Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
For many years longer than Susan had been alive, Wednesday morning was paper day around the Spearfish Lake Record-Herald. Since the paper was a weekly, it had no regular circulation staff, so it was traditional for members of all the departments to gather around to address and bundle the thousands of papers that had to go out in the mail. This wasn’t an unfamiliar chore to Susan; she’d helped with it from time to time since she’d been just a very small girl, and her joining the staff for the chore just underlined the fact that she was really back home.
The papers were printed at a central plant down in Camden, like they had been for many years, and someone always had to head down there way early to pick them up. Since they wanted to have the papers over at the post office before the carriers came in and began to set up their next day’s deliveries, it was always necessary to get the addressing done early. This morning was the earliest that Susan had gotten up since she’d been back home, but she figured that she could get the addressing done and still have time to go home, change clothes, and head down to Riverside to do her actual registration for classes.
Although the job could get a little boring, it wasn’t drudgery. Mostly the staff members gathered around a couple of big tables in the back room and gossiped as they worked. There had been some changes since Susan had last done the job; the old advertising manager, Sally Szczerowski, had taken early retirement, and her long-time assistant, Debbie Evachevski, had replaced her. Due to the lack of a junior reporter, this morning even Anissa Hodges had come in to help out with the chore.
If the Record-Herald had such a thing as a “senior reporter,” Anissa was it. She was actually the sportswriter, but occasionally helped fill in with other things, especially when the paper was short a junior reporter. She’d never been more than part-time, and mostly concentrated her attention on the school sports, mostly the Spearfish Lake Marlins, but she also provided some limited coverage to the Warsaw Warriors and the Albany River Panthers. She really wasn’t a full-fledged reporter, anyway. She’d never attended a day of college, and had only been pressed into service as the sportswriter years before when Mike, short a junior reporter, had noticed that Anissa was at every game he went to, usually with a small child or two in tow. She was knowledgeable about the sports and the kids playing them, and he figured that she could at least give him raw information that he could convert into a legible story, giving Mike the occasional chance to go home and get away from all that. Over the years, under his tutelage, she’d become a pretty good reporter, especially on school events, but only if no digging was involved beyond the school gym.
The group in the back room, which included her father and mother, spent some time talking about Susan’s experiences in Germany. Everyone there already knew the basic details, and Susan suspected that most Wednesday mornings had featured some discussion of what she’d been up to. Thank God, she hadn’t told her parents everything she was doing, she thought. Not only would they know it, who could say how many other people would know it after the gossip got aired out around here! Even an ocean’s separation wouldn’t have mattered much if she hadn’t kept her mouth firmly shut about some of the things she’d done with Hans, Elke, Lothar, and Freya. She knew she was going to have to continue to be careful with what she said, too.
Susan also knew that having Anissa around meant that there was going to be some sports talk sooner or later, so she figured that she might as well accept it. “So, Anissa,” she said when she’d got tired of talking about the things in Germany that had been rehashed many times before, “I never heard much of anything about how the football team did last year. Lousy as usual, I suppose?”
“Lousy is hardly the word for it,” Anissa sneered. “Let’s see, you were still here when Jerome Weilfahrt was named coach, weren’t you? Oh, yes, you must have been, it was two years ago.”
“They didn’t do very well then,” Susan commented. “I mean, not that I cared very much. I had other things to worry about, including getting an extra year’s worth of requirements out of the way.” She would have liked to have added, “Not that it meant anything,” but over breakfast the McMahons had agreed that there was no point in letting the cat out of the bag about the Gingrich situation around the addressing table just yet. It couldn’t wait for long, perhaps another week, if that, but there was no point in stirring things up any earlier than they needed to be.
“If you thought they did lousy two years ago, then you sure didn’t hear about last year,” Anissa said. “I used to think Johansen was a lousy coach but he seems pretty good now. There’s no preparation before practice starts, and not much discipline. He mostly lets the kids do what they want to do, and mostly what they want to do is think they’re the kings of the hill without doing anything to deserve it. And Weilfahrt lets them get away with it, so don’t be expecting any championships this year, or even much winning.”
“That’s not quite what you said in your story,” Mike pointed out.
“Well, I had to make it look positive,” Anissa protested. “I said they had a chance of having a better record than last year. There is that chance if they get a little lucky, but in football you sometimes have to make your own luck, and they haven’t been working very hard at trying to develop it.”
“So what do you actually think?” Mike asked.
“They might have a chance to go three and six, but two and seven seems more likely, if they even do that well. At least this year they switched the schedule around so they don’t open with Coldwater. That would be a sure loss. Since they’re playing Warsaw for the season opener Friday night, there’s at least a chance they could open with a win at home. They haven’t done that for years. If you want to go to a football game and see the best chance at a win, then that’s the one.”
“I don’t really know if I care,” Susan shrugged. “We didn’t have school sports in Germany the way they have here, so I guess I got out of the habit of caring.” It wasn’t all that appealing to her; she really didn’t care much about sports in the first place, and the arrogant superiority complex that some of the football players had even back when they were in tenth grade had really irritated her. On the other hand, if things worked out the way she hoped, it would it might be a rare opportunity to see some of the kids she’d gone to school with for years but probably wouldn’t be seeing much more, at least in school. It might be her last opportunity before the word got out that she was going to be attending college rather than high school. “But going might be something to think about,” she added.
“Nothing like a little American football to remind you that you’re really an American,” Mike grinned as he set another bundle of papers up on the table. “I’ll bet you’re still thinking like a German and that a football is round and white with black spots.”
“No, I retain that much of my heritage,” Susan smiled. “Lothar was kind of a football nut, and by that I mean what we call soccer here. He took me to a couple games, and well, it probably was a little more interesting than watching grass grow, if you know what I mean.”
“Well, I guess that’s OK if it’s what you like,” Anissa shrugged. “But soccer seems pretty dull to me, too. Any game that can have what I’ve heard called ‘an unassailable one-point lead’ seems pretty pointless to me, but I know there are those who like it.”
“So,” Mike said, obviously looking to change the subject, “what do you hear about the new superintendent?”
“You mean besides the fact that he’s a dork?” Anissa sneered. “From what I hear, it seems like he’s real interested in putting his finger into every pie at the school and making sure the pie tastes like it. I have yet to meet anyone who likes him after the first time they’ve met him, and that includes me. I have no idea what Glenn Aho was thinking when he pushed so hard for hiring him.”
“Lindeman didn’t give me much information on all that,” Mike shrugged. “Well, there were a lot of things that he didn’t handle very well and that was one of them. I heard elsewhere that Glenn pushed pretty hard, though.”
“That he did,” Anissa agreed. “I mean, I thought Glenn was smarter than that, but I guess not.” From what I hear he pulled every string he could to get board votes enough to hire him, and I guess there was a lot of trading of favors going on. The story I heard was that there were several people on the school board who would have liked to have seen Weilfahrt gone from coaching before he can cause much more damage. George Battle is the only one who really likes the guy, for whatever reason. It doesn’t make much sense to me.”
“I hadn’t heard that story, either,” Mike shook his head. To Susan it looked like he was probing Anissa for information without letting on to her what he was doing. “I heard that Aho stalled the vote on hiring Gingrich until after the new board members came on so there would be Don Friedenbach’s vote for him.”
“Yeah, and I thought that was a little underhanded,” Anissa shook her head. “I mean, he was making out like it was for something else, but it’s the only reason he would have done something like that.”
“Something smells fishy to me,” Mike wrinkled his nose. “In fact, it’s smelled fishy for quite a while, but the more I hear the worse it gets. I sure would like to see Gingrich’s resumé and any investigation the school board did on him, but I don’t think I want to stir things up by dropping a Freedom of Information Act request on them. Hell, that’s supposed to be public information anyway.”
“I don’t know what good that would do,” Anissa shrugged. “I mean, it sort of strikes me as closing the gate after the horse is gone.”
“You never know,” Mike shrugged. “It still strikes me as something that we ought to know, and maybe the public ought to know it, too. There has to be some reason Aho was pushing so damn hard.”
“If so, I have no idea what it could be,” the sportswriter shrugged. “Maybe Gingrich had something on him and was looking for a payoff.”
“I could believe it,” Mike said. “And I could believe it if that wasn’t what was going on, too. That sort of thing looks good on TV, but it’s not the kind of thing that happens in real life very often. Still, I think it’s something we need to look into. Anissa, keep your ear to the ground on this and let me know if you hear something. And if you can find a way to get your hands on his resumé and the background investigation without anyone knowing that the request came from me, I’d appreciate it.”
As soon as the papers were out, Susan said goodbye for the day, went home, changed her clothes from the grubbies she used for the addressing into something nice enough to be impressive. That only took a few minutes, and then she got in the Cavalier and out on the highway, heading for Riverside. She had on the seat beside her the admission documentation, the list of courses she wanted to take, and a check for part of her tuition – the rest of it would come from the school.
She’d gotten quite a bit out of the discussion around the addressing table, mostly since no one there knew yet about the trouble she’d had with Gingrich, or what was going to happen as a result of it. She didn’t consider herself a journalist, or even an aspiring one, although it might happen in time, but it sure sounded to her like there was more to the Gingrich/Aho business than met the eye.
Really, as much as she disliked the man for never having met him and whatever his motives might have been, she felt like she’d come out pretty good in the exchange. That was mostly by pure luck, good thinking, and taking the Abitur tests more or less on a whim. It didn’t mean that Gingrich wasn’t a jerk and that Aho might be too, but even to her, it was clear that he was well on the way to causing more damage to the school system, for whatever reason he might be doing it. In one sense of the word, it didn’t concern her anymore, or at least wouldn’t when she got her paperwork filed in the next few hours, so on that level she didn’t much care. But there were other people she knew who might get hurt as well and wouldn’t be in her position to recover from it.
Of course, she was still pretty angry about the stunt that Gingrich had pulled on her, for apparently no more reason than to prove he could throw his weight around. While she was happy to be heading for college, especially considering the alternative was not one but two years more of high school, that was still a pretty raw thing to do and she sure would like to see him get his in return. Costing him -- well, actually the school – thirteen thousand dollars was one thing but in a way it was almost beside the point. It would only be a simple number and would get lost among a lot of other numbers, satisfying though the thought might be.
On the other hand, if there was a way to really get at that idiot, it would be worth the effort, especially if it was before he could do any other damage. Being able to work through her father and the Record-Herald looked like it would be a good way to go, so she resolved to help her father where she could. She made a mental note to tell him that, although she thought it was pretty well understood to begin with. But, what she could do right now was hard to tell, and she couldn’t think of anything other than waiting to see what developed over the next few days.
Eventually she gave up thinking about it, mostly because there wasn’t much left other than to go over and over the same things she already knew. Somewhere along in there, her thoughts slipped away from that subject to the idea of going to the football game Friday night. Although as she’d told Anissa she really didn’t care very much about football, especially Spearfish Lake Marlins high school football, it would be about the only chance she would have left to be sociable with her friends and classmates while she was at least officially still a high school student.
There was a chance that her high school days could come to an end about as soon as someone found out that she was going to be carrying a full load of college classes. Gingrich probably couldn’t do anything about that situation, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he still tried to throw his weight around when he found out, and that could leave Susan an official dropout a little sooner than she intended. It might interfere with whatever plans her father had for her being an inside source over at the school, but then it might lead to Gingrich doing something both stupid enough, and publicly, so a story could be written about it for the paper. There was no way of telling.
It was still going to be hard to have to leave her friends and classmates in such a way. Although she was now looking forward to college, she had also previously looked forward at least a little bit to coming back to Spearfish Lake High School and telling some stories about Germany and what it was like to spend a year in school there. It still would be nice to do it; there were kids there, most of them in fact, who had no idea just how easy they had it in comparison.
That was especially true of the football players. It was no secret that some of them got better grades than they had any right to, because of how football-crazy the school was, and socially they were, as Anissa had said, the kings of the hill in many respects. Although Susan may have been a superior student, a good ball carrier got more respect than she did – or at least it had often seemed that way to her. A football player could just about get away with murder around the school! Mr. Hekkinan seemed to keep a pretty close watch on bullying, but if anyone got away with pushing some other kid around it was likely to be a football player doing the pushing, at least partly because Mr. Hekkinan had been the varsity football coach for many years.
In Germany, they didn’t even have school sports teams! That had been really refreshing – with no jocks, there wasn’t the jock mentality running around the school. It was something that Susan hadn’t missed in the slightest and one reason to not be anxious to be back at Spearfish Lake High. Then too, a lot of the football players who were considered to be such a big deal wouldn’t even be going to the same school in Germany! There were some good students on the team, or at least had been the last time Susan had gone to school in Spearfish Lake, but a good many of the football players struck Susan as more Realschule or even Hauptschule material. As far as she was concerned, that was a real advantage the German system had over the American one.
Well, even if Riverside did strike her as something of a Realschule or even a Hauptschule of colleges, at least they didn’t have a football team, or any other sports teams. She suspected that the former high school athletes who went there were going to find out that they didn’t have quite the perks they’d once enjoyed. Watching that happen could be fun – and satisfying, too. The more she thought about it, the more she realized that she was really going to enjoy being free of that stuff at Spearfish Lake High School. She thought that even if she still was officially a student she could try to set a new school record for skipping classes.
Even so, going to the Spearfish Lake football game seemed appealing, if only as a way to say goodbye to the place in her own mind. Perhaps, she thought, she could ask Megan if she’d like to go along; she knew Megan sometimes went to games, and sometimes didn’t, but going with someone would be more fun than going by herself, which she wouldn’t want to do anyway. It wouldn’t raise the issue that had been raised Sunday; while she had little objection to having some fun with Megan if the chance arose, she didn’t want it to become a big deal and it seemed to her that Megan wouldn’t mind if it did. But then, a little fun might not be quite as big a deal if Susan weren’t a student at the high school any longer, but it might not be the same thing for Megan. Maybe, Susan thought, Jimmy might be back and Megan might be willing to take a little more of a risk than it seemed she had with him the last time.
Maybe it wouldn’t matter as much anymore. She and Megan weren’t going to be having the shared experience of high school any longer – and hadn’t for a year now, in fact. It still seemed like a good idea to not be very blatant about any of that kind of fun, since Riverside was still pretty close to home and there might be other Spearfish Lake kids going there, even kids from her class. Whatever happened, in another year she would be farther away, and things would be different.
Those thoughts kept her occupied the rest of the way down to the Riverside campus. There was still a lot of paperwork to do, but she had the key pieces in place at the moment. One of the really fun things to do was to walk into the registrar’s office and ask for Heidi – she didn’t know her last name. Heidi had another student with her at the moment, but Susan didn’t have to wait long before she was chattering in German as they worked out the details of the registration process.
It was an interesting discussion, and by the time it was over with Susan knew that whatever else, she had one friendly face on the Riverside campus. It turned out that Heidi was actually Mrs. Hayward; she’d married an American in Germany several years before and stayed with him at his Army post until his retirement and return home to Camden. It had been pretty decent, Heidi reported; they’d managed to spend a lot of time in Germany, which was good, but all too much of the rest was spent in places like Ft. Bliss, Texas, which hadn’t been nearly as much fun. She had hoped that retiring to Camden would prove to be a happy medium, which it more or less was, but he’d made the mistake of getting involved with the local Army Reserve unit, and now was in Afghanistan for an extended period. “Neither of us expected that to happen,” Heidi explained.
“Well, I hope he’s going to come out of it all right,” Susan tried to be sympathetic.
“I do, too,” Heidi sighed. “It’s the first place we’ve been in the Army where we’ve had to be apart. It would have been tempting to go back to Germany to wait, but I have a good job here and at least the kids are going to American schools. You may have done well in the German school system but their German is nowhere near as good as yours, so they would have had a lot of difficulties. It all means I had to stay here, and it’s been a bit lonely at times. Oh, well, only seven more months to go unless he gets extended again. I wouldn’t put it past the Army, either.”
The session with Heidi took longer than it really needed to, but both of them seemed to enjoy it. There were several other offices that Susan had to find to get papers stamped and paperwork done, and buying books for the various classes. It took a while to complete everything, but by the time it was finished, Susan was a full-time college student, and now whatever happened at Spearfish Lake High School would be irrelevant. It was something that seemed like it was out of a past and was very quickly growing distant.
It was in fact distant since she hadn’t gone to school there for a year, anyway. That didn’t matter. There were new challenges to face now.