Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
One of the nice things about having the huge windows in the great room facing to the east was that Randy and Nicole could be treated to some spectacular sunrises when everything was right, which included being up in time for them. Since they were so far north and Daylight Savings Time got involved, in the summer it was usually well after sunrise before they got up Ė but this time of year the way their schedules worked they often had a nice sunrise to greet the day as they ate a light breakfast together.
They didnít have to get up early on Saturday several days later, but they were creatures of habit and didnít need an alarm clock to get them going at their usual time. Preach and Crystal werenít up yet, so Randy and Nicole were able to share a really spectacular sunrise by themselves, starting with low clouds in the distance being lit from below by the sun that was still below their horizon. Then, as the sun got closer to rising, a spectacular sun pillar developed, rising straight and bright in the bitterly cold air that came with the clear nights that followed the passage of the storm. They just sat at the kitchen table, taking it in while sipping at coffee, not talking much, just enjoying the show the sky was putting on for them.
As Nicole watched the upper limb of the sun just beginning to poke above the horizon, she said, "You know, sometimes this winter stuff gets awful long, but every now and then a sight like that makes it all worthwhile."
"Yeah," Randy agreed. "We get gray and gloom and glop often enough in the winter, but that almost makes up for it. Crystal and Preach may have all the sights of the southwest and the Grand Canyon, but at least we have stuff like that now and then."
"It looks like itís going to be cold all day," Nicole observed. "Do you still think you want to head over to Three Pines with the gang?"
"Well, if weíre going to get over there with Crystal and Preach, we about have to do it today or tomorrow," he pointed out. "I could have gotten free for a day this week, but I know you wanted to go along, and there was no way to do it without you taking off from school. I feel like we ought to do something while theyíre here besides hang around and shoot the shit."
"I donít know how much Myleigh and Trey will want to go with us, as cold as itís going to be," Nicole pointed out. "Neither of them mind getting out and skiing a little if the weather is fairly pleasant, but itís going to be pretty chilly today."
"Yeah, probably a little beyond what they would consider fun," Randy agreed. "All we can do is ask. They might like to go along just to hang out in front of the fire in the main room in the lodge. In fact, as cold as it is we might be spending a fair amount of time there as well."
"Thatís what I mean, maybe itís not worth the effort. But I suppose you want to show it off."
"Thereís that," Randy admitted. Clark Construction did a lot of work at the Three Pines reservation, meaning mostly the resort complex, which included a lot of work on the golf courses, which were buried in snow, and on the casino. The casino didnít really interest him except as a construction project, but in the last couple of years the tribe had also been working on a multi-phase development of a big new ski resort. Clark Construction had done much of the design and most of the construction. The first yearís work had been the basic ski runs, ski lifts, and supporting buildings, with a temporary warming shelter and an administration building, but last summerís project had been the core of the big new ski lodge, which opened only a couple months ago. Randy really did want Crystal and Preach to see it, just to give them an idea of what he did and what he really could do.
"How about Danny and Debbie?"
"We can ask," Randy said. Like Myleigh and Trey, Debbie and Danny were pretty much beginners as skiers; they could get out and enjoy themselves for a while, but were nowhere near as avid as Randy and Nicole, or Crystal and Preach. However, Danny and Debbie were North Country kids, used to the kind of cold that they would be facing today, so that might enter into the equation a little. "All they can do is say itís too damn cold out there for them."
"Iím not too sure itís not too cold out there for me," Nicole protested, "at least for that sort of thing right now. But I agree, we ought to do something outside with Crystal and Preach, or else theyíre going to think weíre going soft on them."
"Well, arenít we?" Randy smiled. "Iím not trying to be sarcastic, either. I mean, here we have our big, comfortable house that we take a lot of pride in, and theyíre still sharing the girlsí house in Flagstaff with two other couples, and that house would fit in our great room with space left over."
"This one reflects our priorities," Nicole pointed out, remembering the evening with Nellie a few nights before. "Their house reflects theirs."
"Yeah, maybe I was being sarcastic," Randy admitted, a little abashed at the realization. "But you know, Iíve thought about it more than once the last few days. We are drifting away from Crystal and Preach in more ways than one. Weíre a lot closer to Myleigh and Trey, and to Danny and Debbie, than we are to Crystal and Preach."
"It was bound to happen," Nicole said. "We donít see them often enough, and we donít have the common interests or the shared experiences with them that we used to have. We spend a lot more time hanging out with Myleigh, Trey, Danny, and Debbie than we do with Crystal and Preach. In fact, you really havenít spent that much time with her since you left college. Thatís getting to be a long time ago, Randy."
"Yeah, youíre right," he agreed. "And I guess it was bound to happen, even though I donít want it to be that way."
"Well, me either," she said. "Crystal and I share a lot, even a few things that you and I donít share, like the Appalachian Trail. Weíll always be friends and compatriots, but I doubt weíll ever be close like that again. I donít think that is going to happen, unless they move up here and get some kind of real jobs. I really doubt thatíll ever happen."
"Yeah, not unless something really weird occurs," he nodded. "If they ever leave the Grand Canyon itíll be to buy a sailboat and sail around the world or something."
"Thatís a lot more likely than their moving here, and itís still not very likely."
"Youíre probably right. But still, I hate the thought of them slipping away from us. I wouldnít be surprised if we donít see them again for a while. Years, probably."
"It wouldnít surprise me. And I hate the thought of it too, but I guess it was bound to happen. So, what do you think about skiing?"
"Maybe we could wait till afternoon," he suggested. "It might warm up enough to be a little more tolerable. We could take the skis and snowboards along, but if we get up there and it turns out itís still too cold, we could just sit around the lobby, maybe have some coffee or something and come back. Maybe make a few runs, maybe not."
"It seems like kind of a waste, but yes, if weíre going to get out with them at all this trip, itís probably our only chance. Why donít we wait till they get up, bounce the idea off of them? Then we can see if Myleigh and Trey want to go with us, or Danny and Debbie."
* * *
It turned out that Danny and Debbie were planning on going to Three Pines that day anyway, but not to the ski lodge. Because of her being a tribal katara, they put a lot of time into cultural activities there, something that Danny didnít begrudge, but joined enthusiastically. Although they didnít know the details, Randy and Nicole were aware that Danny was studying the Shakahatche language, and was fairly fluent in it Ė he was the only white on a list of something under four dozen people who spoke it at all. Danny and Debbie were also deeply involved in transcribing and annotating the journal of a missionary who had worked among the tribe well over a century before. It was an immense job that ate up a fair amount of their free time, but one they approached with a great deal of enthusiasm.
Between her literature and her harp, Myleigh also had other free time interests, most of which Trey lent support to Ė but the chance to spend a rare afternoon with Crystal overrode those. That got the group down to a size that would fit in Trey and Myleighís minivan, which had a load of skis and snowboards strapped to the top.
It was close to an hourís drive over to the ski lodge at Three Pines, a trip that Randy was very familiar with considering the amount of work that the company did there. There had been times in the past that he had been over there every day, weekends included, for months on end Ė sometimes to just spend a few minutes coordinating something involved with the construction, but sometimes for lengthy meetings. Even in the winter, when construction slowed to less than a crawl, he usually was over there at a minimum of every other week, and in fact had been over for a half-day planning session for Phase III of the ski lodge project two days before. Needless to say, it was a route that he knew like he knew his way around Nicoleís face, and for once he was glad to sit squeezed in the back seat and let Trey do the driving.
Randy and Nicole had been among the first to ski the intermediate hill back in the planning stages of the ski lodge, almost a year before there had been a ski lift there, and they had thought at the time that it made a very nice run. Theyíd also been among the first to ski the advanced hill, opened only this winter, and it was a challenging run that Crystal could handle with them, but not Trey, Myleigh, or Preach. So, with the exception of a single run to show the place off, they stayed with the intermediate hill.
The weather had warmed up considerably since sunrise; it was not bitterly cold, just bracingly cold, but the six of them got in a couple good hours before deciding to head into the lodge for coffee and hot chocolate. It gave them a chance to warm up in front of the big log fire that was always going in the lodgeís main room.
"You know," Crystal teased Myleigh, "back when we were at NMU, I never thought Iíd see you out on a ski run. Never. Ever. And wearing pants, no less."
"Well, ski pants," Myleigh pointed out, her language somewhat unrestrained since she was among friends. "Even a purist such as I would have second thoughts about wearing a skirt in such an endeavor. And even though to my surprise I have come to enjoy an occasional excursion to the snowy slopes, I still consider it near the limits of insanity to be making a run such as we have been doing whilst wearing but a string bikini. I am aware that you accomplished that insanity more than once."
"I still do it every now and then. "Scooter and I did it back in November, out in Flag."
"Neither of them exactly have what you would call bikini bodies," Preach observed. "Scooter in a string bikini, well, thatís a little beyond words to adequately describe. Crystal at least looks athletic. Scooter just looks solid."
"Myleigh, you should try it sometime," Crystal teased. "I know you look good in a bikini, and youíd find it downright invigorating."
"Oh, boy, here we go," Randy grinned, leaning back in the soft lounge chair to enjoy the give-and-take. "This has all the signs of being a classic Crystal and Myleigh exchange." Heíd seen any number of the teasing battles in college; the two were good at it and knew exactly how to play off of each other. They were among his favorite memories of those days.
Just then a loudspeaker sounded. "Mr. Randy Clark, Mr. Randy Clark, you have a call at the front desk, Mr. Randy Clark."
"Now what the hell?" Randy frowned, the possibility of watching Crystal and Myleigh go at it shoved to the side. "Whoever it is, couldnít they have just called me on my cell phone?"
"Do you have your cell phone turned on?" Nicole retorted. "For that matter, did you even bring it with you?"
"Of course I brought it with me, I canít get along without it," he said, pulling it out of his pocket and pushing the "on" button. "Hell," he frowned, "Batteryís dead."
"Maybe you better go over to the front desk and see what itís all about," she suggested.
"Yeah, I guess," he said, levering himself out of the chair and heading toward the desk. "Somebody must really want me bad to call me here," he said as he left his friends.
It wasnít far over to the large lobby desk. There were several people working behind it as he walked up and said fairly loudly, "Hi, Iím Randy Clark."
"Oh, good," a young tribal woman said. "You can use the phone just to your right. Iíll switch you."
"Fine," he said. He walked over to it, and it rang in a couple seconds. He picked it up and said, "Randy."
"Randy, Iím glad I caught you," he heard his mother say. "Alma just called. Brent had another heart attack, and it sounds like a bad one. Your dad is on the ambulance, and theyíve got the Medevac helicopter coming to take him to Camden. Before he left he told Alma to call me. Iím just leaving now to take her down there. Iím expecting that Iíll pick your father up before we leave."
"OK," he replied, thinking a bit before saying, "I guess Iíd better talk it over with the gang before we head back. Youíll be on your cell, right?"
"Yes. If youíll keep yours on I can call you with any news."
"Batteryís dead and I know I donít have a charger with me. I donít know if Nicole has hers or not. If we go back home, Iíll give you a call before we head out."
"Sorry to ruin your fun day, but I thought you ought to know."
"No, you did the right thing; this is something I need to deal with. Iíll check with you as soon as we know what weíre going to do. Maybe one of us has a working cell phone."
"Thatíll be fine," his mother replied. "Iíd better get moving."
Randy hung up the phone with a bad feeling. There was more in that phone call than what his mother said, maybe more than she even knew.
Brent had had a bad heart for several years, causing several heart attacks. Being a volunteer EMT, like his father, Randy knew more about heart attacks and emergency protocols than most people, and knew that a transport to Camden General was the standard procedure for a heart attack. Both Randy and Ryan had agreed that it seemed likely that Brentís heart was going to get him sooner or later. Sooner had seemed more likely than later for a while, now.
With a heavy heart of his own, he headed back over to the group, where, as expected, the Crystal/Myleigh tease was going full bore, but it ended abruptly when he walked up. "Something important?" Crystal asked.
"Yeah," Randy replied with a downcast expression. "Nicole, it looks like Brent had another heart attack. Theyíve got the Medevac chopper coming to take him to Camden General."
"Oh, darn," Nicole said. "Thatís not good, is it?"
"No way," Randy said. "Our advanced life support unit with a paramedic aboard is pretty good for stabilizing a patient on a trip to Camden, but if they think they need the speed of the chopper, itís not good at all."
"You think maybe weíd better go?"
"Yeah," he sighed. "Look, everybody, I hate to screw up the ski trip, but I think we should."
"Itís only the right thing to do," Preach said. "Fun is fun, but duty is duty, too."
"Iíll go get the van and meet you out front," Trey offered. "Letís get things gathered up so we can get on the road."
"Anybody got a working cell phone?" Randy asked. "Iíd better call Mom back."
In a few minutes they were all in Trey and Myleighís minivan, heading back to Spearfish Lake. What had been a fun, lighthearted day had been turned into something heavy, and while there was talk, there was none of the laughter and teasing that had marked the trip up to the ski lodge.
"Randy," Crystal asked at one point, "I guess I never asked, but why is it that you guys donít have a hospital in Spearfish Lake?"
"There used to be one," Randy explained. "They had to close it about the time I left for college. It was just losing too much money, and there were a number of reasons for that. The nearest hospital being sixty-five miles away is a pain in the butt, but thatís what we have to work with, so I guess we have to like it. At least when the hospital went down, they decided to beef up the ambulance service. It comes close to filling the gap in emergencies, because for something like a major heart attack they would have just taken someone to Camden in the first place. The old Spearfish Lake hospital wasnít really set up to handle that kind of thing. At least now, we can get someone to Camden with better support than they used to have in those days."
"Youíre still an EMT yourself, arenít you?" Preach asked.
"Yeah," Randy said. "The system we have now is that we have one paid paramedic on duty at all times ready to make an advanced life support run, with another one on call. One or two EMTs ride with them, or make basic life support calls without the paramedic. Dad and I are actually on the reserve lists, we donít get put on the call list unless the primary EMTs arenít available. That happens sometimes. We have a lot of EMTs in Spearfish Lake, at least partly because Dad and Brent give bonuses to employees who take the training and keep their cards current."
"I seem to recall you telling me one time that you were the one who dreamed that up," Crystal observed.
"Well, yeah," Randy said. "Construction can be dangerous and so can working in the plywood plant. Weíre pretty hard-nosed about safety, but people do get hurt, and at least that way we have a better reaction time."
It seemed like it took forever to get back down to Spearfish Lake. Trey stopped the van in front of Randy and Nicoleís house. "Donít bother with the skis and stuff, you guys," he said. "Iíll unstrap them and haul them inside for you."
"Thanks, Trey," Randy nodded as he got out of the far back seat of the van. "Thatíll help. Nicole, weíd better get right going."
"Iíd better use the bathroom," she said. "And Iíll grab my cell phone."
"While youíre doing that Iíll grab the charger that goes in the cigarette lighter," he replied, and turned to the others. "Sorry this day had to end like this, you guys. Weíll let you know what happens when we know."
"Good enough," Crystal said. "First things first."
"Crystal and Preach," Myleigh said, "why donít the two of you come on over to our house? Iím sure that we ought to be able to find some way to amuse ourselves for the afternoon."
A few minutes later Randy and Nicole were in her Chrysler, heading for Camden. They could talk more easily there than they could in the relative noise and open space of Myleighís minivan. "I canít say this was unexpected," Nicole commented.
"Well, me either," Randy agreed. "Letís face it, weíve all been expecting it for a while. Heís eighty-four with a bad heart. When you get right down to it heís actually hung on for longer than I expected."
"If he doesnít die, the odds are that this is probably the end for him in the company anyway, isnít it?"
"Pretty much," Randy sighed. "Not that heís been that involved the last couple of years anyway. But heís hung on long enough that I can probably carry on for him. I couldnít have done it five years ago, maybe not two years ago. Back when we decided that I was going to go into the construction company we hoped that I would have ten years at a minimum to learn my way around. We havenít had that, not quite, but I guess Iím about as ready as Iím likely to be."
Randy and Nicole had been down the state road from Spearfish Lake to Camden many times, so many that it was almost disgustingly familiar. This time the trip seemed to drag, mostly because it seemed pretty likely that there would be bad news when they got there. In spite of driving pretty fast, as much over the limit as Randy dared, the snow-covered countryside seemed to inch by, and the towns seemed like they would go on forever until they could get back up to highway speed. Like his father, Randy smoked a cigarette occasionally and he really wanted one now, except that he didnít have any with him and wouldnít have stunk up Nicoleís car in any case.
Both of them had their cell phones turned on, but there was no ringing on either of them. Any number of times one or the other of them started to call Randyís mother, but realized that it might not be a good idea.
Finally they hit the four-lane south of Moffat and picked up a little speed, which lasted only until they had to get onto city streets and head for Camden General. Randy had been there with an ambulance crew many times, so he was familiar with the place. As soon as he got into the parking lot he headed right for the emergency room entrance and parked in the nearest place he could. The two of them piled out of the car and headed inside. Randy was about to head for the admitting desk, but decided to look in the waiting room first, and there he found his mother and father, looking pretty grim. Alma was fighting back tears. "So?" he asked.
His father just shook his head and groped for words before saying, "He didnít make it off the chopper. We were just waiting for you to get here."
"Damn," Randy shook his head. "Dad, Iím sorry."
"I am, too," Ryan agreed with a sigh, putting his arms around his son. "It happens to everybody, and I guess I knew this was coming, but I was hoping that this wouldnít be the time."
"I was, too," Randy agreed as he pulled his father close, just sharing their mutual sorrows.
"So," Nicole said quietly after a couple minutes, "what happens now?"
"Iíve already contacted the funeral home," Ryan told him. "Everything was pre-planned years ago. I guess we head home and start calling people. I better be the one to call Rachel and Ruth, while you need to call the people from the construction company."