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 23

September 12-30, 1999

Grand Canyon Trip 8

As it turned out, she hung around the office with Michelle for several hours, mostly just getting to know each other better. It turned out that Michelle normally didn't live in Flagstaff at all, but in Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim, with her parents. When she worked at the office, like this summer, she stayed with a great-aunt who lived in town. While she and Michelle were in some ways pretty different -- Scooter had never been that giddy and giggly when she was a teenager -- there were some things they saw much alike. Michelle may had acted like a true bubble-gummer, but she was as committed and skilled an outdoorswoman as either Scooter or Crystal. It was easy to see that she liked her fun, and that offered good prospects for the sailing trip, and whatever else they might wind up doing over the winter.

What else Scooter thought she might wind up doing over the winter was open to question. Before the last trip, she and Crystal had pretty well worked out the idea of finding some warm place to hole up for the winter. Crystal had talked about a place in the Florida Keys she'd worked as a deckhand on a dive boat back before she did the AT, and they'd thought that might be something to look at. But then Karin showed up, and who knew what would happen? She might well have to spend part of the winter by herself someplace, doing who knew what? Oh, well, she could probably think of something when the time came, maybe a little desert hiking. At this point, about all she could do was stay loose.

Along in the afternoon, Scooter allowed as how maybe she ought to let Michelle get back to work, not that there seemed to be much for her to do, and headed over to the Burro to do her laundry. While the washers were churning, she sat and nursed a beer, a little surprised that Dan wasn't around; hopefully he was having fun.

Things perked up a little when a guy she remembered vaguely from the spring came in. Apparently he couldn't remember her name, either, but they recognized each other as rafters and got to talking. In time she figured it out; this was Jim, the guy who'd gotten out of the Navy the previous spring and had worked as a swamper on baloney boats all summer. He'd gotten to do some oar trips, and had one more trip to go -- starting Sunday -- before his season ended. Once that wrapped up he was going to head back to his folks in Denver for a bit, and after that more or less had a winter job set up somewhere in Colorado as a ski instructor. Scooter envied him that a little; while she was a fair skier and snowboarder, she wasn't anything like good enough to be an instructor, which cut out that possibility for the winter. Besides, it was cold, and if this summer had proved anything she didn't know already, she liked it warm.

Jim seemed to be a pretty decent guy when everything was said and done, and again, with the experience with Dallas not far behind, she gave some consideration to inviting him out to the motel, but decided not to, at least not this time. After all, they were both rafters; there was a pretty good gossip network that permeated all the rafting companies, so it might not be a bad idea to avoid getting a reputation as being too easy -- at least not at this stage of the game, considering that as things stood now she planned on staying with it for a while. So, they sat around, drank beer with laundry breaks, and told river stories and Navy stories and hiking stories; he was still pretty fun and fun to be with. As the day progressed, a few other rafters came in and the bull session became a larger one. She heard a lot more river stories, and told a few herself.

Finally, she got back in the Dodge and headed for the motel, hoping she wouldn't run across any cops since she was probably over the blood-alcohol limit even though she'd been drinking soda and non-alcoholic beer for the last couple hours. In the end, it had turned out to be a pretty good day after all.

As expected, Crystal, Al, and Karin weren't back in the morning when it was time to do groceries, but, to her surprise, Jerry was -- he'd asked Jeff to bring him along, and Jeff had gone along with it, so long as Jerry agreed to restrict his helping to watching. His ribs were heavily wrapped, he had a couple casts, looked pretty grubby, and was obviously hurting, but he insisted he was ready to run a raft next trip, even though no one would believe him.

It turned out that Jerry remembered nothing between the start of his fall and coming to in a hospital room in Flagstaff, so Scooter got to tell him of the struggle to get him back to the rafts and the race with darkness to get to Phantom, and of Randy taking over his raft and running it as a gear boat the rest of the trip. Jerry said it was too damn bad he'd missed Randy, and he owed him a beer big time; Scooter said she wouldn't be surprised if he showed up in Flag again someday.

While Jerry wasn't doing anything -- half a dozen different people would get on his case real bad if he started to show signs of picking up something -- Norma and Barbie were again out there helping, and that made up for the fact that there were several hands missing otherwise. They wrapped up the packing late in the afternoon and all headed over for more beer and Burroburgers, but knocked it off fairly early.

Scooter could easily have managed to again spend the rest of the evening hanging around shooting the shit with other rafters; she also realized that she hadn't had a shot at the hot tub at the motel yet this break, so decided to head out there instead. She got most of her gear packed for the next trip -- changing a few things since it likely would be cooler than the last one -- then got on her briefest string bikini, if for no more than the odd chance that she might find a cute guy, and headed down to the hot tub. She hung around the pool and the hot tub for a while; there weren't any cute guys who seemed available, but there were a few other people hanging around and they got to talking. Absolutely no one could believe what she did for a living, which was both irritating and amusing; after all, if no one believed her, how much worse would it be for Michelle?

Finally, the attendant came to close the pool and the hot tub, so she toweled off and headed back up to her room, with the idea of taking a long shower to wash off the chlorine smell, then hit the sack until about an hour before she had to be back at the office. But, to her surprise, as she was in the shower, Crystal and Karin walked in. To make a long story short, they didn't have many leads to begin with, and every one ran to dead alleys. "Did Al talk to Mike?" she asked the two.

"Who? What?" Crystal frowned.

"Mike, you know, Michelle's brother. He's a cop down in Phoenix; she said he could run down driver's license records or something."

"Shit," Crystal shook her head. "Never thought of that and I'm pretty sure Al didn't either. Well, too late to do anything about it now."

"I suppose," Karin said. "I'd be tempted to try anyway."

"Better not, Mom," Crystal warned. "Remember, I may be making five out of two and two on Tanisha. But if that's what's going down, I at least know a little about her. If they're trying to lie low they might be more than a little paranoid, and it could get tough if you knock on the door without me greasing the skids."

"I suppose," she sighed. "There's enough else to do by the time you get off the river again that I might as well be working on it. It's been over two years since I saw Jon, another three weeks shouldn't matter that much."

"I hope you can sort it out," Scooter nodded. "Crystal, we have one thing we need to talk about before we see Michelle tomorrow, or at least before the crew bus starts back from Lee's."

"What's that?"

"You remember before the last trip, when we were talking about the Bahamas? Michelle checked into it; basically it's do-able, but we need to think about making reservations." She went on to explain for a few minutes.

"Crap, I don't know what to say," Crystal sighed. "We cooked that up before everything happened on the last trip. That changed a lot of plans and possibilities for the winter. Mom, do you have any thoughts?"

"Not directly," Karin replied. "But I don't see why you couldn't go, from my viewpoint. I'd be almost tempted to go along with you, except that I'm afraid I might cramp your style."

"Boy, you've got us figured out," Scooter grinned. "There's a good chance this trip could be focused on sex, booze and rock'n'roll. In other words, a normal raft guide vacation."

"That's exactly what I figured," Karin laughed. "Do you have any other plans for the winter?"

"Nothing real solid," Crystal said. "I do want to get down to Buddha and Giselle's this winter, and you and Dad figure in that, of course. I wouldn't be surprised if I have to go to Spearfish Lake for Randy and Nicole's wedding. No telling when that's going to come down. Even though he technically hasn't asked her to marry him yet, they've agreed they aren't going to get married before the house is done. That could take a while, since the company crews have to work on the paying projects first."

"Yeah," Scooter snickered, "With an agreement like that, asking her to marry him does seem like a bit of a formality. Anyway, Karin, beyond that, we're talking doing some skiing and snowboarding, and whatever else we can come up with."

"Skiing and snowboarding," Karin sighed. "I've always wanted to try those, like surfing."

"You'll get your chance, there's some good hills right around here," Crystal grinned. "Want to catch up on some of what you missed out on, right?"

"Yes," Karin admitted, "Exactly. And at my age, I can't put some of them off too much longer. In any case, what I was leading up towards is that after I get back from Chicago I'm going to have to find a place to live. I'd figured on getting an apartment or a small house. The question is, should I find a place big enough for the three of us? That'd give you a place to stay when you're off the river, and a place to live or base out of for the winter."

"We might not be there much," Scooter replied. "But it seems like a good idea. I'd say get something on the small side to save a few bucks, mostly because the three of us probably aren't going to be there much at the same time."

"Yeah," Crystal snickered, "Especially since someone we know is probably going to be spending most of her time at Al's."

"Crystal," Karin sighed in exasperation, "I've told you more than once that we've agreed we're going to keep this absolutely above board."

"Right, Mom," Crystal laughed, "Like Scooter and I are going to be setting a curfew and waiting up for you to get in."

 

Al drove his Olds, Karin with him, up to Lee's Ferry the next day for the rigging. Jeff and Jimmie and Michelle headed back in the evening, but Karin spread a Paco Pad and a sleeping bag down by the river with the rest of them. She was busy frying bacon and eggs early the next morning. Especially toward the end of the previous trip she'd been doing a fair amount of the cooking, and both Scooter and Crystal figured they'd gotten a glimpse of the future. Karin was probably going to be on the river a lot from now on and would want to be on it even more, and she would want to pull her share of the load. Karin didn't have the size and strength to be a boatman, and was of an age where the strength would be difficult to build up, but both figured she might take a shot at it anyway, at least to fill in on occasion.

Karin was still hanging around the launch when the customer bus pulled in, and Scooter figured the odds were still about even that they'd have a last-second swamper. Just before Crystal called "Head 'em up and move 'em out," Karin gave Scooter, then Crystal, then Al, each a big hug, with a long kiss reserved for him. Scooter was still a little surprised to see her standing on the shore, looking like she was seriously considering swimming after them as they headed down the river again.

After all the drama of the previous trip, this one was nearly anticlimactic. Things had quieted down on the river some, not that it wasn't pretty quiet most of the time. The season for the motor rigs was winding down; under Park Service rules they had to be off the water by the end of the month, and most of the motor-rig outfits cut back heavily after Labor Day, anyway. That meant that they were only passed about every other day, rather than two or three times a day as they had been a couple trips before.

Summer was winding down, too; it was still technically summer for the first week of the trip, but the weather was noticeably cooler; weather-wise it may have been the nicest trip of the year. While passengers carried rain suits on all trips, to keep the chilly splashing water off of them, for the last several trips, the actual wearing of them was infrequent. Considering all the heat, getting splashed was usually refreshing on most occasions. Now, rain suits were almost always worn in the rapids, and sometimes just on cool days in general to keep the wind off. Scooter only got stripped down to her swimsuit to row on one warm afternoon where they faced a long flat, and that was pushing it a little; she wound up pulling a T-shirt back on at the next break when she stopped rowing and cooled off. It turned out that buying that Polartec fleece was a good move, because there were a few evenings and several mornings it seemed cozy and nice.

Bob, the motor rig driver who Michelle had come up with to replace Jerry (and Randy) proved to be only so-so as a rower. He was used to letting the four-stroke Honda do all the work and hadn't actually run an oar boat in a couple years, but after two or three days he started to get the knack of it again. Whatever his deficiencies as a boatman, he proved to be a great camp cook, was almost as good as Randy with a guitar, and was a good sport about all the teasing he took about being a baloney boater.

Al had some room for needling Bob; one evening around a campfire he admitted that in thirty years on the river -- the anniversary of which came on this trip, although he wasn't sure of the date anymore -- he'd never once been on a motor rig when its motor was running. Bob offered to swap a swamper with him sometime next summer for a mile or two, just so Al could see how the other half lived, but Al said he'd been a motor-rig virgin all this time and saw no reason to change now.

When they got down to Lava, they stood up on the basalt outcrop on river right looking it over. While there was plenty of discussion of the approach to the left side run, Scooter took another hard look at the right side, figuring that someone was going to try it and she didn't want to be one-upped. As it turned out, she was almost right; Crystal took point as usual, but as Scooter had expected ran right straight for the Bubble Line. Everyone watched as she had a good, if wild and wet and wooly run, and pulled out into the eddy below. Nor was Scooter particularly surprised when Al, the next up, took right after his daughter (a fact that was still not public knowledge). What did surprise her was when Dan also headed for the Bubble Line -- he was on the conservative and tentative side for a boatman, without the cowboyishness that Jerry had, which is why they'd balanced each other off nicely up until Jerry's accident. Then the surprise went even deeper when Bob ran it too! He may have been a little unsure about finding the fastest current on flats, but in heavy water he was right there, and he made as good a run as anyone else. With that, Scooter knew she had to make it unanimous -- she didn't have any other choice. In the end she didn't think her run had been as clean as the last time.

Unlike the last trip, when they'd run Lava almost first thing in the morning, the day was winding down on them, so they pulled into the campground immediately below to dry out and pitch camp. Al commented around the fire that night that it was the first time he'd seen every boatman go right.

The rest of the trip went just about as well, if without much to note. They drifted past Parashant Wash on the next to the last day. Scooter took a look at the little patch of tamarisks where she'd had a pleasant and torrid couple hours with Dallas the last trip, and was just as glad that no one had come by back then; from the river, the spot didn't look as well screened as she'd thought at the time. But, it didn't matter this trip; there was no one she was particularly interested in having a little drama with, and they weren't stopping there anyway. In fact, they pressed on all the way to mile 209, where they hadn't stopped before but which had always seemed like it would make a pleasant campsite, and it did.

There was one unspoken thought for Crystal, Al, and Scooter: how things were going for Karin, whether she'd be hung up in Chicago, or what. That question was settled as they drifted around the bend above Diamond Wash, where they saw her standing with Jeff and Jimmie waiting for them to come in.


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To be continued . . .

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