clark Construction for an interview while a last-semester senior at Northern Michigan University, Randy’s alma mater. Randy had taken Carlos with him to a construction meeting partly as a second set of eyes, and together they’d discovered an architect trying to pull a very expensive fast one on a good customer, and they’d called him on it. The fact that Carlos had independently seen the same things Randy saw had made a big impression on both of them, and a job offer had been made by the time they got back to Spearfish Lake.
Carlos had gone through the construction management program at NMU like Randy, although it had taken him a little longer since he’d taken several semesters off to work as a carpenter so he wouldn’t have any student loan debt. He was both a sharp businessman and a skilled craftsman; still single, he spent the slow time in the winters hiring laid-off Clark workers to help him with the refurbishment of a house he’d bought on the cheap. Randy knew that Carlos planned on finishing the project before construction season started, and he stood to make a bundle by flipping it. He already had his next project picked out.
"Tell you what," Randy said. "I sure wish we had your dad working for us."
"Yeah, I do, too," Carlos said. "He’d even like to do it, but his health just isn’t up to it anymore."
"Hell," Randy snorted, "I’d settle for him putting his hands in his pockets and just using his eyes and his ears. It’s always sounded to me like not much gets past him."
"It doesn’t," Carlos smiled. "What’s on your work list today?"
"Odds and ends," Randy said. "I want to take one more look at the Jerusalem Paper warehouse bid before we send it off. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I just want to be sure."
"Understandable," Carlos smiled. "I want to get this window stuff sorted out, and then there’s a couple things about this project I want to bounce off you. A couple of them you’ll probably have to bounce off Brent."
"Take your time," Randy replied. "I’ll probably be around till about noon. Brent might be in this morning, but then again, he might not."
Randy headed on back to his own office, stopping to pull out the documentation on the warehouse project again. Like he’d told Carlos, there wasn’t anything wrong with it, but he wanted to give it one last inspection before he ran it by his grandfather, who would ask a couple of questions and order it sent off without further question. While in theory Brent made the final decision, the last couple of years the decision his grandfather made was the one Randy had already pretty well laid out. That made it extra important to be sure he was right, since he’d come to the conclusion that he couldn’t count on his grandfather to catch any last minute errors anymore.
Just to be on the safe side, in the last year or so Randy had turned to having Carlos go over everything one last time before going to his grandfather, just so a second set of eyes could look at things. So far it had worked pretty well, knowing that he could depend on Brent’s experience if he had to. Still, Randy knew that wasn’t going to be the case much longer. The way things were today, Randy made ninety-nine percent of the decisions, but the ultimate responsibility was still at least technically his grandfather’s. That was the way things had always been, and it was hard to believe that someday it would no longer be the way it worked. Like the realization that he was drifting away from Crystal, Randy didn’t feel comfortable with this change that he knew in his bones was coming.