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 30

December 26 - 30, 1999

Flagstaff and Spearfish Lake

They had a couple days after Christmas to finalize arrangements for the upcoming trip and have a little fun. On Sunday, several of them, including Jon, Tanisha, and Myleigh headed out to the ski hill again. Scooter would have thought that Jon and Tanisha would have about had their fill with it after one day, but for some reason they decided that they liked it and wanted to get better at it. Myleigh had hung around with Crystal and her ski hill expeditions for four years at Northern Michigan University and had never gotten on a ski hill. After some difficulty, she was convinced that as a surfer it wasn't a big deal to transition and she'd get brushed up for next week, she gave a snowboard a try on the bunny hill. She was dithering, saying she was "most dreadfully concerned," but after about two runs on the bunny hill she was getting the hang of it and was on the intermediate hill before the day was out. Crystal said it didn't surprise her; Myleigh had always protested that she was not very athletic, but once she'd gotten started attempting some things like surfing toward the end of her undergraduate career, she proved very good at things that involved balance and finesse.

Jon and Tanisha had to head back to Phoenix Sunday night. On Monday Crystal, Scooter, and Myleigh drove out to the South Rim, ostensibly to help Michelle with some packing for the trip, but in fact so Myleigh could see the Grand Canyon from what the girls now admitted was a great overview, if not the intimacy of being on the water. The three spent the next couple of days just hanging around, having a good time while Crystal and Scooter got organized for their trip to the east.

By then, Scooter had changed her opinion of Myleigh to a considerable degree. She was still prissy, there was no doubt about it, but she proved that prissy could be fun, too -- she poked a lot of fun at herself in the process. Although about as different from the rough, scruffy river guides as could be imagined, it didn't make her any less memorable.

In the middle of the week Michelle dropped by the girl's house with her mother's dark blue Plymouth Voyager minivan; somehow it made her seem grown-up to be driving that instead of the Mustang. More stuff that would be needed in Florida was loaded, and soon she was on the highway. It was a long haul to be driving solo, but she liked solo long drives, had a CB radio, and plenty of CDs, so no one was particularly concerned.

Early the next morning, Crystal, Scooter, Karin, Al, and Myleigh loaded into Karin's Buick and headed for Phoenix. Parking at the airport was notoriously lousy, so they'd worked out a deal to meet Jon and Tanisha at their place, and they'd take the morning off and borrow a neighbor's minivan to take the five to the airport.

But, when they got to the airport, they got a nasty bit of news: their flight to Chicago was cancelled, no reason given. The airline representative said that it would be Saturday morning at the earliest before they'd be able to honor their tickets, since things were at the height of the holiday rush. She was nice enough to offer a refund, under the circumstances. A quick check around the terminal proved her right -- that was about the soonest they were going to get out of there. The only problem was that the wedding was at midnight on Friday night, and the rehearsal dinner was that evening.

"Damn," Al said with disgust. "That screws that. And those tickets weren't cheap, either. Time to spare, go by air."

"If we drive straight through and change off driving, we can probably make the wedding," Crystal grumped after doing some mental calculations -- she'd driven the trip before -- "But there's no way we can make the rehearsal dinner or the shower, and no way we can get any time to hang out with the people there."

"Plus, it leaves a car stranded in Spearfish Lake until you kids come back through from Florida," Al pointed out.

"I am most disappointed," Myleigh said in irritation. "I had so hoped to spend some time with Jennifer. We had planned to do some discussion on a future album. If we are forced to drive, I shall have to cancel Florida, since I owe Jennifer too much to not acquiesce to her request."

"I'm certainly open to suggestions," Karin nodded.

"Hey!" Tanisha piped up. "How about if we call Jennlynn?"

"You mean have her fly us there in her Learjet?" Crystal said with a definite negative sound. "It'd get us there, but we're raft guides and a college professor, we're not made of money."

"It might not be the dumbest idea," Al conceded. "Any idea of how much she'd charge?"

"No idea," Jon said, reaching for his cell phone. "But finding out is close to free."

It turned out that Jennlynn was at the office. Jon talked back and forth with her for a couple minutes, and ended the call with an "OK, we'll see you there in half an hour."

"I take it that you worked out a deal," Crystal smiled. "How many arms and legs?"

"She said she would be happy to fly you there if you pick up the direct costs, which mostly means jet fuel. She said she's not doing anything much and would be glad of the chance to get a few hours in the air, so she won't charge us for the pilot's time. The only thing is that she has to be back late this afternoon; she's going to the Redlite, and the airstrip there isn't lighted."

"Jon," Crystal said with exasperation. "How much?"

"I don't know," he shrugged. "Like I said, it depends on jet fuel, but she said it's probably less than you paid for your tickets. She's a friend; she feels she owes you one." He let out a sigh. "As you've seen, Jennlynn is a neat person, but she doesn't have a lot of friends outside Lambdatron and the Redlite, and really, not all that many there."

"Under the circumstances we can't turn her down," Al nodded. "But when this is over with I'm damned tempted to call some other charter operation and find out what they'd charge, and give her a discount on a future river trip about the size of the difference."

"No, Al," Karin protested. "If she's willing to give us her time, we need to allow her to think she's returning a favor with it."

"We're going to have to get moving if we're going to get over to her hanger," Jon pointed out. "We can argue the details later. Tani, Jennlynn says there's room for us if we want to go along for the ride, she can drop us off back here on her way to Antelope Valley."

"Sure, I won't turn down the chance," Tanisha grinned.

Twenty minutes later they were sitting in front of a small hanger on the far side of the airport when Jennlynn drove up. To everyone's surprise (except Jon and Tanisha, who already knew), Jennlynn was driving a very rusty and beat-up old Chevy Monza that left a broad trail of oil smoke behind it. It proved to be the only car she'd ever owned! "It gets me where I need to go," she shrugged as she unlocked the side door to the hanger. "I don't need something better, why waste the money? After all, it doesn't fly."

With that, she hit the button to open the main hanger door. As it opened, they could see the Learjet sitting right inside, the twin Cessna she'd flown the other day to one side and behind it.

The gleaming white Learjet was polished to within an inch of its life; it almost hurt the eyes to look at it. There have been other business jets made, some of them better, but the earlier Learjets are considered the classic sports cars of business jets, and there was never a more striking one made. It had a sharklike beauty to it that made it look like it was punching through the sound barrier even as it was sitting on the hanger floor. "Skyhook Aviation LLC" was painted in small letters on the nose.

"That may be the most beautiful airplane I've ever seen," Myleigh said in a tone of awe.

"I'm satisfied with it," Jennlynn smiled. "It's an old one, a 1967 Learjet 24A, so to some people it's an antique. Still, it's probably worth close to a million dollars on the open market. I didn't pay anything like that much for it, though. Someone made the mistake of trying to haul a load of cocaine into the country with it and thought he could outrun an F-16. I was the high bidder at the DEA auction."

"It must cost you a bit to keep it polished like that," Scooter observed.

"It's a rather expensive paste wax," Jennlynn smiled. "But that and rags are the only cost. Scooter, when I need to relax and unwind, to do something mindless, to just be alone and chill out, I come down here and work on the polish jobs on these two planes." She snickered and went on, "I mean, there are those people who smoke cigars and those who polish airplanes. Let me get the dolly and roll it outside. You don't fire this thing up in the hanger."

"I thought the twin Cessna looked pretty spiffy the first time I saw it," Al commented as she rolled a small two-wheeled electric cart over to the nosewheel and hooked it on. "But this is nicer."

"There's a story about that," she grinned as she bent over to hook the tow bar on the nosewheel. "I like to name my airplanes. My first one was Magic Carpet; the name came with the plane. So, when I bought my Mooney, it had to have a name. It was all white, like this one, so I called it Soiled Dove. After a while, I thought it was a little bit blatant, so I knew I needed to be not quite as up front with the Cessna. I was all set to name it Skyhook, but then Mike Hanneman, my chief pilot, told me, 'Over my dead body. There's only one possible name for a Cessna 310, and that's Songbird.'"

"Somebody else watched Sky King on Saturday morning when they were a kid, huh?" Al grinned. "Probably everyone else here except maybe Karin is too young to know what we're talking about."

"I'm too young, too," Jennlynn laughed as she began to guide the Learjet out of the hanger. "But Mike found a videotape of a couple episodes of the show once. I thought it was pretty cheesy, but most older pilots I know admit to that show hooking them on flying. But then I came across this thing, and I'm still grateful to Mike for not letting me waste the name Skyhook on the Cessna. I mean, I'm a little more open about my notoriety than I was when I had the Mooney."

"I'm almost afraid to ask," Crystal snickered. "But do you already have a name picked out for your next airplane?"

"Nothing for sure," Jennlynn smiled as the plane rolled outside. "But if it's another jet, it's probably going to be Hustler."

"You take some pride in your profession, don't you?" Karin smiled.

"Yes, I do," Jennlynn confirmed. "To most people that would be rather strange. But I've always taken a good deal of pride in the fact that I do it legally and honorably and safely; I know what I'm doing, and I'm not hurting anyone. It was harder to learn to take pride in what I am and what I'm doing. But you'll notice that the 'N' number on this airplane is 590SH. The letters stand for 'Sky Hooker', of course. The numbers are the month and year I turned out at the Mustang Ranch up near Reno. Let's just say that I'm satisfied with who I am, and I don't care if anyone knows it. Most people find that more unbelievable than what I do in the first place."

There were a few arrangements to be made for pickup on the other end, then they loaded on board after Jennlynn closed the hanger door. All the seats were filled, and the relatively small amount of luggage they had -- mostly carry-ons, plus Blue Beauty and one suitcase -- filled the luggage compartment. Jon and Tanisha sat way in the back -- they'd get to sit in front on the way home -- and Al and Karin were in front of them, then Crystal and Scooter. Myleigh wound up in the co-pilot's seat after promising faithfully to not touch anything. Finally, Jennlynn closed the cabin door, made sure it was latched, and got into the pilot's seat. "Before I get this thing started," she said. "This is one of the older Learjets, before they started putting noise suppressor engines on them. It's a bit noisy on the ground and on takeoff, but once we're in the air it isn't too bad."

That proved to be a slight understatement; Scooter had to talk rather loudly to make Crystal hear, right across the tiny aisle; Jennlynn put her conversation with the tower on the cabin loudspeakers, just so people would know what was going on, and sometimes that was hard to make out. They were sandwiched in between several airliners, and were a few minutes getting to the runway. As the plane before them started its takeoff roll, Jennlynn idled the Learjet's engines; over the speakers they could hear the tower call, "Lear Zero Sierra Hotel, take the active and hold."

The sound of the Learjet's twin engines rose slightly as Jennlynn turned onto the runway. "Sky Harbor, Zero Sierra Hotel active and holding."

"Ah, roger," they heard the reply. "Zero Sierra Hotel cleared for takeoff. Party hearty, Skyhooker. "

"Smartass," Jennlynn laughed -- not into the microphone -- as she shoved the twin throttles forward. She said something else, but Scooter couldn't make out what it was as the noise from the twin engines behind her turned to a loud roar -- Lava at full power was a whisper by comparison. They were set well back into their seats right now as the white Learjet lunged down the runway; all of a sudden, the nose rose, then rose some more; the noise died down enough to hear the "clunk" of the landing gear coming up, and they pointed higher yet. Amazingly enough, in a few seconds the sound died out to perhaps half what it had been on takeoff; Scooter guessed that it was because they couldn't hear the noise that was being reflected back from the ground. The skies were overcast, rare for Phoenix this time of year, but looking over Myleigh's shoulder, she could see the cloud deck well ahead and above them; in seconds, it was noticeably closer. In a few seconds more, they were in it, and all of a sudden broke out into the sunshine above the clouds. In only minutes, they were high above the clouds; Jennlynn pointed the nose toward the distant horizon, and on a gauge Scooter figured was the airspeed indicator the needle started to wind around, finally settling down a little on the far side of 500.

Crystal leaned over to Scooter -- the noise in the cabin was now quiet enough that they could talk back and forth comfortably -- and said, "That almost makes me wonder how much I really want to be a raft guide."

"Jennlynn," they heard Myleigh say, "That is quite exhilarating. I must confess to considerable envy that you get to do that whenever you wish."

"I wish it was whenever I wish," Jennlynn smiled. "I have enough other things going on in my life that there are weeks when I'm lucky to do it at all. But I'll admit to having considerable envy for your musical talent, not to mention your knowledge of literature. And I'll admit to considerable envy of women strong enough and brave enough to spend their lives rafting the Grand Canyon. Everyone has their talents, Myleigh. It's how well they use them that counts."

 

The flight went quickly -- they were barely three hours out of Phoenix when they were descending on Spearfish Lake. By now, they'd flown out from over the undercast and it was a brilliant, sunny northern day -- along in midafternoon, due to the time difference.

As they were letting down, Jennlynn swung around in her seat. "The deal is that we're supposed to fly over some house to let them know to come to the airport, right?" she asked. "You can find this house from the air, right?"

"Shouldn't be hard," Crystal said. "You see the lake right ahead of you. There's that point just a little to the left of center, and the town is to the right of it. Just to the right of the town there's a small bay that goes back from the lake a ways. We're going right over the point to the left of that bay. Is this thing going to be loud enough to get their attention?"

"Oh, yes," Jennlynn laughed. "I can make it quite loud. George, the man who owns the Redlite, got rather upset with me one time when I knocked a bunch of bottles off the back bar with this thing."

"Well, we might as well let Randy know we're here," Crystal grinned.

Jennlynn continued the letdown over the lake with the throttles, and pointed Skyhook at the bay where Randy and Nicole's house was. As she neared it, she rammed the throttles forward to takeoff power and pulled up the nose; whether it was heard on the ground was hard to say, but it was definitely loud in the cabin. "I might as well slide by one more time and make sure," Jennlynn snickered, and swung around to do it again, even lower this time.

"I think I saw someone outside," Crystal observed as Jennlynn leveled the plane out and reduced power.

"That probably did it," Jennlynn agreed, and turned toward the airport.

"Airport" was something of a reach to describe the facility at Spearfish Lake -- it was a long paved runway, where the snow had been removed, but on the ground there was no obvious office, just a parking area. Jennlynn pulled over close to the fence and shut the Learjet down. "Wow," she commented. "It looks cold out there. Living in Phoenix I'm not very used to snow anymore."

"We've seen a fair amount of it skiing this winter," Scooter replied, "But that looks real cold to this southern girl, too."

"Let's not crack the door until someone shows up," Jennlynn suggested. "No point in getting colder than we have to."

As it turned out they didn't have to wait long; a full-sized van pulled up almost immediately and people started getting out. "OK, that's them," Crystal said. "Randy and Nicole and his folks."

It was indeed cold out there; they were all dressed for morning in Phoenix, but had heavy coats in their luggage. It was mighty cold waiting after they got off of the plane while Jennlynn opened the luggage compartment. She had on a light jacket that happened to be in the plane, appropriate for a cool day in Phoenix or the Nevada desert; Jon and Tanisha didn't even have that. There was some hustling for heavy clothes that was even more important than hugs and greetings. "Thanks for bringing them right to us," the elder Mr. Clark told Jennlynn. "We're behind schedule and it would have made it even worse to have to go to Camden."

"No problem, the airport here is a little snug but nothing I can't handle," she replied.

"We were going to take everyone out to dinner at the Inn after they got here," he told her. "You'd be invited, too."

"I'd love to take you up on it," Jennlynn told him. "But I've got to get Jon and Tanisha back to Phoenix and then head on out. I have an appointment in Nevada tonight that I don't want to miss. That means we're going to have to leave right away."

"Well, thanks again, ma'am," Mr. Clark replied. "Some other time, maybe."

"Might have to do that," Jennlynn smiled. "Has everyone got everything off the plane?"

"I think so," Al said.

"Let me do one quick check," Jennlynn said, closing the door to the nose luggage compartment and latching in. She got into the cabin, and made a very quick check of the seats. She stuck her head out of the cabin door, checked to make sure there was no luggage in the way of the plane and said, "That looks like everything. Have a good trip, people. Al, I'd like to get together with you and the rest of these crazy people again before your season starts."

"Sure, we'll work out something, a couple months, maybe," he smiled, obviously shivering as well.

"OK, I'm going to get moving. You might want to get into your van, this thing will probably kick up some snow."

"Sure thing," Mr. Clark said. "Let's do it, folks."

It was crowded in the van but a little warmer as they sat and watched Jennlynn fire up the Learjet, taxi out to the little runway, and take off. The airplane seemed to squat in the tail, and they could hear a loud roar across the snow covered field. It wasn't too bad until the plane was about even with them and then it got very loud -- it almost seemed to shake the earth, knocking snow down from the trees as it disappeared into the blue skies in twin furies of burning kerosene.

"Boy, that thing is loud," Randy shook his head. "How could you stand it?"

"It's not that bad inside," Crystal replied. "I get the impression it leaves most of the sound behind it. It's an old one; it doesn't have the noise suppressor engines."

"No shit," Randy snorted. "Damn, I didn't think the house was going to hold together when you went over the first time, and the second time was worse. That must have shook up the whole town."

"Randy, Ryan, Linda," Karin spoke up with a huge grin. "For years I dreamed of shaking things up when I came back to Spearfish Lake, but I have to admit that I never dreamed it would be in a Learjet owned and flown by a millionaire prostitute."

"A millionaire pro . . . you're kidding!" Linda replied, jaw agape.

"No, that's her appointment in Nevada tonight," Karin grinned. "A five figure appointment, if I heard correctly."

"That qualifies as shaking things up," Randy's father, Ryan said. "Just on the noise alone. Then, a millionaire prostitute, a bunch of Grand Canyon raft guides, and Myleigh. You brought some unusual people back with you, Karin, but it's good to see you again."


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