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


Book 1 of the Dawnwalker Cycle

a novel by
Wes Boyd
2002, 2008

Chapter 22

Karin was right.

The river started off fairly placidly after the break -- placidly meaning mild rapids where there wasn't a lot of steering to be done, and two or three times Crystal pointed out items of interest, like old Indian ruins at the top of a hill, but the action soon picked up.

Shortly afterward, they came to a rapids that Crystal called "Tablesaw." There was some maneuvering as they got set up for a drop into a big back roller, and the raft hit it near the edge, going a little sideways. The instant they hit the back roller, with Crystal giving out a big war whoop, there was water six inches deep coming over the tube and right into Jon's lap. Everybody got some of it; Karin didn't mind, Nanci squealed a bit, Pete looked glum, and Jon got knocked over into the center of the boat. The water drained out of the raft quickly, and everything was soon under control as Jon got back into position. Karin grinned; Jon was so dense he probably thought it was an accident.

They ran through another rapids, paddling this time; there was no big hole, so no water came aboard, but Karin suspected that the action wasn't done for the day. There were kayakers around, waiting for a chance to play the rapids, as there were at many others. "They'll be thick as flies at the next hole," Crystal told them. "Good wave to surf rafts on, but we never get much of a chance."

Sure enough, there was a crowd of kayakers waiting for the parade to pass, but that didn't keep Crystal from flushing the raft out again. This wasn't quite as big a back roller as the last time, and only a couple inches of water came over the tube, and right into Jon's lap again.

They ran down through another couple of easy rapids, which included quite a bit of bouncing around and paddling, but no more water coming aboard. As another drop came up, Crystal told them, "Gonna spin this thing in the eddy below the drop. Get set for a left turn, and be set to hang on! I gotta hit a rock to give us a good hard spin."

The drop was easy; Karin could see big eddies to either side. When Crystal yelled, "Left," they dug in their paddles, and swung into the eddy. Karin glanced up; the rock was coming at them as she heard Crystal shout "Hang on!"

It happened quickly. The raft hit the rock up near the front end, and there was a big bounce as the raft swung around wildly. Jon apparently hadn't gotten set, because as they swung around quickly, Karin could see him bounce right out of the boat. Crystal let the boat swing around and yelled "Cowwww-abunga!" As the stern came around it was right close to where Jon was in the water, acting a little panicky. Crystal reached out with a free hand, grabbed him and heaved. In a second, he was lying in the bottom of the raft as the raft exited the eddy.

"Son of a bitch," Jon breathed, barely able to speak. "Son of a bitch . . . son of a bitch."

"Get back in your spot," Crystal said. "Told you this was fun, didn't I?"

As Jon tried to roll over and get back in place, Karin turned, grinned, and gave her head a firm shake. That's enough, she wanted to send the message. With a glint in her eye, she could see Crystal nod firmly. Nothing need be said. If Jon hadn't gotten the message now, he never would. He'd be telling stories the rest of his life about how his idiot sister dumped him out of a raft on the Ocoee.

It looked to Karin like Crystal had gotten the message, for she stayed out of the biggest waves on the next drop, running over to the side. "Damn, I need a swim," Crystal yelled as they bounced down the edge of the waves.

All of a sudden, they heard a huge splash, and all four of them turned just in time to see Crystal disappear into the waters below, life jacket and all. With no guidance, the raft bounced heavily in the rest of the wave train as they all twisted to look back upstream to where Crystal had disappeared. "Oh, shit," Karin said aloud, visibly worried. "What the hell do we do now?"

About all they could do was look back upstream helplessly for some sight of her. You'd have thought that the life jacket would have kept her afloat. Crystal was a good swimmer, and she knew what she was doing, but still . . . my God, was it going to end here?

Just as Karin was starting to get really worried, she felt the boat move under her. Were they running into another rock? She turned quickly, to see Crystal clambering back aboard from the downstream side of the boat. Somehow, she'd gone under them and gotten ahead of them. "How in the hell . . ." She said, as her heart came out of her throat.

"Damn, that felt good," Crystal grinned. "I was getting all sweaty."

"You like giving people heart attacks, don't you?" Pete said. "My God, Crystal . . ."

"I knew what I was doing, do that all the time," she said calmly, picking up her paddle.

"What, scaring the living shit out of us?"

"Yeah," she grinned. "OK, listen up, we haven't got a lot of time, so if we're gonna do it, we have to get set up quick. This one coming up is Hell Hole. It's the last big drop. How would someone like to have a real thrill ride? It's gonna be wet, but it'll be OK, and you probably won't swim. Dad?"

"I just want to get to the end and get out of this thing."

"Jon? You're already wet." The look that she got back from him was all that she needed.

"Nanci? You can show off for the kayakers down in Hell Hole."

"Uh, I don't think so."

"Suit yourself. Mom? It'll be wet, but fun."

"Sure," Karin grinned. Even if no one else had gotten the message, Crystal had proven to her that she knew what she was doing. If she said it would be OK, that was good enough for her.

"Fine," Crystal said, fumbling to untie a short length of knotted rope that had been lashed in the back of the raft. "I figured you'd do it. What I've got in mind is for you to ride the bow through this next rapids. Take this, go up front, and snap this 'biner through the tow eye on the front of the raft. Jon, I want you to move back a bit, Dad, move up a bit, and Nanci, get in the middle."

"Karin, are you sure you want to do this?" Pete asked.

"If Crystal says it will be all right, it will be," she said confidently.

There was a bit of shuffling around as they changed places. Karin took the short length of rope, leaned over the front of the raft, found the tow eye, and snapped the rope into it. Crystal coached her into sitting up on the bow, her legs hanging out the front. "Grab onto the rope with both hands. Don't wrap it around your hands, but hold on as tight as you can. Get a good grip when I yell to hang on. Jon, Dad, when I call, paddle hard. We got a minute or two."

It was quite a view, riding up on the nose of the raft. They were in the middle of the group of rafts. She looked over her shoulder, to see her big, bronzed, confident daughter, paddle in hand back in the stern. Only a few yards behind them was another raft, and on its bow, she could see the Baptist preacher getting set up to do the same thing. She was a little nervous, but the sight calmed her -- apparently this was something that was done pretty often, so Crystal probably did know what she was doing. She heard the rush of the rapids coming up in front of her, so turned to see where she was going. They were getting close, now. The rapids weren't far away, and beyond the big drop she could see a huge surfing wave. In an eddy to one side, there was a whole line of kayakers in their colorful boats waiting for the rafts to pass so they could get out and play on it.

"Get set! Hang on! Paddle forward," Crystal yelled as they got near the lip of the rapids. Karin braced herself, watched the raft in front go down the drop and up over the wave. Some water got in the boat, but she hardly noticed, because they were right at the drop.

As they were partway down the chute, one of the kayakers, apparently tired of waiting for the parade of rafts to go by, peeled out of the eddy and pulled out right in front of them.

"Shit! Right, hard right!" Crystal yelled at the top of her lungs. "Asshole!" She could see the boat turn, to try to miss the kayaker; she could see he was in a blue lifejacket, a huge shock of black hair, no helmet. They weren't going to miss . . . Karin lifted up her legs to try and not hit the boat, but the raft had swung a little now, and hit the kayak at the left front corner as they crashed into the big standing wave. They pushed him along until he went under. Karin didn't see what happened after that, since the water was crashing on top of her and she was holding on for dear life.

In no more than a couple seconds, they were out the other side, bumping noises coming from beneath the raft. Karin turned, to see the kayak emerge upside down from the back of the raft, deep in the water; the stern of the raft fell as it slid off of the kayak. Instantly she realized that somewhere in that rush of water they must have ridden up over the kayak, rolling him over in the process. Upside down now, the kayak was crashing up and down in the standing waves. Even though the lesser standing waves downstream were still crashing into her lap, she kept her attention behind, and suddenly, she could see the kayaker's head emerge from the water.

"Dumb fuckin' raft bitch!" the kayaker shouted. "Can't you look where the fuck you're goin'?"

"Shithead!" Crystal yelled back. "We were already coming down when you pulled out. There ain't no way I can stop this thing on a dime, idiot!"

"You goddamn fuckin' rafters think you fuckin' own the river," the kayaker shouted as the rafts drew away. "Jesus fuckin' Christ! You goddamn fuckin' smart-mouth bitch! You fuckin' rafters think you can just run over any fuckin' body on the fuckin' river."

"Dumb bastard," Karin said as she hung on tight to the grab line -- she could see another rapids coming up, but the waves weren't as big. In another few seconds they were on them, and again the raft nosed down in the hole, and took water over the bow as she held on tight.

"Sorry, Mom," Crystal said, her temper dying down as they got away from the kayaker, "You can ease up now, that's the last one. The stupid bastard! I tried to miss him, but now I wish I'd hit him square. Damn it, these things just don't maneuver like a kayak, and I don't think I could have missed him in a kayak, either. Was your ride OK?"

"A little more thrilling than I think you intended," Karin replied. "Does that sort of thing happen very often?" They were out of the rough water now; it was only just fast, but easy. Karin let go of the grab line and turned around on the tube to face her daughter.

"Not really," Crystal told her as things calmed down. "You've seen a lot of kayakers on this river. They get pretty good lineups at a place like Hell Hole, and sometimes they get impatient. Some of them aren't that good, and they can only surf a good wave and screw things up for everybody else. Sometimes they've got a load on, too, and that doesn't help. As busy as this place is, I'm a little surprised that it doesn't happen more often."

"It certainly ruined a fun ride," Karin said.

Another raft pulled alongside; Crystal could see that the Baptist preacher was still riding the bow. "Sorry about the language," she told him.

"One of the downsides of this job is that sometimes you can't express yourself like you'd like to," he grinned in a thick southern drawl. "Is that going to cause any trouble?"

"Shouldn't," Crystal said. "He got what was coming to him."

"Crystal, nice try, but there's no way you could have missed him," the guide in the other boat said. "That's one of the stupider things I've seen on this river all year."

"Darn it," Crystal said, obviously watching her language. "I wanted to give my folks here a good ride, and some joker like that has to louse it up."

"It was a good ride," Karin said with a grin that went a lot deeper than anyone except her thought. "One I think we'll all remember for a long, long time." And, she thought, I'm going to make sure no one forgets it, despite that idiot in the kayak.

Not far down the river, they could see rafts clustering around the takeout and being carried up the river bank to where the bus and trailer sat waiting. "Usually along in here I give a pitch about saying I'm glad you had a good time, and hope you'll raft with Ocoee Adventures again, all leading up toward hinting for a tip. But I think I'll let that go this time." Crystal said, getting back into a good mood. "Nanci, if I'm still around when you guys bring Jon down, come on by and I'll let you ride the nose."

"Uh, I don't think so," Nanci replied, shaking her head. "I don't think I'm quite as brave as you and Mom. But thanks for a fun ride, Crystal."

And, for good reason, Karin thought. You are your father's daughter, and there's no way I'll ever get them on a river again. But yes, I'm glad I talked you people into this, just so you could see the stuff Crystal is made of. Well, me too. Al, wherever you are, you and I made quite a girl.

It was crowded around the launch ramp, and it took a while to get up to where they could pull the boats out. Some of the rafts were being carried up and loaded on the trailer. On the shore, they could see a bunch of happy Baptists, a lot of them wet. Apparently, they had enjoyed good rides, too. Someone helped them pull the raft up onto the ramp, and they all piled out quickly and started to carry it up the slope. A few yards up the ramp, the rafts were clustered and waiting, so they set it down.

"Hi, Crystal!" a familiar voice said. Karin looked up, to see that Clark boy who Crystal and Myleigh had with them when they'd stopped off at the house on the way to spring break. What was he doing here?

"Hi, Randy!" Crystal said brightly, obviously glad to see him. "I didn't know you were here."

"I didn't know I could get off till last night. The pour schedule got screwed up, so I took off and drove all night. I left a message at the desk for you last night to let you know I was coming."

"My folks are here, so I didn't check . . ."

"Goddamn fuckin' raft bitch!" an angry voice shouted. Karin turned to see the kayaker who had been run over storming up the ramp, along with a friend. Both had short river knives drawn and raised. "I'll fuckin' teach you to run over me."

Before Karin or anyone else could get started on a good scream, the two were on Crystal and Randy. There was a blur of action. Crystal was on the far side, and Karin couldn't see her well, but she saw Randy grab the knife hand of the guy with the black hair, yank hard, place a kick. All of a sudden, the guy with the knife was falling to the ground screaming, while Randy turned to see if Crystal needed help.

She didn't. The kayaker's buddy was laying on the asphalt in violent convulsions.

"See ya picked up a couple new moves," Karin heard Crystal say with surprising calmness.

"Yeah, a couple," Randy replied, just as calmly.


The on-duty ranger at the ramp came racing over within seconds. "Crystal, are you all right?" he yelled.

"Yeah, fine, Lance," she said, still calm and collected. "These guys aren't though."

"So I see. I saw the whole thing. Knives and all. Really dumb." He pulled a radio from his belt. "Gonna need the EMTs, I guess."

"I'm an EMT," the preacher said, heading for the guy in convulsions, waving a couple of his church members to help, while Lance called on the radio for assistance. Another ranger was already coming to help.

"What brought this on?" Lance asked.

"Joker pulled out in front of me as I was going down into Hell Hole," Crystal said. "I couldn't miss him."

"Bet those are the two line hogs I've been hearing about all afternoon," Lance said as the other ranger ran up. "I was meanin' to have a talk with them."

"I saw the whole thing," the other ranger said. "You all right, Crystal?"

"Sure, Jamie, no problem," she said as he turned to the black-haired kayaker, who was still screaming in extreme pain. The only clear words coming out were obscenities, and not very many of them understandable.

Jamie knelt down beside him. "Popped his shoulder right out, for sure," he said clinically. "That's gotta hurt. Looks like a broken arm, too."

"I already got EMTs and backup coming," Lance said professionally.

"You can have them call off the backup," Jamie said, then reversed himself. "No, better don't. All these people here, we're gonna have a job getting names and addresses of witnesses." He looked up at Crystal, still standing placidly over them, the short guy who had helped at her side, and grinned as he said, "Crystal, do you realize how much paperwork this is gonna cause me?"

"Sorry, Jamie," she said. "Couldn't be helped."

The preacher came over, and got down on his knees on the other side of the guy, still screaming in pain. "The other guy's got an open airway, I got a lifejacket under his head and a couple people holding him down. That's about all that can be done here."

"You an EMT?" Jamie asked.

"Yeah," the preacher said. "OK, dislocated shoulder, broken arm, maybe some concussion on him, too, but not bad. We'd better get that shoulder stabilized. Man, this guy smells as drunk as the other one."

By now, Karin was starting to get her heart rate back under control. She'd known about Crystal's karate, of course, in fact had been present at the match, heart in her mouth, where her daughter had won her black belt, but then it had seemed like an art form, almost playing. Only now did she really understand how deadly serious it could be. She looked at Crystal with new respect as she slowly walked over to her, and wondered if her family realized just how dangerous this girl could be. "Crystal, are you all right? Randy?"

"Fine, Mom," Crystal said quietly. "Just glad Randy showed up, though. I'm a little rusty. I'm not sure I could have handled both of them by myself."

"I put mine down and turned to help you," Randy commented calmly and professionally, the first time he'd said anything in a couple minutes. "But you didn't need any."

Karin looked at Randy. When she'd met him back in the spring, he'd seemed like a nice enough kid, if not large and not looking particularly athletic. That sweatshirt he'd had on must have covered up a lot, for now she saw that he was tanned as dark as an Indian, as dark as Crystal, and a tight T-shirt and bare arms bulged with muscles. God, Karin thought, he's just as dangerous as she is. Neither of them has to be afraid of much of anything.

By now, Pete was up next to them. "Good Lord, you almost killed the both of them," he said.

"Nowhere close to killing, but still didn't have a lot of choice," Randy said, shaking his head. "Those are piss-ant little knives, but they could have hurt us with them, so they had to be neutralized right now."

"Damn right," Crystal said, showing a little emotion, now. Not fear, not anger, not exultation, not contempt -- just that her dander was up a little. "Come after us with knives, and they gotta expect what they get."

Pete looked at Crystal, at Randy, as Karin watched, and she could almost smell his fear. These kids were like two rattlesnakes, sleeping calmly in the sun -- but ready to strike at any instant, without warning. Pete may not have had much respect for the woman that Crystal was, the man that Randy was -- but now, he was afraid of them, afraid especially of her. Karin had brought the family on this trip in hope that the family would learn to respect Crystal a little, and this was much more than she'd wanted. "I'm glad that's over with, and you didn't get hurt," he said.

"Like I said, I'm sorry these two had to louse up a good trip," Crystal replied.

By now, Lance had started to get control of the crowd. He had the rest of the rafts loaded on the trailer, and told the driver to move it out of the way -- people were starting to pile up, waiting to use the ramp. "OK, look, those of you that saw this, I want you to gather over to one side of the ramp. We'll need to talk to you, get names and addresses. Sorry to mess up a pleasant trip, but this is gonna be a felony case, so we gotta dot all the 'i's and cross all the 't's."

"I don't think anyone will mind," the preacher said from beside the black-haired kayaker. Using ropes and straps from the raft, he'd begun to get the shoulder stabilized.

The guy wasn't screaming as much, but he was talking clearer now, if just as profanely. "Settle down and it's not gonna hurt so bad," the preacher told him firmly. "I could probably pop that shoulder back in there if I had to, but the way you've acted, I don't want to. It's going to be a long wait for the ambulance to get here, and it's a long, rough ride back. You're going to feel every bump."

"You bastards," the guy said, obviously still half out of his mind in pain. "How the fuck am I supposed to work Monday?"

"You ain't gonna have to worry about working for a while," Jamie told him forcefully. "Assault with a deadly weapon on federal property, that's a federal offense good for three to five, easy, especially with all these witnesses. You better realize how lucky you are. If you'd cut either one of them, it'd be ten to twenty."

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