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 14

August 19-22, 1999

Flagstaff

Two and a half weeks later Crystal and Scooter pulled into Diamond Creek Wash once again, at the end of another trip. The first half of the trip had been very hot, and people had been more than a little crabby, but a couple days below Phantom another front blew through with an even more severe thunderstorm than on the last trip and a sharp drop in the temperature. The next morning Norma, the Navajo swamper that graduated from high school earlier in the summer, stepped out onto the beach, looked at the sky, and announced, "All right, that was the end of the really hot stuff for the summer."

Over the last several trips, Crystal, Scooter and the rest of Team 3 had become increasingly impressed with Norma. She was a hard worker and a good swamper -- but she was on just a little different wave length than the rest of them. For one thing, she had a weather sense that was uncanny. It could be clear as a bell in the evening, but if she set up a tent they'd learned that they'd better set up tents for themselves and have the customers do it, too. On the other hand, the sky could be dark and threatening rain, but if Norma didn't bother with a tent, they learned it was a waste of effort to put one up. She never missed once.

Even back when Louise had led the second trip of the season it was clear that Norma had an intimate knowledge of some things about the Canyon, although nothing about others. She was no better at geology than Scooter or Crystal, but was sharp on plants and animals and knew Indian history and legends about the Canyon that even Al or Louise had never heard. The customers may have learned a lot from Norma, but Crystal and Scooter tried to soak up everything she had to teach. Although it made a good summer job for her, in the long term she wasn't going to be a river bum -- she had plans for medical school and none of the crew doubted she'd make it.

Unfortunately, Crystal and Scooter knew it was going to be the last trip of the summer for Norma, for Barbie, the other swamper, and Glenn, the junior boatman. Both of the girls were going to be going to Northern Arizona University, right there in Flagstaff, but Glenn would be heading back to Brigham Young in the morning. Even though he'd been as straight as straight could be and then some, he'd been a responsible boatman, and a tower of strength in the tough times after Al heard about Louise. Crystal and Scooter were going to miss all of them and would be happy to run with them in the future if the schedules worked out right.

Though they never talked about it in the open, or even with Dan and Jerry, several times when Crystal and Scooter were off by themselves, they wondered to each other how Al was coming along, and whether he'd be on the next trip or not. When they'd stopped at Phantom and Crystal talked to Michelle, she said that it was still possible but could go either way.

So, about the first thing they did once they got on shore, while they were still unloading the rafts in a duffel line, Crystal and Scooter got Jeff off to the side behind the bus and asked him what was coming down with Al.

"Long, long story," Jeff told them. "At the moment, it's probably yes, but we had to pull a fast one to manage that."

"Fast one?" Scooter smiled.

"He's been acting a little better, but still not real enthused. He was yes and no, yes and no for quite a while, and then the first part of this week it was no. He told Michelle that she could go, he figured he could sit around the office a little if he needed to."

"That's an improvement," Crystal nodded, "But he needs to be back on the river."

"That's what we think," Jeff smiled. "So, night before last, Michelle was at her martial arts practice and pulled a shoulder muscle. Her arm is in a sling."

"Damn," Crystal shook her head. "That shoulder stuff hurts."

"Michelle no more hurt her shoulder than I had a baby," Jeff grinned. "We set it up to put him between a rock and a hard spot, but whatever happens Michelle can't run this cycle or he'll realize we were bullshitting him. Let's keep that among Michelle and us, OK?"

"OK, you're sneaky," Crystal grinned. "So he's on now?"

"Yeah, unless something else happens."

"Is he going to be up to running a raft?"

"That's the sixty-four dollar question, ain't it?" Jeff shrugged. "Michelle and I pretty much agree that when he gets on the river he'll realize he can't just sit there and will rise to the occasion. I mean, hell, he ought to be able to do it in his sleep. Bottom line, though, Crystal, you're the trip leader and you're going to have to make the decision."

"And with Michelle having to look like she's out of the picture cuts out one of the backups, right?"

"Unfortunately," the old bus driver nodded. "Michelle talked her dad into running the first part if Al bombs out, even if it's down at Lee's. All he'll need is a couple hours notice. Al doesn't know that. But even her dad doesn't want to do it. He says he's rusty as hell, and Al off pace is probably going to be better than he'd be at his best."

"Well, if that's what we have to work with, that's what we have to work with," Crystal shook her head. "I take it we can't talk about this around the office?"

"Right, not even Jimmie or Marjorie knows most of it," Jeff nodded. "Michelle will probably get you out for a few beers sometime and go over the details."

As usual, it was a long haul back from Diamond Wash to Flagstaff, and it was along in the evening before the pickup and the crew bus pulled into the lot in back of the office. Over the course of the unloading and the cleaning up Crystal got Michelle off to the side. They didn't talk long, but mostly Michelle confirmed what Jeff had told her earlier.

The outgoing crew was nice enough to stick around and help with the gear cleanup and all the little end-of-trip chores, but even with that it was well after dark before Crystal invited the whole crew over to the Burro for a goodbye celebration. Both Norma and Barbie were under age, and Glenn was still a very assertive non-drinker, but for the sake of unity, Crystal bought the three of them non-alcoholic beers, which they sipped politely before they turned to fruit juice or 7-Up.

There really wasn't much to say that hadn't already been said; Crystal told the three that they were going to miss them and hoped that their school went well and that she'd be happy to run with them again, anytime, anywhere. All three said they planned on being back another year and hoped they'd draw Crystal for a trip leader. Glenn was going to be out of town after tonight, but both Norma and Barbie offered to come over and help with Team 3's packing. They even offered to go up to Lee's to rig if they could ride the crew bus back Sunday evening; Crystal told them that she wasn't going to turn them down on that.

The evening ended early; everyone was tired and a little down from having to break up what had been a very close crew for the last three months. Crystal and Scooter told Dan and Jerry that they'd see them Saturday for getting groceries, then rode out to the motel they always used out on the edge of town and tried to run the water heater dry once again.

As usual, they took it easy on Friday, but early Saturday morning they were at the office, ready to go. Dan and Jerry were there, noticeably hung over, and so were Norma and Barbie; considering that Michelle had to act like she couldn't do much, Crystal was grateful for the extra help. However, there was no sign of Al, and while the rest of the crew was working on the packing, Crystal got Michelle up to the front office along with Scooter and asked about it.

"He's still sort of in denial that he's going ," Michelle told her. "He'll be here in the morning. Jeff and I are going to go over early, make sure he's got his gear packed and drag him over here if we have to."

"Do you think it would help if Scooter and I went over to talk to him?" Crystal asked.

"Might be an idea if you dropped by and tell him he's looking a lot better and that you're glad he's going," she replied. "Keep it positive and don't take 'no' for an answer."

"All right, we'll give it a shot," Crystal said. "I really need to get a first-hand feeling for how he's doing, anyway."

"Probably not as well as you hope," Michelle said sadly. "He's still pretty down, but Jeff probably told you that we think once he realizes he has to do it, he'll rise to the occasion. Like you told him, he needs to get his ass back in the Canyon. It'll heal him if anything can. I know this is going to be a difficult trip for you in that regard, but I'd really rather it was you and Scooter who do it rather than Mary and Dave. I think you have better chemistry with him, and you've run with him this season."

"Besides, it was our idea," Crystal nodded. "So, next trip, a full load, right?"

"Full load," Michelle agreed. "It almost wasn't for a while on Wednesday. One of the customers on the list came down with a hot appendix, so she and her husband had to bail; they rescheduled for next year. They hadn't been off the list an hour when I had two phone calls almost at the same time for solo people who wanted to sign up, so you're back to a full load."

"Any problems that you know about?"

"Not really," Michelle said, handing her a manifest of several pages of computer printout. "No kids. Three people over seventy; they're supposed to be in good shape, although one's a controlled type 2 diabetic. He'll be giving you backup meds."

Crystal flipped through the pages; the names weren't familiar, of course, but the manifest also carried notations of possible other problems. "Naw, it couldn't be," she spoke up.

"What's that?"

"Randy Clark. It couldn't be the same one I know, the last I knew he was up to his ass in building a new school building somewhere, and if not that, other construction up till the snow flies, including his own new house."

"He was one of the two who signed up Wednesday," Michelle offered. "He's driving in, going to ride out on the crew bus."

"I doubt like hell it's him," Crystal said. "Oh, well, they've got to be better than that last group, first half of the trip, anyway. Scooter, let's you and me get back out and help get the packing wrapped up, then you and I can go over and see Al. Then maybe tonight you and Michelle and I can go over to the Burro and have a couple."

"I better not come out and help too much," Michelle said. "Or else I'll find myself grabbing something I shouldn't."

"You were right," Crystal told Michelle over a beer in the Burro a few hours later. "He doesn't act very damn up and enthusiastic, but maybe he'll perk up a little when we get down to Lee's and start rigging."

"That's my guess," Michelle agreed. "At least, that's what Jeff and I are hoping. Look, Crystal, if you get down to the wire and decide he shouldn't go, I'll give you Dad's phone number; he'll be packed up and can be there in two hours. But there are any number of reasons why Dad shouldn't be going unless it's an absolute gotta, and he'll definitely have to climb out from Phantom. If he has to go, I'll come up with someone to replace him, even if I have to get that guy from Team 1 I told you about to cut classes for a week and a half."

"But you'll have to give him an incentive you'd rather not, right?"

"Well, yeah, but he's my ultimate fall-back. Like I said, if I met him at a bar or a party somewhere and I was in the mood, it could be fun. I haven't had any of that kind of fun since Hawaii, and I could stand for some."

"It's been a couple years for me," Crystal said. "I could get persuaded in the right circumstances."

"Me, too," Scooter agreed. "It's been even longer for me, and I was thinking a couple times this last trip that maybe that job over at that Redlite place has some advantages."

"That's what Jennlynn told us a couple years ago," Michelle grinned. "In fact, what she said is that she wouldn't pick up a guy in a bar on a bet anymore. She says what she does is perfectly legal; it's a heck of a lot simpler, and a heck of a lot safer. They always use barriers and condoms, get regular checkups, have bouncers on the place, and like that. On top of that, she gets as much as she wants."

"And, she gets paid for it," Scooter grinned.

"It does have some appealing points," Michelle grinned. "There are a number of downsides, like how high my parents would blow up if they found out, so I don't think I'll head over there for my winter vacation."

"You have any more thoughts about going down to Florida and going surfing with us?" Crystal asked.

"I'd love to," Michelle nodded, "And, I'd love to go with someone, since that jazz of hanging around bars alone as young as I look doesn't work real well for finding some guy to fool around with. Jennlynn is right about that; it's just not real safe, even if I have a black belt. But, it's going to depend on whether I can get away."

"I had an idea of something we could do for a while," Scooter said. "It'd be damn expensive, but if three or four of us shared out the cost it might not be too bad."

"What's this?" Michelle asked.

"I'm thinking we bareboat charter a sailboat, say something around a twenty-eight or thirty footer. That would be big enough for three or four of us. Maybe the Keys, maybe the Bahamas Out Islands somewhere. It could easily cost a grand a week, and maybe more, I haven't priced it. But, like I said, if we shared the cost it might be something we could afford."

"Something to think about," Michelle nodded. "But I've never been on a sailboat. I know Crystal has, though."

"Yeah, I sailed to Hawaii that time, just a crewman," Crystal nodded. "I've got a six-pack license to haul passengers commercially, but really that's for powerboats. Scooter is the one who knows how to sail."

"It's been a while," Scooter said, "Almost ten years. But I don't see us out to win the America's Cup. Just gunkhole around from harbor to harbor for a while, maybe find some fun bars, maybe even find some fun guys."

"That's an idea with potential," Michelle agreed. "I know it'd be hard as hell for you to look into it while you're on the river, but maybe I could spend a little time on the net or something, get a little better feel for it."

"Don't make any commitments," Scooter warned. "And remember that when they say a boat sleeps four, that means four midgets who are into group sex."


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