Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
For years, Ryan Clark had allowed himself three cigarettes a day. He couldnít quite break himself of the habit, but figured at that level he couldnít be hurting himself too bad. As people were milling around just before dinner, Ryan said to his son, "Hey, you want to join me for my evening weed?"
"Yeah, I might as well," Randy agreed. He smoked about three a week and he was behind average, but realized that what Ryan really wanted was to talk alone for a minute.
In the summer Ryan usually had his cigarette out behind the garage where there was a nice little patio, but in the winter the garage itself got pressed into service. It was chilly out there, but the air was still enough for the smoke from the cigarettes to rise into the air without being blown around; neither of them said much, until Ryan finally said softly, "Did you ever hear such a crock of shit in your life?"
"Well, not since college," Randy admitted. "And I tried to not hang around with those kinds of people. I donít know how Rachel puts up with it."
"I donít either," Ryan shook his head. "Donít get me wrong, I donít want to see anything bad happen to her, but it sure wouldnít break my heart to see that little bastard get his butt shot off if it didnít involve her. I donít think he has any idea of the kinds of risks heís running or the shit heís talking."
"The hell of it is that heís not alone," Randy said. "Thereís a lot of people like him running around, especially out in California, and it sounds to me like they fill each otherís ears so full of shit that they really believe it."
"Again I have to go back to talking about Wayne Clark," Ryan replied thoughtfully. "Now, what I know about him mostly comes through Dad, who always said that on some levels Wayne was so full of shit it was unbelievable, but in other things, especially his business dealings, he got most things pretty right. His ethic, which I always followed, was take care of your people and theyíll take care of you. Joel seems to think the best thing to do with your people is to screw them for all you can, then get the hell out so they canít hurt you. Hell, I think Wayne would have kicked his ass himself."
"I thought several times about breaking his head," Randy said. "But thatís not what I got my black belts for, and it wouldnít have done any good anyway."
"Wayne wouldnít have had that kind of restraint, on a personal level, anyway," Ryan mused, "Which at times may not have been all bad. Actually, Iím glad we had this afternoon with him. It clarified several things in my own mind."
"Such as weíre going to have to be careful about some things, especially those that could involve him. I still donít want to say anything until after Wednesday, since what happens then could change my thinking a little, but weíre going to have a long talk after thatís over with."
"About him and the company?"
"Well, yeah," Ryan said. "But Rachel gets into it, too."
"I wonder if Ruth found out anything," Randy said.
"Ruth has the idea that somethingís not right with Rachel. Ruth said that Rachel hadnít said anything specific earlier, but that maybe thereís something between the lines to read. She wouldnít tell me what she thinks it is, but wanted to sound Rachel out about it. I think thatís what they did this afternoon."
"Interesting," Ryan said. "I didnít know that. If you find out anything let me know."
* * *
By the time dinner was over with, Randy and Nicole had about all of Joel they could take, and it was pretty clear that Ruth and Dave also felt about the same way. Fortunately, Mike and Abby were acting a little bit cranky, which gave everyone a perfect excuse to head back over to Randy and Nicoleís house in Hanneganís Cove. The kids werenít really acting that bad, but the excuse was worth it; they settled right down when Nicole put a Disney video into the DVD player for them.
While everyone else was watching the video, Randy took the time to call over to Trey and Myleighís house. Myleigh was home, unusual for her on a Monday Ė she had a tiny apartment down near Weatherford that she stayed in by herself on Monday and Tuesday evenings to cut down on the driving back and forth, especially in the winter months. She reported that everyone was doing fine, and that preparations were well in hand for the family-sized funeral dinner set for the next evening. In fact, Crystal and Preach mostly were the ones pulling it together; they were used to preparing big, open-ended meals working with nothing much more than a warped griddle and a gas burner down in the Canyon, and figured that it was going to be a snap in Randy and Nicoleís kitchen. It was good to just talk with Myleigh a bit, to remind himself that he didnít have to put up with people like Joel all the time.
Randy hadnít been off the phone thirty seconds when it rang, almost in his ear. Now what, he thought as he picked it up again. It proved to be his father. "Just one damn thing after another," Ryan told him. "I just got a phone call, and it turns out weíre going to be short a minister for the service tomorrow."
"Something come up?" Randy asked. While Reverend OíConner was technically the family minister, Randy and Nicole only rarely went to church at the Spearfish Lake First United Methodist Church, at least partly because they didnít particularly like the minister that the diocese had assigned there.
"Well, legitimate this time," Ryan said. "He found a patch of ice, fell down, and is in the hospital in Camden with a broken leg."
"Would you believe that I know a Baptist minister who I could easily talk into doing the service?" Randy snickered.
"I had the same idea but I thought it might be better if you asked him," Ryan said. "Preach would do a better job than that OíConner creep anyway."
"OK, Iíll slide over and ask," Randy said. "I need to get out for a minute anyway."
"Good enough," Ryan said. "OíConner didnít know Dad anyway, and I donít think he ever even met him. They offered to have some guy come up from Albany River, but I thought that Preach had at least met Dad sometime or other."
"I know he did, not for long, but he did," Randy agreed. "I think it was when they were here for Thanksgiving the year before last."
"Good enough. Any word on the other thing we talked about?"
"Not yet, and I donít think thereíll be anything till the kids are down," Randy told him. "Iíll go have a word with Preach and get back to you."
"Thatíll be fine. I guess Iíd better go back and be nice."
Randy took a moment to explain to Nicole and the others what had happened, then got on his coat and walked up the street. It was clear and cold out there, with the sun long down. He could see his breath in front of him as he walked, and the stars were like pinpoints overhead. It was nice to just be out, despite the cold. In only a few minutes, he was knocking on the side door at Myleigh and Treyís house.
It only took a minute to explain the situation to Preach, with everyone else looking on. "Sure, itís been a while since Iíve done a funeral, but Iíll be glad to do it," Preach said. "I have to say, after your fatherís off-the-cuff eulogy the other night I found myself thinking about what I would say if I were asked to do it. I really probably ought to sit down and have a few words with your father, but I could do it in the morning."
"Why donít you just call him and work something out?" Randy said. "I feel like Iím in the middle on this one."
"Sure, sounds like a good idea," Preach said. "Why donít I call him right now?"
"Good enough," Randy replied, giving him the number. "Iíll go harass everyone else for a couple minutes while you do."
Preach headed to the kitchen to use the phone while Randy took a minute to talk with the people in the living room. They didnít talk about anything significant but it was nice to have the reminder that they were there. "Sorry this is eating into the time we can spend with you, Crystal," he said after a moment.
"Thatís all right, it canít be helped," she said. "Hey, thanks for asking Preach to do that. I donít think he wants to be a regular minister again, but itís nice when he can do something that touches on it once in a while."
"I have no doubt that he can do a better job than that joker we have at the Methodist Church," Randy shook his head. "Methodist preachers are like streetcars. If you miss one thereíll be another one along pretty soon."
"I think thatís part of why Preach doesnít want to do it as a regular thing," she said. "You get yourself established in the community, and then youíre gone. Itís one thing to be a little footloose, but itís another thing to have to build things up and then tear them up right away. Donít get me wrong, I love Preach as he is, but I donít think I could be a ministerís wife."
"Well, I never thought so either. I think thatís why you and he surprised everybody."
"I keep telling people that it surprises me as much as anyone," Crystal snickered. "But Iím not complaining."
In a couple minutes Preach came back from the kitchen. "Well, thatís worked out," he said. "Iíll have to get with your dad during the day tomorrow and spend a few minutes getting things set up at the funeral home, but it shouldnít be a big deal."
"Good enough," Randy said. "I guess Iíd better get heading back. Weíre going to have to get together when all this stuff is over with and get back to some serious visiting."
"This stuff happens, Randy," Preach said. "We understand. Donít put yourself out over it."
Randy would have been tempted to hang around Trey and Myleighís for a while, but with Dave and Ruth at his house he knew he had to be heading back, so soon was walking back up the cold street toward home.
The strength of the cold air cleared his mind to some extent, to a point where he realized he felt the foreboding of distant troubles, probably involving Joel and Rachel. There was no doubt that he disliked Joel and with good cause, but there was something else there, something he couldnít put his finger on, and that something probably involved why his father was being so secretive about what was going to happen in the session with the lawyer Wednesday. His father clearly knew a lot more than he let on, and if Randy had to guess it would be that Joel was involved somehow. But, the more he thought about it, the more he thought that Ruth might be right when she said something wasnít right with Rachel. From what he recalled of the afternoon before, her reticence gave him the same disquieting feeling. Well, hopefully Mike and Abby would be asleep before too much longer and he might learn something.
* * *
The kids had been asleep for a while, and the adults were gathered around the kitchen table when Randy was able to raise the issue with Ruth. "She didnít really say a lot," Ruth reported. "And there was a limit to how much I was willing to pry. But, she told me more than she told me in words, if you know what I mean. I got the same feeling I get when I see a dog with its tail between its legs. Sheís scared, and I think itís Joel sheís scared of."
"You think heís been hitting her or something?" Randy said, his hackles rising and his voice turning ominous. "If he is, I might have a word with him about that."
"Right before you feed him to the wolves, right?" Ruth nodded, without a trace of humor in her voice.
"Something like that," Randy replied flatly. "We really do have wolves around here now."
"Randy, if I knew that, Iíd tell you, and then Iíd stay out of your way," Ruth replied. "But I donít know that and Rachel didnít say anything of the sort. But sheís scared of him, and sheís scared for Jared, as well. But it might not be anything physical."
"He talked a hell of a good battle this afternoon," Dave observed. "Considering that heís full of shit to the eyeballs. Maybe heís just strapped six ways from Sunday and trying to bluff his way through. She might know it and be afraid to say anything."
"Well," Randy replied, the flash of anger heíd had dying back a little but by no means extinguished, "I could sure believe it, with the line of bullshit he was feeding us this afternoon. I said right at the beginning that if you play with fire like that sooner or later you get burned. But thatís a little different than being downright abusive, although I wouldnít put it past him. He strikes me as the sort of guy who would blame everyone but himself."
"I never figured out what she saw in him," Ruth replied. "I mean, he always struck me as a jerk too, but I guess she saw him as a ticket to the high life."
"So, what do we do?"
"Really, thereís not much we can do. I personally think heís being abusive. I think I can see the signs. But Rachel didnít give me any hint that abuse was the problem. Of course, she could be hiding it for fear of something worse, but I just donít know."
"Iím going to be honest," Randy said. "I told Dad what you told me this morning, and heís going to ask me what you found out. Should I tell him?"
Ruth sat there looking into her coffee cup for a moment. "I wish I could tell you yes, but I canít," she said finally. "I wish you would tell him what I suspect, but I donít have a hint of proof of it."
"Even if Ryan did know," Nicole pointed out. "What could he do?"
"Thatís the rub," Ruth agreed. "If Rachel admitted it or accused Joel of it, thereís a lot we could do, a lot that Dad could do. But if we donít know anything, thereís not much we can do. The problem is that California is so far away that thereís no way we can snoop around and find out. At this distance, if we did find something out it could be too late."
"True," Randy sighed. "I mean, I suppose it would be possible to get a private investigator to poke around a little quietly, but those guys are not like the people you see on TV, and they might not find out anything we could use. If we were a little more solid in our suspicions, well, maybe. But, well shit, I donít know."
"About all I can say is that Rachel knows I suspect something," Ruth said. "Iíll try to make contact with her a little more than I have in the past. Maybe Iíll find out something. She might let something slip, or whatever. She might tell me and not be willing to tell Mom and Dad."
They talked about it for several minutes without getting any further than they had been in the beginning. "As much as I hate to say it," Randy said finally, "I donít see that thereís much else we can do right at the moment. But Iíll tell you this: if something is going on that we should be doing something about, then Iím going to feel awful crappy that we didnít do something when we first suspected it."
"It may be that weíre making a mountain out of a molehill," Ruth agreed. "My gut says no, but thatís just a gut feeling."
* * *
Like the day before, Randy went to work in the morning, with the idea of staying there for a few hours, then heading back home to get ready for the funeral. As expected, Regina had left a pile of pink callback slips on his desk, and that was his primary mission for the morning. But, after a while, he headed out to the bathroom, closed his office door on the way back, and called his father over at Clark Plywood to pass on what heíd learned Ė or actually, not learned Ė from Ruth the night before, along with the conclusions theyíd reached.
"Well, letís just say that I could believe it," his father said after Randy had delivered his summary. "Rachel has been acting, well, unnaturally quiet for her, and that canít help but make me think something is wrong."
"Not complaining as much as usual," Randy said.
"I donít like to say it, but youíre right. Iíll try to get her alone sometime and hint around a bit. If nothing else, maybe I can let her know that we are here for her if she needs us."
"Iíd give a lot to have the Rachel back that we knew before she met that joker," Randy sighed.
"Well, I would, too," Ryan agreed. "But I think too much has happened. At least the suspicion got aired in time for me to make a couple preparations that I was considering anyway. Are you all set for this afternoon?
"About as much as I can be," Randy said. "Iím going to duck out of here around eleven, grab a bite, put on the monkey suit and get over there for the visitation. Iím going to try to keep my mouth shut around Joel and not follow my gut instincts."
"Probably not a bad idea, and I suspect my gut instincts are about the same as yours are," Ryan sighed. "Oh, well, this time tomorrow the worst will be over with. Iíve got some figuring to do. See you later."
"Yeah, a couple hours," Randy agreed. "See you then."
"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen," Preach began during the service, which turned out to be much bigger than anyone had anticipated. There were only a handful of family members there, including the young Jared, Michael, and Abigail, but there was a pretty good crowd of past and present Clark Construction employees there, which made up a lot. There were also a good number of people associated with competitors, suppliers, and former customers of Clark Construction, and a good contingent from Clark Plywood. "I know that not many of you know me, but I happen to be a minister, a friend of the family, and available when Reverend OíConner had his accident yesterday, so I agreed to say a few words.
"I only met Brent Clark a couple times, and each only briefly, but even in those short times I could tell that he was more than met the eye. Mr. Clark was many things to many people, a friend, a husband, a father, and a businessman. The other night, Ryan Clark told a group of us a good deal about his father, and referred to him as a tragic figure, born in tragedy, his married life cut short by tragedy, and from that viewpoint, I suppose itís true.
"But I can tell you that Brent Clark was more than that. Simply, Brent Clark cared. He was a man who cared about his soldiers when he was a battery commander in World War Two. He was a man who cared about the people he had working for him for over fifty years at Clark Construction. He was a man who cared about his customers, doing his best to give them the best job possible at the best price possible. And, he was a man who cared about his community, about making sure that it was a good place to live, that people had good jobs and the chance to have good lives.
"I have heard it said that he was a hard man, but after listening to Ryan Clark the other night, I have come to understand that he was more a distant man, a man who had values that were important to him, values that he pursued relentlessly. In talking with people here, I have come to understand that Brent Clark was a businessman who knew how to make a deal, but realized that the best deal does good for the people on both sides of it. He may have been a hard man who knew how to drive a bargain, but he was honest as the days and nights are long. Iíve not heard it said that he ever gave anyone a bad deal or less than his best.
"Now, I donít want to imply that Brent Clark was a perfect human being, because I think he would have been the first to admit that he wasnít. He had flaws, he had imperfections, and he could hold a grudge if someone abused him. But though he could be a rather distant man, if you treated him well he would treat you well. The other night, Ryan Clark commented, ĎMy father was a very smart man, a very capable man, but a very driven and tragic man. He never had a lot of happiness in his life, only the satisfaction of a job well done.í With all due respect to Ryan Clark, and not knowing Brent Clark very well, I have to point out that happiness is what you make of it, and the satisfaction of a job well done may be one of those points that constitutes happiness.
"But what is not arguable is that for many years Brent Clark was a rather lonely man. His wife Ursula died in a tragic automobile accident in 1959, and as Ryan Clark said the other night, ĎThat was when the light went out of his life.í Iím told that Brent and Ursula were incredible soul mates, and he never quit missing Ursula up till the day he died. While we may remember the loss of this man who has meant much to many people here in Spearfish Lake, we should never forget that his death has accomplished the desire he held for almost half a century. That is, to be reunited with his beloved wife, the half of his life that he missed for many years. Now, they are together again under Godís eternal grace, and we should be happy for the both of them.
"In spite of the decades of sorrow that Ursulaís death brought to him, Brent still cared for his friends, his family, and his community. Her death undoubtedly skewed and twisted things for him, but even so, he held up his values through all of that and carried out his missions in life. One of those missions was to make sure that his creations and his values lived on, that his business would carry on. Much of the last of his life was spent in making sure that would happen, that he could go to rest in peace knowing that what he had built wouldnít fall apart after he left.
"Iím sure there are many here who could tell you much more about Brent Clark than I can. As I said, I only met him a couple times, and then briefly. But those brief occasions taught me that he was a man worth knowing and worth remembering. He influenced a lot of people in his life, and those influences will remain long after my feeble words vanish from memory. I have to say that I envy those of you who knew him better than I did, for itís in you that his influence will remain. There are worse legacies that a man can have."