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

Winter Layoff
a novel by
Wes Boyd
2011, 2013

Chapter 20

It was Thursday afternoon before they made it back to Spearfish Lake. They pushed hard the first day out, making it to a motel near Memphis, but took it easy after that, stopping at Springfield and Madison before taking a long half day to finish the run back home. It had been a long trip. The dump truck was enough to wear them out every day, and when they stopped they were glad that part of the day was over with, even though they had other things they wanted to do. While Jim drove the majority of the way, Rachel spelled him from time to time, and the breaks were welcome.

As they headed north, the weather grew colder and the skies grew grayer. The first day they could get by with flannel shirts when they got out of the truck, but the last day and a half the heavy jackets they had with them felt good. They’d gotten used to the warmer weather, and now the snow still on the ground made it seem colder than ever. Spearfish Lake seemed especially cold. Both of them remarked that it was a shame they couldn’t have stayed in Pass Christian another month despite all the reasons to get back north.

Over the three and a half days, they spent much of their time talking. They didn’t reach many definite conclusions, but despite Jim’s reservations, it seemed as if he had a future with her, if they could work out the details. Still, it seemed as if a special time was ending when Jim turned the dump truck off the state road onto Central Avenue, and then onto the street that would take them out to Clark Construction.

The place still seemed pretty much dead for the winter as huge piles of snow were stacked around the parking lot, and they would take a while to melt. However, the parking lot was clear, so it looked like it hadn’t snowed for a while. Finally, Jim braked the rig to a stop in front of the office door. “Well, with that, I guess the ball is over,” he remarked to Rachel. “I guess we better go inside and turn back into pumpkins.”

“Oh, come on,” she said. “It’s not going to be that bad.”

“Well, how about back to normal, then? It amounts to the same thing.”

“Oh, you,” she snickered. “It may not be Pass Christian, but it is home.”

They climbed down from the dump truck and went inside. “Well, the wandering children have made it home,” Regina said from behind her desk. “Rachel, I’m glad to see you back. There’s some things on your desk that you need to get to as soon as you can.”

“It’s not going to be this afternoon,” she said. “My butt is sore from riding in that dump truck since Monday. Maybe tomorrow. Is Randy around?”

“He’s over at Three Pines,” Regina told them. “I don’t expect him back until late. Jim, he said if you got back today, to park the rig in the equipment barn and we’ll figure out what to do with it tomorrow. Your truck is out there. Randy had Bob leave it here. He said there was room for it and there was no point in letting it get buried in snow. The keys are in it.”

“Thanks,” Jim replied. “At least that’s one thing I won’t have to deal with.”

“I know he wants to see you,” Regina continued. “As far as I know he’s planning on being here in the morning unless Nicole’s baby wants to put in an entrance, which is still probably a couple weeks off. Before you head over I’d give a call to make sure that something hasn’t come up.”

“Good enough,” Jim told her. “It may not be the first thing, though.”

They headed back outside. Rachel offered to go over and open the doors for the equipment shed for him, so Jim climbed back up into the cab of the dump truck one last time, and pulled the whole rig inside. His own truck was parked just inside, but out of the way of the door enough that there was plenty of room for the rig. It was cold inside since the place was unheated, but Rachel closed the big overhead door and turned on the lights.

It took them a few minutes to get their gear out of the dump truck and into Jim’s truck, but they soon had the chore completed. “Guess I better get you home,” Jim said to her. “Can’t think of anything else to do.”

“As much as I’d like to stay with you, I think maybe this night had better be for Jared,” she said. “But I want to get the two of you together as soon as we can.”

It was cold inside the pickup, and it didn’t warm up in the short distance over to Rachel’s house, which was just up the street from Randy’s big house on Hannegan’s Cove. He helped her carry the gear inside. It was the first time he’d been in the place, which was cool from having the heat turned down. “I guess I better go,” he said finally.

“Yeah, I suppose,” she said. “I’ll probably have to work tomorrow, but maybe we can get together tomorrow night. We’ll just have to see what happens.”

“I guess,” he said, suddenly feeling the onset of being very lonely. He and Rachel had spent very little time apart for a month – even though they’d worked on different pieces of equipment, they were working together. Now it really was the end, and apparently she was feeling it too, for all of a sudden they were in each other’s arms, having a very intense kiss that went on and on.

“See you tomorrow,” she promised when they finally broke.

“Yeah, I guess I’d better go,” he said.

“I have to go, too,” she said. “I need to get over to Nicole’s so I can be there when Jared gets home from school. It won’t be long, now.”

“Good luck,” he wished her. There still were some longing looks before he made it out the door.

It wasn’t far from Rachel’s house to the trailer park and Jim’s trailer. It had been almost two months since he’d spent any time there, and a lot had happened. In spite of that last scene, he couldn’t help but wonder what a woman like Rachel would want with a guy who lived alone in an old mobile home. Though she was confident the gap could be crossed, he was less sure.

He’d figured that he was going to have to do some digging just to get the truck parked. The manager knew he had been gone, and it didn’t seem likely that his driveway would have been plowed out. But no! The driveway was open, and to Jim’s experienced eye it looked like it had been recently done. It didn’t take much to see the tracks of a Bobcat, like the little loader Clark Construction had, and that Randy used to clean out his own driveway. It seemed a little strange, but Jim realized that Randy must have brought the Bobcat over here to clean his out – and even cleared the snow off the steps up to the landing outside the door.

It was cool to the point of being cold inside the mobile home, but pushing up the thermostat made the furnace come on. While it was bringing the temperature up, Jim hauled his gear in from the truck and dumped most of it in the bedroom. Home again, he thought sarcastically. Wonderful! It seemed awful damn lonely right then.

He found things to do for perhaps half an hour before he got bored. That didn’t usually happen to him in the winter – being with Rachel and others for most of the last two months had spoiled him. It was getting toward time for dinner, but the thought crossed his mind that he didn’t have much food in the house except for frozen stuff. He’d left the food he and Bob had taken south with Aunt Rita and Uncle John, mostly because there wasn’t space to haul it in the cab of the dump truck. Gonna have to make a run to the Super Market, he thought absently. That ought to kill a little time.

He was on his way for groceries when the thought crossed his mind that maybe he ought to check in at the Pike. It seemed likely that Bob would be there, he often was at this time of the day, and maybe some of the others who had gone south would be there, too.

Sure enough, Bob and Russ and a couple others were sitting at a back table with coffee cups sitting around and a gin rummy game in progress. It stopped when Jim came up to the table and dragged up another chair from nearby. “So,” he said. “What’s been happening in Spearfish Lake?”

“Been slow,” Bob said. “You’re pretty much looking at what’s been happening. So how did things go in Pass Christian?”

“Pretty well,” Jim told him. “Rachel and I got Aunt Rita and Uncle John into their house last weekend, and spent most of the week herding the rig back. We managed to get enough cleared for the Amish to keep them busy until they head back north in a month or so.”

“Yeah, I was a little surprised when I realized that Rachel had stayed back,” Bob said. “She have any trouble with the dump truck?”

“Nothing worth mentioning,” Jim said. “There’s still four guys down there with Bud and the motor home. I guess they’re going to be another couple weeks, anyway.”

“I’ll tell you what, after I kicked my kid’s young ass, I wished that I’d stayed down there with you,” Bob shook his head. “A couple different times Russ and I thought about hopping in the car and going back down for a while.”

“There’d have been stuff for you to do,” Jim said. “I really hated to leave myself, but Rachel needed to get back, and that made it a good time to leave.”

“Well, hopefully the rest of the winter will go quick,” Russ said. “Randy said there’s going to be some switching around done, he’s going to want me as carpenter foreman on that job over at Three Pines. He’s putting together a new crew, I don’t know the details yet. That’ll mean a few more bucks in the paycheck.”

“Well, you did a hell of a job on my aunt and uncle’s house,” Jim told him. “Hell, I don’t have any idea what I’d have done if you hadn’t been there.”

“Pretty much stuff that had to be done,” Russ said. “If you was a carpenter, you’d have known how to do it.”

“Yeah, but while I know some of that stuff, I don’t know very much of it,” Jim protested. “I’m just glad you were there, and I owe you one.”

“No big deal. It got me out of the house and down to warm weather for a while. That made it worth it by itself.”

Jim wound up eating dinner there – the hot beef sandwich was on special – and then swung by the Super Market to pick up his groceries. He went back to the trailer, put them away, and turned on the TV. There wasn’t much on that interested him, and he knew what he would rather have been doing. It didn’t involve sitting at home alone in the trailer and watching TV, that was for sure.

Things seemed a little closer to being back to normal the next morning. Jim went out to the Spearfish Lake Café for breakfast, had an extra cup of coffee, and decided to head over to Clark Construction. He hadn’t called ahead, but if Randy wasn’t there it wouldn’t matter – he’d most likely be able to at least say hello to Rachel, and do whatever else needed to be done.

Rachel was there, dressed for the office and busy with a pile of work that had built up on her desk. They exchanged a few pleasantries – they’d agreed they didn’t want Regina to know just yet how close they’d been in Pass Christian – and then he heard Randy call from his office, “That you, Jim?”

“Yeah, Randy,” he replied.

“Come on back,” he said. “Got something for you.”

Jim headed back to Randy’s office – it was small and cluttered, but it was the one he was used to. “Yeah, Randy,” he said, “what’s up?”

“Close the door,” Randy said. “We may find ourselves talking about some things we might not want other people to hear just yet.”

Jim closed the door, then took a seat at the end of Randy’s desk. “Hey, look,” he said. “I just want to thank you again for everything, including the use of the equipment, and especially for all the work in putting together the stuff for the house.”

“No big deal,” Randy smiled. “It livened up what was looking to be a pretty dull winter. In fact, there might be such a thing as doing it again next year.”

“If you decide to do it, Aaron and that Amish crew of his are planning on being there,” Jim said. “I know they’d be glad of the help.”

“It’s just too early to tell, but that made for a nice winter vacation. Anyway, that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about. You know that normally we like to do two big projects and some little ones in the summer. Well, this year it looks like we’re going to have three fairly big projects, so we’re going to do some switching around.”

“Russ Compton was saying something about that last evening,” Jim said, relieved that he wasn’t going to be getting a bitching out – or worse – for spending the last month with Rachel.

“Yeah, in the past when something like this came up I could depend on Art Goodrow to run a fairly major job. He didn’t really like it, but he’d do it if he had to. But Art has decided he’s going to hang it up, so about the only thing I can do is to put Mike Householder to doing it as site superintendent.”

“He ought to be pretty good at it,” Jim said. Mike was the superintendent of the steel building crew, and Jim had done a lot of excavating on jobs that Mike had run.

“I think so,” Randy agreed. “Russ is going to be his carpenter foreman. I really hadn’t noticed him before, but he sure was able to take hold of the job down at your aunt and uncle’s place. I’m glad I noticed that. It solves a big problem.”

“Well, it’s good to know that it accomplished something for the company. We’d never have gotten though the project that well without Russ riding herd on it.”

“I agree,” Randy said. “But the problem is that it leaves the steel crew without a super, and while they’re good workers there’s nobody there who I feel comfortable with putting in charge. Russ isn’t the only guy from the company who proved himself down in Pass Christian. I always thought you could be more valuable to the company than just having your ass in the seat of a backhoe, so I want you to take over the steel crew.”

“What?” Jim replied, totally surprised. “Look, Randy, thanks for the offer, but I’ve said before, I’m an excavating guy, not a construction guy. I don’t know squat about steel construction.”

“Bullshit,” Randy grinned. “Pure and simple bullshit. Look, you’ve worked around steel construction enough to know most of what those guys know. Maybe not all of it, but most of it. What’s more, what I learned down in Pass Christian is that you see the overall picture. You may not know about the little details, but you can learn. I saw that when you worked on the Windmill Island job a couple years ago. Don may have been the super, but you were the guy who kept all the oddball stuff going. Don told me you could get it done, and done right. I know there were days that you never fired up the backhoe, and instead you were supervising stuff Don didn’t know much about, like the rigging.”

“Well, I know a little bit about rigging,” Jim protested. “I’ll never be a rigger either, but I know the basics.”

“Yeah, you know enough about rigging that we got the vertical stringers up for that tower without a crane, just you and the backhoe, and some cables and pulleys. I worried a lot about getting that step done, but it never even slowed you down. We would never have gotten that job done on time with all the extra stuff if you hadn’t been there. You may not have been the super, but Don knew he could depend on you for all the other little shit. Anyway, Windmill Island was when I decided I needed you doing something other than running a backhoe. Your aunt and uncle’s house in Pass Christian was just a little test and confirmed I was right.”

“But I didn’t really do anything down there,” Jim protested. “I often felt guilty that I wasn’t swinging a hammer or something, but I’m not a carpenter, and I was pretty close to lost on a lot of that stuff. I’m just damn glad I had Russ to turn to.”

“I told you that you were the superintendent on that,” Randy said. “Yeah, you didn’t actually do that much on the house, but you were the one who kept things moving and showed me you knew how to do that. When a problem arose, you were on top of it if you hadn’t already seen it. Let me tell you, Jim, with that many people running around it’s easy to get in a position where people just chase their tails. You kept the job organized and kept it going. It’s not so much the question of knowing what to do than it is knowing how to supervise it, and you proved you can do it. That’s what a superintendent is supposed to do.”

“Yeah, but I don’t know that much about steel buildings.”

“Again, bullshit,” Randy snorted. “Yeah, you may not have the actual construction skills that some of those guys have, but I don’t either and I own this joint. Jim, I’ve known since the beginning that I have to depend on the skills of the people I have working for me, since I don’t have them and probably never will. You may not have the skills of some of the guys on the crew, but you have one really important skill that none of them seem to have. That is, you’re a leader. One of the reasons I don’t like large house crews is that they get into a too-many-cooks situation. It’s not like the Amish, where people are a little more disciplined and used to working together. It takes a leader to run a crew like that. I’ll bet you never saw Aaron pick up a hammer, and he was often gone someplace making arrangements to keep the work moving, but is there any doubt who ran that crew like a well-oiled machine?”

“Well, yeah, I see your point on that,” Jim nodded.

“You did pretty much the same thing on your aunt and uncle’s house,” Randy said. “I happen to think that you’re going to make a damn good steel crew supervisor, and giving you a little time to pick up some things you’ll learn there, I’d expect you’re going to be running more than that, after not too much longer. We’re not going to start you out with a big project, but we need to have someone who can handle small projects. As far as I’m concerned, you’ve already proved you know how to do the job. One of the reasons I called you back a little early is so you can get started planning for a couple jobs we have to do early. We’re going to have to hit the ground running on them.”

“Well, all right,” Jim gave in. “I’ll give it my best shot. I’m going to need some help, though, especially on the paperwork side of things.”

“So, the steel crew is a good place to learn that kind of stuff, and that’s what we’re in the office to help you do. Jim, we all have our specialties, and it’s been hard for me to learn that. Yeah, I can run a backhoe, I can pound a nail, but those kinds of things are not my specialty and I know it. My specialty is to give the guys I have working for me the materials, the tools, the skilled people, and the direction, and then get the hell out of their way so they can do what they know how to do. I always sort of knew that but I never really got the full dose of it until after my grandfather died a couple years ago. The trick is having good people I can depend on, and you proved to me that you’re one of them. Look, when you came in here the first of the year, you really hadn’t thought as far ahead as actually building a house, had you?”

“No, it was just too big a deal to contemplate. I was really worried about having to do all the stuff you guys did for me, especially you and Ken and Rachel.”

“Right,” Randy grinned. “While I’ll admit this one was done a little differently than normal, you motivated us to do the job and then got the hell out of the way so we could do it. I know some of the crew think of people like Carlos and Ken and me as office rats, but let me tell you, office rats have their jobs, too, and it takes a whole team to do it. The construction crews wouldn’t have jobs to do without us office rats to procure and plan them, and us office rats wouldn’t have jobs to do without the construction crews to put the buildings up. The result was that a month later there was a house sitting there. When a guy like you can motivate people like that, well, that strikes me as leadership.”

“Like I said, I’ll give it my best shot.”

“I don’t doubt that it’ll be more than good enough. I think you’re going to have an interesting future in this company.”

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