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 43

November 18 - 25, 2000

Flagstaff

As expected, the turnout for the season wrap party at Al's the next night was large -- in fact, larger than Crystal and Scooter had expected. Many, although not all, of the summer crew were there. Glenn couldn't make it, and Bill had called to make his apologies. There were a lot of people who had helped to make the season a success, including Jon and Tanisha, who had driven up from Phoenix several times to help with the groceries and loading. Usually they went up to Lee's Ferry to help with the rigging; Michelle's folks were there, and others, including a number of people from other rafting companies.

In talking with Wade and Hannah, Scooter was pleased but not very surprised to find out that they were doing well in their freshman year in college. She had little doubt that they'd be boatman, possibly as early as the end of next summer -- but whether they'd stay with it seemed doubtful, even though they had some of that rafter blood that seemed to run strong with Michelle's relatives. Carl was doing well with his studies, although Barbie was complaining that she was getting a little tired of sitting in classrooms and wished she were out on the river more.

Considering the cool fall, there was a good collection of leftovers from the drag bags, and there were plenty of good stories going around. The dinner was a buffet, but everyone was used to that since it was how meals were normally served on the river, and no one had room to complain.

Once everyone had finished eating, Al got everybody's attention. "I'm glad everyone made it," he said. "At our wrap party, we celebrate the tripping season being over with. We had a good year this year. In many ways, it was better than last year, and you know the tragedy that drug last year down. We had a safe year, which is always nice. We narrowly avoided two potentially serious incidents, mostly because Scooter had the good sense to listen to Norma Dieshu, because she'd learned that Norma knew what she was talking about." He briefly told the story of Norma, her extraordinary weather sense, and her prediction of two different flash floods. "We all learned a lesson from that," he continued. "To be more careful about flash floods in general, of course. But if you're ever on a hike up a side canyon with Norma and she says to run, run like hell!"

There was a round of laughter and applause. "Norma, we've told you before, you done good, kid, and there's no way we can reward you or thank you as much as you deserve. But thank you anyway, and I'm sure everyone else in the room thanks you as much as I do."

He went on the next few minutes and praised several people who had contributed to the season. "So, again, thank you everybody. Now, I'd like to get on to a special announcement. Crystal, would you come here, please?"

Crystal went over to join them, obviously wondering what was going on. "As most of you know," he said, "I had a terrible tragedy in the loss of Louise a year ago last summer. I went through a bad time, but several people worked together to pull me out of my misery. Crystal and Scooter played a key part of that; you all know about that. Most of you probably know that Crystal's mother, Karin, also played a big part when she showed up here unexpectedly. We were old friends that hadn't seen each other for many years. If things had worked a little differently we might have gotten together back then, but they didn't, and it could be just as well. Again, most of you know that Karin has been going through a divorce. Although we decided this some time ago, we agreed that we had to hold off on the announcement until the divorce was final, which came just a few days ago. But, under the circumstances, and just to be sure, I'm going to ask you again: Karin, will you marry me?"

"Of course I will, Al," she grinned. "There is one more thing to announce that we've kept covered up for a while for a good reason. I suppose I ought to be embarrassed about it, but what happened, happened, for good or ill." She took a deep breath and continued, "What I have to say a few people here already know about, but now we're going to make it public. When Al and I get married, he's not going to gain a stepdaughter in Crystal. This is because of the fact that as a result of our little Canyon romance when I first ran the river in 1974, Crystal is already his natural daughter."

That set the room to going with a buzz and a few gasps before Al continued. "Not long after I met Crystal, over two years ago now, she commented to me that she thought that everything she'd done in life had been to prepare her for the Grand Canyon, because she felt it was where she was supposed to be. All I can say about that is that she was right."

There was some laughter and applause, and Karin picked it up. "On the first day of the trip I took with Al a year ago August, he said to me that he was sorry he'd never had children, but that if he'd ever had a daughter, he hoped she'd turn out like Crystal. She did, and her mother and father are very proud of her."

"What's more," Al said. "While neither Louise or I knew about it, while she was still alive, I'm pleased to say that she knew and liked Crystal. One time she made pretty much the same comment to me, that is, if we'd ever had a daughter, she'd have hoped she'd have turned out like Crystal. Had she known, I think Louise would have been happy to accept Crystal as her stepdaughter. Crystal, would you like to add anything?"

"Not really, Dad," she grinned, using the term for the first time in public, "Other than to say that for the first year I knew you I often thought it'd be great to have a neat guy like you as my father, instead of the man I thought was my father. I wasn't any less stunned to find out the truth than you were. Even though it took a while to work out, I'm glad it worked out that way."

"Thanks, Crystal," he replied, "You have no idea of how much I appreciate that. But now that this news about Karin and me is out, the only thing left is to make it legal. Because of the Grand Canyon connection in this family, there could be no more fitting place to hold this wedding than in the Canyon. We've decided that it will be held next spring at the place where we discovered we were already a family, which is to say at a place that some of the Canyon Tours crews call the Baseball Man Water Pocket, a few miles below Crystal Rapids. You are all invited."

Again there was some buzz. "Al," Mary piped up. "How are we going to all make it from three different crews?"

"It's complicated, and all the details aren't worked out yet," Al said. "But we'll do this right at the changeover when the summer crews come on. What we're thinking is that your crew launches on time, but runs very slowly down there. The second crew, Crystal and Scooter's, will do a burnaround off their first trip, launch three or four days early and run fast. We should be able to meet up about the same time at Phantom, where we'll be met by anyone who wants to come to the wedding but can't take the time off for a whole trip. After the wedding, they'll hike out the Bass Trail, along with Scooter and the crew that will form Team 3. It's going to mean a lot of special preparations, and there's going to be some inconveniences like a double burnaround for Scooter and probably some of her team, but it can just barely be done, so we're going to do it. That's just the rough idea; we'll probably be ironing out the details until it's all over with."

 

That perked the party up quite a bit; more cans of drag bag overage were opened, and there was quite a bit of talking around, much of it centered around Al and Karin. After some time, Scooter, Crystal, and Michelle found themselves together in the kitchen, and they decided to head out onto the patio for a few minutes to be by themselves, even though it was a pretty coolish night.

"It caught me totally by surprise," Crystal told them. "I was honestly thinking maybe Christmas, kill two birds with one stone. And then with the crowd here, I figured they might just go ahead, surprise us all, do it tonight, and be done with it. But hell, spring? Just glancing at the calendar, they have to be talking May 1, May 2, somewhere along in there."

"Something about like that," Scooter nodded. "Boy, doesn't that just show what you get for being the junior trip leader? Two burnarounds with a week separating them!"

"It shouldn't be too bad if we're prepared for it," Michelle said. "But that means that we're going to have to have all three teams pretty well rigged before the first of April, so what with you two on the Park Service trip that pretty well takes care of March. That's starting to cut Hawaii pretty close."

"There is a bright side," Crystal said, "And it's that we don't have to blow up anything over the winter for a wedding. Just throwing out an idea, what do you say that we do Hawaii the first of the month? Keep it light, don't even take our surfboards, just do rentals. As far as that goes, the same for when we go to Florida, since we've pretty well decided we're going to have to fly."

"Good question," Michelle said. "We're pretty well committed to going to Florida, though. Wouldn't it be a big letdown to go to Hawaii, come back for a couple weeks and go to Florida? I mean, wouldn't we rather do it the other way around?"

"Yeah, you've got a point," Scooter said. "I mean, I haven't been to Hawaii, but everything I've ever heard is that the surfing there is the best there is."

"It's pretty damn good and the water will be warmer than Florida," Michelle pointed out. "If we keep Hawaii to a week or ten days at the end of February, maybe edging into March a few days, it still would work."

"Or we could wipe it out if it gets too tight," Crystal said, thinking about it. "Maybe we could get some of the summer kids in on the weekends in March to help with getting everything rigged."

"It's possible that Al could have Dave and Mary show up a little early, too," Michelle commented. "I mean, especially since the two of you will be on that Park Service trip."

"OK, I guess that pretty well means that we just have to sit back until we get back from the Bahamas to see about Hawaii," Crystal summed up. Maybe we'll have had enough of the tropics by then and will want to get in some more skiing before we get busy. And that means we do the ski trip in early December. We've got de-rig and maintenance stuff that's going to eat up the next few days, but if everything goes all right we might be able to get an early start, say around the middle of the week after next. We'll just have to see when we get there."

"I want to go to Hawaii if we can possibly manage it," Michelle said. "I'm not going to be able to head for Florida until like January second, and we have to fly over to get to the Felicity Ann on the sixth. That's not a lot of surfing if it's good, and what happens if it goes flat?"

"We could stop off on the way back through, like we did last year," Scooter said. "But that definitely would shoot Hawaii in the butt. Maybe that's an option we'll have to decide on in the Bahamas."

"Whatever," Crystal shrugged. "That's still a ways away. Let's take on this question -- where are we going skiing? We could head up to Colorado and Utah like we did last year, but I'd like to see something different, too."

"If we're going to be on a tight schedule, I suppose we don't want to go too far," Michelle said thoughtfully. "But that's no reason we couldn't see some new country, either. How about this? There's some good resorts over around Reno and Lake Tahoe and that area. Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows good. Once we're there, there's a lot of other places up in the Sierras we could go. Or it would be an easy shot to check out the scene in San Francisco for a day or two, or hit Yosemite, or something."

"Sounds like a plan," Scooter nodded. "I'm assuming we're taking the Mustang again?"

"Might as well, I don't think we want to take that piece-of-shit Dodge that Crystal drives around."

"Hey, be nice to my baby," Crystal protested. "It was a gift from Randy! It's not like I need a good car, anyway. I mean, I filled it back in May, and I'm still running on the same tank."

"You know," Scooter said thoughtfully. "There's an issue we need to confront in the next few months, too."

"What? Wheels?" Crystal asked.

"No, the house," Scooter said. "Although nothing has been said, knowing your mother I'm presuming she's going to keep up the facade of living separately from Al until they get married, although as much as we're going to be gone there's no telling what she'll really do."

"And, I don't care, especially after tonight," Crystal said. "I mean, it's her business."

"Right," Scooter agreed. "It's apparently important to her to keep up the appearance of what she considers morality, no matter the reality. But that's beside the point. The point is that whatever happens she'll be moving out in May, and she's covered half the rent. It seems a little ridiculous to have a house that we're only at three days every three weeks, and only sixty days or so in the off season, if that much. On the other hand, I'm not sure I want to go back to living out of the trunk of the Dodge, if for no more reason than I have stuff now that I didn't have when we were doing it."

"I do too," Crystal said. But I'd point out that between us we're going to be there six days out of three weeks, at least over the summer. But you're right, it is a little silly. Maybe we can come up with a roomie or two, maybe one of the summer kids going to Northern Arizona. Like, Barbie isn't local, her family is in Tucson or something."

"Worth exploring," Scooter nodded. "We can nose around a little, but we really can't do anything until next spring, anyway."

"Yeah, that's one that doesn't have to be answered right now," Crystal agreed. "I'll tell you this much, I'm not planning on moving in with Mom and Al. Storing stuff there if I have to, but not moving in."

"They're not going to be real big on you moteling it and living out of your trunk, under the circumstances," Michelle pointed out.

"True," Crystal agreed, "But we can't do much about it till spring, like Scooter said. We might as well use it while we can this winter."

 

The following Thursday, Al, Karin, Crystal, and Scooter all loaded up in Karin's Buick for the run to Jon and Tanisha's in Phoenix for Thanksgiving. Jennlynn was there, too; although it had been months, it was good to see her again. No one else was a pilot, so no one could understand the fine points of her flying stories. From what little that was said, she, Jon, and Tanisha were working on something even more classified than they had been dealing with a year before, so there were no work stories. To balance it off she was a little more open about telling stories about her part-time profession in Nevada. Most of them were more funny than dirty, sometimes poignant, but it was clear she liked what she was doing and that she had fun with it.

"Are you coming up to Flagstaff for Christmas with us this year?" Karin asked at one point.

"Not this year, sorry," she told them. "I think I told you about the family in Nevada I occasionally spend the holidays with. I'm going to be spending a few days up on their ranch. I really love it there; I sometimes think I should have been a cowgirl. They took me in the first winter after I got thrown out of my parent's house, and they've been something like a surrogate family ever since. They've helped me over some rough spots. They're a very special family, mostly because they treat prostitution as an honorable thing that people have to do sometimes. The ranch is big, but not terribly prosperous, and in hard times the women have occasionally had to do it to put bread on the table and keep the ranch. In recent years, the younger girls have worked at it to pay off their college loans."

"That's certainly not common," Jon commented. "That's the Hoffmans I've heard you mention once or twice?"

"That's them," Jennlynn replied. "With one exception, everyone in the family has either worked as a prostitute or married one."

"What's the matter with the one that's left over?" Scooter couldn't help but ask.

"He isn't married yet," Jennlynn grinned. "So there's still hope for a clean sweep. His grandmother is the house manager for the Redlite."

"I have to admit," Al grinned, "Ever since I've known you, I've often wondered what that place must be like. I doubt my future wife would be very happy if I dropped by to see."

"Oh, no big deal," Jennlynn said. "Among other things, it's also the best restaurant in the county. George has always welcomed people who just want to drop in for a meal, at least when the place isn't busy, which means morning through the middle of the afternoon. If you ever get in the neighborhood, stop in and mention my name. The only thing is, you have to hit the gate buzzer to get in, so if you do, buzz twice. If you only do it once they call the duty girls out for a lineup, and we get a little upset if we find out it's someone who's just dropped in for a cup of coffee and a hamburger."

"We have got to do that some time," Tanisha smiled. "After the stories I've heard, it'd be fun to see it. And after all, it's still my address, as far as Georgia Tech is concerned. Who knows, I might get asked about it sometime, and it'd help to have a few details."

"I wouldn't mind," Jon smiled. "That's assuming we survive Saturday, of course."

"What's Saturday?" Karin asked.

"Oh, Jeez, I wasn't going to say," Jon shook his head. "Tani and I went out of our minds the other day and signed up for the Sun Marathon."

"Marathon?" Karin and Crystal said in unison, incredulity showing.

"You're kidding!" Karin said. "Back in Chicago you couldn't run across the street!"

"Well, I couldn't then," Jon said. "But Tani and I have been running for years, you remember us at the company 10K last year. We did better this year, and I think we probably went a little crazy."

"We think, if we can take it easy and pace ourselves, we should be able to make it," Tanisha added. "No great time, most likely, but it'd be nice to say we did it."

"Would you like us to come down and cheer you on?" Karin asked.

"Aw, Mom, you don't have to," Jon shook his head. "But yes, I wouldn't mind."

"We'll be here," Al said.

"Me, too," Crystal added.

"And me," Scooter smiled.

"I'm not scheduled at the Redlite this weekend," Jennlynn told them. "Unless a charter comes up that I can't stick Mike with, I'll be there, too."

"Jeez," Crystal sighed, "My brother running a marathon. I would never, ever have believed it."

"Crystal," Jon laughed. "Would you have ever believed Mom becoming a Grand Canyon boatman?"

"Not in the slightest," she shook her head. "A couple years ago I would have thought that it was about as unlikely as Nanci becoming one."

Thus it was that two days later, Karin, Al, Crystal, and Scooter, were back in Phoenix with Jennlynn, working their way to several vantage places around the route of the Sun Marathon. Jon and Tanisha weren't among the leaders, in fact, toward the rear of the field, running side by side, often hand in hand, but hanging in there. It seemed to Crystal that they were getting pretty beat and slow the last few miles, but they kept going and finished, hand in hand, together -- like they did virtually everything -- in 6:35:07, which was not a bad time for them considering they had never run more than a 10K before.

They were hot, tired, sweaty and exhausted when they past the finish line -- but happy that they'd accomplished what would have seemed like an impossible dream not all that long ago, and their own cheering section was especially proud of them. "Jon," Crystal exulted. "That's the first time in years that I've been proud that my last name is Chladek. You did wonderful!"

"I feel like I'm about dead," he panted. "But maybe I can do better next year."

It was not till they had a chance to be alone the next day that Crystal told Scooter that Karin had asked her about that statement about her last name. "I told her that it was the truth," she said. "Hell, my last name should never have been Chladek at all. I don't want to do anything until after the wedding, which means that I can't do it until next winter, but I'm going to change it to Buck, like it should have been all along."

"How'd she take it?"

"She didn't jump for joy," Crystal shrugged. "She said that after all, Pete did a lot to raise me. And she's right. But he lost claim on me when I went out the door, just like Jennlynn's family lost claim on her when they threw her out. She found the Hoffmans to serve as a surrogate family. I found the Clarks before my family reformed around me. Jon isn't a hell of a lot happier with his father than I am, but he is his father. He's not mine. I intend to honor my father, and she understands that, but she's getting her name changed too."

"I understand," Scooter replied. "Really, I can't blame you, either."

"There's one other reason," Crystal grinned, seeking to lighten a heavy rant. "I have never once, not ever, had someone spell my last name right just from hearing it. People damn well better be able to spell 'Buck'."


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