Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Randy didnít particularly like flying on airlines. In fact, he hated it. He wasnít scared of it, but he hated being treated like one of a herd of cattle, with the airlines grubbing him for every cent they could. As a result, he hadnít flown on an airliner for over three years, not since heíd flown back from the sailing trip in the Bahamas, and that trip had been screwed up royally by the airline heíd been flying on. That made him even more leery of airlines than ever, and if there had been any other way to make the trip to California in the same time frame he would have been glad to use it. But, there wasnít, so he just loaded an absolutely minimal amount of stuff in a carry-on so he wouldnít have to run the risk of the airline losing his luggage. Again.
Getting on a flight had been a pain in the neck. Heíd had to leave at a very early hour of the morning to drive nearly three hours to Minneapolis-St. Paul airport and still barely made the plane; fortunately the time change was such that heíd get into San Francisco at a reasonable hour.
He spent most of the flight thinking about the Newtonís windmill house, rather than the problem with Rachel Ė there really wasnít much he could do about the latter other than try to make contact with her and see what he could find out. After thinking it over, he decided to not give her much warning that he was coming, and only call her after he got into San Francisco. Since it was the middle of the day, there was a chance he might be able to see her for a while without Joel around, and he might learn a little more. If they happened to be out of town or something, then he would just be out of luck, but he had the impression that Rachel and Joel didnít leave town very much. With Jared being in school it seemed even less likely that they would be gone in the middle of the week.
After thinking about it for a while, he still wasnít sure what he hoped to accomplish in checking out the situation at Rachelís, other than to just look things over and see what crawled out of the woodwork. If it was nothing, it was nothing, even though his gut told him otherwise. After an hour or so of thought on the four-hour trip Randy found himself going around in circles and not accomplishing anything. The thing to do, he decided, was to accept that he was going to have to take the situation at Rachelís as it came, whatever happened, and to quit trying to worry about things he didnít know about.
He needed to get his mind on something else, and the Newton house was the obvious thing. After all, there were known problems there that hadnít been cracked in the little more than a work day that he and some of the other people around the company had been able to work on it. For example, they hadnít put much time into how they were going to get materials and equipment over to the island in the first place.
Nicole had made the suggestion of a pontoon raft, like were often used as party boats on the big lake. There were various styles, running up to twenty or twenty-five feet or so, with floats about two feet across. On the surface it had some potential, but Randy thought it had problems. He remembered a party back in high school when some friends had loaded onto such a raft, and it had seemed to be pretty low in the water. When several kids gathered in one corner of the thing it came pretty close to running the end of the pontoon under water, so one of them probably couldnít take a heavy load.
The way to solve that was to put more pontoons under it, to increase the floating capacity. How big a load would have to be hauled to the island at one time? At a guess, theyíd want a backhoe over there, at least in the early part of the project, and the smallest one the company had was four and a half tons or so. What would it take to float one? Randy recalled someone saying sometime that the first pontoon rafts had been built from 55-gallon drums Ė that was a concept he could handle. He pulled out a scratch pad and started doing some figuring. A moment with the scratch pad revealed that a 55-gallon drum could float 440 pounds, probably a little less considering the weight of the drum. Call it 400 pounds to be conservative, he thought. That meant that twenty-two drums would float a backhoe, less the weight of the raft, of course. Three rows of eight drums would result in a raft that was six feet wide and twenty-four feet long Ė not big enough for the backhoe, but it could be built wider than that.
But that would leave the raft just barely afloat. Whatís more, remembering that incident in high school, the raft would have to be loaded and unloaded over the end, which would mean that all the weight would be concentrated at that end. He could see that much more reserve capacity would be needed. Doubling the number of drums might do it, six rows of eight drums, and that would mean a raft twelve feet wide and twenty-four feet long Ė plenty wide enough but a backhoe would fill it in terms of length. So, make it longer, he thought Ė six rows of ten drums would be big enough and ought to have plenty of reserve capacity in case they had to haul something even heavier. There were plenty of empty 55-gallon drums sitting out back of the plywood plant, so that wasnít an issue.
Moving the rig would be easy Ė just tow it with a rowboat and an outboard. There was a problem in getting the backhoe or whatever onto the raft in the first place, but some sort of ramp could be devised. There were some problems he could see, like building a fairly rigid structure that long, but nothing that couldnít be solved. Maybe it would be easier to haul materials straight to the loading ramp on a flatbed trailer, and just take the trailer and all to the island Ė that would cut down on extra handling. There were some heavy materials that would be needed, too. For instance, there was going to be a lot of concrete needed, and there was no way a raft could handle a loaded concrete truck Ė not even the ice of the most frigid winter could be expected to do that. So, the concrete would have to be hauled over in bags and mixed with a small portable mixer, a pain in the neck but there didnít seem to be any other way.
Exploring the concept took Randy the rest of the way across the continent, and by the time he got to San Francisco International what had looked like a major problem now seemed like it could be managed, and with a little fun from being innovative, too.
That left Randy in a better mood when he got off the plane. He went off to pick up his rental car, and soon was in some kind of a Japanese econobox in the parking lot of the rental place. It was warm out there, in the high fifties or the low sixties at a guess Ė perhaps not warm in absolute terms, but coming from the subfreezing temperatures of Spearfish Lake with snow still on the ground, it was more than warm enough. There were times that winter got awfully long in Spearfish Lake, and March was one of those times, so maybe San Jose had that much going for it.
Not knowing what the traffic would be like or how long it would take him to get to Rachelís house, he guessed that he was close enough to announce his presence. He was a little surprised that his cell phone worked Ė while his contract said that he had nationwide coverage, heíd learned from bitter experience in the past that the reality was a little less than the advertising. He punched in the number Ė he called it so rarely that he didnít have it in the phoneís memory Ė and in a couple minutes was talking to his older sister.
"Hi, Rachel," he said as she answered the phone. "Itís Randy. How are you doing today?"
"Just fine," she said in a voice that seemed like it was a little less than just fine, but Randy wondered if that was just his suspicions talking. "What can I do for you?"
"I thought I might drop by and see you," he said. "I know this is a little bit of a surprise, but I decided I had to go to a construction equipment show this weekend, and Iíve got some time to kill."
"Youíre in town?" she said, sounding a little surprised. "I didnít know you were coming."
"I didnít know myself this time yesterday," Randy replied. "I wonít go into the ins and outs of it but weíve been arguing over graders, and I decided the only way to settle it is to look at the prospects side by side. Anyway, I thought Iíd drop by if youíre not too busy."
"You might as well," she told him. "Jared is in school and Joel is at work. Where are you, anyway?"
"At San Francisco International. Iíve got a rental car. My guess is that itíll take an hour to get down to your place."
"This time of day itíll take all of that, easily. Can you find our place all right?"
"I should be able to, Iíve got the address."
Soon Randy was heading down the highway toward San Jose. It was the first time heíd ever been in the Bay Area, and there were some interesting sights to see if he could have paid attention, but he was mostly busy trying to manage the heavy traffic and get where he was going. Interesting place, he thought as he drove. Itís too bad Iím not going to get to see much of it.
Finding Rachelís house wasnít difficult Ė heíd downloaded a map and directions from MapQuest, and there were only a couple of ambiguities where the map didnít quite face up to reality. He suspected that the route wasnít exactly the shortest and simplest, but at least it got him there. Due to the traffic and the uncertainties, it took him most of two hours to find his sisterís house, and at that he figured he was doing pretty well, although it left him wondering if maybe heíd allowed Rachel a little too much time.
He finally found the house, and cynically wasnít surprised that it wasnít all that Joel had cracked it up to be. It was no mansion, even by Spearfish Lake standards Ė just a pretty normal suburban house, perhaps a little larger than most, but nothing spectacular. Considering what he knew about real estate prices being extremely high in the area, it wouldnít have surprised him if it had cost two or three times what his own rather spectacular house in Spearfish Lake had cost.
That means nothing, he reminded himself as he parked the car in the driveway, other than the fact that Joel likes to talk big, and we already knew that. Now, be positive and non-confrontational, he thought as he got out.
He was walking up to the front door when it opened. He saw his sister wearing slacks and a blouse. "This really is a surprise," she said. "I didnít think youíd ever get out here."
"Well, I probably wouldnít have if it hadnít been for the fact that we need to get something worked out on a grader, and soon" Randy said. "The old one is twenty-five years old and is starting to show its age. So, whatís happening out here?"
"About the same," she said. "It gets boring hanging around the house all day with Jared in school full days now. Iíve given some thought to getting a job to help pass the time, but Joel doesnít want me to. So how is Nicole doing? Iím surprised that youíre here with her this close to her due date."
"Well, Iím surprised that she let me come," Randy shrugged as they went inside. "This is the first week that sheís been off on her maternity leave, and sheís going to have to adjust to getting used to it. On the other hand, sheís used to being home alone in the summer so she has some idea of what to do."
"I suppose that would help," Rachel nodded. "So how are Mom and Dad?"
"Oh, about the same," Randy said. "Mom is starting to count the days until she retires, but I get the impression sheís not going to be all that happy to be out of the classroom. I suspect sheíll be subbing a lot when sheís not looking after the baby for us."
"Youíre lucky youíre going to have her there," Rachel replied as they found seats in the living room chairs. "I didnít have anyone to help out with Jared, and it all fell on me. Joel said that taking care of him was my job, and he was gone so much of the time it got lonely at times."
"He must be staying busy, then," Randy said.
"Oh, if anything heís busier now than he was when Jared was little. He doesnít tell me much about what heís doing but it seems to take up a lot of his time." She pointedly changed the subject. "So what do you hear from Ruth and Dave? I donít hear from Ruth as much as Iíd like to."
"Not a whole lot, but thatís normal," Randy said, realizing the change in direction. "Mom talks with Ruth once or twice a week and she usually passes along anything important. I guess theyíre having more manure disposal problems but thatís normal for this time of the year. Theyíve got some environmentalist wackos who give them more problem than the cow manure."
"So, besides the baby, anything interesting happen with you?"
"The big thing besides having to buy a new grader is that it looks like weíre going to get a really unique job. Itís not all settled yet, but weíre working on the plans trying to pull an estimate together. Itís a replica of an old-fashioned Dutch windmill; actually, the guy calls it an English windmill, and itís going to be built on an island. If it comes off it may be the wildest project that Clark Construction has ever done, and I really wish grandpa Brent was going to be around to see it."
"You sure get involved in the darnedest things," she shook her head. "When we were growing up I never figured youíd get involved in the construction company."
"Well, it wasnít what I figured when I went to college," he replied. "But a lot has happened since then and I guess I sort of fell into it. It keeps me busy, though, busier than I want to be a lot of the time, but I usually make up for it in the winter."
"But youíre doing all right with it, I take it?"
"Pretty much. Cash flow is seasonal, and things are a little tight right now, but nothing abnormal for this time of year. In a month, maybe a little more, weíll be up to our necks in work and thatíll change things."
"Grandpa Brent always seemed to be busy," she said. "I donít know how you keep up that kind of pace."
"Itís not easy, but Iíve done it. I think he worked that hard to keep from thinking about Grandma Ursula that much. She must have really been something."
"Thatís the impression I always got," she said. "After the settlement came down, I was surprised that it was as small as it was. I always thought he had more money than that."
"Money and value are relative. In actual fact, we came out about even on the deal, except that I have more risk involved. If I screw up I blow the inheritance, and itís that simple. You shouldnít have any problem paying for Jaredís college expenses when the trees on that property start to mature."
"Thatís if I still have it," she sighed. "Joel thinks that we ought to sell it under the market value just for the sake of having the money. He thinks that he can make more money with his investments, but the agent back in Spearfish Lake hasnít come up with a buyer yet."
No fooling, Randy thought, remembering back to his fatherís announcement that Binky had listed the property even before Joel and Rachel had left town back in January. And, like his father had said, it was pretty clear that Joel wanted his hands on Rachelís money. Rachel hadnít done anything to relieve his suspicions; he made a mental note to have his father ask Binky to sort of hide the listing so there wouldnít be any chance of the property being sold anytime soon. "Youíd probably be doing the best thing to sit on it for a while," he told his sister. "That property isnít worth anything now like it will be in ten years when those trees have some maturity on them."
"Youíre probably right, but Joel says he could use the money now," she sighed. "He really gets mad sometimes knowing that thereís value there and he canít get his hands on it. Iíd be willing to go along with him, but until thereís a buyer thereís not much we can do."
Boy, thereís that suspicion confirmed, Randy thought. Either Joel is in financial trouble or he wants control of the money, not let her have it. Maybe both. Either way, it wasnít good. "You never know when a buyer is going to come along," he said. "There are some people around who speculate in timber lands, but there arenít many transactions since Clark Plywood is the big fish in that pond."
"Well, weíll just have to see," she said. "He really gets upset at the fact that it wasnít a cash legacy."
"Grandpa Brent didnít think like that," Randy said, keeping to himself that it was his father that had manipulated the legacy. Boy, Dad was sure thinking clearly on that one, he thought. I wonder why Ruth didnít pick up on any of this. Maybe itís just gotten bad since Rachel was in Spearfish Lake back in January.
"Yeah, but still," she sighed. "Sometimes it gets a little hard to get along with him, but this has made it that much worse."
That raised Randyís hackles. "Does he get violent?" he asked quietly.
"Not often, but I usually worry about it," she shook her head. "He gets in these moods, well, I donít know how to say it, but there are times that I just try to go along quietly. The money really is an issue, Randy. Heís doesnít say anything nice about you, just how you got the long end of the stick on the legacy while I got essentially nothing. He keeps saying he ought to kick your ass if he ever sees you."
"He might want to try," Randy said in a hard voice, "but that wouldnít be a good idea." Right at the moment, he really wished Joel would try it; Randy was smaller than Joel, but with his martial arts skills there was little doubt how that battle would come out.
"I know it, but he wonít listen to me, just like he wonít listen to me when I tell him I need a car again. He thinks we can get along with only one car, and considering the California taxes he has a point, but it makes it very difficult to go grocery shopping, for example. He always has to take me; he hates it and he second-guesses everything I buy. Itís like I canít do anything right, or at least thatís what heís always saying."
Holy shit, Randy thought. This is worse than I thought. "Do you think it would help if I had a word with him?" he asked, thinking that he might break a few bones in the process to make his point.
"No," she told him, "It wouldnít do much good. Randy, donít get me wrong, itís good that you stopped by and Iím glad to see you, but I think maybe youíd better not stay too long. He probably wonít be home for a while, but heíll get in a rage if he knows youíve been here. He often calls during the day just to make sure Iím here, and I donít want to slip up and say anything."
"Maybe Iíd better get out of here, then," he said, wondering what to do next. It was clear that the situation was even worse than his father had suspected.
"I think that would be a good idea," she said. "Randy, Iím sorry I canít be a better host, but things are, well, a little touchy around here right now, and theyíve been that way since Grandpa Brent died. I think it will blow over in time, but for right now, Iím trying to keep the peace."
"I understand," he said. "Rachel, I just want you to know one thing. Donít let things get too bad. You do have options, no matter what he says, and remember that Dad and I are just a phone call away. You can depend on us if you need to. If it turns out that you need us to protect you from Joel, we can deal with that if we have to."
"I realize that," she sighed. "I donít really want to have to call on you. This isnít that bad, Randy. I really want to try to make it work, but weíre going through a bad patch right now. Maybe this will be better when it blows over, but I donít want Jared hurt out of all this."