Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
"Matt," Ryan Clark said at ten the next morning. "I guess itís up to you."
Spearfish Lake didnít have a lot of attorneys, but most people agreed that Matthew Schindenwulfe was the leading one. While both Clark Plywood and Clark Construction occasionally used specialist attorneys for various things, Schindenwulfe got the majority of the legal business from both companies. Therefore it was logical that he would handle the details of Brentís estate, and that this meeting would be held in the conference room of his downtown office.
Randy leaned back in the comfortable chair around the polished mahogany table in a room filled mostly with shelves of law books, and a few art objects to break the appearance up a bit. It was obviously an important room, or at least a room where important things took place. It was both warm and intimidating. Well, now we find out what Dad has been so secretive about, he thought. He glanced over at Nicole, who had taken off from school this morning to be here by his side, and looked around the room. His parents were there, of course, along with Ruth and Dave, and Rachel and Joel. Everyone appeared interested in what Schindenwulfe was about to say Ė well, everyone but Joel, who looked a little perturbed at something, like he had to be there at all, or had to be forced to wait for what was about to be said. Even though Randy had no idea of what was going to happen, he could imagine that Joel was going to be less than happy at the outcome. But then, Randy thought, he would be unhappy at getting anything less than the whole ball of wax, and if there was one thing Randy was sure of, it was that was the last thing that would happen.
Too bad, a vagrant thought crossed his mind. If Rachel and Joel did get the whole ball of wax, including the construction company, heíd be out from under it. Maybe he could go and run rafts down the Grand Canyon then, or maybe do something like Nellie and Harold had done, sail a boat around the world. But that wasnít going to happen, and he was dead sure of it.
"All right," Schindenwulfe began. "I suppose Iíd better explain to everyone that this isnít a formal reading of the will, like you see in the movies and on television, because Brent didnít have a will, per se. After he had his first heart attack several years ago, he called me in to update the will he then had. It was, to use the terms we lawyers use, a mess. He explained to me the general form of what he wanted to accomplish with his legacy, and his will didnít do a good job of it at all. After a great deal of discussion, we decided to move his assets into a living trust, which would assure that his legacy would be disposed of as he wanted.
"Now, a trust has a couple advantages, in that it can more clearly state the goals and objectives of the decedent and can be more easily adapted to deal with the changes in assets as time goes on. Since itís a trust, it doesnít have to go through probate and all the delays and uncertainties that involves. Thatís important, since some of Mr. Clarkís assets need ongoing management, which would be stalled if we had to go through probate. It would cause particular difficulties at Clark Construction. If his death had come at the height of a busy building season everything could come to a halt for months, with obvious consequences.
"Mr. Clark could see the danger of that, so we spent some time working out the details of the trust. Some of those details were worked out with Ryan Clark, who has been designated as the successor trustee. Since the trust has been in operation for some time, Ryan, you will be able to distribute your fatherís assets as he desired today. For the benefit of everyone else present, Ryan and I have spent some time working out the details so that the necessary paperwork can be signed today."
That was a surprise to Randy. He had figured that it would somehow be months before all the details would be complete. He stole a glance at Joel, who seemed about equally surprised that things would take place so quickly.
"Actually," Schindenwulfe said, "with that much said, I could pass the ball over to the successor trustee to announce the distribution of the assets, but Ryan asked me earlier to give you the outline of it. If anyone has questions, weíll try to answer them as we go along."
"You can do it," Ryan said. "You and Dad worked out the general shape of things. Iíve only helped with some of the details."
"More than some of the details, we couldnít have done it without your assistance," Schindenwulfe replied. "To begin with, Brentís primary concern was Clark Construction. In actual terms, at the time of his death, the decedent owned a total of ninety-six percent of the shares in the company, the balance being held by you, Ryan, and Mrs. Clark. Although some of the others here may not be aware of it, you and I know, of course, that you and your father swapped shares of Clark Construction and Clark Plywood back and forth from time to time over the years for tax purposes. Youíll recall that when the trust was set up, it was decided to concentrate all but that token amount of ownership back in his name, just to simplify things when this day came. It was his intent that all of the shares of Clark Construction be left to Randall Clark, who has been the de facto manager of Clark Construction for some time. The taxable valuation of the real and personal property involved with Clark Construction is considered to be about $2.7 million, exclusive of any assets and liabilities that may have incurred. Those liabilities will include a considerable tax bill as a result of the death duties involved, but the assets include sufficient funds to cover the taxes and still leave a reasonable operating margin to ensure the ability to continue the company for the foreseeable future."
"I hadnít been aware of the exact numbers," Randy replied. "But that was about what I expected." Actually, Randy thought that the value of the company was low at 2.7 million, but he was mindful of what heíd told Nicole, that the value was a fuzzy thing that could be interpreted in different ways by different people.
"I know your father has probably told you this, but your grandfather also told me that he was fully confident in your ability to continue to operate Clark Construction successfully. He was appreciative of the great deal of time and effort you put into learning how things are done out there, and to supporting him in the final years when he couldnít give the attention to the business that he had done in the past. Iím telling you that because of the fact that compared to your sisters youíre getting a share of his assets that is somewhat disproportional to the assets your sisters are receiving. You put your time and interest here, Randy, and youíre being rewarded for it."
Randy relaxed considerably. Heíd gotten about what he had expected; he had been concerned that he was going to get a much smaller share of the company, but being tagged as the manager, which would have been a headache, at best. But, no. Clark Construction was all his Ė well, all but the four percent held by his parents. He stole a glance at Joel, whose frown had become a scowl. Whatever Rachel received, it was going to be less than the 2.7 million taxable valuation plus whatever heíd received, and Joel knew it. Inwardly, Randy grinned to himself. Heíd have bet good money that when Joel had heard the number of 2.7 million heíd already figured out how to spend it.
"Turning to Rachel and Ruth," Schindenwulfe said. "I should probably explain that Brent didnít leave a large cash legacy for anyone. He was not one to keep money tied up in cash when it could be put to better uses. Over the years, when he had spare money he put it into land investments. Due to his connection with Clark Plywood, much of that land investment was in forest lands, which provide a long-term, sustainable investment. Just as a point of information, he liked to buy up lands that had recently been cut over, and plant them in such a way that they provided sustained yield. The rule of thumb for such forest lands today, which are in a growing state but not yet ready to harvest, is that they are worth an assessed valuation of about a thousand dollars an acre."
Holy shit! Randy thought, trying to keep his expression impassive. Did I hear him right? Thereís a fast one going on here!
"The net worth of those lands grows as the trees mature," the attorney continued. "Right at the moment in my opinion the land youíre receiving is probably not worth that much, but in ten years or so, if properly managed, in todayís market theyíll provide an ongoing income of a hundred to two hundred dollars an acre in perpetuity. Ladies, if you want to discuss the proper management of those lands, you should probably talk to your father, since heís much better versed in it than I am."
"Excuse me, counselor," Joel piped up, at least halfway respectfully. "How much land are we talking about?"
"Approximately two sections each," Schindenwulfe told him. "Mrs. Lancaster will receive about fourteen hundred acres, which is the larger of the two parcels. Thereís a full legal description of it in the folders I have for each of you. Mrs. Griswold gets a slightly smaller section, which includes Brentís former hunting cabin, which is in good shape if on the primitive side. Brent specifically made that legacy because he knows that Mr. Griswold is a deer hunter, and thatís good deer country. Again, thereís a cash legacy attached to each one of those thatís earmarked for transfer fees and taxes. However, if you should decide to sell the land, any transfer will have to wait until after a title search is completed."
"So, youíre saying land worth about $1.4 million?" Joel asked, sounding interested.
"Itís probably not worth that right now but will be in time," Schindenwulfe explained. "Iím afraid I have to refer you to your father-in-law on that."
"Letís get to that later, Matt. Weíre wasting your time if we get into forest management right now."
"I suppose," Schindenwulfe smiled. "Weíre through the majority of it now, anyway. Brent decided to leave his house and the sum of a hundred and fifty thousand dollars to Alma Johansen, who had been his housekeeper for many years and companion for the last of them. That includes any furnishings and other items, less any sentimental items to be decided by the successor trustee upon conference with Mrs. Johansen. Finally, the balance of Brentís estate goes to Ryan Clark, which includes some shares in Clark Plywood, more land similar to that stated above, and some other miscellaneous considerations. Is everybody comfortable with all that?"
"Sure," Ruth piped up. "Itís more than I expected to get. I figured Dad would get most of it."
"Same here," Rachel agreed. "Dad, I suppose youíll be willing to handle the land management?"
"If you want," Ryan said. "Clark Plywood has handled the land management for Brent for years, so itís not going to be any big deal to continue it."
"Fine with me," Randy nodded. Actually, inwardly he was a little perturbed; heíd put in a lot of time for his share of the estate, and running Clark Construction was going to be more work. His sisters got a good deal, pretty much free ride. But heíd still made out better than them in the long run, so he figured heíd better not say anything.
"Good enough," Schindenwulfe smiled. "All right, Iíve prepared folders for each one of you. These include somewhat more formal descriptions of whatís involved, especially of lands. There are a number of places for you to sign, all marked with ĎXís. If youíd like to sign those places, that will constitute the final transfer. I should point out that full title searches have been prepared on all real property, so the transfer will be effective immediately upon your signature."
Fifteen minutes later it was all done. Randy was the owner of ninety-six percent of Clark Construction, for good or ill. Now all he had to do was to make it worth it.
It still took a while to get the details taken care of, and it was approaching noon when everything was done and signed. "Rather than making lunch at home," Ryan offered, "what would you say if I invited everyone out to the Spearfish Lake Inn?"
"Iím going to have to take a pass," Schindenwulfe said. "Iím going to be having a working lunch with Judge Dieball and another attorney on another case."
"Well, no big deal," Ryan shrugged. "How about everyone else?"
"Might as well," Ruth replied. "Dave and I really need to think about getting on the road pretty soon, though. Itís a long drive back and weíre not going to make it back till after dark as it is."
Joel glanced at his watch, frowned, and said, "We need to get heading for the airport pretty soon, too. But, I suppose it canít hurt."
A few minutes later they were seated around a large table out at the Inn, which was usually considered the best restaurant in town. It was not terribly busy, but it was still early for such lunch crowd as it had.
"Ruth was right when she said we need to be getting back," Dave said as he checked over the menu. "But I wouldnít mind getting a look at this land, just to know whatís there."
"Well, right now itís pretty much ass deep in snow," Ryan said. "Youíre several miles off any road thatís going to be plowed, which is 919 out northeast of the lake. Itíd take snowmobiles or a dog team to get in there right now, although itís a pretty good two-rut when the snow is off. There are places up here where you can rent snowmobiles, but I could arrange for a dog team."
"Dog team?" Ruth brightened. "That sounds like fun! Who . . . oh, yeah, Josh and Tiffany Archer still do dogs, donít they? They donít go to Alaska anymore, do they?"
"They often make a brief trip up there during race season, but theyíve been out of racing up there for years," Ryan said. "They still do dogsled tours locally, and Iím sure they could make a nice little adventure out of going out and checking it out. Really, though, you need to see it with the snow off to see whatís there."
"Is it about the same for our property . . . er, Rachelís property, too?" Joel asked.
"Pretty much," Ryan nodded. "Itís actually a little more isolated. I donít how much you might like to deal with a dog team, but I could arrange for snowmobiles."
"Maybe when the weather is warmer," Joel shook his head. "I think Iíve seen enough snow to hold me for a while."
"Suit yourself," Ryan said. "The land is there, itís not going away, and since itís being handled by the Clark Plywood forestry management department Iíll be keeping an eye on it."
"Well, weíre not going to be able to get away for a while," Ruth smiled. "But a dogsled tour sounds like fun. Weíll have to see about getting up here again to do it."
"Doesnít have to be this winter," Ryan said. "Especially with that cabin there. Itís in pretty decent shape although itís really not ready for someone to stay there right now. There are lots of people from down below who have cabins like that way back in, and like to bring snowmobiles up here in the winter to spend a few days out in the wilderness."
"We have some friends who have snowmobiles," Dave smiled. "Iíll bet theyíd have a ball with something like that. Weíll have to give it some thought."
"I canít see wanting to go someplace cold like that for a vacation," Joel shook his head. "Someplace warm strikes me as a lot more fun."
"I donít know," Randy smiled. "A cabin out in the wilderness, a good fire in the fireplace, good friends to be with, it sounds like a lot of fun to me." He could see Joelís disgust at the thought, so decided to twist the knife a little. "Weíre starting to get some wolves around here again. They stay away from people pretty much, but on a deal like that out in the quiet you might hear one, maybe even see one."
"Well, I suppose if you like that sort of primitive thing," Joel shook his head.
"Wolves?" Ruth smiled. "Dave, weíre going to have to check this out."
* * *
Actually, Randy thought as he walked into Clark Construction an hour or so later, a little hideaway cabin could be kind of fun, and if he ever decided he wanted a place like that he knew where heíd want to build it. But, it wasnít a priority issue in his mind, and he suspected that if he ever wanted to do a wilderness weekend in the winter he would have no problem in borrowing Ruth and Daveís new place. That would serve fine for as little as he would want it. For that matter, it might be fun to spend a weekend there with Dave and Ruth sometime; when you got down to it, they were pretty cool people even though he wasnít as close to them now as he would like to be. Maybe the cabin would serve as a way to rekindle that a little.
That thought was on his mind so strongly as he walked into the office that he didnít notice any sensation of change. In the back of his mind he knew that a very big change had taken place Ė it just wasnít real to him yet. Somehow it didnít seem like he was in charge, and again over lunch his father had hinted to him that there was more to come. As theyíd been leaving the Spearfish Lake Inn, his father had invited Nicole and him to dinner, with the comment that they had more to talk about, but both his sisters and their husbands had still been present so no more than that had been said. There was still something there, although Randy didnít know what it was. Schindenwulfeís sliding over the difference between taxable and assessed valuation told him that there was more going on than met the eye.
Regina and Carlos were sitting in the office when he arrived. "So," Regina said as he took off his coat, "did everything get worked out?"
"More or less," Randy said. "All the transfer paperwork has been signed, so weíre no longer in limbo."
"Good," Carlos replied. "I was worried that there was going to be some sort of hang-up."
"It turns out there wasnít much danger of that, and if it had happened it would have just meant that my father might have had to sign a few things for a while," Randy said. "So, whatís happening around here today?"
"Not much," Carlos said. "Weíve got that Phase III lodge work that you might want to look over before we ship it off."
"Any real change in it from when I looked at it last week?"
"Not really. We were waiting for you to have Brent look it over."
"Then go ahead and run it up to Norm tomorrow sometime," Randy said. "Weíve waited around long enough on that, but Iíd like to have you around this afternoon."
"Good, Normís been asking about it," Carlos replied. "Iíve got to see a guy about some wiring issues at the house in the morning, so I guess I might as well do it in the afternoon. Anyway Randy, Regina and Ken and I have been talking over your idea of moving the drafting office into what was Brentís office. I think itís a good one in a number of ways, if for no more reason than we need to remind ourselves that things arenít what they used to be."
"I think so, too," Randy said. "I donít think we want to be in a real rush on it, if for no more reason than we need to sort through Brentís stuff to see what needs to be kept and what doesnít. Regina, you and I will have to work on that. Keep after me on it. If weíre going to move Ken and the drafting shop we need to do it well before construction season gets rolling, and while weíre doing it we might as well find out if thereís anything new Ken needs. Once we get that done, we can work on doing anything we need to do to the old drafting shop before we move me in there. After that, Carlos, you can either stay where you are or move into the office I have now."
"However we do it, weíre going to have an office left over," Regina pointed out. "What do you want to do with that?"
"My guess is that weíll wind up piling the stuff from Brentís office in there, at least for a while," Randy said. "But I want to hang a little loose on it since something else could come up."
* * *
Clark Construction only had a handful of employees who worked year around. The vast majority of the employees were laid off and drew unemployment in the slow months of the winter, although they tried to keep some activity going even when the weather was at its worst. While there were always some people who only worked for the company now and then, the core of the seasonal employees were regulars. Most of them were out in the machinery shop a couple hours later for the meeting Randy had asked Regina to set up a couple days before.
One of the disadvantages of being as short as Randy was that he didnít stand out in a crowd, so when the time to talk came he hopped up on one of the tires of the Bobcat.
"First off," he said when he had the crowdís attention, "I want to thank everyone for their expressions of sympathy and support after my grandfatherís death. My grandfather didnít have a lot of friends, especially in his last years, but he had a lot of co-workers he cared a lot about, and Iím sure he would be glad to know that you cared about him.
"Now, there have been a lot of questions about what happens next. Well, as Iíve told everyone whoís asked, the big news is that nothing much changes from the way weíve done things the past couple years. We have jobs on the books, and when we get started on them is going to depend on the weather. Weíre still working on bids for more jobs for the summer, and right at the moment itís beginning to look like weíre going to have a busy one.
"My grandfather left us with a pretty good system of how things are done in this company, and thereís no reason to change at this point. I donít plan any radical changes, because as the old saw goes, ĎIf it ainít broke, donít fix it.í Speaking for myself, I plan to carry on just as if he were looking over my shoulder.
"As of the paperwork getting signed this morning, Iím now the majority owner of Clark Construction. Itís still a family company and we will continue to have the same close ties with Clark Plywood that weíve had for many years. Beyond that, I would hope that you will give me the same quality of support that youíve always given my grandfather. If you have concerns, if you think Iím messing something up, youíre welcome to come to me the same way you always came to him. I know Iím still young for the job, but I think Iím as ready to handle it as I can be under the circumstances. Iíll try to do my best, and if youíll try to do your best, weíll continue along. Like my grandfather, Iím concerned that we get our jobs done quickly, but itís more important that they get done right the first time.
"In other words, we will keep on keeping on. Any questions?"