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 34

February 5 - 17, 2000

Florida and Tennessee

The month in the Bahamas on the Phoebe Lee flew by. Not all of it was trying to drink the Bahamas dry -- or at least guy's wallets -- partying hard, barroom brawls, and singing dirty songs, but there was enough of the sort to hold them. There also was some great sailing, some great lying back in quiet harbors and chilling out, some idle shopping in the island markets. For a week there was a lot of hanging out with Art and Don, and they weren't the only guys they had good times with, before or after.

The trip was winding down one evening when they lay in the harbor of Cat Cay, not doing anything in particular but watching the sunset. "You know," Michelle said, "This has been a damn good trip all around, but it's still two months till the season opens and that's too damn long."

"It's not like we're back in Flag yet," Crystal protested. "And we still have a few things to do."

"Yeah, but we're past the peak," Michelle grumped. "It's like the next to the last trip of the season, you know the season is coming to a close, and you're trying to wring the last bit out of the trip."

"I see what you mean," Scooter said thoughtfully. "God, no matter how much fun we've had, I'm still mostly jonesing to be back between the walls."

"As many trips as I've had, I am too," Michelle said. "Last summer didn't help one damn bit, either, watching all those trips go out and wishing I was on every one of them."

"Well, we can stretch it out some, I guess," Crystal observed. "I mean, we never made up our minds if we were going to head back to Buddha and Giselle's and surf some more. That'd eat up a few days."

"Might as well," Michelle agreed. "We're probably not going to get the chance again, unless we head back early and decide to fly to Hawaii."

"Sounds like a hell of an idea," Scooter agreed. "But I have to say that I'd be tempted to take a pass on Hawaii before tripping season. I don't want to say I'm down near the bottom of the well, but I'm getting pretty deep." She'd spent very little money during tripping season last year, but had pretty well spent it as she needed to since. The three had come close to splitting things evenly, but she'd made three and a half runs as a swamper the previous summer, so she was starting from a little further behind the other two. She was drawing Arizona unemployment on this trip, and that helped, but still . . . "I've had a hell of a good time, but I'd like to leave some cash in the bank just in case something unexpected happens."

"Well, Buddha and Giselle's would be cheap," Crystal nodded. "Some of the other stuff will be, too. You're right, Hawaii is sort of expensive, and it'll keep for next winter."

"I wouldn't mind coming down here again," Michelle said. "I mean, this is a nice boat. The price seems steep, but I got to thinking about it, and for our four weeks we're paying half of what three customers pay for two and a half weeks on the river, so we don't have any right to complain."

"That's true," Scooter agreed. "Yeah, I'd be up for it another year. But, I'm not anxious to get back, and I could hack some more surfing."

"Works for me," Michelle said. "Except that we really should check in at the office. If the guys are falling behind on the maintenance work list, there's such a thing that Al may need us back there."

"Well, yeah, if he needs us, we go," Crystal agreed. "But I want to give him and Mom some elbow room. I'm not sure what's going to happen in the divorce, and what I don't know I can't testify to."

"You're probably overreacting," Scooter suggested.

"Maybe so," she replied. "But I know that asshole she married, too. I want to be on the safe side."

"It would be nice if we could get back in time for me to watch the office for a while so they could go someplace if they wanted," Michelle suggested.

"Yeah, I'll give you that," Crystal nodded. "Let's check in when we get back to Orlando and spend a few days at Buddha's if there's no rush before we head north. I mean, I can stand surfing, but I wouldn't mind getting some more snowboarding in, either."

Thus it was that when they got back to Orlando, they got the surfboards and snowboards out of the van, tied them onto the roof racks, and then called Al. The upshot of the discussion was that Al and Karin thought it would be fun to take off and go somewhere for a few days, no idea where but they'd work on it. However, it shouldn't be right before the season opened, either, since things always got busy in preparations. "How about if we shoot to be back before the first of the month?" Crystal asked.

"That'd work just fine," Al said. "You're still planning on going past that place where Scooter worked, aren't you? The staffing situation here is still goofy. I'd still like to see one, maybe two people that's had a season or so of eastern rafting and would like to work the Canyon a full season, starting as a swamper and maybe getting a raft next fall."

"I could ask around up at Ducktown, too," Crystal suggested. "Ocoee Adventures, and there's a couple more places. It's the wrong time of year, but Tom might be helpful."

"I'll leave it up to your judgement," Al told them. "But you, Scooter, and Michelle add up to a pretty good selection board. Just remember, whoever you bring in is going to have to be on a trial basis until we see how they work out for us out here. I mean, same deal as Scooter had."

"We'd have time to give someone a trial before the Ocoee and Nanty seasons get going good," Crystal observed. "That way they'd have a fall back, too."

"I'll let you three work on it," Al told them. "I take it that the Bahamas survived and that you're not out on bail?"

"It was fun," Crystal giggled. "We played a little hard from time to time, I'll admit that."

"It'll be interesting to see what stories you tell us face to face, and how they morph when you get them out around a campfire on the river," Al laughed. "You kids have a good time, drive safe, and party hearty."

"We've done pretty well at that," Crystal giggled again.

A couple hours later the minivan was turning into the shell-paved parking lot at B&G's Surf Shop again. It was a little busier than it had been at Christmas; there were several cars around, and some surfers out working a nice break. Buddha and Giselle, not unexpectedly, were out under the awning enjoying the nice day. "Heard you were coming," Buddha grinned. "How was the action in the Bahamas?"

"How'd you hear we were coming?" Crystal asked, a little surprised at the announcement.

"Oh, your dad called, just a little while ago," Buddha grinned. "He wanted to know if Giselle and I were going to be here right after the first of the month. Guess I'm getting him back into surfing some. Your mom, too. We told them they're welcome to be house guests so they don't have to mess with camping gear."

"What'd I say?" Crystal giggled at her friends. "Turn my back on them and they sneak off surfing."

"Well, it is a family tradition," Buddha laughed. "How long are you staying?"

"Hard to say," Crystal said. "If it stays nice we may be a while. If it turns flat we may hit the road."

As it turned out it stayed nice for several days. There were half a dozen surfers around, mostly college guys on an early break, but a couple of girls, too. The three of them were a little old for college guys -- how the hell did that happen? -- but a couple of them were fun, and they had some good times before the surf went flat and they decided to head north.

 

It had been not quite ten months and a couple lifetimes since Scooter had been in Wesser. The NOC sales room seemed to be strange indeed, something out of a dim and distant past. There was some college-age girl working there who said she was going to work out the month, then take off and start the AT. Scooter wished her luck; she had been there, and done that, from this very room. It all seemed very surreal, now.

After Leon got off work, they headed over to his house, and loaded Scooter's stuff in the van while his wife made dinner. They spent a lot of the evening telling Grand Canyon rafting stories, and having a good time. "Scooter," he said finally. "I thought it was a long shot when you went out there, and probably not going to work out for you. It looks totally the opposite to me, and things are working well for you. I'm glad to see it."

"In spite of some tough times, it has worked out pretty well," she told him. "As far as I'm concerned, I'm staying. Don't look for me to take over from that girl starting out on the AT."

"I somehow suspected that," Leon laughed. "People keep changing around here. You hung around in that job longer than most."

"That's one thing I miss from working there," she said. "Talking with the thru-hikers. I mean, I did it once, and I'd love to do it again, even though I realize now, it's not likely to happen. Every now and then I see someone I remember meeting from here, and it's always interesting to see what happened. I talked to one back at the first of the year, in fact."

"You hear some stories, that's true. Every now and then someone gets the hankering to try it, like that Lauren who's working in the sales room. We had a rafter from the summer before last take off and give it a try last year. He dropped by a while back and told us he had a hell of a trip. He was looking to come back here and get in a raft again. Good kid, competent, not a cowboy, but I just don't have anything open until rafting gets going again, so he's working the Micky-D's over in Waynesville for a while."

"Is that the Duane kid with the Scotch last name? He was talking about wanting to give the AT a try, but I didn't see him if he came through when I was here last spring."

"Yeah, MacRae," Leon nodded.

"Well, glad to hear he made it," Scooter grinned. "I may be a Grand Canyon rafter now, but my proudest moment still came at the top of Katahdin."

They changed the subject back to Canyon rafting stories and Nantahala rafting stories. After a while, it started to get late so Scooter said that they really needed to be getting back to the motel, since they needed to get on the road to Ducktown and Chattanooga in the morning. It was late, and they got to sleep early.

The next morning, they got up, got around, and got in the van. "Well, no luck here," Crystal sighed. "I seem to recall there's a pretty good restaurant on the road toward Ducktown."

"Ahhh, it's junk," Scooter replied. "That's not what I'm in the mood for, anyway. Turn the other way."

"What do you want?" Michelle said.

"I was thinking of an Egg McMuffin," Scooter laughed. "Specifically at the McDonald's in Waynesville."

The light dawned on Crystal. "That kid you were talking with Leon about?"

"Yeah, good rafter, for two or three summer seasons. Young, but not a cowboy, good with customers." Scooter grinned. "Another one of them outdoor bums, you know the type. I'll bet he hates working in a Micky-D's."

"Scooter," Michelle shook her head. "Remind me never to play poker with you."

"Hey, Leon's a friend, he's done a lot for me, I don't want him pissed with me for stealing one of his best seasonal rafters."

It was a fairly long haul over to Waynesville but they soon found the McDonald's at the edge of town. They walked in, and as luck would have it, found Duane working at the counter. "Scooter!" he cried as he saw her walk in. "How are you? Is the word that you went out to raft in the Grand Canyon true?"

"Sure is," she grinned. "In fact, these two crazy people are also Grand Canyon boatmen. Are you still rafting?"

"Hope to when the season gets started," Duane said. "But Jeez! Grand Canyon! You like it there?'

"Oh, God yes, it's the most awesome landscape and most awesome rafting on the planet."

"God, lucky you," he shook his head. "Any chance of getting on there?"

"Michelle, I'm going to keep this honest," Scooter said. "You tell him."

"Call out to Canyon Tours in Flagstaff after noon today, there's a time difference," she replied, giving him the 800 number. "Ask for Al Buck, and tell him that Michelle and Crystal told you to call him."

"And," Crystal added, "If Leon asks, you heard that Scooter was there but you didn't hear about it from her. And you didn't, you heard about it from us."

"My own idea, huh?"

"Right," Crystal grinned. "Now, how about some breakfast?"

"OK," he sighed, shoving the awesome dream that had just been opened for him to the side for the reality of what he was doing. "May I take your order, please?"

"Scrambled eggs and sausage cooked on a gas stove in the Canyon," Crystal smiled. "And river style coffee, strong enough to grow hair on my chest, full of grounds."

"Uh, I'm sorry, but we don't do that here," he said.

"No, but make that call and you'll be doing it in a couple months," she grinned. "For now, an Egg McMuffin and coffee will have to do, even though it's that weak shit McDonald's serves."

After singing their siren song and having a fast-food breakfast, they got back on the road, heading for Ocoee Adventures and Ducktown. The situation there was different, since Ocoee Adventures mostly used college kids as raft guides, and Crystal had been gone from there for a full cycle so knew virtually no current guides. So, she was straight with Tom, and as far as she could tell he was straight with them. He knew of a kid by the name of Carl in Chattanooga who had been a guide for a couple years. He was taking a break from college and was really more interested in a longer season or better money elsewhere, so Tom didn't think he was going to be back, anyway.

Since Crystal didn't know Carl, it was impossible to tell if Tom was feeding her a line or what, but she'd known him to be pretty straight in the past, so they took off for Chattanooga. Carl proved to not be difficult to find, and they had a long talk with him over lunch. He sounded good to them, but sounding good and seeing him on the water are two different things, so they sang their siren song again, warning him that he'd be on short-term tryout.

Mission accomplished, they started to take Carl home. "While we're in town," Crystal said. "I'd kind of like to see Noah. Carl, do you know where Glen Hill Road First Baptist Church is?"

"Oh, yeah, we're only about five miles from there. Hang a 'U', and go left at the first light."

"Good thinking, Crystal," Scooter smiled. "I haven't seen Noah in two or three years myself. He brought a youth group over to NOC one time. Are we going to sing our siren song there, too?"

"I'd sure like to," she sighed. "I tried a year ago, when I called you, but he thought he'd rather stay a youth pastor."

Scooter shook her head. "Boy, don't you just hate it when a guy has to go straight on you?"

"Who's this Noah guy?" Michelle asked as she looked for a place to turn around.

"A guy I rafted with at Ocoee Adventures for four summers," Crystal replied with a grin. "Pretty straight, but a real good friend. We had some fine times together, him and me. and sometimes Scooter."

"For a guy who's straight Baptist, he was pretty cool," Scooter agreed. "Some of my best evenings of those years were when the three of us sat around a campfire somewhere and talked about nothing in particular."

Glen Hill Road First Baptist Church proved easy to find. It was huge, set on a ridge with a great view out across a valley. The pastor was Mark Jordan, who Crystal met the day of the fight she and Randy had with the two drunken kayakers. Jordan had been with the church group, and was an EMT, which might have been all that stopped Crystal from being a killer. It was that incident, she'd learned the previous year, where Noah and Pastor Jordan met; it had proved to be Noah's first regular job in the church.

Unfortunately, a church secretary told them that neither Noah or Pastor Jordan were around; they'd gone to a church conference in Pensacola and weren't expected back until the weekend.

"Tell them both that we're sorry we missed them," Crystal told the woman. "Another time, maybe."

They dropped Carl off at his home, figuring that it meant that Al was going to be getting a phone call pretty soon. "I'd say that's getting pretty close to mission accomplished," Michelle said. "I suppose we'd better call Al and let him know he may be getting a phone call or two."

They found a convenience store with an inside pay telephone and made the call. It turned out that not only had Al had a phone call, he'd had two, from both Duane and Carl, so it looked like they'd turned up two full-season swampers that could turn into boatmen real fast if they needed to.

But, there was bad news. "Michelle, you'd better call your folks," he told her.

It turned out that Michelle's grandmother was in bad shape from a car accident, and it wasn't sure whether she was going to make it. Both Michelle's mother and father said she didn't have to come home, but it probably would be a good idea if she did.

"No problem," Crystal said after Michelle explained the news. "We don't have to go to Spearfish Lake, we can put the pedal to the metal and be back in Flag in two days, less than that if we go all night."

"I know," Michelle said. "But I know you wanted to see Randy and his wife, and you wanted to get your stuff. I just met him for a couple minutes that one time and I was looking forward to getting to know him a little. He sounds pretty cool."

"Another trip," Crystal shrugged. "It wouldn't be the first time we've let some time go by, and we did see him back at the first of the year, even though it wasn't for long."

Michelle looked down for a minute. "Hey, look, Crystal," she said. "How about if you take me to the airport in Atlanta? I can fly to Phoenix, and then you and Scoot can go to Spearfish Lake."

"It'd work," Crystal replied. "And with you gone there ought to be enough room to clean my shit out of Randy's folks' attic and stack it on top of Scooter's stuff. But it's your mom's van, and I don't know about that."

"We could call back," Michelle shrugged. "It's no big deal."

"We probably wouldn't want to piddle around half a dozen ski resorts looking for the perfect snowboard hill," Scooter observed. "That'd get us back quicker."

"Yeah, a week, maybe ten days," Crystal said. "Which is fine, we weren't planning on being much longer than that, anyway."


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