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 22

September 9, 1999

Flagstaff

When the party hit the beach at Diamond Wash where the crew bus was waiting, the first question they had of Jeff was, "How's Jerry?"

"Not doin' too bad," Jeff said. "They let him out of the hospital a few days ago, but he's your typical boatman; he ain't got no place to go in Flag, so Marjorie and I took him in. Wants to go on the next trip, of course, but don't you dare even think about lettin' him."

"I'll make a point of coming by and seeing him," Al said. "That is a hell of a relief, Jeff."

"Which makes me ask," Jeff said. "How you doin'?"

"Better," Al said, "Lots better. Crystal and Scooter were right."

While the crew bus took the customers up the hill, Scooter, Crystal, Karin, and Al got off to the side for a few minutes to coordinate their story. A lot of what Crystal had discussed wasn't supposed to be public knowledge yet, and it might be a while before it was. Mostly at Crystal's suggestion, they decided that Karin had shown up unannounced to see Crystal and make up her mind about divorcing Pete, and had decided to return to Flag and stay with her daughter once she'd gone to Chicago to take care of business there. Al really wasn't part of the equation at that point, other than just getting to be good friends, nothing more. And really, outside of some ancient history and some of the things it might mean, it was pretty much the truth as far as it went.

Michelle was literally waiting at the door when the truck and the crew bus pulled into the back lot at Canyon Tours. She, of course, knew nothing of what had happened since the phone call from Phantom over a week ago -- and for that matter, knew little of what had happened since Lee's Ferry two and a half weeks ago. She was as surprised as anyone that Crystal's mother showed up out of nowhere, and was going to be around town off and on for a while.

Even the first thing, there was business to discuss. "It's damn lucky that we had Randy along," Al told Michelle flatly. "I offered to pay him as a boatman, but he turned me down. I want you to write up a credit slip for a grand and get it taken off his credit card. Don't say anything to him about it. With any kind of luck when he gets his credit card statement I'll be out on the river."

"Knowing Randy, I don't think he'll let you get away with it," Crystal said, "Unless Nicole is balancing his checkbook by now."

"Be that as it may," Al grinned. "Did you scare up someone to fill in for Jerry?"

"Nailed down," Michelle said. "A guy named Bob; he runs a motor rig for GCR but he's done oar boats some. That's only for two trips, though, he has some place he has to be in November."

"Maybe Jerry will be ready to go by then," Al said. "And maybe we can run it with only four rafts, if we don't have a full load."

"Don't have at this point," Michelle told him. "But if we get about two more sign ups, you can forget about only taking four. But that's up the road a bit; we still have to iron out something for the next trip. Al, there's several things that need your attention topside, and I'd really like to get back on the river."

"Better not just yet," Al counseled. "Those shoulder injuries come back slowly, and I don't want to risk having you re-injure it way the hell down the river. We got lucky on a backup this trip, and we might not be that lucky again."

"But Al," Michelle protested, knowing she'd have to watch her words to not reveal the deception they'd used to get Al on the river. Scooter glanced at her face, and could read it: . . . when first you practice to deceive. "My shoulder is fine; I'm not having any trouble with it. And we have a real hassle brewing on quarterly tax reports. I've had a couple nasty letters that the second quarter reports haven't been turned in, and I don't even know what has to be done."

"Tell you the truth," Al sighed, "I don't either, I just used to let Louise do it."

"I wonder," Crystal said thoughtfully.

"Wonder what?" Michelle replied, still trying to figure some way to get on the river for the next trip.

"Mom was a corporate bookkeeper for thirty years. Still is, for that matter, until she gets back to Chicago and files her retirement. She probably doesn't know much about Arizona stuff, but I'll bet she could go through the files and figure it out pretty quick."

"That's a hell of a thought," Al nodded. "A couple other angles spring to mind on that real quick, too. If she's going to be staying here in Flag, it might even be the long-term solution to that problem and a couple others."

"I could go out and get her," Crystal offered. "Maybe she could get a quick look at things and see how big a hassle it's going to be."

"Why don't you?" he said. "If she can get a reading on it tonight, that'll leave everything else pretty open."

"Sure will, Al," she said, heading for the door.

"Michelle," Al said. "I need to bring you up to speed on a couple things. This is gonna be a weird turnaround. Crystal and Karin have something to do down in Phoenix, and they may not be able to finish it tomorrow. I promised I'd go along to help. That means Scooter is going to have to get the groceries and lead the packing. Depending on how things go, she may even have to take the crew out to get rigging. If we do that, I'll have Karin drive Crystal and me up to Lee's. If we get back sooner. she's going to ride out to rig with us. Then when she gets back, Jeff is going to take her back to Phoenix to the airport. That's not all tied down, she could probably hang around a couple days if you need more help with the books."

"But Al," Michelle protested. "There's no reason I can't do this trip. Now that you're getting back in shape, I want to go back to being a boatman."

"Michelle," he said soothingly. "I know you do. But think about something. How did Louise and I handle the office the last few years?"

"You changed off," she sighed. "All right, Al, I get the point. I can change off with you for a while, until you can get someone else to run the office. It's better than sitting here all the time."

"Right, and with your shoulder iffy, that settles that for this trip," Al nodded. "After that, we'll have to see. There may be such a thing that Karin and I will be going on the next trip, it's not settled yet and can't be till we know when she gets back from Chicago. It may take her longer there than we think."

"Al?" Michelle frowned. "You and Crystal's mom . . .?"

"We're friends that go back for a while, but none of us ever put the connection together until we got up to Lee's last trip. If Crystal had told me something about her mother we might have figured it out a year ago, but she didn't. She's had some trouble herself, Michelle, and we're sort of trying to carry her over it. Just like you and Jeff and everyone carried me there for a while, and then Karin played a big part in me getting my act back together." He let out a sigh, and a smile. "Now, Michelle, the thought also crosses my mind that Karin may prove to be the long range solution to running the office too, especially with the satellite phones. It's gonna take some time, but we'll work it out."

"Yeah, but . . . oh, damn. All right, Al. This trip, anyway."

 

Once Karin was in the office, taking a quick look at the books with Al and Michelle, Scooter and Crystal headed out on the lot. The work was going ahead on the unloading, cleaning and packing; Crystal was happy to see Norma and Barbie out there pitching in, and made a mental note to talk to Al or Michelle about slipping them some money. She glanced around, to see where Randy was -- she wanted to tell him goodbye before he started back to Spearfish Lake in the morning, and she planned on being on the road for Phoenix early. There was no sign of him, so she headed out to the shed and asked Dan about it.

"Oh, he's out back with the groovers," Dan smiled.

"Damn it, Dan," Crystal grinned. "You didn't!"

"Well, we joked with him out on the river how it was the junior boatman or swamper's job," Dan grinned. "So he just started in on them. I mean, hell, he's into martial arts, I wasn't about to argue with him."

"Especially since you're the next junior boatman," Crystal grinned. "I guess I better go out and help."

Crystal found him out behind the shed. From what she could see, he'd already emptied the rocket boxes, and was busy hosing them out. "You need any help with that?" she asked.

"No, hell, I got it about done," he replied. "Grandad got the idea of having our own portajohns on the job site. Cleaning them may actually be worse, and I did that on the concrete crew two summers. Once you get these hosed out, you swab them down with disinfectant, right?"

"Yeah, it's in the shed," Crystal shook her head, and gave up the idea of telling him to take the hell off. She could see that it was hard for him to give up the idea of being a boatman, and he wanted to hang on as long as he could, the good and the bad. "You get done with that, come find me and I'll get you started on something else."

It was after dark as usual when they finally got done with the cleaning up and buttoning the place up. "Randy," she told him. "Usually the boatmen head over to the Burro for a couple beers to wind up before we take off for the weekend. You're welcome to come along."

"I better not," he sighed. "I'd love to, but it's getting late, and there's a two-hour time differential between here and Spearfish Lake. I'd like to talk to Nicole before she goes to bed."

"Yeah, I suppose," she replied. Together they walked over to the crew bus, got his gear, and carried it over to his pickup.

As he closed the tailgate he turned toward the driver's side and walked right into Crystal's arms. "Had to say goodbye," she said, and took him in her arms. They shared a brief kiss and hug, one between friends who had once been lovers, but were still friends.

"Crystal, thank you," he said. "This whole trip has been wonderful, and I'm glad you let me be a part of it, rather than just riding along."

"We aim to have happy customers," she grinned, then got a little more serious. "Randy?"

"Yeah?"

"I'm sorry it didn't work out with you and me, but maybe it's for the best."

"I've come to think that," he said. "And I'm sorry, too. We had some good days, Crystal."

"That we did," she smiled.

They stared at each other, trying to find words to say what they really meant, but couldn't voice. "Well, have fun," he said finally. "Look, how about a real letter once in a while, no more of this 'Having a wonderful time, wish you were here' stuff, OK? There's nothing left for me to keep from your mother."

"Will do," she said. "I'll probably stop by Spearfish Lake after tripping season anyway. Hey, think about trying to talk Nicole into taking a trip sometime, huh?"

"I'll ask," he said. "But as far as I'm concerned, the long solo trips are over with. It'll have to depend if I'm free."

"If you can get free, I'll see if you can buck the line," she grinned. "Let's stay friends. Take care, Randy. Be good to Nicole for me."

"You take care," he said, breaking the hug. "I'd better be going. You got work to do."

"Yeah, see ya sometime, Randy. 'Bye for now."

 

Scooter had a couple beers at the Burro with the crew, which now included Al and Karin -- and missed Randy, their junior boatman, but understood when Crystal told her that calling home was more important. First things were first, after all; his dream vacation was ending, and he had to go back to the real world. She made a mental note to think about that sometime, his dream world being her real world. Was the way he lived her dream world? Something to think about. But not now.

Unwound enough for tonight, Crystal, Scooter, and Karin headed out to the motel on the Interstate and got their usual double. Crystal hauled a Paco Pad and a sleeping bag inside and planned on using it, but Karin overruled her -- she was going to be sleeping in a bed for the next few weeks, and Crystal wasn't. Besides, she'd come to think the Paco Pad was more comfortable than any motel bed. Crystal wasn't so sure she disagreed but declined to argue about it.

By the time they left the Burro, Al had figured out that there was nothing much that had to be done that would keep him from going to Phoenix with Karin and Crystal -- it would have taken something about like a nuclear war -- so the next morning Crystal gave Scooter the keys to the Dodge. Scooter went out for breakfast, did a little shopping for some items she'd need and some that Crystal wanted her to pick up. That didn't take long; she stopped by an outfitting shop, and reasoning that cooler fall days were coming so bought a new set of Polartec fleece shirt and pants; there'd be times even on the next trip it would be welcome, she figured. That took her until about ten in the morning, and ran her out of what she had to do.

At a loss for what to do next, she thought about driving over to the motel and soaking in the hot tub, but there was only so much of that she could do. She gave some thought to heading over to the Burro and doing her laundry and Crystal's, but it was too damn early to sit around drinking beer. The thought crossed her mind that she might find Dan there, and it might be fun to take him over to the motel -- her fling with Dallas had whetted her appetite more than a little. But it wasn't a good idea to get involved in sportfucking with another crewman, so she rejected it immediately. Finally, she realized that it was Friday, and the office was open, so she drove over there, thinking she could just shoot the shit with Michelle for a while.

As she drove the Dodge toward the office, she thought back over the conversation last night. There had been a pretty broad hint that something maybe more serious than a close friendship was developing between Al and Karin, but Scooter wasn't clear herself on how serious it actually was and figured she'd better not talk about it too much -- not even hint of the connection between Al and Crystal.

She walked in the front door to see Michelle sitting at the desk, working on a wad of bubble gum like normal and acting pretty down. "Hi, Scooter," she said. "So what's happening with you today?"

"Absolutely nothing," Scooter said honestly. "With Crystal down in Phoenix, it's boring as hell, and the day is yet young. How you doing?"

"It could be like better," the little blonde said, popping a bubble. "Bullshitting Al about my shoulder got him out on the river, and it was the right thing to do as it turned out, but now the damn story has turned around and bit me. Damn, I hate this office. I need to be down between the walls."

"Boy do I know how that works," Scooter nodded. "I ran the NOC sales room for about seven months a year for the last five years, and knowing every minute I really ought to be out on a river or a trail or something."

"I can't imagine what it must have been like to do the AT. That had to be like cool," she said, popping another bubble.

"It was," Scooter told her. "The problem was my knees. I started three times and only finished once. At that I had to take a month off and barely got to Katahdin before the snow flew. If I could be hiking I'm not sure how much I'd be rafting, but those days are gone, I guess. Just as well, I'm getting seriously hooked on the Canyon. Lord knows how bad I'll be jonesing for it next spring."

"About as bad as I do, probably," Michelle frowned. "And shit, I'm screwed again. I'm going to be lucky if I make half the trips this year."

"I understand fully," Scooter grinned. "No matter how bad my addiction has to be, you have to have it worse."

"Hey, Scooter," Michelle said slowly. "There was a hell of a lot that happened on that trip that Al didn't tell me about, right?"

"Yeah, a lot," she replied. "And I don't know what he told you about. Having Randy with us turned out to be a real blessing. Crystal told me that last spring she tried to invite Randy out here to be a boatman. I thought she was bullshitting me and being nice to him. But no, he'd make a hell of a boatman. Guess it's not likely to happen, though."

"I saw him for about two minutes," she sighed. "Seemed like a nice guy, but I didn't smell boatman."

"No, he had too much construction manager smell on him. Still does," Scooter smirked. "But he knows what it's like to work in an office and wish he was a boatman. At least he got to do his dream once. You'll be back out there again, and more than once."

"Scooter, what's the deal between Al and Crystal's mom?"

"I really don't know," she temporized. "They're old friends. They might be on the way to something more. Or they might not. They just acted like old friends on the trip. But I think seeing her was about as good for him as getting back down in the Canyon again, so I'm not complaining."

"What's the deal with this trip to Phoenix?"

"Karin and Crystal went down to look for Crystal's brother. Karin thinks he's living down there somewhere but doesn't have an address. I can't say about Al, I didn't know he was planning on going."

"Damn, I wish I'd known that," she said. "I could have stuck Mike on the deal, he could have probably turned him up pretty quick."

"Mike?"

"My little brother. He went straight. He's a cop; he has access to a lot of records."

"Al knows that, right? Knows your brother? That might answer that." She was starting to get a little tired of this line of questioning, and worried that she might let something slip. "Hey, before we left," she said to change the subject. "You said you were going to look on the 'Net for bareboat charters down in the Bahamas. You have any luck with that?"

"Yeah, they're not cheap," she replied. "About fifteen hundred a week, although it drops off in January, I'm not sure why, down to twelve."

"Split that three or four ways it might not be bad. How big a boat?"

"Twenty-eight footer, supposed to sleep six."

"Well, three might be all right. Four might be crowding it. I'd say it might be worth a more serious look. A couple weeks, maybe even longer."

"That's what I thought," the little blonde smiled. "Winter gets a little cold and long around here sometimes. The Bahamas sound promising."

"Shit," Scooter snorted. "Did Crystal tell you what she did last winter? Arizona has to be the banana belt by comparison, even this high up. Did you get an idea of how long a lead time it would take on a reservation? How bad they're booked up?"

"Don't know," she replied. "From the amount of advertising, it doesn't look like a big problem, but we're not always booked up four months ahead, either, especially if it's a little off-season. Which if they cut rates in January it might be."

"Worst case, four weeks split three ways on $1200 a week works out to a total of $1600, and knowing how things like that go it wouldn't surprise me to spend almost that much again on stuff like food, booze, airfares, and so on. That's a big chunk of change for me, but the idea is to spend money to have fun, isn't it?"

"People spend twice that for two and a half weeks here," she noted. "I'd be up for it if you and Crystal are up for it." She let out a sigh. "And that assumes that Al doesn't take off somewhere with Crystal's mom and leave me stuck here for the winter."

"Al might think about it," Scooter grinned, "But we have another angle on that. After all, Crystal and I can always go to her mother. Look, let me talk to Crystal. If she's up for it maybe we might as well go ahead and tack a reservation down, so we can get started on serious planning."

"It like works for me," Michelle replied, popping another bubble. "I could hack some serious partying."

"Me, too," Scooter smiled, remembering Dallas a few days ago. That had felt pretty good, and she could stand some more of that. "It's a little cheaper if it's four of us," she suggested, mostly to get her mind off that pleasant memory. "You know anybody we could use for a fourth?"

"Not in the company, unless we like take a guy," Michelle smiled. "Which might have its good points, but the three of us might like wear one guy the hell out."

"Not to worry," Scooter laughed. "We'll just have to get our tactics worked out. Something like you lure them in, and we'll nail them the hell down until we're done with them."

"You mean like use me as the bait?" Michelle giggled. "The jailbait, that is?"

"Something like that," she giggled back, then became a little more sober. "Look, Michelle, I don't know you well enough to know if this is something that someone's already pointed out to you, but you don't have to look like some jailbait teenybopper. I mean, lose the braces, lose the bubble gum, lose the teenybopper talk, lose the low-rider jeans and the Disney-character belly shirts would go a long way."

"Well, like yeah," Michelle laughed. "But then I don't get to blow people's minds. And worse, Al might get the idea of like having me be a trip leader. Yuck!"

"There is that," Scooter grinned. "But let's get back to the boat for a moment; there's several points that come to mind that we need to get nailed down." Over the next few minutes, she thought of several, like finding out what gear they had to bring, whether charts would be provided or they'd have to come up with them, what the availability of supplies was like near the charter operation, whether they'd need passports, airfares, and schedules, and so on. Michelle was soon taking notes.


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