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 32

January 1-8, 2000

Florida

Later that day, they headed for the airport in Camden, again in the borrowed van, this time with Crystal's surfboard, after rescuing it from the Clark garage. There were still some other things of hers in Ryan and Linda's attic, and some might make the trek back to Arizona in the minivan in a few weeks.

Several hours later -- and following a couple phone calls to work out the meeting -- they met Michelle at the Orlando airport. They were very jammed into the minivan, but they survived as Crystal, who knew the way, drove them over through Melbourne and then south toward Sebastian Inlet on A1A. Crystal had called ahead weeks before to let her friends know that she was coming, bringing some people with her and planning on camping out back.

Finally they turned off the highway into the shell-paved parking lot of a small building stacked high with surfboards; a small house was behind and to one side. Under an awning, a large, heavy-set bald man sat drinking coffee with a tall, slender, fiftyish blonde. As Crystal drove in, they got up to see who had arrived.

Crystal just about exploded out of the driver's seat and ran up to her friends. "Buddha! Giselle! God, it's good to see you again!" There was some hugging and pounding of backs going on -- it was three years since she'd been there. Once it died down a little, Crystal, still exuberant and bubbly, said, "Buddha, I'd like you to meet my mom and dad!"

Buddha turned, looked at Al, and his jaw dropped. He tried to say something, but no words would come out. Finally, he took a deep breath, and managed, "Al! Holy shit! I don't believe it!"

They fell into each other's arms, pounding each other on the back. "Crystal," Buddha managed to babble. "How the fuck . . . I mean . . . I thought your name was Chladek, not Buck!"

"It's a long story," Al grinned, hardly less exhilarated than Buddha to see his old friend. "It has its good and bad times, but I only discovered last summer that Crystal is the daughter I never knew I had."

"Well, my God. I never thought I'd see the day. What in hell have you been doing with yourself since, oh hell, it must be thirty years?"

"It's another long story," Al grinned. "I run rafts down the Grand Canyon. Crystal is one of my trip leaders. Michelle and Scooter here are also boatmen, and I understand you know your last guest."

Buddha looked around, got another big grin when he saw Myleigh, and said, "Surfer Girl! My God, it must be three years, too!"

"It's Doctor Surfer Girl now," Myleigh grinned. "I teach at Marienthal College in Kansas City."

"That was always your dream, wasn't it? My God, I'm happy for you!"

The surf that afternoon was nothing much, and the day was winding down anyway, so they all gathered in chairs under the awning and got down to some serious catching up.

"Al and I were great surfing buddies back when we were kids," Buddha explained. We're both from California, originally, and we just about grew up on Malibu."

"And on a bunch of other beaches up and down the coast," Al agreed. "We started at Malibu before we were old enough to drive, but when I got my driver's license, we had this old VW bug that we'd load up with our surfboards, and we went all the hell and gone up and down the coast, looking for a good break. Man, that was a long time ago."

"Longer than I like to admit," Buddha agreed. "The surfing bug bit us both pretty bad, but I have to say that looking back on it, it bit me even harder than it did him. I had pretty good grades in high school. Well, Vietnam was going on then, and I didn't want to go in the Army, so I went to college, Hawaii and Santa Barbara, mostly because there was good surf. Al, well, he didn't want to go to college, so he joined the Army."

"We sorta drifted apart after I went into the Army," Al added. "Oh, there was a few letters back and forth, nothing much, and when I got back home, Buddha was in Hawaii, so we missed each other and never did manage to get back together. I decided to go bumming around, wound up in the Canyon and never left, and we just didn't cross paths. I know three or four times when I went back to LA over the winter, I'd ask about Buddha, and he was never around, and after a few years I just didn't ask any more."

"Well, I wasn't," Buddha said. "Most of that must have been when I was working on my bachelor's and my master's. After I finished up college, there just weren't any jobs in my field, so I decided to go surfing and see the country a little, and for some reason I decided to check out the surfing scene in Florida, what there was of it. I had a few bucks, nothing much, but I discovered this old place. It was an abandoned shop that had sold seashells, and had this tumbledown little house. I drove past it four or five times before one day I decided to stop and take a look. What really caught my eye was the fact that there was a pretty good break right out there across A1A, not big but a nice shape. When I got to thinking about it, I realized that it had been a pretty good break every time I went past the place. Over the years, I was to learn that there's a pretty good break out there maybe half the time, less in the summer and more in the winter. Once in a while it gets up shoulder high, and once every few years a hurricane offshore kicks up some really nice waves and it's gangbusters. Anyway, this was right after my dad died, and I had a few bucks from his estate, nothing to write home about, but the place was cheap, and I thought I might be able to get something going. Now the east coast surfing scene isn't what it is in California and Hawaii -- never was, never will be -- but I got the idea in my head that I could be a big fish in a small pond down here. So, I put up a mortgage, bought the place, and set up shop. Got some lines of boards in, not a lot, Gastons and Webers and like that, mostly companies you haven't heard of for years."

"This was all back in the longboard days, right?" Al asked.

"Shortboards were starting to come in, then," Buddha explained. "And really, on the smaller stuff we have here they're a good deal. Anyway, things got started real slow. There was this big shop up in Melbourne that everybody thought had the market cornered in this area, and they did, pretty much. The problem was that they catered more to showoffs and posers, rather than real surfers. You know, the kid from up north who wants a couple T-shirts to show off how cool he is, but never gets out on a surfboard. They had a lot of that and still do, but they were getting most of the business, too. Well, I sort of hung on, and when I was just about out of money, I discovered that the local Community College needed someone to teach lit, and on occasion other things. I had my doctorate in English lit, like Surfer Girl over there," he said, nodding to Myleigh, "So I went to work for them part-time. I still teach up there, but never more than a class or two a semester. I'm kind of the utility infielder for them, I've taught several different lit courses, English, English as a second language, French, Spanish, comparative oriental religions, surfing, you name it. For a while there, I did some substitute teaching in the local schools, too. You know, just what I could do to make ends meet, while I was trying to fix up the house and the store in my spare time. It was kind of a hippy life, still is, but I've been happy with it."

"Found your spot, huh?" Scooter asked.

"Well, sort of," Buddha nodded. "I didn't really realize it at first, and the second winter things were getting close, but by then I'd started to get a little reputation among the hard cores as being more interested in surfing than T-shirts. Well, I had this kid in my French class, Robbie Halstead. He was a real hardcore, still comes around. Back then, he was working in the surf shop in Melbourne, but hanging out here in his spare time. One day, this gal who only spoke French came into the shop up there in Melbourne. He didn't have a lot of French at the time, a little bit, but he was the only one who had any at all. He figured out she wanted to try surfing, so he sent her to me. And, that was how I met Giselle."

"I really only wanted to try it out," Giselle said. "One afternoon, perhaps. I had come down from Montreal for a week because I was sick of winter up there. It was very difficult, not knowing any English, so it was nice to meet a man who spoke good French. European French, not Canadien, but it was close enough."

"I have to say I was pretty impressed," Buddha grinned. "Not only was Giselle about the best thing I'd ever seen in what passed for a bikini back then, she picked up surfing like no one I've ever seen, before or since. She was there the next day, then the next, and, well, one thing led to another. About six weeks later, I happened to ask her when she had to get back to work, just out of curiosity, you know, and she said she had to be back to work a month before."

"I did not want to leave," Giselle said. "It was very cold still in Montreal, and Buddha was very nice, so I just stayed."

"Up till then, we'd only talked in French," Buddha said. "But when I realized she meant it, we switched over to English, and she picked it up pretty well. Having Giselle around eventually took a lot of the bite out of the financial issue, partly because she could watch the shop while I was out teaching, partly because she could instruct, too, and later, after her English got good enough, she could work elsewhere part time as well."

"It took a while for my license as a nurse to get transferred, and my English did need to be better to be able to use it," Giselle added. "Like Buddha, I have rarely worked full time as a nurse, but there is always a call for someone to work part time or as a substitute. All the moving around gets tiresome, so the last several years, I have worked mornings three days a week in a doctor's office. He does nothing but obstetrics and gynecology, so it has been rather easier, and I still get plenty of time to spend at the shop, surfing, and with Buddha."

"We're never going to get rich," Buddha said. "Well, we had our chance and we missed it, but we're just as happy with the way we live."

"What's this, Buddha?" Al asked.

"Long story," Buddha replied. "You have to remember that when I bought the shop, it was right out in the middle of nowhere. I mean, there's the nature preserve on the one side of us, and there were a couple of houses down the other direction, and not a lot else, so I bought cheap. Well, since then, real estate down here has gone nuts. The couple of houses to the one side of us got bought up long ago, and there's that big row of luxury condos there now. A few years ago, we had an offer of over a million for the property as a tear down, so this guy could put in more condos and seal more beach off from outsiders. We didn't want to give up the life we had, there was no way we could have moved anywhere else with a break this good, and besides fencing people off from the sea pisses me off so we turned him down. Well anyway, this guy decided he wanted this eyesore of ours out of the way so he could build more condos, so he tried to get our taxes jacked up, considering the relative value of the land, and I had a hell of a fight about that for a while. Then, well I guess he paid off a couple people in the county, and they got the idea they'd use eminent domain to push me out for the sake of economic development."

"And, keeping people who did not own the condos from enjoying the beach," Giselle added.

"Right," Buddha agreed. "I didn't know what to do, and I knew it was going to cost me more money for lawyers than I could ever manage myself to fight it. So, I was lying there in bed one night, thinking about it, and I got to wondering why he wasn't making a move on the nature preserve. So the next morning, I got up and called the Nature Conservancy, which owns the preserve, and, well, they got a couple interesting laws on their side and a bunch of lawyers of their own. It took a little while to work out the details, but in the end, we sold the whole works to the Nature Conservancy for one dollar and a free life lease for us and our kids."

"Good deal," Al grinned. "God, when you think about how much we've had to fight to keep places like the Canyon free and open to the public, and not wasted on development, well, damn. You have to think about how much they wasted when they built Glen Canyon Dam, it's pathetic. I'd be happy if they ripped the damn thing down, even if it took nature a few centuries to clean up the mess. I'll bet the guy that tried to push you out was pissed."

"Oh, yes," Buddha grinned. "He filed half a dozen lawsuits, but the Nature Conservancy, well, they have good lawyers. The upshot of the whole thing was that it pretty well took us off the tax rolls, and the Conservancy has lawyers enough to keep the rich bastards and developers off my ass. More important, it means that when I'm gone, there'll still be a patch of open coast with a good break where people can come and be one with the sea, and my ashes will be part of the ocean and the shore. I don't think it's a bad legacy for a professional beach bum."

"It was hard to walk away from the money," Giselle agreed, "But it would have been harder to walk away from the sea."

"Yeah," Buddha grinned. "Listening to that bastard squeal like a stuck pig at the way he got snookered had to have been one of the better days of my life."

"You did the right thing, Buddha," Crystal nodded. "I'm with Dad. That was pretty cool of you. I never knew any of that."

"Well, it wasn't something we wanted to advertise," Buddha told her. "Kids like you, when you come down to surf, you're interested in surfing, good times, being with the sea, not a bunch of legal troubles, so we pretty much never let on. Like I said, we're never going to get rich, but along the way, we've gotten rich by meeting a lot of good people. Like you, Crystal, for example. You and Myleigh started coming down here, what? Eight years ago, maybe? There's people who've been coming down here and hanging out as long as Giselle and I have been here, even more, and their kids come down here, now."

"The first time we were here was over spring break in '93, I think." Crystal said. "Myleigh and I were sick of winter at Northern, and we just wanted to get away for a while, so we loaded up in my car over spring break and headed south. I wanted to try surfing, so we stopped at that shop that Buddha was talking about earlier, up in Melbourne. And, he was right; it was filled with T-shirts and poser kids and didn't seem to be the place that I could learn anything about surfing, so we turned around and walked right out. We drove around until we found some people out really surfing, not just screwing around on belly boards, and we talked with them a bit. They told us if we really wanted to learn, to come down to you. We did, and I got hooked."

"I did as well," Myleigh agreed. "Although, I must admit that in my case it took a while longer for it to take hold."

"Crystal was a natural," Buddha said. "Took to it right away. If she were to get out as much as Giselle, she could be about as good."

"I doubt that," Crystal said. "Giselle is just about the best I've ever seen, period."

"Myleigh could be about as good, if she were to get the practice," Buddha said. "Once I finally got her on a surfboard in the first place. It took her a couple days to get the hang of it, but now she plays it like she plays a harp."

"Buddha, I must protest," Myleigh grinned. "I believe you laid that one on much too thick."

"You did not learn to play the harp overnight either, did you?" Giselle said. "It took lots of practice, and I have the opportunity for lots of practice. Myleigh, you are not a bad surfer, and if you were to get out half as much as I do you could be very good indeed."

"She's right, Surfer Girl," Buddha grinned. "But I always used to look forward to you and Crystal coming down, then Randy, when he started coming down with you a couple years after that. We always had some good times. But then, you graduated and went on to grad school, Crystal hit the road, and I missed having you around. And then to have you come back like this, bringing Al with you . . . and my God, he's your father? I'm amazed I didn't have a heart attack!"

"You think you were surprised," Al snorted. "Think about me. I mean, I'd known Crystal for about a year by that point, but the evening of the day I found out I was her father, we were sitting around on the beach, and we got to talking surfing. I hadn't surfed for years then; it wasn't something Louise did, and I just never mentioned it to her. Then Crystal started describing you, and I knew it had to be the same person. I really have to thank you for that, Buddha. You managed to teach my daughter something I would have liked to teach my daughter if I'd known I'd had a daughter."

 

As evening approached, Michelle drove the minivan out in back, and they started setting up tents and sleeping bags and Paco Pads, all borrowed from Canyon Tours supplies. Giselle offered to make dinner, and it proved to be grilled red snapper, with an exotic French sauce. After dinner was cleaned up -- and the dishes done with typical Canyon Tours efficiency -- they wound up sitting in Buddha and Giselle's living room, telling more stories, of course. But Buddha and Giselle had long admired Myleigh's playing of Blue Beauty, and of course the harp was brought out, and that was always enjoyable. Buddha dug out his guitar; he was good with that. Michelle brought hers in from the minivan, and the three started out jamming. It was a most enjoyable evening, and it went late.

The surf had perked up a bit by morning. The plan was to just have a light breakfast, but Giselle offered to throw something together, and soon she was busy in the kitchen with a couple raft guides helping out -- eggs and potatoes and fishcakes.

By then it was warming up a little. It was not all that warm, only in the sixties, and Buddha warned that the water temperature was running on the cold side. Crystal, Scooter, and Michelle had brought wet suits, and the rest made use of Buddha and Giselle's rental stocks. All of them but Crystal rented surfboards; Crystal, Myleigh and Michelle paddled out into the outer break and began knocking off the rust -- it had been a year for Michelle and longer for the other two. It was over thirty for Al, and on one of the easier longboards Buddha had, he began rediscovering old skills with some help from his old friend, while Giselle took Scooter and Karin up the beach a ways and started in on the basics.

Al said later that he'd mostly figured on Karin trying it for a few minutes then sitting back on the beach and watching, but again he'd underestimated her desire to make up for what she had missed in all her years with Pete. She was game as all hell; in spite of starting from scratch, she started to pick it up, and in a couple hours she was starting to get it on the rail and do simple cutbacks.

Crystal had once said that she expected Scooter to pick it up in an hour or so, and it took a little longer than that, but with her balance and instinctive understanding of moving water, once she worked it out a little she began to get the hang of it. By afternoon, she was messing around outside with Crystal and the other girls, falling in more but improving rapidly, while Buddha and Giselle worked with Al and Karin. It took them longer, but that didn't mean they enjoyed it less.

Since the water was colder than they'd expected -- although nothing like as cold as the Colorado below Glen Canyon Dam on the hottest summer day -- they couldn't stay in the water all the time. Often they found themselves pulled up on the beach, soaking up the warmth of the sun and just hanging out, and as much fun as the surfing was, that was even more fun, getting caught up with old friends, hearing the accumulation of thirty years of stories. Both Al and Buddha could have written books about their experiences, and there was always a long stock of stories. When it got a little warmer in the afternoon, the women especially would take their warm-up breaks by pulling off their wet suits and lying in the sun, working on their tans. It was no surprise that the younger women were wearing pretty skimpy string bikinis, but Karin was out there in one just about as skimpy, and Giselle, about her age, wore one that was, if possible, even skimpier. Catching up? You bet!

Giselle had seen a lot of sun over the years; although she had a nice shape, she had a skin like wrinkled leather from thirty years in the sun. Scooter thought several times about it; if she and Crystal stayed in the Canyon that long, with the Arizona sun beating down on them, would they come out as sun-beaten and grizzled as Giselle, as Louise had been? On thinking about it, it seemed like a perfectly satisfying vision.

Day after day followed, each much the same as the others, except that for the next several days the surf always seemed just a bit bigger and more exciting than it had been the day before, but everyone's skills were coming along adequately to handle it. Surfing, laying in the sun, telling good stories, great eating, great music -- add it all together, it added up to a great week.

Unfortunately, it was a week that was coming to an end. With Michelle, Al and Karin all gone from the Canyon Tours office, it had been necessary to leave Jeff there to keep an eye on the place and answer the phones -- not that there was much to do but mail literature and take reservations if they came in, and he could handle that. But there were annual reports and quarterly reports that needed to be done, and a number of other things, so even when this was first worked up the previous fall it had been clear that Al and Karin were going to have to be heading back early on.

On Friday afternoon, Crystal, Scooter and Michelle gathered around the minivan to reorganize their gear to head on to the Bahamas. It was not simple, and they were going to be near their maximum luggage allowance. That night, they had another great dinner, and once again were up late telling stories. In the morning, they packed up their gear and said goodbye to Buddha and Giselle, amid promises to do it again next year, and come out and see us in the summer, we've got a Canyon we'd like to show you, and other such things. It had been a great week.

Crammed in the van once again, with a lot of stuff tied on top, they drove back to the airport at Orlando. They dropped Myleigh off to fly back to Kansas City and put Al and Karin on a plane for Phoenix, and then called Jon at his office to let him know they were on their way on time. Then they drove over to long-term parking, untied the stuff from the top of the van and stuffed it inside along with Crystal's surfboard and new boards for Michelle and Scooter as well. They got on a shuttle with their luggage, and headed for a plane to take them to Nassau, and from there, a smaller plane on to Great Abaco.

"That was a great week, no doubt about it," Michelle commented while they were packing stuff into the van. "And I don't want to say that being with Al and Karin cramped our style."

"But it did, a little," Crystal smiled, "Maybe even more than a little, thinking what we were like back on our ski trip before Christmas."

"Yeah, hell," Scooter agreed, "Do you realize that other than the restaurant in Spearfish Lake we haven't seen a bar in two weeks?"

"We ought to make up for that," Michelle grinned. "And, I don't know about you two, but if I have anything to say about it, there's a guy, maybe some guys over in the Bahamas who are about to get lucky."

"Lucky if they survive the experience," Crystal agreed. "I suspect things are going to be a little different."

"The last couple weeks have been fun," Scooter smiled. "But now the real vacation begins."


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