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

Winter Layoff
a novel by
Wes Boyd
2011, 2013

Chapter 15

The work went quickly all morning. The only real hold-up was that the crew got a little ahead of the cement mixer from time to time. It usually just about enough time for the rest of the concrete crew to come over, tank up on their coffee and stand around and shoot the bull a bit.

While they were sipping at coffee in one of those impromptu breaks, Randy commented, “Oh, hell. We got started so quickly this morning I dead forgot about the most important thing we have to do.”

“Oh, cripe,” Bob said. “Something serious?”

“Damn right,” Randy said. “I’ll be back in a minute. He headed over to the semi tractor and reached behind the seat, pulling out a metal sign about two feet by three feet and mounted on a metal stand. He took it over and planted it in the sandy soil in front of the construction site. The sign was familiar; Jim had seen similar ones before around Spearfish Lake. It was lettered on both sides, and from where he stood near the serving table, he could see that it read:

Another Quality Home
Built By
Clark Construction
Spearfish Lake, Michigan

“You’re dead right,” Jim grinned when Randy got back to his coffee cup. “We need to let people know that we’re the real deal, not a bunch of fly-by-night jacklegs.”

“Darn right,” Randy smiled. “We’ve got our name on it. That means it’s going to be something to be proud of.”

Soon the crew was busy mixing cement and bucket-brigading it to the pilings. The work went quickly. By the time they broke for lunch, all holes for the pilings had been drilled and the Sonotube forms were in place, and from what Jim could see, the crew putting together the roof trusses was coming along nicely.

Lunch was sandwiches, chips, and a hearty stew that tasted good on what was a cool day for Pass Christian but that seemed unseasonably warm to this North Country crew. While they were eating, Mike wandered over to Jim and commented, “It’s going pretty well, but it would be better if that little pump could keep up with the way we have to use water at times.”

“I can run over to the city office and see about getting it turned on,” Jim offered. “The only thing is that I doubt that it’ll be on today. Even if they could run over here and turn on the local main, there’s probably enough open lines that they’ll have to shut off half the neighborhood, and that’s going to take them time.”

“Yeah, well, I figured something like that,” Mike shrugged. “It’s not going to matter that much right now, and we’re going to be through the worst of the concrete work today. We’ve still got some sidewalks and some pads for the access ramps to pour, but we don’t have to be in a big rush about them.”

“It would be nice to have some drinkable water on the site, though,” Jim nodded. “I’m sure Bud wouldn’t mind having some for cooking and dishwashing. I’ll take a run over there after lunch and see what I can do.”

While they were eating, Russ wandered over to Jim and commented, “Looks like we’re going to be really ready to go to town tomorrow. That’s if all the pilings are set up enough to work on.”

“Should be,” Jim told him. “They need to cure a bit, but they should be OK tomorrow if we don’t put any real weight on them. Shouldn’t be any problem with getting the floor joists in and skinned.”

“Good enough,” Ray said. “Jim, you think you can have Bob give us some help with the backhoe this afternoon? We need to get some of the lumber off the truck and sorted so we can really go to town at it in the morning.”

“Shouldn’t be any reason why not,” Jim replied, “unless Mike is going to need him some more.”

“It would be helpful for moving cement around,” Mike said. “But it shouldn’t take all afternoon for him to unload the truck.”

“Aw, it shouldn’t take more than an hour or so,” Russ said nodding. “Then I don’t see why you can’t have him the rest of the afternoon.”

“Got a question for both you guys,” Jim said. “I see by the plans you’ve got a handicapped ramp, and it strikes me that it’d be good if we got that guy up fairly early on to make access easier. Any reason we can’t get on that about as soon as you guys start getting the floor joists in?”

“Shouldn’t be,” Mike said. “All we’ve really got to do is to get the pads formed and poured for it, and we can do that tomorrow. By then, except for a little sidewalk work, the concrete work is done, and I think we’re going to have enough cement to do the job.”

“I’m sure we can break free some people to work on that as soon as the pads are ready,” Russ replied. “It probably wouldn’t be until maybe the day after tomorrow, but it’ll be a big help to have that thing in place pretty early.”

“OK, we’ll figure on doing it that way,” Jim said. “This is going pretty well so far.”

“Yeah, in a couple days it ought to look like someone’s building a house here,” Russ said. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t blow right through this project with as many hands as we have helping.”

As soon as people got back to work after lunch, Jim got in the dump truck, took the load that had been left in it from the day before over to the collection point, and went on to the city office. It took him a while to see the guy in charge of the water lines, and he wasn’t as hopeful as he had been the other day. “I hate to tell you this,” he said. “But we’ve had some problems and some other things have cropped up. I told you that when you got a house under way we’d see if we can get water to it, but I’m afraid it’s going to be a while.”

“We’ve got a house under way, if that makes a difference,” Jim said. “I’m not sure how long it’s going to take to finish, but a lot of the crew is planning on heading home in a couple weeks and they plan on having it done by then.”

“Well, I doubt you’re going to have water there by then. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is. There’s just too much to do and not enough to do it with.”

“Would it help if I was to loan you a backhoe, and maybe a couple guys?”

“Probably,” the guy said. “The problem is that whenever we can get our hands on any equipment from out of town it keeps getting pulled off and sent to that stupid Beach Boulevard project.”

“I can tell whoever I have running the backhoe that he’s not going to Beach Boulevard whatever that guy says,” Jim offered.

“It might work out for a while, but I’d still catch hell about it,” the guy said. “Someone really has a bug up their ass about that, and I’m not sure why. I’ll do what I can, and I’ll remember that you’ve got a backhoe if I really need it. I’m just sorry we can’t do everything at once, but well, we can’t do everything at once.”

Jim was a little depressed as he drove back to the building site. This was a problem he hadn’t anticipated – the guy had seemed ready to help when he’d talked to him a few days before. Well, he had his own problems.

Over dinner that evening, Jim made it a point to thank Ken for thinking to bring the pipe and the pump. “I don’t even remember mentioning that to you,” he said. “But you get points for thinking of it.”

“Oh, it was just something we’ve had sitting around the warehouse for years, and I thought it might be useful,” Ken said. “Guess I was right.”

“I’ve been a little worried about the electrical hookup,” Jim said, loud enough that everyone could hear. “The guy from the electrical company told us that if we had a house we’d have power. I guess I’d better go talk to him tomorrow, but if he gives me the runaround, Ken, I don’t suppose you threw a wind generator in the truck?”

“No,” Ken said. “I didn’t go quite that far.”

“If it comes to that, it comes to that,” Randy said. “Push comes to shove, I’ll call up Dave Newton, the guy we built the windmill house for. I’d be willing to bet good money he has a spare one laying around somewhere.”

“Get him involved and we might find ourselves building another windmill,” Jim laughed. “Boy, I’ll bet one of those would really turn if a hurricane hit it. While it lasted, that is.”

By then it was getting pretty dark, and everyone felt satisfied with a good day’s work. In the dying light of day they used some more debris to build another bonfire, and most of them sat around the light of the fire, telling stories and just shooting the bull.

One by one people drifted off to bed, and soon it was down to just Rachel, Randy, and Jim sitting by what was left of the fire. “Well,” Randy said, “I think it went pretty good for the first day of the job.”

“A little more planning and things could have gone a little smoother,” Jim said.

“Well, yeah,” Randy said. “But it worked out, and from my viewpoint we got done just about everything we could have gotten done today, anyway. Those piers have to set overnight, and it wouldn’t hurt if they could have a little longer to cure, but Mike seems to think we can get away with it, and if he thinks so, he’s probably right. From here on, it looks like pretty straightforward house construction.”

“Yeah, looks like it to me, too,” Jim agreed. “That doesn’t mean we’re not going to run into problems, but after today I think we’re going to be able to solve them.”

“Yeah, I’m really looking forward to seeing how this goes,” Randy said. “Usually when we build a house, we use a crew of four, maybe six if it’s big, and only bring in other people if they’re needed for something special. Here, we’re throwing an army at what’s really an average house, maybe a little smaller than that. I want to see if people get in each other’s way, or if it goes even better. We might have to rethink how we do some other jobs as a result.”

“I can tell you right now there’s been some crackerjack planning in this or it wouldn’t be going as well as it has. I’ve felt a little lost in that I wasn’t part of the planning, but I feel like I’m catching up a little.”

“Yeah, well, that was sort of how it worked out. I didn’t realize until we were getting pretty close to the end that Ken hadn’t been keeping you clued in on what was happening back at home. I guess he wanted his little surprise.”

“Well, he sure as hell got it,” Jim said. “I mean, I can think back over some of the things he said and I can realize now that I should have seen that there were things going on. I thought he was just talking about developing the plan, not the bunch of you putting the whole damn thing together.”

“Well,” Rachel grinned. “The look on your face was worth it, and I’m just glad I got to be a part of that, too.”

“So, Randy,” Jim asked, mindful of what Rachel had said the night before. “Are you enjoying yourself?”

“More than you can imagine,” Randy replied. “I’ve always been a hands-on guy, and it’s hard as hell for me to sit back and let others do the work when I could be pitching in. This time I get to. I don’t feel like I can stay down here for a long time, but I ought to be able to squeeze a couple weeks out of it before I really should be heading back. I hate to leave Nicole home alone when she’s getting this close to her due date, but I’m glad I came. This is going to turn into the best winter break I’ve had in years. If the timing were just a little bit different, I’d be tempted to stay on a while longer to see if I could pitch in somewhere else.”

“There’s a whole lot to do, that’s for sure,” Jim said. “I haven’t got a whole lot to do back in Spearfish Lake. I don’t know about Bob, but I might be tempted to stay on for a while, depending on how well this project goes.”

“It is a tempting thought,” Randy agreed. “But I have more reasons than Nicole to be getting back. Norm Eaglebeak and I still haven’t settled on what’s got to get done this summer, and I’m just as glad to get away so I can let him stew for a bit. There’s no need yet in getting into the ins and outs of it, but it’s beginning to look like we’re going to have three big projects this summer instead of two, so that affects how much we’re going to do at Three Pines. We’ve been going back and forth on it for a couple months, and it’s getting to the point where some decisions have to be made. So while it’s good that I came down here in that it gives us both a chance to take a breather on that jazz, I can’t stretch it out too long.”

“I swear, you have the tough job,” Jim shook his head. “I’d just as soon just sit on the seat of a backhoe or something and let someone else do the hard part.”

“Oh, it has its points,” Randy yawned. “I’ll tell you what, I think I’m going to turn in. The two of you can sit here and talk if you want, but I think I need to be checking out the backs of my eyelids.”

“I think I’ll stay up and talk with Jim for a little,” Rachel said. “We had a good time last night.”

“Suit yourself,” Randy said as he got up – a few more lawn chairs had appeared from somewhere. “Just don’t keep me awake. Well, see you in the morning, you two. Gonna be a big day.”

Jim and Rachel watched as he walked away. “You know,” Jim said, feeling a little awkward about it, “I really did enjoy sitting up talking with you last night.”

“I did, too,” she said. “More than I thought I would. I’ve been looking forward all day to spending a little more time just talking with you. You’re an interesting guy, Jim. You seem to be very competent, but you seem very modest about it. That’s in total contrast to my ex, who was the next thing to incompetent at what he was supposed to know, at least from what I’ve found out since I left him, but he sure talked a big battle.”

“I try not to do that,” Jim said. “I mean, I know what I’m good at, but I try not to push my limits that much. It really has been a handful to have Randy tell me, ‘It’s your job, you run it.’ Hell, that’s the last thing I expected.”

“And so far, you’ve done a fine job at it,” she said. “I don’t know how to tell you this, because it’s just a gut feeling, but I don’t think you’re going to mess up very much on this job, if you do at all. You know what you’re doing even if you don’t admit it, and you’ve got good people backstopping you. That counts for a lot.”

“Well, I wish I had the confidence in myself that you seem to have in me,” he said. “It seems like I’m doing nothing but playing catch-up.”

“That’s because we got a head start on you, so you are catching up,” she told him. “In another couple days it’s not going to matter, because the things that you don’t know won’t matter, like where stuff was on the truck. It’s already well on the way to being unloaded, and that issue will be gone.”

“Well, I suppose you’re right on that,” he sighed. “In any case, I’m just glad you have the confidence in me.”

“Oh, I’m not worried about it,” she said. “Like I said, I had years of lessons on incompetence mixed with bragging and bluster. I didn’t like it a bit, but for the longest time there wasn’t anything I could do about it. Then, when I came back to Spearfish Lake, I happened to be around people like you who are competent and modest about it, and I’m just enjoying it. You remember when you took Randy and Nicole and I on that tour of the Newton house on Windmill Island?”

“Yeah,” he said. “That was kind of neat. I mean, there we were with the Newton’s pride and joy, and I thought they would have been the ones who wanted to show it off. But no, they just schmoozed with people in the living room and let me be the tour guide.”

“That’s exactly what I mean,” she said. “They let the house speak for itself, and just let you interpret for it. I thought you did a darn good job of explaining some of the workings of the place, like you’d been involved in the conception and design of it.”

“When I first heard about it I thought it was the craziest idea anyone had ever come up with,” he admitted. “But then, I worked with the Newtons a lot all that summer, and piece by piece it began to make sense to me. I still think it’s a crazy idea, but it sure seems to work and it is without a doubt the most unique house I’ve ever heard of.”

“You know,” she said, “the thing I remember best about that was the pride you showed in it, that you had been a part of putting it together, and a big part at that. Randy told me that a lot of things would never have been done as easily as they were if you hadn’t been involved with it. Like I said, I think you have a tendency to cut yourself short. But I’ll tell you this, Jim: when we get done with this house, you’re going to show a lot of pride in it. There’s a lot you may not have been involved with, but you sure were the spark plug who got things going. In my mind, that counts for a lot.”

“Well, I’m just going to be happy to have my aunt and uncle back in their own house, rather than having to live in that nuthouse with his sister and brother-in-law. I was only there for a couple hours, and I was happy to be out of there.”

“Yes, I can understand that,” she smiled. “But Jim, ask yourself this – if you hadn’t taken it on yourself to see if something could be done for them, they’d have to be facing that problem for a long time. They’re nice people, Jim. I haven’t met them but I’ve talked to them on the phone, and I’ll tell you that they’re just about sure you can walk on water.”

“I do,” Jim laughed. “Whenever I go out to my fish coop on the lake.”

“Come on, Jim, you know what I mean. Nobody else would go to any trouble for your aunt and uncle, but you did. I know you didn’t think there was much you could do, but there was stuff that could be done and you were the one who set it in motion. That’s something to be proud of.”

Although both of them were tired, neither of them wanted to give up the discussion. They sat around the dying fire, and then the glowing coals, just talking. Jim learned more about her ex-husband – he’d been a very controlling jerk, and she’d let herself get very beaten down before Randy and the rest of her family literally walked into her California house and hauled her and her son home with them. With that, Jim felt he had to tell her about his life with Carolyn, how it had started with such promise and hope and ended when she sank into the bottle.

“I knew some of that,” she said after he got done telling the story. “But I hadn’t realized it was that bad. It must have been very disappointing for you.”

“Yeah,” he said, not really wanting to get into it but not able to hold back. “I guess I haven’t really gotten over her yet. It’s been years, and I still get bummed out about how I couldn’t make it work.”

“All I can say is that you are really moving on whether you admit it or not. I’ll admit I’m not over my ex, either, and it’s been hard to throw some of that stuff off. But it’s coming slowly. We wouldn’t have had this discussion a year ago, Jim. I was still too far in the shell he’d driven me into, not that I’m all the way out of it yet. But the fact that we are sitting here talking about it is just proof to me that I am getting over it.”

After a while longer they agreed that while they were both enjoying talking to each other, it was time to be getting to bed because Bud was going to be firing up the generator on the motor home awful early. By now the fire had burned down to only a few glowing coals, and with reluctance, they got up to call it a night. But then, she surprised him: “Jim,” she said, “you remember when you kissed me last night?”

“Sure. I haven’t had a kiss like that since the early days with Carolyn.”

“To tell the truth, it had been even longer than that for me,” she said. “But I really enjoyed it, and I’d like to do it again.”

“Well, I wanted to, too,” he grinned. “But I was a little afraid to ask.”

“Jim,” she smiled, “there’s no reason for you to be afraid of me. I’m still learning that I don’t have to be afraid of you just because you’re a man, but would you give me another lesson?”

This time the kiss went even longer than the night before, and there was some hugging and caressing before they finally went their separate ways. It had been wonderful, Jim thought, but he still couldn’t quite get over the feeling that there was something else going on with her, something he just couldn’t make himself understand – not that he was complaining.

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