Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online

Winter Layoff
a novel by
Wes Boyd
2011, 2013

Chapter 13

“Jesus,” Jim said. “That’s just about the last thing I ever expected. I was just telling Bob I needed to get back up north and get started on pulling stuff together. What the hell happened?”

“Well,” Randy grinned, “you remember when you were in the office a couple weeks ago and told Rachel and Ken about what your plans were about building the house?”

“Yeah, but I never expected anything like this to happen.”

“Neither did we,” Randy told him, a huge smile on his face. “But after you left, Ken and Rachel told me what you were thinking of, and, well, blame Rachel. She suggested we get started on the stuff you were going to have to do, just to sort of help you along a little bit.” He shrugged and laughed, “I guess things sort of snowballed on us.”

“I figured I could get a few volunteer hands, and maybe a deal here and there on materials,” Jim said. “My hope was that I wouldn’t have to get my aunt and uncle hung up with house payments that were too big for them to handle.”

“Not a problem,” Randy said. “They’re not going to have any house payments to deal with. Everything on this truck is donated, either directly or indirectly. As far as the labor is concerned, only Rachel, Ken, and I are drawing salary and we’re taking vacation time.”

“You mean Rita and John are getting this for free?”

By now a crowd of mostly familiar faces had gathered around – almost all people Jim worked with at Clark Construction, although there were a couple people who didn’t work for the company. “Pretty much,” Randy said. “You can blame Rachel and Ken for that, and they squeezed every penny until the office stank of Lincoln farts. And well, Carlos was involved with that, too. He stayed behind with Regina to watch the store – otherwise, both of them would be here, too.”

“Don’t let Randy pull your leg,” Rachel smiled “He put in as much work on it as anyone, and we might have had to get into your aunt and uncle’s insurance money if it weren’t for the hammerlock Randy put on Norm Eaglebeak.”

“Norm Eaglebeak?” Jim frowned. “What can he possibly have to do with this job?”

“We couldn’t get everything donated,” Rachel explained. “We were able to get a lot of stuff from wholesalers at cost, but that still meant we were going to have to spend money. We were just starting to think about how to get a handle on that when Randy got a nice cash donation from Three Pines through Norm.”

“Hell, I wasn’t even trying,” Randy snickered. “I just mentioned what Rachel and Ken and you were up to, and Norm made the offer himself. But by then, Rachel had another ball rolling.”

“It wasn’t just me,” Rachel said. “Somehow the word got over to the Record-Herald that we had this project going to build a house for a wounded Vietnam vet who had lost his place to Katrina. Mike McMahon did a nice story on it, and we started getting donations. Danny Evachevski donated quite a bit of stuff and gave us a huge discount on the rest, and even loaned us his delivery truck.” She nodded back behind the semi at the box truck. Jim hadn’t noticed it before, but there on the side was Spearfish Lake Furniture and Appliance. “Jennifer Walworth was involved with a lot of that, too,” she added.

“Rachel,” Jim shook his head, “I told you a couple weeks ago that I ought to kiss you, and I mean that more than ever.”

“I might have to think about that sometime,” she grinned. “Anyway, your aunt and uncle are still going to have to buy things like cookware and dishes and sheets and those kinds of things, but there’s a cash fund for them to do it, all funneled through the foundation. That mostly came from the Record-Herald donations and from Jennifer. Your aunt and uncle know something is happening, by the way, but we’ve been so busy we haven’t kept them up on all the details. Stuff happened so fast that sometimes we didn’t even know about it till it was already a done deal.”

“Like I said,” Randy laughed, “things snowballed on us. When you’ve got an avalanche coming at you there’s usually not a lot you can do but get out of the way and let it happen. Anyway, we can fill you in on the details later. We probably ought to get the vehicles off the street and start getting settled in.”

“Probably ought to,” Jim agreed, still stunned at all the news that had come at him in the last few minutes. “It’s not like you’re exactly blocking traffic, though. I’ll bet we haven’t had ten vehicles come past here other than us in all the time we’ve been here.”

“Yeah, this place is a bit of a mess, isn’t it? But it looks like you’ve got this area cleaned up pretty well.”

“You should have seen it before we started. I haven’t kept count, but I’ll bet we’ve hauled three or four dozen truckloads of crap out of here. I don’t know about places to stay, but I know there ought to be room over at the volunteer tent camp.”

“Shouldn’t be a problem,” Randy said. “I conned Bud Ellsberg into bringing his motor home down, and there are a couple campers in the crowd, and some tents. That should make for plenty of room for everyone. Where should we set up?”

It was a problem that Jim had never dreamed of planning for. “Why don’t we set up the camp on the lot to the right? We can put the semi and box truck on the lot to the left. I think we ought to stay pretty well back from the house site, you can see where it is.”

“Good enough,” Randy said. “Bud’s probably all set to get going on dinner, so we might as well let him get set up.”

“Dinner?” Jim said. “Bob and I have just been eating at the volunteer food tent downtown.”

“Well, we didn’t know about that,” Randy shook his head. “But when I hit Bud up about the motor home he volunteered to come along and cook, so I took him up on it. We brought enough food for the gang for a couple weeks, all donated by the Spearfish Lake Super Market. That was Bud’s work, by the way.”

“Holy crap,” Jim shook his head. “You guys thought of everything, didn’t you?”

“Well, we tried to,” Randy grinned. “We probably forgot something, but it wasn’t for the lack of thinking about it. But hey, this is Clark Construction, you know. We don’t like to do things half-assed.”

“Sure looks to me like you didn’t on this one.”

There wasn’t much Jim could do but stand back and watch things happen, scarcely able to believe his eyes. Not only had Randy and Rachel and Ken and the rest done everything he had been dreading having to figure out in the next couple weeks, they’d done it better and sooner than he could have ever imagined!

In only a few minutes Randy had the semi backed in off the street onto the neighboring lot. Jim had known that Randy knew how to drive the semi, but he hadn’t been aware that he was that good with it. Using just mirrors for guidance he managed to snake the semi into what there was of a driveway on the lot, and back it up so there would be room to get around it. The Spearfish Lake Furniture and Appliance Truck was parked on the far side of it, and that cleared the street so that the motor home with its big rental trailer could be pulled in on the opposite side.

Within a few more minutes the trailer was open, and Bud and a couple other people wrestled a big gas grill out of it. Before long, the air was filled with the smell of grilling hamburgers. Jim tried to make the rounds to thank everyone who had come down to pitch in on the project. Most everyone said that it was no big deal, they were glad to help out, not to mention get out of the winter cold of Spearfish Lake for a few days. Still, it was a real great turnout of his co-workers, and it would mean a lot in getting the house done – these were people who knew what they were doing, and knew how to do it right.

While the cooking was going on, the lot sprouted a couple more campers and some tents. Randy had set up a small backpacking tent. “I’ve had this for years and I don’t get to use it much anymore,” he commented to Jim. “But I thought I’d get a little more of my money’s worth out of it.”

It turned out that Bud had a big pot of baked beans going in the motor home, and it wasn’t long before there was a pretty good meal set out on a couple folding tables that had been brought along. “Before we get started eating,” Jim said loudly. “I’ve tried to get to everyone to thank you for all the help you’ve been and are going to be. This really means a lot to me, and it’s going to mean more to my aunt and uncle. There just aren’t words enough to say how much I appreciate it.”

By the time everyone was done eating it was starting to get dark. Bob mentioned that he and Jim had often had campfires to help kill the evening hours, and there was still plenty of down tree wood and debris around to make a good one. A few people headed across the street where Jim and Bob hadn’t done as much cleaning up, and there was soon a pretty good fire in front of the home site, with people gathered around. Jim and Bob talked a bit about what they’d done on the site already, and what they’d learned about the damage that had been done to the area by Katrina. “I know we’re going to be busy,” Jim said. “But when you get time, take a drive around town and see just how bad things are. This is pretty good in comparison to some places. They’ve got a lot of work left to get things pulled back together down here, but at least we’re doing our part.”

The campfire didn’t go real late. People were tired, and it turned out that the caravan had left Spearfish Lake the morning of the day before. They’d pushed hard to make it down to Pass Christian as quickly as they did, making a brief stop at a motel along the way. One by one people headed off to their beds in tents or campers or the motor home, and soon only Jim and Rachel were left around the dying fire, sitting in the rather battered and unmatched lawn chairs that he’d rescued from the rubble days before.

“This is all still pretty unbelievable to me,” Jim told her. “I sure never expected any of it.”

“Well, it seemed like a pretty good idea when Ken and I came up with it,” she said. “But really, it was your idea and we just thought we could help you out a little.”

“More than a little,” he said. “I could have never put all this together in just two weeks.”

“It helps if you know what strings to pull,” she said. “I mean, right back there at the beginning Randy agreed that we could help out with some stuff in the warehouse, since it was going to be a tax write off through the foundation anyway. Most of the standard lumber came right out of it, and that was going to happen, plus whatever else came along.”

Jim knew a little about that. Years before, Old Man Clark had become tired of 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 didn’t buy just enough for a particular job with a little bit of overage calculated in – 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 everything got used sooner or later. The lumber yard that had been the reason for this decision was no longer in business, at least partly because of losing the Clark Construction account. “I figured I might be able to get some help on that,” he said. “But I figured I’d have to at least pay wholesale cost.”

“I think that we’d already more or less been thinking about donating it through the foundation, even before you brought up the idea,” Rachel said. “I mean, that was like the first thing off the list, even before we went to Dad about getting the sheathing and stuff from Clark Plywood. By then we realized that we were a long way toward having most of what was needed for the house, and that was where things got wild. It was really kind of fun.”

“I still can’t believe you did all this.”

“Well, it’s like this. Everybody including me was feeling a little guilty that they weren’t doing more to help out with this whole Katrina effort, but it’s just kind of a general thing, you know. Then when you got involved in doing this for your aunt and uncle, that made it personal. A lot of people around the company know you and like you, Jim, and they wanted to help you helping someone else out as much as anything. I mean, if we’d just been working for nameless Katrina victims it wouldn’t have come together quite as well, but when the people in trouble are an aunt and uncle of a good friend, well, that’s a different story. Randy was right, it just sort of snowballed, and the snowball rolled farther and even a few places we didn’t really expect it to.”

“Such as?”

“Well, not long ago we had a big hassle about some electrical work that Jasper Electric did on a job. It was one of those who’s-responsible-for-what deals, and I’m not clear on it myself. Anyway, it left Greg Schoonover feeling like he owed us a favor, so when I called on him to scrounge some electrical stuff at cost or whatever, he offered to come down here and do the electrical hookup. He can’t get away for a while, but he’s going to fly down here with one of his guys next weekend to do it. Randy and Ken think we ought to be ready for him by then. And then there was the deal with Norm Eaglebeak. That came out of the clear blue sky – Randy just told him that he was going to be down here for several days. Norm asked why, and the next thing you know there was a check on the way. That made a huge difference. We were running in the hole till that came along.”

“Maybe it was fellowship between casino operators,” Jim suggested. “You know what happened with the casinos here?”

“Just what I saw on TV. The state law says they have to be on barges or something, and they got blown ashore.”

“Right, and that mess still isn’t cleaned up all the way. Bob was over working around the edges of it the first of the week when I had to take off to get the dump truck’s hydraulic pump fixed. I’ll tell you what, Rachel. You can’t believe the damage the storm did around here, and Bob and I have only seen a small part of it. I hate to say it, but this town is going to be a long time coming back to what it apparently once was.”

“Yeah, I can see that, but at least I can feel a little better about it,” she said. “That’s part of the reason I came down here.”

“You had some other reason?”

“Well, yeah, a couple of them. Hey, while I’m getting used to Spearfish Lake winters again, I lived in California long enough that I can get tired of the cold, too. I figured it would be nice to get away from the snow for a while. I’ve hardly been out of Spearfish Lake since Dad and Randy got me away from that louse I was married to and brought me back home, so I figured it would be good to see someplace a little different, too.”

“I know a little about that,” he said. “He’s the guy who made the mistake of trying to beat up on Randy, and now’s doing time, right?”

“Right,” she sighed. “I don’t know what I ever saw in that guy, but I’m damn sure glad that Randy and Ruth and Dad and Mom got me out of there. I don’t know I’m all the way recovered from it, either, but it’s coming along.”

There was something in her tone of voice that told Jim he didn’t want to press her any further in that direction. “I sure was surprised to see Randy pull up driving the truck,” he said, the first thing that came to mind. “And you riding with him.”

“Oh, that was fun,” she giggled. “I didn’t ride with him all the time. He and Mike changed off on the driving, Mike has a CDL too.”

“I didn’t know that Randy even had one.”

“I didn’t either until he crawled up in the cab,” she said. “It turns out he’s had one for years, just in case he needs to run some piece of big equipment like a concrete truck or the machinery hauler. But I’ll tell you, he was sure one happy camper to get out on the road in that big rig. I swear to God, at least every half hour he’d break out singing, Southbound and down, loaded up and truckin’, we’re gonna do what they say can’t be done. I don’t think he knows the rest of the song or he probably would have been singing it.”

“Yeah, it sounds like he was having his fun,” Jim grinned.

“Give him the choice, I think he’d rather be a truck driver or an equipment operator,” she laughed. “He can’t get out with the equipment very much due to contract restrictions, but when the slightest opportunity arises he’ll be out there so quick it isn’t funny.”

“I know he uses the Bobcat to clean out some driveways around town,” Jim said.

“And any other equipment he can get his hands on whenever he can. I think he rigged around the donation for the new soccer field last summer just so he’d have an excuse to go out there with the new John Deere grader to get a feel for it,” she giggled. “It frustrates him that he can’t be more hands-on with this stuff, since he’s a hands-on kind of guy but stuck doing just paperwork and office stuff. When we were kids growing up, I never saw that in him. He was just a little pest trying to make my life more difficult, but he sure grew out of it. After he, Dad, Mom, and Ruth brought me back to Spearfish Lake, he’s been just about like a dad to my son Jared. I mean, way more of a father than his father ever was.”

Jim sensed that they were getting close to a sensitive area again. “He sure seems like he’d be good at it.”

“Oh, yeah,” she said. “I never believed how good until I saw it. My ex, well, he didn’t want Jared to play Little League since he didn’t want to have to take the time to go to a game now and then. Even as busy as Randy is in the summer, I don’t think he’s missed any of Jared’s games. Now, when his own son Brent gets older, he’s going to be quite the doting father there, too. It’ll be interesting if their new baby turns out to be a girl, because I can imagine, oh, fifteen years up the road Randy intimidating all her potential boyfriends with his martial arts skills if they try anything out of line.”

“That might louse up her love life, all right,” Jim laughed, then added, “I didn’t even know his wife was pregnant.”

“About seven months, she’s due in the middle of March. That was the one thing holding him back from coming, he didn’t want to leave her there alone, but she almost took off from teaching to come down here with him. Nicole and I had to work together to tell him it was all right to come, and she all but pushed him out the door. She realizes that this is going to be an adventure for him, and so long as he doesn’t get to feeling guilty about leaving her behind, then it will be. Which is good, he needs an adventure once in a while, and it’s getting harder for him to get them.”

“You mean with having the little kids?”

“Right. See, Nicole is free in the summers, and he gets his free time in the winters, so they hardly ever get to make a major trip together and do some of the stuff they both like to do. They’ve only managed it a couple times, and it’s probably not going to happen again in the near future. At one time it really ground at Randy, since he doesn’t want to leave Nicole out of things when she can’t get free. So, like I said, she almost had to push him out the door, but he’ll have some fun out of this. He’s not going to want to stay too long, though.”

“How about your son? What does he think about you coming down here?”

“Oh, it’ll be all right,” she said. “Staying with Aunt Nicole for a while is going to be a bit of an adventure for him, too. He just about had to push me out the door. He told me to have some fun, that I deserved it, too. He’s a pretty good and understanding kid, which surprises me a little considering his father.”

They talked for a while longer, just talking. Jim had always liked Rachel from the moment she’d first come to work in the Clark Construction office, but they’d rarely had time to just sit around and shoot the bull. She was a good-looking woman, about his age, and a divorcee, just like he was – but he’d never really considered approaching her, at least partly because she was Randy’s older sister, and partly because he knew she was a college graduate from a relatively well-off family. But still, she was nice to talk to, and they just sat and talked and told stories until the fire was nothing but glowing coals.

It was later than it should have been when she finally said, “I suppose I’d better turn in for the night. This is going to be fun, I’ve only slept in a sleeping bag and a tent maybe half a dozen times at the most, and not at all in the last fifteen years or so.”

“I don’t get in tents much myself,” he said as he levered himself out of the lawn chair – it was the wobbly one and he had to sit carefully in it. “But I’ve gotten used to a sleeping bag in the last couple weeks. I hope I can get to sleep the way Bob snores, but I’m tired enough that it probably won’t take long. Thanks for sitting around and talking. I’ve really enjoyed it.”

“I have too,” she said in the near total darkness as she stood up. “Jim, I don’t know how to say this, but a couple times you’ve said you wanted to kiss me, and now would be a real good time.”

Scarcely believing he was doing this on a day when so many other things had happened that he had trouble believing, he came close to her and felt her take him in her arms as he wrapped his around her. He’d mostly been joking, and started to give her a little kiss on the cheek, but somehow his mouth found itself on hers. It was considerably more of a kiss than he’d planned – he hadn’t had one like that since the early days with Carolyn, and it went on and on.

Finally they pulled apart. “Thanks, Jim,” she whispered. “You don’t know how bad I needed that. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“See you in the morning,” he said back, watching as she turned to head for her tent. He stood there watching her go, feeling things he hadn’t felt for a long time. There was a lot more in that kiss than he’d been expecting – did it mean something? Had it even been a good idea?

With his mind roiling with unexpected thoughts, he watched until she crawled into the tent, then he turned toward the camper parked across the street.

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To be continued . . .
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