Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
"I realize that this is a family thing," Nicole protested lightly as Randy drove the Chrysler through town to his parentsí house. "But with Crystal and Preach still here, I feel like weíre not being very good hosts."
"Well, yeah, but I think tonight is when the other shoe drops, and Iím wondering what it is."
"What do you mean?"
"If I knew Iíd tell you," he sighed. "Dad has hinted several times that thereís some things he didnít want me to know until we got done with the distribution of assets, but he hasnít said more than that. Besides, were you listening to the lawyer today?"
"Yeah, but I didnít pick out anything."
"I sure did, and Iím sure Dad was trying to pull a fast one on Joel. You remember the other night when I was explaining how the value of the company is different to different people? Schindenwulfe gave the value of Clark Construction as taxable valuation, and the forest land as assessed valuation, which are two way different things. I mean, a factor of two different! There were a couple other things in there, too. Those forest lands might be worth $1.4 million to the right buyer in ten years or so, but not today."
"Are you sure?" Nicole blurted.
"Sure, Iím sure. Like I said, I donít know whatís going on, but Iím dead sure that Matt Schindenwulfe knows the difference between taxable valuation and assessed valuation, which means he was as deep into whatever is going on as Dad is. Iím also pretty sure that Dad wants you and Mom up to speed on whatever heís doing, too. So now, I expect weíre going to find out."
The atmosphere at Ryan and Lindaís house seemed a lot lighter and quieter with Rachel and Joel gone. "Randy, I know ham and lima bean casserole isnít your favorite meal," his mother said. "But I really wasnít in the mood to do anything more elaborate."
"No problem, I donít mind," Randy replied, being both cautious and courteous. While in general he liked his motherís cooking, in his days at home he had a habit of going far out of his way to avoid her ham and lima bean casserole.
The conversation over dinner was light and innocuous. "Grabbing Preach to do the service sure worked out well," Linda commented. "Heís a very good speaker, very warm and human. Iím sure he did a better job than that OíConner character would have done."
"Preach is pretty good about that," Randy said. "Iíve heard him give some of-the-cuff teachings that will really sit you back and make you think."
"Itís almost a shame that he decided to not make a career out of the ministry," Linda said. "He would have been very good at it."
"No doubt about it," Randy said. "But he decided that wasnít his calling and stuck to his decision. Doing something off the cuff once in a while as a favor is one thing, but he decided that he didnít want to make a life of it. I actually respect him for that, turning his back on a career that he didnít think was right for him, even if heís a little uncomfortable about it at times."
Ryan put down his fork. "Randy, thatís just too good of a lead-in to pass up for what I wanted to talk to everyone about. Look, itís no secret that youíve been a little uncomfortable at times about what youíve been doing, is it?"
"Well, no real secret," Randy said. "But you remember when I came home from college at the end of my sophomore year? When we talked about the problem of someone to take over the construction company? Well, I was hunting around for something useful to do at the time, and even though there have been some times that itís been uncomfortable I have no doubt it was the right thing to do."
"To be honest, back then I wasnít sure. Iím sure you realize the whole thing was a test for you. You could have bombed out along the way and weíd have had to do something else, even though that something else would have involved a manager from outside the family with me holding the ownership. But you passed the test, and this proved to be a much better solution all around."
"I hope it works out," Randy sighed. "Even though Iíve been more or less running it on my own for a couple years, the total responsibility is in my lap now. I didnít exactly figure on getting what amounts to the whole thing."
"There was a reason for that," Ryan smiled. "Believe me, Randy, this is something that Dad and I talked about a lot, because we both realized that when he died there were going to have to be some changes made. What his death means is that weíre now looking at another big challenge. Weíve got some time to work on it, but weíve got to get our ducks in a row."
"Clark Plywood?" Randy ventured a guess.
"Right," Ryan said. "Fortunately, youíre not going to have to learn to manage it. Iíve told you before that if something should happen to me, Steve Augsberg is thoroughly capable of stepping into my management shoes and running things without missing a beat. Steve will probably be retiring not long after I do, but by the time he goes, there are a couple of other people who should be ready."
"But I donít own any of Clark Plywood," Randy protested. "And if I recall correctly, you said one time that your assets would have to be evenly split between Rachel, Ruth, and me."
"I did say that at the time," Ryan said. "Because that was back when I wasnít sure you were going to be passing the test at Clark Construction. In fact, I figured the odds were against it, but I was very happy to be proved wrong. In fact, when that happened, I was really thinking more in terms of Rachel getting the lionís share of the plant so Joel could run it, but time has proved just how wrong I was."
"Joel?" Randy frowned.
"He does have a good business and financial background," Ryan pointed out. "However, what heís done with it takes him out of consideration, as far as Iím concerned. We could stand to have a good chief financial officer. Iíve basically been doing it, and I know Iíve been missing some tricks, but Iíve tried to keep things sound and conservative. However, while thatís a bridge that has to be crossed it doesnít have to be crossed now. I made up my mind years ago that itís fairly important to keep Joel from having any significant involvement with the plant, or else itís going to turn into another Donna Clark situation, or worse. That went on for twenty years, and your grandfather and Frank Matson were only able to keep things under control by the skins of their teeth. You donít need that happening again."
"From what Iíve heard about it, no," Randy said. "Youíre saying that Iím going to be winding up with Clark Plywood, too?"
"Pretty much," Ryan told him. "All the pieces arenít in place yet, but theyíre pretty close. I donít know if Joel could have held up the transfer of your grandfatherís estate considering the living trust arrangement. If heíd figured out what we were doing before Rachel signed the paperwork there could have been trouble, which is why your grandfather, Matt Schindenwulfe, and I pulled a little double shuffle."
"I picked up on a little of that," Randy said. "The taxable valuation of Clark Construction and the assessed valuation of the timber lands."
"Yeah, I wish Matt hadnít said that, but he did and Joel didnít pick up on it. Joel is not as smart as he thinks he is, and he proved it right then. Heíll probably make trouble when he figures it out, but whatís done is now done, and heís behind the eight ball in several ways if he wants to file legal action, starting with the fact that any action would have to be started here. Joel is after the quick buck, and doesnít want to think about the long range, which is why Matt and I pulled a last minute shuffle to make sure that Rachel didnít wind up with any Clark stock."
"Last minute?" Randy frowned, realizing that there had been more going on than heíd perceived.
"I had quite a bit of latitude," Ryan explained. "Up until Monday both Rachel and Ruth were going to get five percent of the Clark stock each. But the way the trusteeship is set up, Iím the one who got to make that decision. After Joel mouthed off the way he did, I decided that I didnít want him to be able to get his fingers on any of the Clark stock, so we switched things around to the land deal. Dave and Ruth were going to get the cabin and eighty acres anyway, so it was easy to change things around. That proved to be a good move, because Joel and Rachel stopped at Northwoods Realty to see about getting the land listed at $1.4 million. Of course, as soon as they were out of the door Binky called me to let me know about it."
"If youíre telling me right they have no hope of getting anything like $1.4 million out of it."
"Not in the near future," Ryan smiled. "Iíve given some thought to having a dummy corporation make an offer for about a tenth of that sometime in the next few months. But maybe not, too. Weíll have to see what happens. But for now thatís neither here nor there. Whatís here now is the fact that Brent is gone now, so the board of directors is now down to just me and your mother. We need to get you and Nicole on the board as soon as possible."
"But," Randy pointed out, "I donít own any Clark Plywood stock."
"Yes you do," Ryan said. "Itís a little buried in the list of Clark Construction assets you got from Matt today, but Clark Construction owns ten percent of Clark Plywood. Since you own Clark Construction, that makes you a Clark Plywood stockholder."
"Wow, you really were working under the table, werenít you?"
"No more than I had to," Ryan smiled. "Now, just in case I were to drop dead tomorrow, we need to do a little stock exchange. I want to swap twenty-five percent of Clark Plywood for twenty-five percent of Clark Construction. That way, you come out with a majority of Clark Plywood assuming an even distribution of my estate. In time we should be able to fudge some more of it around. I donít know that I can get all of it to you, but I should be able to get enough to you to avoid another Donna Clark situation for at least another generation."
"Wow," Randy said. "I guess I always realized that Iíd wind up with a chunk of Clark Plywood, but I never figured majority ownership."
"In the beginning I didnít, either," Ryan told him. "But then you proved yourself. Now, the situation with Clark Plywood is a lot different than it is with Clark Construction, mostly because when you wind up with it youíll only be providing oversight, not actively managing it. That still means thereís a lot to learn about the ins and outs of it, but youíve already got a start on that and we still have some time to work on it. For the moment, all the board does is set policy as suggested by the managing director, which is me, and set dividends, which again are recommended by the managing director. In practice, Dad and I worked together on a lot of issues and I hope you and I will be able to do the same thing."
"I hope we can," Randy said. "Iím not sure how much Iíll be able to contribute, though."
"Probably more than you think, but youíre going to be in a learning situation, too."
"I really feel like Iím breaking in," Nicole said. "But how large are the dividends?"
"Generally speaking, not large," Ryan told her. "For the most part, weíre capital asset rich and cash poor. Thatís been with intention, to keep taxes down. Dad and I preferred to put money back into the plant and the work force, and when we had anything left over, to put it into real estate assets. That has meant that we had to scratch for cash at times. It was something of a reach to come up with the cash assets involved in Dadís settlement. Randyís grandfather ran Clark Construction pretty much the same way."
"I have to point out," Randy said, "that this is all pretty much on a higher level than Iíve ever had to deal with."
"Sure it is," his father said. "Which is why I didnít want you brooding about the implications and maybe tipping off Joel that we were pulling a fast one on him. And, Iím sure itís him that weíre pulling a fast one on. I doubt that Rachel sneezes without his permission."
"I saw that," Randy nodded. "It makes me wonder whatís really going on. I told Ruth it would be tempting to set a private detective on the two of them to get a better idea."
"Iíve thought about that, too," Ryan agreed. "I havenít made any contacts yet, because I want to be sure Iím going to someone who can handle the financial stuff and be discreet enough that Joel doesnít find out whatís going on."
"You seem to have all this planned out pretty well," Randy said. "Iím wondering what happens when you find out what I think youíre going to find out."
"I donít have all the answers," Ryan sighed. "I guess thatís a bridge weíre going to have to cross when we get to it."
* * *
In time, they cleared the dinner dishes from the table and headed into the living room, where they still mostly talked about Clark Plywood. Randy learned things about the company that heíd never known before, despite growing up around it.
Among other things, he learned that profit margins were low. Heíd always known that, but they were lower than heíd thought. Part of that, of course, represented the decision to plow money back into the company and into forest lands, and part of that reflected the policy to purchase or build new assets out of cash, rather than borrowed money. The wood products business was very competitive, and Clark Plywood had to price accordingly. Once upon a time Ryan had told his son that Clark Construction was more profitable than Clark Plywood despite the great disparity in sizes, but now Randy found out that it was true in absolute terms, not just numbers fiddled with the tax man in mind. However, it had been that way for many years and the situation was getting slightly better as time went along.
One thing was clear, though: the more that Randy knew about Clark Plywood, the better it would be in the long run. That meant that he had to spend some time learning about it, and it was likely to be no small job.
When Randy and Nicole finally made it home they were both a little dazed and just as happy for once that they didnít have guests in the house. They didnít talk about it while getting ready for bed, though this was earlier than normal for them, but once in bed they snuggled close together, both of them ready for a serious talk. Nicole threw a leg across Randyís legs and whispered. "Randy, Iím just a little worried about this."
"There really isnít anything to worry about," he said. "Granted, itís a lot of responsibility with a lot of money behind it, but Iíve got some time to learn how to handle it."
"Thatís not what Iím worried about," she said. "You take this stuff seriously, and thatís good, I guess. But Iím worried that youíre going to take it too seriously and try to learn everything yesterday. For years youíve griped that youíre busy as hell in the summers and bored to tears in the winter. Now, there go the winters. Any free time you have is probably going to be spent at the plywood plant."
"Come on, Nicole, itís not going to be that bad."
"Yes it is. Randy, I know you. I think I need to remind you that we have a child on the way, and thatís going to have to draw some of your attention, too."
"I know we have a child on the way, Nicole," Randy protested. "Letís face it, if I screw up bad we still come out pretty good, and we could wind up with close to the whole ball of wax. Itís important that I conserve that capital so we can pass it on to our kids."
"Itís a matter of priorities and proportion," she sighed. "Randy, youíre going to have to learn to manage your time better than youíve done in the past, or itís going to eat you up."
"I realize that. And, I realize I tend to get focused on things. Itís an issue weíre going to have to work on, and not just a little. Itís going to have to be an ongoing thing."
"And Iíll have to fight with you about it," she sighed. "So, here we go again."
"Isnít it going to be worth it?"
"You know, Iíve always known the money is going to be there with you. I guess I knew that way back when we were kids in school. But it always struck me as a little bit strange to have that kind of money and not be able to spend any of it. Iím not saying we have to go out and splurge, but it would be nice to have some good times with it, and not just be stuck here all the time. Thatís pretty much what your folks have always done. Iím not sure I want to be that conservative about it."
"Well, me either," he said. "I havenít taken a real look at the numbers, but it seems like there ought to be something there that we could have some fun with. Maybe not right away, but soon."
"You know what I was thinking about the other day? After Nellie was here, I got to thinking that sheís right, itís a shame to have all this waterfront and not have anything bigger than a sea kayak. Ever since you made that trip to the Bahamas with Scooter and the gang youíve talked about wanting to learn more about sailing. Iím thinking that maybe we ought to get a sailboat that we can park out front. That would give you something to do that wouldnít take up a lot of time."
"Itís a thought," he agreed. "We probably ought to have something big enough to take the gang out on, not just a little sailboard, like a Sunfish or a Hobie or something. But what that would be, I donít know."
"I donít know, either," she sighed. "And with as big a lake as we have here I think it would be nice to learn something about sailing myself."
"I donít know where weíd find someone to teach us that stuff," he said. "Sailing isnít all that big around here."
"Oh, hell, thatís easy. Nellie may be old but Iíll bet sheís forgotten more about sailing than either of us would ever be able to learn."
"Well, yeah," he admitted. "Maybe we ought to have her over to dinner sometime so we can pick her brain."
"We need to have her over again," Nicole said flatly. "Sheís nice, and I get the impression that she doesnít have a lot of friends, at least not younger ones."
"Yeah, I think so, too," he agreed. "Crystal and Preach are leaving the day after tomorrow, so I think we really need to plan on spending the evening with them. Who knows when weíre going to see them again?"
"It could be a while, especially if they do something besides being booth bunnies next winter," Nicole agreed. "You sort of have to wonder what kind of big idea theyíre going to come up with."
"With Crystal involved the sky is the limit," Randy sighed. "You know, more than once today I found myself wishing that weíd just gotten a big cash settlement instead of the company. We could go run rafts with Crystal, or sail around the world like Nellie, or something. But you know what?"
"Youíd start thinking that you ought to be doing something useful and before long youíd be hating it. I know you, Randy, and I saw that one coming."
"Yeah, youíre right. I would. And with a kid on the way it would make it just that much harder. Iíll tell you one thing, Nicole. I hope that we can raise that kid so theyíll get the idea that they have to work for a living, not just have everything handed to them. I think thatís one thing the folks did right with me. With Ruth, for that matter, although Rachel didnít seem to get the lesson very well."
"Yeah, but how much of that is Joel?" she replied.
"That is an interesting question, isnít it?" he sighed. "Iím glad Dad picked up on that idea to have a little investigation done. I still donít have a good feeling about that, even less of one than I had before."
"Me, too," she sighed. "I wonder about Jared, too. He seems kind of quiet for a kid, and, well, it makes the teacher in me worry a little bit about the things heís not saying."
"I hadnít picked up on that, but then, Iím not a teacher," Randy sighed. "It sure makes you think, though. Really, itís none of your and my business, and really none of Dad and Momís. But still, you have to wonder whatís really going on there. Maybe we shouldnít speculate about it until we know more."
"Probably not a bad idea," she replied.
They were silent for a while there, pretty much talked out after what had been an eventful day, one that had come out in some ways pretty close to what Randy had imagined, but in other ways well beyond that. They just held onto each other, enjoying the closeness Ė it was one solid and reliable thing in a world that now promised new stresses they hadnít quite imagined before.
Randy was half asleep and thought Nicole might be as well when she spoke softly. "Randy?"
"Iíve been thinking about it," she announced. "We still havenít settled on a name for a boy. What would you think of ĎBrent?í"
"Iíd have been against it until a few days ago," he said. "Now Iím not so sure. Itís an honorable name for a Clark in this town, but until Granddad died I wouldnít have wanted the confusion."
"Thatís kind of what I was thinking," she agreed. "I kind of like the idea, but maybe we ought to bounce it off your dad."
"Probably not a bad idea," Randy agreed. "What are you thinking about a middle name?"
"How about Wayne?" she asked. "Granted, it carries some baggage with it, but good as well as bad. I donít think Iíd quite realized it until the last few days."
"Yeah, it does," Randy said. "In spite of Wayneís faults, and he had a lot of them, he was a businessman with the right gut calls and a lot of vision. I donít think Iíd want to use it as a first name, but I kind of like the idea of Brent Wayne Clark."