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 69

Randy awoke to the smell of frying bacon, and noticed that Scooter and Jerry, one of the other boatmen, had a gas stove going, and were frying bacon and boiling coffee. Most of the rest of the camp was still asleep, but there were signs of stirring, people starting to wake up. Randy spent a few minutes getting around, and then went over to the cooks. "Anything I can do to help?" he asked.

"No, not really," Scooter said. "We've got things pretty well under control."

"Where's Crystal?"

"Still sleeping," Scooter grinned. "She and her mom were up pretty late. Guess they had things to talk over."

"Yeah, I suppose they do," Randy said. He didn't know Scooter that well, but it was obvious that she and Crystal were pretty good friends by now. She probably knew all about Crystal's family problems, but this wasn't the place to bring that up. Besides, it was rapidly getting to be none of his business, anyway.

Crystal appeared soon afterwards. "How ya doin', Randy?" she said, a little listlessly.

"Pretty good," he smiled, "How about you?"

"Oh, I'm OK," she said. "I usually sleep about like Myleigh down here, but I didn't get much last night."

Must have been a heavy discussion, Randy thought as Scooter piped up, "Randy, does Myleigh actually snore as bad as Crystal says?"

"No," he grinned, trying to lighten things up, "Worse. Words cannot describe how bad it is."

Crystal smiled; the joke seemed to pick her up a little. "Randy, you did real well in the raft yesterday. You want to row some more today?"

"Sure," he said. "That was my one concern about this trip. I didn't want to come along just for the ride."

"All right," she said. "I think I'll just ride along, and take it easy today. It's mostly easy water. We've got two big ones, Soap Creek and House Rock. I may let you run Soap Creek; I'll have to see how you're doing when we get there. House Rock, no way. We'll take it easy today, and camp before we hit the Roaring Twenties. Tomorrow's going to be a tough one, and I probably'll have to be at the oars a lot of the way."

"Whatever you say, Crystal, you're running this train, after all."

Before they got under way, Crystal called them all together and went over the plan for the day, again mentioning some safety rules. "It's already pretty warm, so it's gonna be hot today," Crystal said. "You'll probably want to have on swimsuits and T-shirts. Watch out for sunburn, wear sunscreen. A bad sunburn can take all the fun out of the trip. We'll probably run Soap Creek without scouting, but House Rock, we'll want to stop and get a look at. It's the first really tough one we come to. If anyone wants to get out and walk, I won't blame them, and it's fine with me as there's a reasonable chance for a swim there. But, we should get through all right."

With Randy at the oars of Crystal's boat, they quickly ran the couple of miles to Soap Creek. Crystal stood up for a moment to check things out, then told Randy to alter his line a little, then just head straight down the tongue and ride it out. They did just that, taking a little water aboard, nothing to write home about.

Not long after that, the river began to change as the Canyon walls grew deeper. They looked to be a thousand feet high now, and the sky narrowed to a dark band of the deepest blue, as they were embraced by a world of rock and water. Even the flat water began to dance as the Colorado glided and swirled along the sculptured dark red sandstone and limestone walls jutting into the river.

It wasn't much farther until they reached House Rock Rapids. Scooter, again running in the lead, pulled her raft off to one side and tied it off on a rock, and one by one the other rafts joined her. The shores of the rapids were a talus slope, and Randy joined the rest of the party climbing up to see what was ahead, although some of the party went farther than others.

House Rock was a tough rapids. Randy didn't think he'd have much trouble with it in a kayak, and eyeballed a couple possible lines to take in one, and even picked out a challenging playhole. A less maneuverable raft was another story, and the options were limited.

"Shouldn't be too bad," Crystal said. "Randy, if you were running the raft, how would you do it?"

"Pretty obvious," he said. "Start to river left, then pull to the right."

"Yeah, that's about the best choice," Crystal said. "That stopper coming in from the left is the problem. People better hang on or we might get some swimmers."

Slowly, they worked their way back to the rafts. "OK, make sure everything is tied down, and hang on," Crystal told everyone. It shouldn't be too bad."

In a few minutes, they were out on the river, again the last raft to run the rapids, and now Randy had a chance to watch Crystal at work for real.

The tongue of House Rock flowed fast, but smooth. Crystal ferried down, bow to the left, pulling the boat backward to the right. Ahead, the white water dropped away from them. Waves rose to either side, and with a couple of mighty pulls, Crystal pivoted the raft to ride bow first, and pushed hard. Then, there was white water, huge waves, and steep. The raft rode them well, but the waves grew bigger and bigger, even enormous, no longer simple waves but a confused mass of churning white foam, bigger than anything they'd been in by far, bigger than anything Randy had ever been in paddling a kayak.

Then the bigger wall of wave and foam was surging in from the left, and the raft rode up on it, slewed around almost broadside. Crystal's muscles bulged as she strained at the oars, trying to straighten the raft out, but they were still broadside on, lifting up and up on a massive pale green wall of water, filled with little white air bubbles. The raft tipped to the right, rising startlingly, with no end in sight, and in spite of all his whitewater experience Randy thought they were sure to go over. Some instinct made his muscles yearn to reach out with the paddle, to brace his kayak, but he wasn't in his kayak, and he didn't have a paddle and it looked like ohshittheyweregonnaswim . . .

The raft quivered in midair, then they were on the crest of the green-white wave, and the raft was easing back to normal . . . then they were riding over waves no more than huge, but with no danger of flipping, and the incredible noise of the rushing water began to ease, along with Randy's heart rate, which was getting back to merely racing.

"I think I'm just as glad you rowed that one, Crystal," he said, trying to sound calm as he felt the adrenaline rushing through him still. The river had just showed its power to him; with all his time on white water, this was something new and awesome.

"That was pretty good," she smiled, looking around to check that all the boats had made it through safely; they had. "Wait till we get to the big stuff."


Early in the afternoon, they pulled into a wide sand beach, just before reaching North Canyon Rapids, the start of the "Roaring Twenties" -- twenty miles below Lee's Ferry. The next ten miles didn't have the most difficult whitewater on the river, but it had the biggest concentration of the more difficult water. "We're going to take it easy this afternoon," Crystal told the group. "Big day tomorrow. We're done with the shakedown, now. Tomorrow, it gets serious. Those of you who want to explore a little, we've got a nice hike up a side canyon, nice view. We'll eat lunch, and then I'll take those of you who want to go up into it."

It was hot, now; most of the group was down to swimsuits. Randy noticed Karin, sitting and talking with Al, too far away to hear. She was wearing a dark blue two-piece -- it would be a reach to call it a bikini, but not all that big a one. He smiled inwardly; for a woman twice as old as he was, she still looked pretty good, he thought. Crystal probably wouldn't turn out that way, especially if she stayed on the river like it sounded she planned to do. She'd probably come out more like Giselle, tall and lean and hardened muscles, worn to a deep tan, face and body wrinkled by the sun more than by age, looking like some ancient river goddess with an oar in her hand.

After a lazy lunch, they started up the side canyon. Well, most of them. Al made no secret of his bad leg, a remnant of Vietnam. He said he'd let the young folks make the trip while he took a nap; a couple of others decided to stay back as well. It was a fairly steep climb, although not technical climbing, by any means. Randy was near the end of the party, which strung out a bit. After half an hour or so he caught up with Karin, sitting on a rock at a nice overlook, still dressed only in her swimsuit. "How are you doing, Randy?" she asked.

"Doin' fine," he smiled.

"I'm bushed," Karin said, throwing back a loose hair. "I was never much at climbing when I did this trip before, and I guess I'm still not much at it. I think I'm just going to sit here and enjoy the view."

"Mind if I join you?" He'd been wanting to have a little time with Karin. They'd only physically met on a few occasions, and never for long, but they'd become friendly talking on the phone.

"I'd be pleased for the company," she smiled. "Crystal tells me you're getting married."

"Probably," he said as he sat down easily, two or three feet from her. "I haven't exactly asked Nicole yet. I'd intended to when she got off the AT, hell, a week ago Friday, now, but then she had her new job and then this trip came up. We both were pretty stressed, and there was never the right time to ask. We both know I'm going to ask her when I get home, and when we've been discussing what furniture we're going to get for our new house, I'm not too concerned that she's going to turn me down."

She laughed out loud. "No, that'll do the job better than any engagement ring ever made. She and Crystal are friends, I take it?"

"Not college friends, Nicole went to a different college. They got to be friends down in Florida a couple years ago when she and I went down to join Crystal and Myleigh at the place where we go surfing. She wound up hiking with Crystal on the AT, and she liked it so much, she decided to do the whole thing. Otherwise, we'd probably have gotten married a year ago." He smiled, and went on, "I have been just a little bit, well, peeved at Crystal for taking her away from me like that."

"Crystal does have her priorities," Karin laughed.

"So, how's the trip treating you so far?" he asked.

"Randy, in many ways, this trip is much like it was before, but at the same time I'm seeing it through new eyes. It's a lot to handle. You seem to be having fun."

"I am," he grinned. "It's been fun watching Crystal. She sure seems in her element here."

She smiled. "I remember her from that trip we took with her on the Ocoee. Having a great time, giving the customers a good, safe time, too, alive and lively. She's the same way here, only more so, if you follow my meaning."

"Exactly," Randy grinned. "She told me back last winter that she felt like almost everything she's done has been to prepare her for this place. She said that she couldn't get over the feeling that it's where she's supposed to be."

"I think I'm coming to appreciate that," she said. "Randy, I have to thank you for taking care of Crystal however you could these last three troublesome years. I know there have been times you haven't been able to do much for her, either, but I've been relieved that she's had you to come to if she needed help."

"I've tried. Don't think that I haven't worried about her as much as you have."

"You've been good for her," she said. "You've been able to do things that I haven't been able to do, and I feel sorry about that. Thank you for doing things I should have done for her. I know your family has been part of that, too, and I owe them my thanks. I know your mother and father, although it's been years since I've seen them. Maybe I'll get the chance some day to thank them myself."

"We really haven't been a lot of help," he shrugged. "Crystal, well, she pretty much does what she wants to do."

"I know that. But you've provided an anchor for her, and she needed that." She let out a big sigh. "Randy, I wish I had an anchor as good for me as you and your family have been for Crystal."

That was a strange statement, and he knew it. "Are you telling me something, Karin?"

"Yes, Randy," she sighed again. "You know Crystal and me well enough. Pete doesn't know I'm here. What do you think he's going to say when he finds out?"

"I've been wondering about that," he said. "Crystal said several times that she didn't want you getting excited about her being here in the Canyon, getting Pete upset, and maybe causing trouble for you. Over the summer, she didn't tell me much about what was happening here, because she didn't want me passing it on to you."

"It happened, anyway," she snickered. "Those pictures you sent me were what precipitated this trip for me."

"I wondered about that," he said sympathetically. "Is this going to cause trouble?"

"No, the trouble is already there. I think this trip is a turning point for me. The first one was a big one, and this one is turning into one, too. These two trips are going to be the brackets around my life with Pete. I went to him after my last one, and I'm coming to realize that I'm not going back to him after this one."

"I'm sorry," he said, searching for words, "But, I've wondered about it, too. I mean, Myleigh's and my sneaking information about Crystal to you around him, and like that."

"Oh, I appreciated it," she said. "Life would have been considerably more hell without it. Don't think you made a mistake in sending those pictures. It just lit a fuse that had been lying there waiting for the match for a couple years or more. If that hadn't done it, something else would have."

"What are you going to do?"

"I don't know," she shrugged. "Maybe just let the Canyon soothe my soul, and then see what happens. It's not like I'm going to be penniless. I have to buy up a few months of my retirement, and then I'll be drawing roughly $1800 a month, courtesy of Heller-Aller and the United Auto Workers. I could live frugally on that, or comfortably with even a part-time job, so that's not an issue. I've thought about going back to Spearfish Lake, and I've thought about Florida. Maybe I'll just be like Crystal, hop in the car, and drive around till I find a spot. I never got to travel much with Pete; maybe I'll catch up a little."

"Maybe that's a good idea," he smiled gently. "If you need a mail drop, well, PO Box 127, Spearfish Lake. I've been Crystal's mail drop for years, no reason I can't handle you, too."

"Thanks, Randy. Are you going to continue that after you marry Nicole?"

"Nicole is Crystal's friend, too," he said. "We agreed that we'd both help if she needed it. I'm not real worried. Crystal may get around, but she can take care of herself. But, if she needs help, she can call on us. Look, Karin, I'll extend the offer for Nicole. If I can help, call on us."

"Randy," she said, frowning, "Has Crystal seemed, uh, a little testy to you on this trip?"

"No," Randy said. "Has she been to you?"

"I'm afraid so," Karin said. "Look, I'm not denying that there's some history between us that I wish weren't there, but when we try to talk, somehow it seems to turn sour."

"I haven't seen it," Randy said. "Crystal has a public side and a private side. The last few years, I've seen a lot of the private side, but I haven't seen it much on this trip, except for a few minutes on the bus from Flagstaff. The public side is a very competent individual, fun loving, a good leader, full of shit. The private side, well, it has doubts. It has a temper. It hurts. Sometimes, it hurts a lot. It has the last few years. No doubt you're getting a dose of it."

Karin shook her head. "Randy, I'm trying to do what I can to heal things between us. I think the last few years you may have come to know her better than anyone else. I'm asking you for advice."

"I'm afraid there isn't a lot of help I can be. You're just going to have to grit your teeth and let the hurt work itself out. Don't lose your temper with her, even if she loses it with you. I wish I could tell you more, but I've never been in that situation with her."

"I suppose you're right," she said. "I'll try to be patient with her, but these are trying times for me, too."

"I understand," he said. "If she knows that, it's probably not helping. Maybe she always sort of thought that somehow the wizard would wave his magic wand and everything would be like it was before. Now, she knows that can never happen. It's got to hurt."

Karin nodded. "Randy, did anyone ever tell you that you're a wise young man?"

"Well, I've had people tell me I'm a wise-ass, but that's not the same thing," he grinned, trying to take a little of the heaviness out.

Karin laughed despite herself. "Oh, I wish you luck with Nicole. I wish things had worked out between you and Crystal, but I guess it wasn't meant to be."

"Actually, I've come to the conclusion that I'm just as glad," Randy said quietly. "The public Crystal is the one I always liked. The private one, it's not as much fun. It's been fun being around the public Crystal again. It wouldn't have survived in Spearfish Lake. I don't think she was cut out for that kind of life, and I've come to accept it. Maybe she's right, maybe this Canyon is where she's supposed to be."

"You know, I'm starting to think that myself," she grinned. "You're right. I like the public Crystal myself."

"It is the fun side."

She let out a sigh. "I'm getting stiff from sitting here on this rock. What do you say we ease our way back down to camp and see if we can find a cold beer?"

"Sounds like the best idea I've heard in a while. I'm buying," he offered.

"Like hell you are," she said. "Not for what we paid to go on this trip."


The "Roaring Twenties" is the first of three difficult sections of the river, and the longest of them; one rapids follows another in a flurry, many of them big water, many worse than Soap Creek, the toughest Randy had run. He was perfectly happy to have Crystal at the oars as they worked their way down through them. It was a thrilling day, even to just sit and ride. The rides weren't long; sometimes they were only in the boats for a few minutes before they were steered to shore so they could scout another rapids.

The worst was 24 Mile Rapids, a rough ride, but a thrilling one. Scooter's raft got sideways in one of the big waves in the wave train there, and a customer went over the side. He was able to manage to grab the lifeline that encircled the raft and hung on for dear life until things died down a bit and Scooter was able to let go of the oars for a second, grab his PFD and hoist him back on board with a big, strong arm. In a few seconds, they were idling in an eddy, catching their breath and getting things back in order, watching the other rafts run down, run cleanly through the whitewater chaos, and join them. "Want us to take point for a while?" Crystal asked.

"Yeah, why not?" Scooter grinned. "It'll take us a minute to wring this guy out, anyway."

Almost at once they were at 24-1/2 Mile Rapids. They pulled in there, to check it out, and agreed that a run on the left seemed like a good idea. It wasn't quite as wild a ride as 24 Mile, but it was still hairy enough to see what the river in the Canyon was all about.

Things slowed down a little after that. They stopped again almost immediately to scout 25 Mile Rapids, but the rapids were a little muted after that, and they only stopped to scout two of the next four, and after the last one, things flattened out. They pulled in for lunch, and to get everyone's heart rate back under control. It had been a tough morning, in fact, one leading well into the afternoon. Everyone was shaky from the adrenaline shock of the Roaring Twenties, and Crystal said they'd only run a short distance, to a good sandbar campsite and call it a day.

"Randy, you row," she said as they got back in the raft. "There ain't jack shit for the next twenty miles, and I'm feeling as lazy as Al."

Randy wasn't the only customer rowing rafts that afternoon; in fact, all of them were being rowed by customers. The going was so easy that they floated down together in a tight little group, and he was a little surprised to look up and see Al lolling back in the back of his raft, with Karin at the oars. Doing a good job of it, too, under his gentle coaching. Give her a little more muscle and a few less years, she might make a boatman herself, he thought. She sure seemed to enjoy it. Like daughter, like mother.

They pulled in early that afternoon. Scooter suggested a hike up a narrow side canyon, a nice trip, she said, but it was hot and on the sunward side of the canyon, and she got few takers. Most of the party just lolled around camp, took short swims in the cold water, trying to cool off but only able to stand the cold water for so long, then laying on the beach till the warmth drove them back to the river.

After that, things settled down. Day followed day, mostly easy going at first, with a few rapids here and there, but nothing major for a couple of days. Randy rowed the raft much of the way and some of the other customers did some rowing, too, while Crystal lolled back in the raft. He found himself enjoying it immensely, shooting the bull with Crystal and the other customers, listening to her tell tales of the river, and stories about her past, some of them on Randy, like the way they'd pulled the legs of the unsuspecting freshmen when they'd been surfing Second Sand Beach on the icy waters of Lake Superior during spring melt.

As the days passed, the river carried them down into time. Al helped with some of the interpretation, just to help enlighten them. The deeper into the Canyon they went, the older the rocks were and the farther back into time they went -- 500 million years, a billion, two, back to sediments deposited in times long before dinosaurs walked the earth. The sediments came in different layers, each older than the one past, and there were names like Kaibab Limestone and Bright Angel Shale. They watched the rock layers as the river currents twisted and turned their boats, looking up at the thick rock layers and the slopes of loose rock that were sometimes deposited there. Cacti, shrubs, and tufts of grass grew where they could among the slopes and plateaus painted in greens and maroons that alternated between the broken vertical cliff faces that rose high above, painted in vibrant colors: salmons, reds, buffs, and browns.

Each bend in the river, each corridor, offered new and fresh wonders. They floated past geometrically chiseled cliffs, deep pink and stained with black, past massive red limestone walls rising straight out of the river, riddled with caves, some containing human artifacts that dated back thousands of years. Here and there, a stream burst from a wall, sparkling water tumbling down fern and flower lined rock. They floated past white sand beaches, had lunch on some and camped on others. Everywhere, side canyons, hundreds of them, narrow and wide, called for exploration, and they stopped and clambered up a few. Some were short, dead-end canyons choked with boulders, some wide and long, that almost promised routes up to the rim far above. Some were alive with the sound of running water, sometimes lying in small, gleaming pools; others dry, heat-choked and dusty.

Deep within the Canyon now, several days and 77 miles below Lee's Ferry, they reached the dark bottom of the world, the Inner Gorge, more than a vertical mile below the rim. For miles, they floated between hard, shiny black walls a thousand feet high. Here, in what Major Powell had called the very bowels of the earth, they came to the second string of major rapids, some of the most exciting and well known in the Canyon, with names like Unkar, Hance, Sockdolager and Grapevine. The customers didn't row these rapids, not even Randy. Unkar proved to be a straightforward run through big waves, but Hance turned out to require maneuvering and experience; Randy was aware of Crystal's strong muscles and light touch as she worked her way through them. At Sockdolager, the waves towered gigantic and heavy, although the rafts rode them with ease; more huge, rearing waves greeted them at Grapevine.

Not far below Grapevine, they pulled in for the night, exhausted. It was still fairly early in the afternoon, but they were tired. Some of the party had a little energy, and Jerry led a small hiking party up an unpromising little side canyon, while the rest of the party lolled around on the beach.

Randy was poking around at the base of the side canyon when he heard cries for help. He relayed the call down to the beach, and started racing up the side canyon. Not far up the canyon, he saw Jerry's form, lying crumpled at the foot of a cliff. "What happened?" he panted.

"He tried free-climbing and fell," Sam, the seventyish guy from Al's boat said.

Randy had only had his EMT card for a couple months, and he'd only been on a handful of calls -- he'd been too busy at the Albany River School -- but he hadn't had the training for nothing; he raced over to Jerry. He was still breathing, that was something, had a pulse, working vitals if not what you'd call good. He was having difficulty breathing, and there were obvious broken bones; he was shaking, like he had a concussion. The first thing to do was to was to stabilize him . . . there wasn't much here for a first aid kit, but there probably was one back at the boats . . . all of a sudden, Crystal came racing up, with the party's big first aid kit. "I'll handle this Randy, I'm a WFR, remember," she said.

"Crystal, I'm an EMT," he said. "We got fair vitals, an open airway, but difficulty breathing. Broken ribs, and I think he punctured a lung."

"When did you become an EMT?" she asked, breaking open the kit.

"You come around Spearfish Lake once in a while, you might learn something. Get started on the extremities, and get thinking about how we're going to get him down to the boats. There ain't no way we can do a chair carry."

"What are we going to do about the lung?" she asked.

"If I was back in Spearfish Lake, I'd be calling the Medevac chopper from Camden," he said. "There ain't much we can do here."

"No place for a chopper to get in here, even if we can raise an overflight," she said. "Thank God Phantom ain't far." She saw Scooter come pounding up the trail. "Scoot!" she yelled. "Go back down, send Al up with a table, try to raise an overflight on the VHF radio, then start getting loaded up. We're going to have to run for Phantom."

Just then, Sandy Loveberry came up, out of breath. She'd seemed a little frail and hapless to Randy, and he didn't know her well, but now she proved her stuff. "I was an ER nurse," she said. "What have we got?"

"Punctured lung is the worst thing, I think," he said. "Concussion, broken extremities, some blood loss."

She put her head down and listened to Jerry's chest. "That's what I read on the punctured lung," she said. "There's not much we can do about that here."

It took what seemed like forever. They splinted the broken arm and leg as best they could as Al came up with one of the serving tables, which was designed to double as a stretcher. They got Jerry on it, but it took most of the party to pass him down the rough spots. The sun was getting lower as they got down to the river, to Al's raft, where they laid him in the bottom.

"Everything's loaded, but I can't get a whisper on VHF," Scooter reported. "I kept trying both 121.5 and the tower frequency."

"No time to piss around with it anymore," Crystal said. "Randy, you're the best spare boatman. Take Jerry's raft, stay in the middle of the party. There's nothing ahead you can't handle. Try to stay close to Al and Sandy if they need help. Bob, Sam, get in my raft, give Sandy and Al some room. OK, people, let's get moving."

Though it was still daylight, the shadows were deep, and it was hard to read the water. Randy stayed closed up on Al pretty good, and everybody rowed hard through the flats, racing the setting sun. They went through three rapids, none real major, and Randy just followed Al, tried to follow his moves. It still took a while before the first of the rafts pulled onto the beach at Phantom Ranch; it was Crystal's, and it had barely touched bottom before she was out of it and running for the ranger station and the only telephone at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

The shadows were getting long before they heard the sound they'd been praying for -- the flucketa-flucketa-flucketa of a turbocharged helicopter dropping out of the sky, down from the rim. Randy and Mrs. Loveberry exchanged a few words with the paramedic on board -- not many words, the light was going fast -- and soon the pilot pulled pitch and in a cloud of dust, Jerry was on his way out of the Canyon, still alive, and probably would recover, now. Randy knew it had been close.

If the party had been drained earlier, they were really exhausted, now. Crystal commented that while they weren't supposed to stay at Phantom, the light was too bad to go on, so they just set up on the beach near the Bright Angel Bridge. "Damn helicopters," Al grunted as they started to set up the stoves in the semi-darkness. "Hate 'em and love 'em. They used to make a hell of a lot of racket before they banned over flights, just ruined the place. But every now and then . . . God, they're lifesavers. Saved my ass a couple times back in Vietnam. Is everybody else as beat to shit as I am?"

"I think so," Randy said, the adrenaline shock reaching him really bad, now. It was as bad as the fight with Baughman. Worse. He was shaking, badly. All the hours he'd sat half bored in the EMT classes . . . well, they'd just been worth it. Every damn minute.

"Randy, you did good," Al smiled. "I think it's time for some emergency supplies."

"Huh?" Randy said, as Al got up and headed over to his raft. He dug down into the drybox that was fixed on the raft, and emerged with a big bottle of Johnny Walker. "Oh, those emergency supplies," he grinned.

Randy wasn't one to drink much hard stuff, and the whiskey burned going down. It hit the bottom of his empty and adrenaline-shocked stomach and went off like a bomb, sending waves of relaxation flowing through him.

"I don't drink much," Al said as the bottle was being passed around the party -- there were others there who had been shaken by the afternoon. "But, there are times . . . what the hell was he doing free climbing in this place? What the hell was he thinking of? Randy, Sandy, I'm just as glad as hell that you two were along."

"Randy, you never told me you were an EMT in Spearfish Lake last winter," Crystal protested.

"I wasn't. I only got the card a month ago. I'm on the ambulance crew now, sort of, except I had to take my name off the call list till we got the Albany River School done."

"Is Joe going to talk you into the Firefighter I class?"

"Probably," he said philosophically, the whiskey threading through him now. "I got some other things on my list, first. Like Nicole, and getting the house done."

In a couple minutes, the bottle made its way back around to Al. He poured himself another shot, and one more for Randy. "Crystal, I know we're all beat to shit," he said. "But you're still the trip leader, and I gotta point out that we got a problem."

"Right," she said. "We're short a boatman, now. I see two choices. We can leave a raft here, spread the stuff from it out among the other rafts, and either pick it up on another trip, or deflate it and have it carried out on a mule."

"Can't do that very well," Al said. Randy could see he was teaching, letting Crystal analyze the problem and reach her own conclusions. It must be hard to avoid taking over in a situation like that. Hell, it must have been hard for Brent to stand back out of the way and let Randy do things, too, he thought. Al is a lot like Brent, he thought.

"Yeah," Crystal agreed. "The frame would be a bitch. I don't want to do it, anyway. It'll louse up the schedule for the next trip, and we'd have a hell of a load for four rafts. I only see one thing to do, and that's turn Randy into a boatman."

"Can't do that," Al pointed out. "I've seen him, he's good with the boat, did well this afternoon. But the insurance won't let him."

"Well, yeah," Crystal said. "But if I remember you saying, that only means he can't carry passengers. What do you say we move some of the load over to Jerry's raft, turn it into a gearboat and let Randy have it? There's some tough stuff coming, but he can run most of what we face. The hard spots, like Crystal and Lava, one of us can walk back up and run it with him, or for him. Besides, I know Randy, he's good, and you've seen he doesn't panic easily."

"That'd be OK," Al said. "Randy, you up for it?"

The whiskey was getting to him a little, now. "Yeah, sure," he said. "I hate sitting on my ass and letting someone else do all the work."

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