Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Most of March is still winter on the calendar, and itís still definitely winter around Spearfish Lake. Occasionally a warmish day came along when there was a little melting, but those happened from time to time for most of the winter. Most years the snow still lies heavily on the ground, although the lengthening days and the slightly less chilly weather gives signs of spring being on the way.
Usually by the middle of March people are ready for winter to be over with. Randy was one of them; construction season clearly wasnít far off, and there were more and more things that needed to be done to get ready for it. This March was busier than most, at least partly because the decision to go ahead on the pellet plant came so late that some things had to be rushed in order to make a target date of getting it into production in the fall.
On top of that, the tribal leadership at Three Pines had made the decision to hold off on the next expansion phase of the ski resort until use increased a bit. That was one big job gone in Randyís summer, but that only lasted for a few minutes Ė it proved that they were all set to go on an expansion of the casino lodge that had been planned for years and held up by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. As always seemed to happen with them, the decision came late so that meant more hustling around. At least the building plans had been long complete, which was usually not the case when the tribe changed horses in midstream, a somewhat common occurrence. That simplified things to a huge extent, and at least the work on the ski lodge expansion could go into the files for use at a future date. Randy had little doubt that theyíd be ready to go when the time came.
It all meant that Randy didnít get a lot of time to work on Clark Plywood matters, except where they involved the construction aspects of the pellet plant. Ryan had done what he could to keep Randy at least a little bit involved in other matters in the company, at least when he could find a few spare minutes. However, Ryan knew that Randy was busy and didnít bother him much with other Clark Plywood problems.
So, it was a little surprising to get a phone call from Ryanís secretary one morning along about the first of the month asking him to come over and sit in on a conference. Randy was about as busy as usual, but thought it would be good to get his mind off construction issues for a while, so agreed to the request.
An hour later he was in his fatherís office, along with Steve Augsberg, the plantís assistant general manager and Allen Halifax, the chief forester for the company. Steve was a guy about Randyís size, and one of his fatherís best friends; for years it had been assumed that he was in line to be the general manager when his father retired, presumably in the next decade or two. However, Steve wasnít a lot younger than Ryan, so it didnít appear likely that heíd be holding the job for long.
Halifax was a lot younger, not yet into his forties, only about ten years older than Randy. In recent years, Ryan had tried to bring young, well-trained, and experienced professionals into management positions when he could, looking to give the company solid management in the years when Randy would have to bear the ultimate responsibility at something of a distance. Allen was relatively new to the company, only about five years on the job, but he had a masterís degree in forest management and knew his stuff from experience. Although it probably wouldnít be entirely his decision, Randy was privately of the opinion that Halifax was a likely candidate to be the next in line behind Augsberg.
"Randy, just to bring you up to speed on this," his father started out, "youíre probably aware that weíre not in the habit of selling Clark lands, unless theyíre likely to be unproductive and their sale wonít affect operations. It doesnít happen often, but for a good many years weíve only sold lands with board approval, which mostly meant that Brent and I had to approve the sale. This is the first time weíve had a serious offer since he died, so I figured you ought to sit in on it. We should run the decision by Linda and Nicole, but Linda has always gone along with what Brent and I decided on these kinds of things."
"I imagine Nicole will be much the same way," Randy agreed. "So, whatís the deal?"
"Are you familiar with Chandler Lake, over in Amboy Township?" Halifax asked.
"A little," Randy nodded. "Thereís a spot over on the road to Three Pines where you can just catch a glimpse of it when the leaves are down. Iíve never actually been down to the shoreline."
"The lake is about four hundred and fifty acres," Halifax said. "Itís about a mile long and more than half that wide. It was logged over in the twenties, and it was one of the places Wayne Clark replanted in the thirties. The soil over there is pretty rocky, itís a Precambrian outcrop area like over around Three Pines, and thereís never going to be a lot of timber over there to harvest. Your father and I have kicked around the idea that we might be money ahead to subdivide the land around there for potential large second-home sites. If we kept the number limited and included some hunting land, we could potentially see those sites going for a million apiece."
"Depending on the number of sites, that could make for a little pocket change," Randy smiled.
"Just for the record," Ryan broke in, "Brent and I kicked around the idea of building a big spec home or two out there if a slow summer ever came along, but things never got quite slow enough to do it. Itís one of those things we decided to sit on until the right time came. There are some other places on Clark lands where we also might want to consider a project like that sometime, but thatís neither here nor there right now. Allen, sorry to break in."
"Thatís all right," the forester said. "Like you said earlier, Randy needs to have the background on this. Now, in the middle of this lake is a small, rocky island, half an acre or maybe a little more, at most three quarters. There are maybe half a dozen scrubby pines on it, just volunteers, none over ten or twelve feet. I really doubt that Wayne had them planted. Yesterday, we received an offer on that island plus an access easement along the shoreline for a million five."
"Thatís a lot of money for a half-acre island," Randy shook his head. "Are these people serious?"
"Quite serious," Allen smiled. "I havenít met with them directly, but the agent I deal with said they really want to live on a small island in a lake. They supposedly have a really unique dream house they want to build on it, but I donít know anything about it."
"I donít either," Steve added. "Binky is the agent Allen was referring to, and she says that they didnít tell her much about it, either."
That told Randy something. Steveís wife Binky was the busiest and richest real estate agent in the area, and she wouldnít have forwarded the offer if she hadnít believed the buyers were serious.
"They also want an agreement that we donít do any clear cutting around the shore," Allen added. "Thatís part of the reason that theyíre offering a high dollar figure. I have no problem with that. We havenít planned any cutting there anyway. Weíre only talking about a hundred acres, two at the most, and in my opinion there arenít many trees worth the effort of cutting, especially with the idea of doing development there. From a forestry viewpoint, I have no problem with it."
"Their offer doesnít prevent us from doing home site development, does it?" Randy asked.
"Itís not specifically mentioned, but Iím sure we could make that part of the counter offer," Halifax said.
"How does a million and a half match up with comparable properties?"
"I looked into it," Steve said. "Well, I had Binky look into it, since she has better resources than I do. The problem is itís very hard to tell since such properties come onto the market only very rarely, so thereís not much to compare it to. About all I can tell you is that if theyíre willing to pay that much out of the blue it must be worth it to them."
"We donít know anything about them," Randy said, "but, if theyíre making an offer of that figure they must have the money to spend, and theyíre willing to spend it. Iíd be willing to take the money, but it might be fun to throw a number of, oh, two-and-a-half million back at them and see if they bite. If they want it that bad, theyíre not going to squirm that much at an extra million."
"That was pretty much my thinking," Ryan agreed. "My only thought is that right now weíre a little cash-poor considering the money we had to spend to settle Brentís trust. A million and a half would go a long way toward allowing us to build the pellet plant without a bank being involved, especially at todayís interest rates. On the other hand, two-and-a-half million would really simplify things. I say, letís give it a try."
"Canít hurt," Randy said. "If it doesnít fly, it doesnít fly. We can always negotiate downward, or list the property for two and a half or three just to see if thereís some other rich fool out there. I mean, itís not like itís costing us anything."
"Iíll tell you one person who would be happy to see it fly," Steve snickered. "Can you imagine the Amboy Township supervisor getting a two-and-a-half-million-dollar piece of residential property on his tax rolls?"
"Probably more than that," Randy smiled. "If theyíre paying that much for the property, how much are they going to be willing to pay for their dream house?"
"All right, letís do it," Ryan said. "Randy and I will have to run it by our wives just for the sake of doing it by the book, but that shouldnít be a problem. Maybe after the snow gets off we ought to take a run out there and do a little more serious looking at how we might want to do a development project out there. Maybe we can get Binky involved to see how we might optimize it."
"Iíve had a couple ideas along that line," Halifax nodded. "Itís nothing we have to be in any rush about, though."
* * *
That evening Randy gave Nicole a capsule summary of the discussion. "I donít have any objection to the idea," she said when he finished. "Especially considering that the little bit of stock in my name means that my opinion doesnít count for much, anyway."
"If you have a real serious objection thereís no reason you canít bring it up," he told her. "And Iím sure Dad and I would take it into consideration. It would mean that youíre seeing something weíre not."
"Well, like I said, I donít have any objection. Iím just wondering that if theyíre spending that much money on the land what the house is going to be like."
"It probably will put this place in the shadows, thatís for sure," Randy shook his head.
"What are the chances that Clark Construction will wind up building it?" she smiled.
"Oh, pretty good," he said. "Unless they have some favorite builder from down in the city somewhere, and theyíd most likely wind up subbing a lot of the work to us, anyway. But Iíll tell you what, I thought about it some this afternoon and I have to wonder just how bad Iíd want to build a house on that island, anyway."
"Oh, you wouldnít believe the problems until you stop to think about them. First off, from what Halifax says, the island is too small and rocky for a leach bed, so unless something really innovative is done the health department is going to have a fit. Thereís no electrical service within miles, so itíd cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to run power in. Thatís a big stumbling block to doing a development there, anyway. Ditto for phone service. Then, an island is surrounded by water. That means that getting equipment and materials to this place would be a huge headache, unless we ran them over there in the dead of winter when the ice is thick enough, and even then weíd be taking a risk. Without doing much more than thinking about it a little, it strikes me that itís going to cost them two or three times more per square foot than it would to build the same house here in the Cove."
"Well, maybe if itís a dream house and they have the money to spend, theyíre willing to overlook the impracticalities."
"In other words, rich fools," Randy snorted. "Well, I suppose if theyíre willing to spend the money Iím perfectly willing to let them spend it with me. I will admit to some curiosity to see what they plan to build, though."
"I have to admit, I am, too," she smiled. "That has to be some house."
* * *
Randy was busy with some materials orders in his office the following Monday morning. Heíd learned long before that good, competitive purchasing was one of the keys to a job being a profitable success, and one of the keys was being able to buy materials in quantity. Years before, Brent had become tired with uncertain quality and spotty delivery from the local lumber yard, and decided to become his own lumber dealer. When he bought standard materials like two-by-fours, for example, he didnít buy just enough for a particular job with a little overage calculated in Ė he bought them by the truckload or boxcar load at a considerably better price. They were stored in a warehouse on the back of the property, and were always used sooner or later. The lumber yard that had been the cause of this decision was no longer in business, at least partly because of losing the Clark Construction business.
However, specialized materials like trusses or windows, or even specific types and sizes of steel for steel buildings had to be specially ordered, and that was where careful shopping paid off. Again, volume purchases, especially before the construction season got going, really paid off Ė especially in not having to wait for a critical item to show up. The warehouse out back was getting full, and there were more shipments on the way. At this time of the year Clark Construction had been known to borrow some warehouse space from Clark Plywood, another example of the incestuous relationship between the companies. The only reason they hadnít had to borrow space already this year was that the lodge extension was to be built with logs, which were stockpiled at the reservationís own mill Ė the logs had been intended to go to the ski lodge. Along with that, materials for the pellet mill were already being stored in a nearby warehouse at the plywood plant.
The problem was that the warehouse at Clark Construction was only so large, and planning where to put materials this time of the year could be a headache. It could be a real pain in the neck to have badly needed two-by-fours stacked unreachably behind fifty tons of steel roof trusses, for example. That meant Randy was as concerned about where he was going to put things as he was about getting them there at the right time and for a decent price.
He was doing some fiddling with that issue when he heard a knocking at his open door. He looked up to see his father standing there. "Busy?" Ryan asked.
"Not that busy. I donít have to get this one figured out this minute. You like some coffee?"
"Naw, Iíve already had enough over at the plant," his father said. "So, how is Nicole doing?"
This was the first morning that Nicole had taken off on her maternity leave. She still had a month or more to go before her due date, but sheíd been looking forward to the time off Ė her pregnancy was getting advanced enough that it was starting to be uncomfortable. "Seems to be OK," he said. "She was getting ready for it, and she knows how to sit around the house when Iím at work. I suspect Iíll be going home for lunch most days for a while, though. So, what brings you over here?"
"I thought Iíd let you know that we sort of booted the deal on that island we talked about last week," Ryan grinned. "They bit on two-and-a-half million so quick it wasnít funny. We should have asked even more."
"They must want that island real bad," Randy shook his head.
"Looks like it to me," his father replied. "I suspect you were right, rich fools. Itís going to take a while to make the property transfer, but not real long because they donít have to go for financing. Theyíre paying cash. Thatíll be nice; we can use the money right now, and weíre going to have a little extra to work with."
"I have no doubt that youíll find some place to spend it."
"Well, yeah, thatís what I really wanted to talk to you about. Do you mind if I close the door?"
"Fine with me," Randy nodded. "You must have something in mind."
"Yeah," Ryan said as he closed the door, then found the chair across from Randyís desk. "You remember back after Brent died and we wound up giving Rachel that forest land valued at 1.4 million?"
"I remember that they stopped off on their way out of town and listed it for that figure with Binky. Joel isnít the kind of guy who can sit on something while its value increases, I guess."
"I figure youíre right on that," Ryan agreed. "It about had to be Joelís idea to list the property like that."
"I know you threw around the idea of making an offer of about a hundred and forty thousand just to see what happens."
"Iím still thinking about it. The joker in the deal is that itís still Rachelís land, not Joelís. But if it gets turned into cash, even at that price, thereís not much doubt in my mind that the money winds up in Joelís hands."
"You ever follow up on looking at getting a private investigator on him?"
"Well, Iíve been looking at it. I havenít been able to find anyone I think might find out what we want to know and not let him know itís us looking at him. Besides, weíre looking for two very different things, and really, when you get right down to it, neither of them are really any of our business, except for the fact that Rachel is my daughter and your sister. I mean, itís a case of she made the bed, she has to lie in it, at least up to a point."
"So we really donít know a lot more than we knew a couple months ago?"
"Pretty much. I have spent some time on the Internet doing some background research, and I did pull some strings to get a full copy of his credit report."
"Not very good, Iíll bet," Randy snorted.
"Thatís an understatement," Ryan shook his head. "I mean he hasnít filed bankruptcy or anything, but heís a very slow pay and carrying a lot of debt, a little here, a little there, but it adds up to quite a bit. I think heís leveraged to the roof, and itís like a house of cards. If one piece of it goes bad then the whole house falls down."
"I never was a damn bit good at building those. So that means if one of his shady deals goes bad heís sunk, but if one or two of them pay off heís at least got his head out of water?"
"Thatís about how I read it, and it makes me real reluctant to offer a hundred and fifty grand for Rachelís land. The money would just vanish into his mountain of debt, and maybe into another shady investment rather than trying to clean things up. But when you get right down to it, thatís not the problem. I could give a shit what happens to him, but I am concerned about what happens to Rachel and Jared. You havenít heard anything more from Ruth, have you?"
"No, not at all," Randy told him. "After the discussion we had with her a couple months ago I think sheíd tell us if she found out something useful. I take that to mean you havenít found out anything from her, either."
"Right," Ryan nodded. "We know a little more than we knew two months ago, but not much. Iíd be tempted to head out there and poke around on the sly a little, but if they got wind of it theyíd recognize me right off. I thought about having you take a swing at it, but thereís the same problem along with the fact that youíre getting into your busy season."
"Just as a thought," Randy said, "why try to keep it covert? I donít like Joel any more than you do, but if one of us had any reason to be in the area weíd have a reason to drop by. If either one of us were to spend a day or two on their turf, we might learn something useful, like maybe weíre barking up the wrong tree."
"Iíve heard dumber ideas," Ryan replied thoughtfully. "But itís not a good time for either of us to take off, especially you with a baby getting close. How about sending Ruth, maybe without Dave? Maybe among us we can come up with a logical reason for her to have to spend a few days in the Bay area, especially if we pay for it."
"Thatís a possibility," Randy said. "On the other hand, thereís a big West Coast equipment show coming up in a few days, and we are thinking about getting a new grader. If Nicole is willing to let me go, I could kill two birds with one stone."