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 13

July 31, 1999


"A mail packet from Randy," Crystal shrugged. "I've kept a post office box in Spearfish Lake since I did the trail, and every now and then he sends me what's collected there. He put in a note, Marlin and Jackpine are through the Whites and ought to be in Maine by now."

"Good grief," Scooter shook her head, "If they're in Maine, they're booking. They started only like the first of March."

"That they are," Crystal agreed. "He said Nicole wants to get done in time to take a final shot at the teacher hiring cycle, but she'll probably wind up subbing all winter again."

"What's this all about?" Michelle asked. "I heard you mention Randy a couple times last fall, but who's this Marlin and Jackpine?"

"They're Appalachian Trail hiker nicknames," Crystal explained. "You knew that both Scooter and I have thru-hiked the trail, don't you? My trail name was 'Diamond.' Scooter's was 'Scooter.'"

"I like it better than Rhonda," Scooter snorted. "I thought about getting it made legal a couple times."

"Anyway, Randy is my old boyfriend, we're still good friends, you know that," Crystal explained. "Marlin is his girlfriend now, her real name's Nicole. Jackpine is a friend of hers; I think her real name is Jacqueline although I only heard it once. Marlin and I are pretty good friends; we hiked together three weeks the summer I did the trail." She let out a sigh and continued, "When we split up, I told her she'd make a better wife for Randy than I would, and I'd get out of her way."

"Second thoughts?" Michelle asked.

"No, not really," Crystal shrugged, "It's still the truth. I couldn't be married to him and working in the Canyon. It wouldn't be fair to him." She was silent for a second, obviously thinking. "Thinking of Randy, and thinking of photos," she added, "Scooter, you never got around to getting those photos you took developed, did you?"

"I finished the roll up last trip, but the film is still in the camera."

"Let's run it through the one-hour," Crystal smiled. "Randy's probably been eating his gut out wanting to be with Nicole on the AT, I might as well send him a couple photos to tease him about my being in the Canyon. He deserves it for turning into a work junkie on Nicole and me."

"This is the guy in the construction company, right?" Michelle asked.

"Right, his grandfather owns it. He's up about eighty; Randy's his executive assistant and will probably be running the company in a few years. He busts his ass but he makes good money. Back before I left last winter, he started building a house on a beautiful lake-shore lot. I saw an architect's drawing of it; it's really gonna be awesome."

"That's still quite a pile of mail," Scooter observed. "Did you get anything else?"

"It's mostly stuff from the Alumni Office at Northern, and like that," she shrugged. "Oh, and a 'hope you're doing fine and I'd like to hear from you' from my mother."

"I take that to mean things aren't going any better," Scooter said casually, knowing she was treading on touchy ground.

When she'd hiked for a month with Crystal over two years before, it frequently had been a topic of discussion, although it had rarely come up this summer. Relations between Crystal and her father, Pete, had been deteriorating for years, mostly over Crystal's active, outdoor lifestyle. He'd been non-supportive and critical of her getting her black belt -- which is probably what kept things from getting out of hand -- over her going to OLTA, her working on becoming a PE teacher, her summer job rafting at Ocoee Adventures, her surfing, skiing, and kayaking. Fortunately, Crystal was in college at Northern Michigan University when things got really bad, so she didn't have to put up with it all the time, at least not face-to-face.

Then, when Crystal was a senior, her younger sister Nanci had announced that she wanted to go to Northern. As far as Crystal was concerned, Nanci was immature and looking for a good time, and going as far away from their Chicago home as Northern would mean that she'd effectively be out from under her parent's eyes. Her father told Crystal that it was going to be her duty to keep her sister out of trouble. Crystal didn't like that one bit -- if Nanci fucked up, as she surely would, then Crystal would get the blame from her parents. Added to that, Crystal had to do an extra semester, and she and Randy had been planning on living together to try and see if maybe they could stand to be married to each other -- but Nanci going to Northern effectively ruled that out. As expected, when Nanci went to college the following fall, she majored in sex with a minor in partying and drinking; she didn't bother to study much, if at all, and wound up on academic probation.

And, as expected, when Crystal got home for Christmas, her father didn't have one word of congratulation about her graduating Cum Laude, but was on her ass from his first words about letting Nanci run wild. It was only from a supreme effort at self control that Crystal refrained from using her black belt skills to break every bone in his body; she stormed out the door and hadn't seen him since. When she'd been on the trail with Crystal the following spring, Scooter learned that Nanci had been thrown out of college and that Randy had been involved somehow, but she wasn't real clear about what actually happened, and it was a touchy enough subject that she didn't pry.

Scooter knew that Crystal had been home one more time, after she got off the trail, to discover that Nanci's boyfriend had beaten her up. Whether pissed at her or not, Nanci was still her sister, and Crystal literally kicked the shit out of the hockey player boyfriend -- several days in the hospital worth.

In hanging around with Crystal all summer, Scooter really hadn't learned much else about her relations with her family, not that she'd wanted to. But around various campfires over the summer, Crystal had related some of her adventures since she'd last been home.

She'd more or less based herself out of Randy's parents' home in Spearfish Lake, although she only got there rarely. Randy somehow set up a deal for her to drive a Jeep and travel trailer to Alaska that fall; to save money; she'd hitchhiked back to Seattle on a salmon boat, with memorable and sometimes-harrowing adventures. That winter, she'd worked as a ski instructor in Colorado, and after a series of minor adventures got a job as a crewman on a sailboat to Hawaii and back. A few days after she returned from Hawaii, she stopped at the truck stop on the south side of Flagstaff, saw their ad on a placemat, and unexpectedly wound up working at Canyon Tours. When the season ended, she'd gone back to Spearfish Lake and helped Randy's friends train their dog teams to run the Iditarod, the 1100-mile dogsled race in Alaska.

In that time, Crystal had only talked to her mother, Karin, rarely and her father never -- but her mother had told her that her younger brother Jon had more or less disappeared too, also apparently as a result of Pete's temper. That was surprising; Pete and Jon had been quite close, and Jon was professionally well on his way to following in his father's footsteps. Of Nanci, there was no word other than that she was still apparently running wild in the Chicago area.

"No, things really aren't going any better with my family," Crystal said slowly. "Well, maybe someday," Scooter said noncommittally. In spite of all the problems that Crystal had with her family, Scooter envied her. She had never known her father; her parents had split up before she was born, and her mother had never said much about him -- dead, jail, just gone, whatever; Scooter had never known. Her mother had died in a car wreck the winter after she'd finished the AT, and they hadn't been getting along well for years before. Scooter only had some distant relatives she hadn't seen for years and probably wouldn't know if they walked in the front door of the Canyon Tours office at that instant. At least Crystal had the long-shot prospect of maybe putting things back together someday; Scooter knew it wasn't going to happen for her. It was not the first time this summer that it crossed her mind that she was finding a home in the Grand Canyon just as much as Crystal was. For both their sakes, she decided she'd better change the subject before it got morose. "So, are you going back to Spearfish Lake for the winter?"

"I don't think so," Crystal said. "Oh, I need to stop in and say hi, and like that. I wouldn't be surprised if Randy and Nicole get married this winter, and I'll want to be there for that. But I don't think I want to work for Josh and Tiffany again. Not only is it cold as hell, most of the work is feeding dogs and cleaning up dog shit, although I got to run a dog sled once in a while. Beyond that, I don't have any ideas, other than I think I'd like to be warm. You got anything in mind?"

"Not really," Scooter sighed. "I'd have to find a place to rent if I stayed here in the winter, so I could just as well go somewhere else. Where, and doing what, I don't know, except that I don't think working at that place with Andrea and Debby is a possibility, cover girl or no."

"Me either," Crystal grinned, "Although you have to admit it would make for some interesting campfire stories next summer."

"Oh, God," Michelle grinned. "I'm almost afraid to ask."

"One of our wilder stories from the summer," Scooter grinned. "We were sitting around a campfire one evening when Louise told a story about a girl on a trip a couple years ago who was a Nevada hooker and flew her own Learjet. These two photographer girls said they knew her, they'd worked there for a while, too."

"Jennlynn Swift?" Michelle laughed. "I was there when she announced it. In fact, she and Cowboy were on my raft most of the trip. That woman is really something else! A couple different times I've thought a shift there might perk up a slow winter, but my folks would kill me if they found out about it."

"So, what do you do in the winter?" Scooter asked.

"This and that," she replied. "The last few years I've put in two to three months here in the office when Al and Louise took off, usually to this place down in Mexico. Jeff knew that; it's how I got stuck here after Louise died. Last winter, I took a month in Hawaii, learning to surf, hanging around on the beach, having a few thrills."

"You surf, too?" Crystal asked, "I didn't know that."

"I got to be what I think is fairly good for a beginner," Michelle said with an animated grin. "I had some good times in the bigger stuff on the north shore, but I never did the Pipeline or anything like that."

"I surfed there a little too," Crystal nodded, "When I was in Hawaii last year. Of course, most of my surfing is ice water in Lake Superior, or this place in Florida where Myleigh and I used to go on spring break. Randy came with us a few times, too."

"Florida?" Michelle frowned. "I didn't know they had surf in Florida."

"It's not Hawaii north shore," Crystal shrugged, "But this place on Florida's east coast has good beginner-to-intermediate-level stuff a good chunk of the time. Now, there's something I ought to think about for this winter. Buddha and Giselle are very cool people, they own that place, and I haven't seen them in a while. We couldn't camp out there all winter, but a couple weeks, probably."

"It'd be warm, I wouldn't mind that," Scooter nodded. "I don't surf, though."

"No big deal," Crystal said. "You ski and snowboard, don't you?"

"Not as much as I like. Remember, I've spent most of my winters in North Carolina the last few years. But a few times a bunch of us from NOC got up a carload to go up north, and I picked up snowboarding pretty good."

"No reason you couldn't pick up surfing," Crystal smiled. "If you snowboard, you've got it more than half licked, and you know what moving water is like in a way that few people do. Give Buddha or Giselle an hour with you, and most people would think that you'd been doing it for years."

"Crystal's right," Michelle added. "I think that's why I picked it up so quick."

"It's something to think about," Scooter conceded. "Like I said, Crystal, I don't have any plans. I'm perfectly willing to work out going somewhere with you if you want to."

"Yeah, fine with me," Crystal said. "Hey, Michelle, if Scooter and I decide to head to Florida, maybe you'd like to come surfing with us."

"I'm not going to rule it out," Michelle nodded, "But there's no telling how much I'm going to have to be in here, either. I might be stuck here all winter."

"If it'd help, I'd be willing to sit here and babysit the phones for a while so you can get some time off," Crystal offered.

"Me, too," Scooter agreed.

"It may come down to that," Michelle said. "Unfortunately, there's more to it than just babysitting the phones, even in the winter, and there's tax stuff and shit that Louise or Al always did and I don't even want to know about. I'm just hoping we don't get bit in the ass too bad."

"Well, hopefully things will get sorted out before it gets that far," Crystal nodded. "Hey, if we're just going to shoot the shit, let's go get that beer."

Later that evening, Michelle sat in the Burro drinking beer after beer with them, and she explained the personnel shuffle that was coming up. Since Canyon Tours used more college kids than most raft companies, they only ran two teams in the spring and fall. "Al and Louise really wanted to dump the early April and November trips, since they're often light and don't cover expenses," she explained. "But the Park Service only allows each company so many launches per year, and they've always been afraid that if they don't use every launch they're allowed, sooner or later they're going to lose the ones they don't use. They've wanted to work toward getting enough boatmen and trip leaders so that they can run three teams all through a little shorter season, but for one reason or another it's slipped backwards the last few years."

It probably wasn't going to improve in the near future, either, Michelle went on to explain. Bill, the senior trip leader and the leader of Team 1, had at the most one more summer remaining -- law school was involved, and he couldn't run the early or late trips anyway. But even with running fewer rafts in the early and late seasons, running full teams all season would mean having twelve to fifteen full-time boatmen, and they just didn't have that many. Michelle and Jeff had scrambled the last few weeks to get ten for the next trip cycle, and they weren't there yet.

In a few days, when Team 1 came off the river, all but one of the boatmen, including Bill, would be leaving for college. At one point, when Michelle had still been on Team 2, moving the remaining guy over was all that was going to be needed, but when Michelle went to the office and Stan took over the gear boat, they were going to be one short. After some wrangling, she worked out a deal for one of the college kids off Team 1 to run the first part of the Team 2 trip down to Phantom Ranch, and hike out. He'd be replaced by Charlie, the motor-rig guy who had run with Team 3 the first trip of the season; he'd be just coming off his last motor trip of the season, and it was going to involve an overnight burnaround and a hike down the Bright Angel to make it work.

"Since Dan and Jerry are staying with you," Michelle explained, "It makes things just a little simpler. If it works out that Al is up to filling the fifth spot, fine. It's the best solution in a number of ways, if we can make it work. If we can't, well, there's a guy on Team 1 who might agree to skip his first week of college, if I used the right persuasion on him."

"The right persuasion?" Crystal grinned.

"He's a little young for me, but so what? Under normal circumstances it probably would be fun to spend a night or two in bed with him," Michelle replied casually. "To use it as an incentive sets a bad precedent. I may be able to flutter my lashes and unbutton my blouse and sell the sizzle and not the steak, but it's iffy."

"Even that sets a bad precedent, though," Crystal sighed.

"That's true," Michelle nodded, "Even if it's not like I was going to bed with him. Anyway, if I can get him to run the first week, I can probably find a motor-rig guy to do the rest of the trip. The problem with that is we need to be grabbing the motor-rig guys we need pretty quick, too, mostly because a lot of them will be blowing town when their season winds down, some of them don't know oar boats, and some of them will have other commitments. Motor rig crews usually get a little college loaded, anyway. If that falls through, well, I can guilt trip my dad, but he hasn't run in about four years, and then it was only a half trip. It'd be tough for him to take off that long, but he and Al have been good friends forever. Mom hasn't run in even longer, and I don't think she'd be up to it, mostly because it's been so long."

"I guess I didn't realize your mom was a boatman, too," Scooter smiled.

"The second one for Canyon Tours after Louise," Michelle grinned. "After I was born they traded off trips for a year, but then my brother came along, and they figured they better go straight. They run a gift shop up on the South Rim. Anyway, what I'm saying is that I'll come up with someone for you, somehow. It may not be finalized till the last minute, and it may be me. I could probably sneak out of the office for a week if I had to, but if I do I may not even be able to get to Lee's until you're ready to shove off."

"The best answer is still Al," Crystal stated.

"I agree," Michelle said. "The problem is whether he can do it safely, and ultimately, that's a decision you have to make, and it'll have to wait until after you're off your next trip."

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To be continued . . .

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