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 24

September 30, 1999

Diamond Wash, Flagstaff

As always it was a little sad and hectic getting the passengers onto the crew bus and heading up the hill, but the important piece of news was Karin's presence in the first place; that told them that things had gone well for her.

They got more details as the crew bus was taking the passengers up the hill. As planned, Karin had driven back from Lee's Ferry the day they started the trip, helped Michelle with a couple of reports that needed to be dealt with, and explained how to pull together information that would be needed for a couple more. The next morning, Jeff had driven her to the airport in Phoenix. Just about the first thing she did when she got off the plane at O'Hare was find her Buick and drive to a divorce attorney's office; she'd made an appointment with him long-distance on Monday.

"There are advantages and disadvantages to doing the divorce in Illinois, out here in Arizona, or in Nevada," she reported. "Nevada would be the quickest, but I'd have to establish residency, and I'd probably have a very unfavorable settlement, so we ruled that out. To make a long story short, we worked up a proposed settlement for an Illinois divorce, and told Pete he had the option of accepting it. It's really very fair to him. If he refused, I'd wait three months and file out here in Arizona, where he'd get a much worse deal on the community property settlement."

"Plus, he'd have to travel out here to fight it, and he'd hate that," Crystal laughed.

"I hadn't overlooked that," Karin grinned. "It'd mean he'd have to travel outside of Chicago, and he hates going any farther than the grocery store for a bottle of milk."

"So, how'd he take it?"

"He threw a monumental fit, even for him," Karin laughed. "However, I'd expected that. My attorney was present, of course, but I'm sure you remember Thelma, from my office. I asked her husband to be present."

"He's a cop, isn't he?" Crystal giggled.

"Yes, and a rather large one at that." Karin laughed. "To be honest, I think he was less upset about my leaving him rather than having to deal with the changes it will mean for him. In any case, he apparently consulted his own attorney and accepted the offer. It'll probably take a year, perhaps longer, to get everything settled, and I may have to go back to Chicago once or twice. For example, it isn't clear yet whether he'll buy up my share of the house, or whether it'll be sold and the money divided. If it's the latter, there might be paperwork I would have to deal with there. In any case, it's under way, and it's a huge relief."

"It is for me, too," Crystal nodded. "You should have done it years ago."

"Perhaps, but there were reasons to not do it then, too," Karin shrugged. "Of course, things have changed considerably in the last few weeks. I said nothing to anyone about Al, of course. In fact, Pete doesn't even know I'll be in Flagstaff. The only address he has is a post office box I set up in Sedona on the way to the airport."

"Any word on Nanci?"

"Absolutely nothing," Karin shrugged. "Pete commented at one point that he hasn't heard from her since I left. I spent some time talking with the families of some of the friends she used to have, and they haven't heard from her, either, but have promised to write if they hear something. I told Thelma that I would be with you in Flagstaff. Nanci knows that Thelma and I are good enough friends that if she finds me gone from Heller-Aller and wants to contact me, she might get a hold of her. There's where I had to leave it." She let out a sigh and glanced up to see that no one else was in earshot, then continued, "Al, you and I are still going to have to keep things absolutely above board, although as time goes on we'll be able to appear closer. However, the connection with Crystal probably should remain a secret until the divorce is final."

"You're thinking that if Pete finds out, he'll fly into a rage and upset the applecart?" Crystal frowned.

"Yes," Karin smiled. "As it is, I think he'll accept the reality. Grudgingly, of course, that's his way. But there's no point in rubbing his nose in it. Anyway, I arranged my retirement at Heller-Aller. I had to actually work a few days to turn my job over to Thelma. There were a few other details that needed to be settled, but I started back Saturday morning and arrived Monday. That was just in time, as it turned out."

"Trouble?" Al frowned.

"It would have been. As it is, you're going to have less than a hundred dollars in tax penalties. Another few days and it would have gone up steeply. Michelle and I closed the third-quarter books and reports yesterday; most of it will be in the mail tomorrow, since it'll be after the first of the month. There's one report that we're waiting for a form on, but she knows the numbers that have to go on it, so that'll be done. It's just as well; we'd still be on the river when it's due."

"Good deal," Al nodded. "I was concerned about that. I never thought about taxes until Michelle brought 'em to my attention on the last trip."

"She is a jewel," Karin grinned, "Even though every time I look at her I have to add ten years to her age mentally." She smiled again. "The weird thing is that she reminds me so much of Nanci when she was about fourteen, I had trouble avoiding calling her that."

"Yeah," Crystal nodded. "You're right about that, although I'd never quite seen it that way. But I saw her in action on the river about as soon as I met her; that gives me a little different perspective."

"She's been very helpful in a number of ways," Karin said. "Like I said, she's a remarkable young woman. She arranged for a small house for Crystal and Scooter and me. It's unfurnished, but she was able to come up with enough to live with, although it's rather Spartan, and some of it is old. However, the price was right, and she even had it set up when I arrived. Al, I think you'd better plan on keeping that girl."

"I knew that years ago," he grinned. "So, did she have Mike find your son?"

"Yes, she did," Karin confirmed. "It has been a real struggle every day to not drive down to Phoenix to check it out. He was able to find several pieces of information, including the fact that he's working at a place called Lambdatron Corporation, get this, with his wife!"

"Bingo!" Crystal laughed. "I thought that might be the case, even though it's hard to imagine Jon getting far enough away from his computer to find a woman to marry. Did Mike get her name?"

"Yes," Karen smiled. "You were right. Tanisha."

"Two and two make four after all," Crystal smiled. "I only met her the one time, but she seemed like a nice kid."

"Mike told me the people at Lambdatron were not very helpful, but he was able to confirm that much. He has some other leads to follow if necessary, but he's pretty sure we have all we need."

"If they're at Lambdatron, it shouldn't be a problem," Al smiled. "I've had half a dozen people from there run with us, including the company president. It shouldn't be any trick to call in a favor. I suppose we'd better think about going down there tomorrow."

"It seems like it," Karin nodded, "But there's no point in leaving early if we want to catch them at home after work."

"I'd like to make it a quick down and back if we could," Crystal said. "No more than overnight. Scooter did a good job pulling the loading together for this trip, but I felt guilty about it."

"Oh, hell," Scooter smiled, "This is more important. Take the time you need. But maybe we'd better get started on the loading here or we're not going to get back at all."

 

As always, it was late when they got back, and with the shorter days it got dark sooner. Michelle was waiting for them, of course, and Jerry was there again. Michelle had also called Norma and Barbie over from Northern Arizona University, and this time had flushed out a couple of the high school kids who had run on tryouts with Team 1 or 2 over the summer -- Crystal being new, Team 3 had avoided that chore for all but one trip. Michelle had hinted to them that someone who volunteered to dump the groovers had a better chance of getting put on as a swamper in the summer; that simplified the problem of figuring out who was going to deal with that stinky chore.

But before they even got seriously started, Michelle had some business for them: "I went ahead and scheduled a sailboat out of Abaco," she told them. "The dates aren't quite what we talked about, but that doesn't matter a lot. Since I scheduled four weeks, they're going to extend the low rate for the last week. That's a twenty-eight footer; I could have gotten the dates we talked about on a thirty-two footer, but that would have cost more."

"Should work," Scooter nodded. "What's the dates?"

"January ninth through February fifth," Michelle said. "I think I can manage January in the Bahamas. I'm thinking of getting a bikini that's really daring."

"Christ knows what that's gonna be like," Crystal snickered. "Considering you think a string bikini is conservative. But I think I can handle January in the Bahamas too, especially when the alternative is freezing my ass cleaning up dog shit in Spearfish Lake."

"Doesn't take much deciding, does it?" Michelle laughed. "Oh, by the way, Crystal, speaking of Spearfish Lake: Randy wants you to call him while you're on break. He said you knew the number."

Crystal got a grin on her face. "I will give anyone just one guess as to what that means," she laughed. "If we're going to Phoenix tomorrow, I guess I'd better head in and call now."

"Right," Scooter snickered. "I suppose the rest of us better get started so we can still get to the Burro before it closes."

Crystal headed for the office, and was gone for quite a while. When she came back out to join them, she had an amused grin on her face. By now, Scooter had passed the word to the team members who had been on the trip with Randy, and in a few seconds they gathered around. "I was right again," she smiled. "They're getting married. Midnight on New Year's Eve. Randy said there was a construction superintendent who was going to get his neck broken if he didn't have the house done."

"Anxious, isn't he?" Scooter laughed.

"I thought of inviting Nicole to go with us on the sailboat," she laughed. "But Randy's got more black belts than I do, and he's nowhere near as rusty; he'd kick the living shit out of me. Anyway, we're invited."

"You and Karin?" Scooter smiled.

"No, I said we're invited," she laughed. "Team 3. Me, Mom, Al, Scooter, Dan, Jerry. All of us. Randy said it looks like Nicole is going to invite half the town of Spearfish Lake and he has to keep up."

"I have wanted to get back to Spearfish Lake for years," Karin grinned. "I went to school with Randy's parents, but Pete was always such a grouch about going anywhere that it's been a long time. Randy and I talked about it out on the river, and I'm pretty sure I know Nicole's mother, too. I'll go with you, Crystal, even if no one else does."

"I pretty well have to go," Crystal sighed. "Nicole shocked the hell out of me. She wants me to be her Maid of Honor."

"That is quite an honor," Karin said. "You must be thrilled."

"I'm not sure," Crystal said. "I would have thought that she'd ask Jackpine. She's the girl she hiked the Appalachian Trail with this summer. The only thing I can think of is that Nicole is sending me a message, something like, 'He's mine now, keep your hands the hell off.'"

"Could be," Karin nodded. "I mean, not knowing her."

"The real bummer with it," Crystal sighed, "Is that I'll have to wear a dress."

"My God!" Scooter laughed. "That settles it, I'm going. I can't imagine Crystal in a dress."

"Mom, do you know how long it's been since I wore a dress?"

"I imagine it was the last time you and Myleigh were with Pete and me for Christmas," she laughed. "I will never forget the look on Nanci's face."

"This sounds like a good one," Al laughed.

"It was," Karin grinned. "In those days Nanci dressed very sloppy around the house, even for something like Christmas dinner. She was holed up in her room watching TV or whatever, and we had to call her several times. She came out into the living room and saw Crystal and Myleigh in these gorgeous evening gowns, all made up like they were the belles of the ball. Myleigh is rather good looking anyway, and Crystal actually cleans up pretty decently if she puts her mind to it. I thought they looked stunning."

"Nanci was stunned, anyway," Crystal grinned. "She raced back into her bedroom, pulled on the previous year's prom dress, which was strapless, and she had bra straps showing. She looked about as bad a mess as she did before."

"She knew it, too," Karin laughed. "Even Pete got a laugh out of that one."

"That was the last happy moment around him that I remember." She was silent for a moment. "I promised myself I wasn't going to go there with you again," she sighed. "Let's get back to work."

 

It was well after dark when they wrapped up; they headed over to the Burro, even the high school kids, who were drinking sodas. Al bought bar burgers and beer for everyone, and they sat around talking about the trip, and some of the other news that had come down over the last few weeks.

They didn't stay late. The rafting season had died down a lot; the motor rigs had wrapped up their season, and the oar boat outfits were scheduled more lightly, even Canyon Tours, which ran more heavily off season than some others. That meant that there weren't a lot of other rafters hanging around, and it was really rather quiet.

It felt strange to Scooter to not be heading to the motel, but to follow Karin's Buick into an older section of town, and park in the driveway of a small house.

The single-story house really was small, small even for a two-bedroom, but Scooter figured it had to be better than a sixteen-foot travel trailer, and besides, she and Crystal probably wouldn't be there all that much, anyway. Karin had set herself up in one of the bedrooms; in the other one there were two three-quarter beds, all made up.

"It really isn't much," Karin shrugged. "But under the circumstances I think it will be adequate. The rent is very reasonable, and the fact that Michelle's great-aunt owns it has something to do with it."

"The one she lives with here in Flag?" Scooter asked.

"Yes," Karin nodded. "Much of the furniture is from her attic. The beds in your room come from the Goodwill store. The mattresses and linen are cheap, but new. Not surprisingly, Michelle knew someone who would give her a discount. Now, I know the two of you aren't going to be here all that much, so what I'm proposing is that I pick up half the rent, and you two split up the other half. I'm guessing that it'd be more than you spend for three nights a month at a motel, but not much more."

"Works for me," Crystal nodded.

"Me, too," Scooter agreed. "Especially with winter coming on."

"One thing," Karin said. "I want us to think of each other as roommates, not mother, daughter, and virtual daughter. That means sharing the expenses and sharing the work. Knowing how the two of you work on the river, I don't expect that to be a big deal. Once the rafting season is over with we'll have to work out something on food, but since you only have this break and another one, we'll worry about that when the time comes. Just make a contribution to the refrigerator and the pantry for now."

"Sounds good to me, Mom," Crystal nodded. "Scoot, it sounds like we can actually get our stuff out of the trunk of my car."

"What there is of it," Scooter nodded. "You want to do that tonight or wait for morning?"

"Oh, let's deal with it in the morning," Crystal said. "We're not taking off to Phoenix first thing, anyway. What I want to do is get a nice, long, hot shower and some sleep."

"Uh, Crystal," Karin said. "That's the one downside with this place. It only has a tiny water heater and not much water pressure, so while you can have a hot shower, there's no such thing as a long one, or a nice one. You can get a fairly decent tub bath, but I don't think either of you would like those very much."

"Speaking for me," Scooter said. "I think I can make do. If it gets too bad, both Crystal and I remember coming off the Appalachian Trail and renting a motel room for an hour just to use the shower."

"A couple of them were real no-tell motels, too," Crystal laughed. "I mean, they looked at me and wondered where the guy was."

"Tell you what, Crystal," Scooter said. "Let's flip for it. The loser has to get a quickie and then put a real shower off till morning. The winner gets to run the water heater cold. Then next time, we'll do it the other way around."

"Works for me," Crystal nodded. "In fact, since it was your idea, I'll do the quickie tonight, and then I'm going to crash."

"Sounds like a plan," Scooter agreed. "Karin, you want a shower too, don't you?"

"Yes, but I'm sure I must have slept later than you today. I'll sit up and read while the water heater recovers. It's fairly quick, which is to the good."

As it was, they sat around in the living room for a while after their showers, just talking and catching up. Michelle had even found a tiny black-and-white TV for them; they turned it on for a few minutes but didn't find much they were interested in watching. Finally, Karin decided that the water heater was far enough along and headed for her shower, while Scooter and Crystal headed for bed.

"God damn," Crystal said as she sat down on one of the beds. "Scooter, do you realize how long it's been since I had my own bed?"

"Last winter?"

"No, I stayed in my sleeping bag. The last bed I could call my own was at college." She gave a sigh. "Jesus, home sweet home, such as it is. I never figured this would happen."

"Feels good, huh?"

"Yeah," Crystal said softly.

"Crystal," Scooter replied. "When you get right down to it, it's been even longer for me. This will do just fine."

"God, Scooter," she replied. "I mean, I've known for a year or more that Randy was a dead issue, but it never seemed totally real till today. You think we'll ever be normal?"

"You mean, a husband, a place of our own? Maybe. Maybe not. Probably not soon, if we're going to stay on the river. But you never know."

"Yeah, you never do," Crystal said softly. "Hell, two months ago I'd have never believed any of this. I don't want you to feel jealous, but I figured I was alone forever as far as my family was concerned. Now, I get my mom, my real dad, and tomorrow most likely a brother and sister-in-law. And I've got my soul sister with me, and that's important to me, too. Jeez, it feels like my life is coming back together."

"I'm getting some of that," Scooter told her. "And I'm not complaining. Tomorrow's going to be a big day for you, so let's get some sleep, Sis."


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To be continued . . .

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