Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Randy and Nicole probably hung around Myleighís house with their friends longer than they should, but it was hard to tear away, knowing that the rest of the day and probably the next few days were going to be a lot more somber. "Itís just too darn bad this had to happen when Crystal and Preach are here," Nicole said as Randy drove the Chrysler across town to his fatherís house.
"Yeah, but this stuff happens," Randy sighed. "I just wonder how the rest of this day is going to go."
It had been a little over four years since Randy had lived at his parentsí house on Point Drive. It was still familiar to him, and little had changed in the time he had been gone. They walked into the kitchen just like always, to find Ryan and Linda sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee. "Would you like a cup?" his mother asked.
"No, Iíve had about all the coffee I need for this morning," Randy said. "Nicole and I went through quite a bit and then we wound up going through more at Myleigh and Treyís. But thanks for the offer."
"I know," his mother agreed. "I feel like I should be doing something useful but thinking it wouldnít be proper to do it."
"Besides, I donít know what we would do, anyway," his father shrugged. "Now that Dad is gone there are things that have to be done, and some of them need to be done pretty soon, but itís just not right to do them until after the funeral. So, about all we can do is put in the time."
"Company stuff?" Nicole asked.
"Yeah, of course," Ryan nodded. "But thereís good reason to not get into some of it now. Look, you two, I donít know how to say this, but donít say much of anything about company stuff between now and that meeting with the lawyer on Wednesday. Whatís going to happen is going to happen, but I wouldnít be surprised if somebody got pissy about it, so thereís no point in touching something off before it happens."
"We havenít said anything to anybody," Randy said. "I mean, except to each other."
"Thatís good," his father told him. "Keep it that way. I might as well tell you that your grandfather and I were keeping you a little in the dark about some of this stuff, but itís to your benefit, and there were reasons for keeping it under the table a little. But I donít want to get into it now, especially with Ruth and Dave due here at any minute and Rachel and Joel coming. I do have to ask, though: is there anything at Clark Construction that absolutely has to get done before Wednesday morning?"
"No, not really," Randy told him. "Really, itís kind of a slow week. Thereís some stuff that has to be done, but it can be put off."
"Put it off until after we get done with the lawyer," Ryan said. "If itís something legal like a bid or a contract, Iíd have to be involved until then since Iím Dadís successor trustee. But we ought to be able to sign the paperwork then and be able to avoid that complication."
"I was thinking about calling in the crew and telling them that weíre going to carry on," Randy told him. "They need to have that reassurance."
"Probably a good idea," Ryan nodded. "Set it for along toward the end of Wednesday afternoon, and we ought to have the worst of the paperwork done by then."
"Iíll tell Regina three oíclock Wednesday," Randy said. "Will that be all right?"
"Fine with me, itís your company, or at least it will be then," Ryan replied. "Randy, Iím sorry we didnít have a few more years to pull this all together but weíre about as ready as we can be, I think. Now, letís shut up about this so it isnít on our minds when Ruth and Dave get here."
"Fine with me," Randy said, but with a relief in his mind that he tried to conceal. Even with the brief word heíd had with his father last night, he still hadnít been sure that Clark Construction would be coming to him. There had never been anything on paper about it, just a handshake agreement. Randy knew as well as anyone else that those kinds of agreements sometimes fall apart when theyíre supposed to be honored. While he hadnít been expecting a knife in the back, circumstances changed, and, as his father had said, heíd been a bit in the dark about the whole thing beyond the knowledge that he would be taking over Clark Construction. And really, heíd pretty much already done so except for the ultimate responsibility that had rested with his grandfather. There was no doubt that things were going to change, and he suspected from the tone of what his father had been saying that they might change more than he had been expecting.
"So, Rachel is coming after all?" Nicole asked into the awkwardness that was filled with the inaudible sound of the grinding of the gears in Randyís head.
"Yeah, and surprisingly enough, Joel and Jared," Linda replied. "They wonít be getting in until tonight. Randy, that means that at least one of your sisters is going to have to stay with you. We donít have enough room for both families with the kids, since Ruth and Dave are bringing Mike and Abby."
"Sure, weíll be glad to put Ruth and Dave and the kids up," Randy replied. Since it was clear that it was Rachel and Joel that his father was being sensitive about, that seemed like a good idea. Besides, he got along much better with Ruth and actively liked Dave, who was the kind of guy hwo didnít mind getting his hands dirty if he had to.
"That will work just fine," Linda said. "Randy, I really appreciate your friends helping out last night, but I think weíd better think in terms of family dinners tonight and tomorrow night. Perhaps you could host a little bigger gathering on Tuesday evening."
"No big funeral dinner, then?" Randy said.
"No big church to put one on," Ryan said. "Ursula may have designed the First United Methodist Church, but the only time Dad was in there after she died was when you two got married. I suppose I could twist an arm about it, but I really donít want to."
"Well, if we want to keep it to family and close friends like Alma, I donít see why not," Nicole said. "I wouldnít be surprised if Myleigh and Debbie and the rest of the gang would be willing to put something together."
"It would help a lot," Linda said.
"Right, we donít have to do a formal announcement, just ask people informally to drop by, sort of like we did last night," Ryan agreed. "I thought that worked out pretty well for the spur of the moment. But, letís not get crazy about planning something right now. With Rachel and Joel being here, along with the kids, we may decide we want to do things a little differently."
When we see how big a pain in the ass Joel is going to be, Randy thought without saying anything, but realizing that he was just about reading his motherís thoughts. Heís really capable of pissing people off, and thereís no point in letting him do it unnecessarily. "Well, this isnít the big city, and thereís no reason we canít be flexible," Randy said, getting in a sly dig in passing at his brother-in-law.
"Theyíre not going to be here until very late," Linda announced, not missing Randyís comment. "We offered to go down to the airport and pick them up, but Rachel said theyíd rent a car in Camden. Iím actually grateful she made the offer, considering the hour when theyíll be getting in."
They talked about various plans and arrangements for no more than five minutes when they heard car doors slamming outside. "Well, looks like theyíre here," Linda said, getting up and going to the door.
It was good to see Ruth and Dave and the kids again. It hadnít been all that long, just since Thanksgiving, but the two were a lot of fun. Ruth was small, with a lot of family resemblance to Randy; Dave was rather rough-cut, with the air of a man who knew what it was like to work outside. He looked big, bigger than he actually was.
Ruth Clark had been an animal lover clear back to small childhood, and had a tendency to collect animals, especially ones that needed tender treatment. As a result, there had been several cats and dogs running around the house for years, all of them Ruthís, until finally Ryan and Linda had to draw the "no more" line. It seemed appropriate that Ruth would gravitate toward being a veterinarian or a veterinary technician, and as it happened the latter finally won out. Sheíd missed her pets in her first years of college downstate, and got an off-campus apartment as soon as she could, just so she could have some of them with her. That reduced the pet population around the Clark household markedly Ė she left a couple of the older and less social cats behind, and the last of them had died only recently.
While she was in college, Ruth was looking for a guy, of course. While she had the usual sort of things she wanted in a guy, one of the absolute had-to things was for him to have an affinity for animals. She got that in spades when she latched up with Dave, who was planning to go back and work in the family dairy farm near Arvada Center, several hundred miles to the south. That sounded pretty good to Ruth, and the two of them started to get along famously.
Ruth admitted some time afterwards she had visions of some sort of an Old McDonald family farm, and even though Dave told her that the family had lots of cows, she had the general idea that it was perhaps fifty or a hundred. It wasnít until Dave took her home for a weekend visit that she learned the truth Ė there were more like five thousand cows all in a huge confined feeding operation that was more of a milk factory than a farm! It was all pretty impressive in a way, if on a much bigger scale than Ruth had ever imagined, but after that weekend she changed her classes around to emphasize larger animals along with cats and dogs.
After she and Dave graduated and got married, they moved back down to Arvada Center, bought a house near the farm Ė no one lived on the property proper Ė and settled in to working at the dairy. Their house still had a number of cats and dogs, along with Mike and Abby, the former now in kindergarten and the latter still a preschooler. Ruth carried her weight around the place as a veterinary and lab technician, as well as doing administrative record keeping. It wasnít exactly what she had planned on doing, but she was happier with it than she could have imagined.
With the two small kids things were pretty much mass confusion for a while. They were pretty wound up from the long car ride, and didnít settle down for much of the evening. Randy was pretty sure he was looking into the future pretty clearly with that one. It was clear that his life was going to be changing with the arrival of their own child in April, and it still scared him a little.
After dinner the Griswolds headed over to Randy and Nicoleís house. The kids were starting to wind down a little by then, and soon were off falling asleep in one of the bedrooms. Once again there was a group sitting by the fire in the living room, trying to be quiet to not disturb the kids.
"Finally," Ruth said, her hands around a can of Coke that Nicole had provided. "Donít get me wrong, Randy, Nicole, I love my kids, but I love them even more when theyíre asleep sometimes. You guys are going to learn what I mean."
"I suspect we will," Randy said. "Then things go crazy, I guess."
"And stay crazy," Ruth smiled. "The heck of it is that time passes so quickly. They were just babies the last time I looked. Next fall both of them will be in school, and before you know it theyíll be heading off to college."
"Well, to quote a friend, when we were being philosophical the other night, thatís part of the cycle of life," Randy said. "Iíve been thinking about that a bit. We can try to deny it, but itís going to happen. Itís getting to be time for Nicole and me to be moving on to the next step, maybe a little past time, but I donít think by much."
"Youíre just now getting to think about that?" she said. "I think of it all the time."
"Not like that," Randy said. "You know, in the last few days the idea has crossed my mind that I need to at least start doing some general planning for retirement. I mean, itís not all that far off, and by the time we get our kids through college itíll be in the foreseeable future. In a way itís not that far off. It seems like it, but it really isnít."
"At least youíre thinking about having a retirement, not like Grandpa," she replied. "He never really did retire, did he?"
"Not really," Randy said. "His heart problems forced him to quit working seriously several years ago, but he never could let things go. He was always thinking about the companies. Iím glad he hung on as long as he did. That gave me just enough of a start that I can think about how Iím going to take over for him."
"So, who gets what, and how much?" Ruth asked.
"I canít tell you, because I donít know," Randy said, mindful of his fatherís request to say as little about it as possible. "I mean, I know a couple pieces of it, like that Iím going to be running Clark Construction, for what itís worth. Thatís going to be a big job. Beyond that, I donít want to speculate. I know Dad told you about the meeting with the lawyer on Wednesday, so I guess weíll find out then."
"Then, I guess we wait," she said placidly. "I just hope you wind up getting treated reasonably well out of the deal. Youíre the one whoís put the time and effort in here."
"Like I said, I donít know and donít want to speculate," Randy told her. "To tell you the truth, there are times that Iíd be almost as happy if I werenít tied here like that. It would be real tempting to be able to just say the heck with Spearfish Lake like you did and go do something else. We have some friends staying here in town this week. They were here for a few days, but moved over to another friendís house when all this came down. Theyíre both raft guides in the Grand Canyon, and I donít think youíve met them. Iíve spent a good deal of time over the past few years being jealous of them for being able to get out and do stuff like that while I had to stay back here and work."
"Jealous doesnít begin to cover it," Nicole said, recognizing Randyís attempt to change the subject. "Downright ouchy at times, and I understand why."
"The hell of it is that I donít know if I could do it, not after what Iíve been through," Randy expanded on his thinking. "I mean, I would absolutely love being a raft guide for a year or two, but Iím afraid that it would get old pretty quickly. Now Crystal, she loves it and really doesnít want to change, but I think I would start getting the itch to do something productive pretty soon. That wouldnít have happened ten years ago."
"That doesnít keep you from dreaming of it, though," Nicole snorted.
"No, and it probably wonít ever go away," Randy replied. "But thatís the kid side of me talking. The father side of me looks at Nicole and tells me to grow up."
"I know what youíre saying," Dave said. "Letís face it, my family has a lot of time, money and history tied up in our operation. Itís a big deal, a bigger deal than a lot of people think, and thereís a pot load of hassles, including wacko environmentalists who seem to think they know more about managing a dairy operation than we do. It really pisses me off since theyíve obviously never seen a cow up close much less shoveled a scoop of manure in their lives."
"Yeah, Dad gets some of those wackos," Randy agreed. "About all they know is that some trees are green some of the time. They absolutely refuse to understand that the vast majority of Clark lands are not wilderness, but tree farms, the same as if the land was used for raising corn or hay. They also refuse to understand that they are private lands, not public lands. Clark lands are more intensively and responsibly managed than the DNR forest lands because the company is running them for a profit motive. Iím just glad I donít have to deal with some of those jokers. I have enough wacko building inspectors to deal with as it is."
That got the stories going. Randy soon had to concede that Dave and Ruth had the better ones, at least partly because Randy was only rarely one-on-one with those kind of nutballs. He had a good stock of secondhand stories heíd picked up from his father about the people who had challenged him over various aspects of the management of the Clark Plywood forest lands. It was clear to Randy that Dave and Ruth had a lot of respect for their animals and the impact they had on the land, and they were both very sensitive about being portrayed as dumb and uncaring by people with little idea of what they were talking about.
Randy and Nicole had been through the Griswoldís dairy and thought that they had things down to a science. There had been some real creative thought put into the whole process, even some of the less obvious aspects. The place was huge, four large barns filled with cattle, all kept in fairly close pens, fed regularly with a balanced mix of food, milked regularly with meticulous computerized records on each cow, along with a number of regular physical checks that made Ruthís veterinary technician training particularly useful. With that many cows there was a lot of manure; cleanup was continuous and handling it was a major problem. While it made excellent fertilizer, if mishandled it could cause water pollution, so manure management was a major expense demanding real expertise. Feed management and milking along with milk shipping had to be handled on a continuous basis. It was a big operation with over forty employees Ė the major employer in their region, and while smaller than Clark Plywood it was not a small operation by any means, especially since if things went wrong they could go very wrong in a hurry.
It wasnít an easy job for Dave and Ruth, and a very hands-on one, so they knew what they were talking about. They enjoyed their work, and while it wasnít something that Randy would have wanted to do, it was something that he could understand, and understand how his sister and brother-in-law could take pride and satisfaction from it.
The evening turned into several hours of very pleasant conversation. The question of the distribution of Brentís assets never came up again, and when Randy and Nicole went to bed both of them were just as happy that they hadnít had to brush the question off again.
Once again, Randy and Nicole were up early the next morning Ė it had become automatic for them. When they got up, they discovered that both Dave and Ruth were up and had been up for a while Ė they were dairy farmers after all, and kept those kinds of hours. They had coffee made, and were sitting in front of the small TV in the kitchen watching Good Morning America. "Boy, that went late last night," Ruth sighed. "I canít tell you the last time we were up till all hours like that."
"Thatís about our normal time," Randy admitted. "Itís pretty much built around when Nicole has to get to school. In the summer Iím often up earlier and she sleeps in, so it makes winters kind of nice when we can be on the same schedule."
"Enjoy it while you can," Ruth told them. "In a few months youíre going to be grateful for a full night in bed. So, what are your plans for the day?"
"Weíre going to have to cut you loose for a bit," Randy told her. "Nicole has to teach, although sheís going to take tomorrow off. I need to head into the office to do a few things. I probably should do it first thing, but it shouldnít take long and I can be back, oh, before noon if you need me here."
"I suppose we better head back over to Dad and Momís," Ruth sighed. "Iím really not looking forward to that. Rachel and Joel should be there by now, and Iíd be willing to bet money that the first thing he says is some wisecrack about our having manure on our boots. Iíve had about all of that out of him that I want."
"He does have a mouth on him," Randy agreed. "It would help if heíd ever done an honest dayís work in his life."
"You can say that again," Dave agreed. "Especially the part about the Ďhonest.í"
"If you want, you could hang around here until I get done down at the office," Randy offered. "Then we could head over there together and I could take some of the stuff he hands out."
"No, weíll take it straight ahead," Ruth shook her head. "I would like to see Rachel for a bit. Maybe I can get her off to the side a little so we can talk without him being involved."
"Maybe Dave and I could get him out of the house," Randy suggested. "We might even be able to get Dad involved in that. I donít know what weíd do, but maybe we could think of something."
"It might work," Ruth agreed. "Iíll see if maybe I can get Dad to work on it, too. Maybe we could get Mom involved, somehow. I really would like to have some time alone with her."
"Maybe you guys could do it the other way," Dave suggested. "You could take Rachel with you to go shopping or something, then that would be the two of you."
"That might work," Randy agreed. "Do you have some reason you want to talk to Rachel alone?"
"Iím not sure," Ruth said. "I talk to Rachel, well, more than you do, I guess. There have been some times sheís hinted at things that it sounded like she really didnít want to say. I donít have any idea what it is, but I sure would like to have a couple hours to talk about it without Joel around. It may be nothing and I may be reading things into what Iíve heard that just arenít there. But if I donít do it now, I donít know when I might get the chance again."