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

River Rat
Book 5 of the Dawnwalker Cycle
Wes Boyd
2005, 2010

Chapter 12

July 29-31, 1999


As always, they were late getting unloaded and getting gear maintenance done in Flagstaff, but this time everyone went over to the air-conditioned Burro, even Glenn, the teetotaler Mormon, who drank fruit juice while the rest of the crew had a few beers and Burroburgers, food they didn't have to cook for themselves. "We didn't get much of a day off last time," Crystal told everybody. "Get what quality down time you can. I doubt like hell it's going to be much cooler next trip. It might cool off a little toward the end, the heat usually tapers off a bit, I'm told. Now go and find some different faces to look at for a day."

As always, Crystal and Scooter headed out to the motel by the highway and did their best to run the water heater dry, then got several hours in real beds with sheets. And, as always, on Friday morning there were a few personal errands to run before starting on the next trip. In K-Mart, Scooter discovered an end-of-season sale on swimsuits; at two for five dollars, both she and Crystal stocked up on bikinis and tank suits that had been forty bucks a couple months before. "May only take one or two of these next trip," Crystal said. "But we're going to want them next year, and at these prices we'd better grab them."

They ran a few more errands, got a few more things. Finally, Crystal asked, "Are you up for going to see Al?"

"I think we should," Scooter nodded. "That's not saying that I want to."

"Yeah, that's about how I feel and why I've been putting it off," Crystal agreed, and drove the Dodge out to Al's house. Scooter had never been there, and Crystal only once, for the end-of-season wrap party the year before. They knocked on the door several times, and finally Al opened it.

He looked terrible. It looked like he hadn't shaved in several days, and looked thin and gaunt. "Hi, girls," he said quietly, without much enthusiasm. "I take it you're on break."

"Yeah, it was a pretty good trip," Crystal told him.

"Michelle said she thought you were doing all right," he said absently.

"We're doing all right," Scooter replied. "Al, how are you doing?"

"I'm getting along," he said.

"Al," Crystal said, "When was the last time you had something to eat?"

"I don't know, I haven't been very hungry."

"You need something," she said flatly. "What's more, you look like you haven't changed clothes in days. Go take a shower, shave, and get on some clean clothes and you'll feel better."

"I'm doing all right," he protested weakly.

"Like hell you are," Crystal said. "Now go take a shower, shave, and get some fresh clothes on, or Scooter and I will do it to you."

As it turned out, they had to do an awful lot of the work for him, both cajoling him and bullying him to get it done. There were some dirty clothes strewn around, not many. Scooter would have been willing to bet good money that there had been no laundry done in a month. She found a washing machine in the kitchen and started in on them, and while she was at it, changed the sheets, which looked like it had been a while since that'd been done. The sink was filled with dirty dishes, some of which had been sitting there for days, if not weeks; while the laundry was under way she got started washing them, with breaks to help Crystal motivate Al. Eventually, they got him out to the kitchen table, and Scooter warmed a pan of soup -- if he hadn't eaten much in days, she knew it wasn't a good idea to heap a large meal on him.

"You girls don't have to do this," he protested again as Scooter set a bowl of soup down in front of him. "I'm doing all right."

"Like hell you are," Crystal snorted again. "Al, look, we know you're sorry as hell about losing Louise. We're sorry as hell, too. But you can't go on like this; you've got to snap out of it."

"But what if I don't want to snap out of it?" he asked. "Damn it, I miss her."

"We know you do," Scooter told him. "We miss her, though not like you have to be doing. But you need to look ahead, do things, not just wallow in your sorrow. We know it's going to be hard, but you're going to have to do it."

"Al," Crystal said, "Do you know what you need? You need to get your ass back in the Canyon where it belongs."

"Crystal's right," Scooter added, "It'll heal you if anything can."

"I don't know," he sighed, "Maybe."

"Al, we're leaving the day after tomorrow," Crystal said. "I think you ought to go with us."

"But I don't want to, I don't feel like going."

"OK, Al," Crystal said harshly, "But you better get to feeling like it, because you're going back in the Canyon again. Maybe not this trip, but the next one for sure. You may not feel like snapping out of it, so I guess we're going to have to kick your ass into doing it."

"We'll see," he said without much enthusiasm.

Michelle and Jeff were waiting at the office the next morning when Crystal and Scooter pulled up in the Dodge to get started on getting groceries for the next trip. "Are you guys about ready to start?" Michelle asked.

"Not quite," Crystal said, just a little upset. "Look you two, I don't want to get on your asses, you of all people. We know you've been over to see him, but the house was a mess, he hadn't cleaned it up or himself up, and he hadn't changed clothes for days. I know you've got a ton to do, but you're going to have to be a little more proactive with him."

"We know," Michelle sighed. "It's hard. He . . . he doesn't want to do much of anything."

"Of course he doesn't," Crystal snorted. "You have to tell him to do it and he'll do it. You may have to stand up to him and get on him, but he'll do what you tell him to."

"I agree, it's not good," Jeff said. "But, well, as long as we've known Al, well, it's hard."

"You've known him long enough that you shouldn't let him get like that," Crystal told them. "Now, I'll tell you what we told him yesterday, and it's that he needs to get back in the Canyon. That's the only thing that's likely to snap him out of it."

"You know, I think you're right," Michelle nodded thoughtfully. "But in the mood he's been in, I hate to dump him on a trip. Not only could it be a downer for the passengers, but it could be dangerous."

"I think we're going to have to," Scooter said. "Crystal and I have talked it over enough that we're willing to try it. This is one time that not knowing him like you do is an advantage because we're less likely to put up with that no-interest shit."

"We were all set to take him tomorrow," Crystal said. "But he needs to get perked up and shaped up a little, so we'll just have to do it next trip. We already told him he's going. You keep telling him that. Tell him he has to go, we're short boatmen. I'll lead, but we need his butt in a raft."

"I'd be a little scared to put him in a raft," Michelle shook her head.

"I think he'll rise to the occasion," Scooter said. "I mean, hell, he's done it forever, he ought to be able to handle a boat on automatic."

"Try to find us a spare boatman," Crystal added. "Maybe get someone from some other company who he might not know. We can tell Al that they're a swamper or something."

"That might be a little difficult," Michelle protested. "That's right when all the college kids are going back to school, and we break back down to two crews. That's going to be a mess and it's not clear if we're going to have enough people to go around, anyway. If push comes to shove, I may have to leave Jeff and Marjorie to run the office as best they can and fill out a crew myself, at least for that one trip. There's one college kid I might be able to con into skipping a semester if I blow in his ear just right, and that's my only other hope. Now, as we get into September and the motor rig outfits shut down their trips, we can find spare boatmen without too much trouble, but it would mean putting off taking him for two trips."

"That's six weeks," Crystal said. "I don't want to wait that long. I don't want to wait for three weeks, but he's not ready to go now. Look, get him to eating if you have to stand over him to do it, help him take care of himself or force him to do it, and keep telling him he has to run next time. I honest to God think it's the only hope."

Though there had been some fur standing on end that morning, by the time Michelle and Jeff had helped Crystal, Scooter, and the rest of Team 3 with the grocery shopping and packing, tempers had calmed down again. "Well, that's that," Crystal sighed as things wound down. "Scoot, Michelle, Jeff, would you like to head over to the Burro and have a couple?"

"I better pass," Jeff said. "Marjorie has bridge club this evening, so she's gonna want to have supper early."

"I'm up for it," Scooter nodded. "As hot as it's been, for once I think I can manage to take a pass spending several hours cooking in the motel's hot tub."

"Beer sounds good to me," Michelle agreed. "Before you go, Crystal, would you like your mail?"

"I've got mail?" Crystal said with a touch of surprise. "Hell, even the companies trying to hook me on credit cards don't have my address. What brought this on?"

"I don't know," Michelle shrugged. "Scooter, you've got a letter, too. I mean, it looks like a real letter, not junk mail."

"Now that's strange," Scooter nodded. "There's not a lot of people who know I'm here and even less that I care about."

Curious, they followed Michelle into the office, where she handed Crystal two envelopes, and Scooter one, from Peterson and Link Graphics in Phoenix; the address was handwritten. "Now what the hell?" Scooter snorted, and ripped the end off the envelope.

There was a brief note inside:

Scooter, we thought you'd like to know that we sold that photo of you we all liked so well to f64, which is a high-end art photography quarterly. At this point, it's supposed to be the cover photo for the winter issue, so we thought you ought to share in the wealth. Hope the river is treating you fine and maybe we'll get a chance to see you again someday. Andrea and Debby.

Stapled to the note was a check for $300.

"Well, I will be god damned," Scooter smiled, shaking her head and handing the letter to Crystal.

"Hey, cool, Cover Girl," Crystal laughed after glancing the note over quickly. "Michelle, do you know we've got an up-and-coming model working with us?"

"What's this all about?" Michelle asked, glancing at the note.

"We had a couple girl customers this spring who are trying to break into high-end freelance photography," Scooter explained with a grin on her face. "Crystal and I sort of got put in front of the lens a little. I look a little buff in the photo they're talking about, I was on the sticks in Dubendorff at the time."

"I was a good girl," Crystal snickered. "I was very demure. I only did a handful of nice, tasteful topless shots, but Cover Girl here did some nudes."

"Nothing dirty," Scooter protested. "Some bare backside and like that."

"Yeah, right," Crystal laughed. "The next thing you know, you'll be getting a letter from them saying they made a sale to Playboy. You're going to be famous, Cover Girl. You're going to have letters from weirdos all over the country wanting to get to know you way better."

"That's it, Crystal, lay it on thick," Scooter snorted. "I suppose you're going to keep that 'Cover Girl' shit up, too. One lousy photo in an art magazine no one ever heard of before does not a supermodel make."

"Well, true," Crystal grinned, "But you gotta admit, that's three hundred bucks you never expected to see."

"That's true," Scooter nodded, "But you have to say that whatever else those two are, they're fair. Knowing what they've done to get where they are, I'm half tempted to send the check back to them."

"Ah, don't," Crystal told her, "They wouldn't have sent it if they didn't want to, so they must have thought they owed you."

"Well, maybe this winter when we're on break, we can slide down and say hello," Scooter shrugged. "They were fun gals once you got over the awkward spots. So what did you get?"

<< Back to Last Chapter
Forward to Next Chapter >>

To be continued . . .

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.