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 44

November 25 - December 2, 2000

Antelope Valley

They worked hard the next week at getting the winter de-rigging as far along as they could, and Michelle was out there with them, working hard. They'd already packed the Mustang on Thursday after work, and even had their snowboards strapped to the roof for a quick getaway. About noon, Al came out to the barn and said, "You kids have been banging it out pretty good, why don't you get out of here for a few days?"

They didn't need a second invitation; they were gone in minutes. Light was fading when they hit Las Vegas; since neither Crystal nor Scooter had been there, they got a cheap motel room and hit the town. Scooter invested ten bucks in slot machines, and figured that was more than enough; they wandered around some, checking out some of the fantastic sights, and took in a couple shows. They slept in a little on Saturday, then got up, did a little more sightseeing, then hit the road for Lake Tahoe.

About an hour out of Las Vegas, they came over a hill and saw a strange sight: a fairly large building, with a tower about like an oil derrick sitting in front of it. On top was a red rotating light; as they drew closer, they could see the logo and the name: "Redlite Ranch Bordello."

"That must be the place, huh?" Michelle said.

"I'd say the odds are pretty good, considering," Scooter wisecracked. "That continental breakfast didn't set too well with me. Want to stop in and have a decent breakfast?"

"Stop in?" Michelle frowned. "You mean . . ."

"Yeah," Scooter teased, and told her about Jennlynn saying that visitors were welcome to drop in for breakfast or lunch during slow periods.

"I, um, well, I dunno," Michelle temporized.

"I don't believe it," Crystal smirked. "Here's the girl who can take aboard enough alcohol to cook meals for a whole trip, dance on a table in a string bikini and then nail a backflip to the floor, and she's scared to stop in for a cup of coffee, and maybe bacon and eggs."

"Right," Scooter said. "Who not only runs Crystal right down the center, but once ran back up and swam it in her life jacket and a string bikini."

"That's different," Michelle protested. "I mean, I thought about working there or someplace like that a couple of times, just to think it through, not that I intended to do it."

"Hey," Crystal perked up as they got closer. "Jennlynn must be here! At least, that's her Learjet, I think."

"Right," Scooter smiled. "N590SH, that's Skyhook, the plane she flew us to Spearfish Lake in. Let's drop in and say 'hi'."

"Yeah," Crystal nodded. "I've always kind of wondered what that place is like ever since I've known her."

"You guys can if you want," Michelle said dubiously. "I think I better stay in the car."

"Stay in the car if you want," Scooter said. "We don't mind. We'll preserve your honor. Every time the story comes up around a campfire, and that'll be every trip, we'll make sure to mention you chickened out."

"Scooter, you wouldn't . . ." she stopped for a second, and sighed. "Yeah, I guess you would. Christ, I hope my folks don't find out."

"Michelle Rawson, Wild Woman of the Grand Canyon," Scooter shook her head. "Do you know how many stories about you are floating around? How many are true? How many have they heard? How much do they believe of it?"

"Yeah, but there's a lot of stuff they don't know," she protested.

"You've got the perfect reason, and the perfect excuse," Scooter persisted. "And if they ask, we can tell them the absolute truth."

"Or, if you prefer," Crystal laughed. "We could tell them you were checking it out as a possible winter job."

"You guys are going to get me killed," she sighed as she braked to turn into the nearly empty parking lot in front of the building. "Just fucking dead. If I get thrown out of the house can I go roomies with you?"

"Sure," Scooter said. "That's assuming you don't take a winter job here instead." She let out a sigh and continued. "Of course, that's sort of how I understand Jennlynn got into this business. Her parents threw her out of the house and she wound up doing this. But you have to admit she's done pretty well for herself."

Michelle shut off the engine and they got out of the car. "Oh, Christ, I'm scared," she said. "I've never been this scared in a rapids."

"Nothing to be scared of," Scooter said, trying to keep up a good front and cover up the fact that she was a little bit concerned herself. This had started as a tease and turned into a dare.

The building was surrounded by a high brick and wrought-iron fence -- decorative, but also pretty solid, and that didn't make them any less nervous. In years of running rafts, Scooter had learned that it was all right to be nervous but better to not pass it on to customers, and she was drawing on that training as they walked over to a decorative gate. There was an obvious bell button, along with a sign: "RING BELL - PUSH GATE - HAVE FUN." Taking a deep breath and trying to cover it up, Scooter pushed the button, once, then again.

A woman's voice replied from a hidden loudspeaker. "May I help you ladies?"

"Yeah, we're here for breakfast," Scooter replied. "Jennlynn told us to drop by if we ever got in the area, and we saw her plane's here."

There was a "snap" as the gate unlocked. "Well, come on in," the voice said. "Jennlynn's here, but I don't think she's up yet, she partied pretty late last night."

Taking another deep breath, Scooter pushed the gate open and led the way up an Astro-Turf sidewalk to an ornate front door. Before they got to the door, it opened, and a slender, medium-height gray-haired woman in a tasteful, conservative dress stepped into the doorway. "Welcome to the Redlite Ranch," she said. "I'm Shirley Hoffman, the house manager."

"Are you one of the Hoffmans who have the ranch?" Scooter asked. "Jennlynn told us about it at Thanksgiving."

"Oh!" Shirley brightened as she stepped back to let them inside. "You're the people she spent Thanksgiving with? The raft guides? From the stories she's passed along I don't know how I'd ever have the guts to do what you do."

"I think that works both ways," Crystal said as Shirley led the way toward the dining room. "I don't know how I'd have the guts to do what she does."

"It's what you're used to, I suppose," Shirley shrugged. "I got over it a long time ago; it's how I've spent my life." She turned to a tall young man in a white shirt and bartender's apron and said, "Danny, these ladies are here for breakfast. Watch out for them. They're certifiably crazy; they run rafts down the Grand Canyon for a living."

"Oh, we don't bite," Crystal said. "Well, not very often, anyway."

"Well, come this way and have a seat," Danny smiled. "Coffee, ladies?"

In only an instant, he was back with three steaming cups of coffee, and menus. "I might suggest the western omelet this morning," he said professionally. "It's the special this morning, and I think Sarah does remarkably well with it. But take a minute to look over the menu if you like."

"I'll go see if Jennlynn is stirring," Shirley said. "Like I told you, she went a little late; I hate to wake her up till she gets up. I'll be back in a minute; it'll be nice to have someone to talk to who doesn't have a hangover at this hour." She turned and was gone.

"She seems pretty cheerful," Michelle commented to Danny.

"She usually is pretty upbeat," Danny told her. "This is about the deadest time of the day, so it's nice to have someone new come in. All three of you are Grand Canyon raft guides?"

"All three of us," Scooter said.

Danny looked at Michelle. "I find it hard to believe that you could be old enough to do that," he grinned.

"Danny, I know it's hard to believe," Crystal said. "But she's the senior boatman in the company. She just finished her tenth year rafting. Scooter here has nine, and I have six."

"Then you started very young," he smiled. "I haven't been here very long, but I sure keep meeting remarkable people. Would you like me to be quiet and give you some time to look at the menu?"

"I don't know about these two," Scooter said. "The special sounds good to me. You haven't been here long?"

"Not quite two weeks. I'm not really a waiter, I'm a quack medicine salesman who's waiting out residency on a divorce, and doing this to kill time."

"Quack medicine salesman?"

"Yeah, herbal remedies that don't work. My ex-wife's parents had some money in the business, so I got sucked into it. But that's neither here nor there. I heard Shirley say you're looking for Jennlynn. I don't know her well, but she really seems to be something special, doesn't she?"

"She really is," Michelle said. "I met her four years ago when I was her boatman on the river."

"You weren't fooling, were you?" he smiled. "Would the other two of you care to order?"

Both Michelle and Crystal thought the western omelet sounded good, and as Danny left to take the order to the kitchen, Shirley returned. "She's up but barely running," she reported. "She says she's glad you're here and hopes you won't mind if she showers and gets her face on before she comes out."

"No problem," Crystal said. "We're in no rush. We're heading up to Tahoe to do some snowboarding, but it doesn't matter if we get there today or what."

"Snowboarding?" Shirley grinned. "Now I know you're crazy. Do you mind if I sit down? You kids sure sound interesting."

"Well, we have interesting company," Scooter said. "I take from what Jennlynn said that you've been in this business a while."

"All my life, almost," Shirley smiled. "I turned out at the age of fourteen in 1943 up at Maybelle's in Ely, and except for a few years in the late '40s and early '50s I've been in it ever since. As far as I know I'm the longest-standing carded prostitute in the state, although I only party with old friends or special cases anymore."

"Like Scooter said, interesting company," Michelle smiled. "Can I ask why the fence around this place?"

"The simple answer is that it's a county ordinance, and we don't fight it. Some houses, not this one, operate under a lockdown, and the ordinance reflects that. In a lockdown, the girls have to stay on the premises while they're on their shift, which can run up to three weeks; the fence is supposed to keep them from sneaking out and seeing clients on their own, so the house doesn't get a cut. There's also a public health issue. We don't operate under a lockdown, but in general we ask that the girls stay on the property unless they have reason to go somewhere, and they have to sign in and out. Keeping the girls in has never been an issue, but every now and then we have a mad husband or a mad wife or a bunch of mad Mormon protesters or something. A few years ago we had a guy ram the gate with his car to try and get at his ex-wife to beat her up, so I say it's really to keep the assholes out."

Before long, Danny brought their breakfasts, then got a cup of coffee and sat down with them. For both sides, it was a fascinating conversation about lives that were mutually foreign. Breakfast was excellent, and shortly afterwards Jennlynn showed up; they had more of a conversation while she had breakfast. After a while, Jennlynn and Shirley took them on a tour of the premises. They were impressed; in many ways it seemed like a luxury resort. There were indoor and outdoor pools, a gym, a large jacuzzi room, bungalows with special decorations and jacuzzis, and so on.

In the end they wound up hanging around several hours, having lunch and talking with Jennlynn, Shirley, Danny, and several other girls who were starting to stir. Almost universally, the girls were astounded at what the three rafters did -- just about as much as the astonishment went the other way. Each side said they respected the other but doubted they had what it would take to do it themselves. As the afternoon wore on, they watched several lineups, girls waiting to get picked out by the customers who came in, and the thought of it scared the hell out of them. But how many lineups must Jennlynn have stood in over ten years? Or Shirley, in what was coming up on sixty? Shirley told them flat out that she'd no more get on a raft and go down the Canyon with them than she'd play Russian roulette. In fact, the latter seemed to have better odds.

"I couldn't do it," Scooter said once they were back on the road, with no hope now of making Tahoe before dark. "I mean, I like a little sportfucking once in a while, but I like to choose the guy, maybe get to know him a little. I would have real problems with just standing up in a line, and having to fuck some asshole who happened to pick me out."

"I couldn't either," Michelle said. "But I have to say that I was real glad you two just about dragged me in there, because it was absolutely fascinating all the way around. I may be crazy, I may do crazy stuff, but there are limits and that proved it."

"I couldn't either," Crystal chorused. "But I can't get over the fact that they think we're crazier than we think they are. And they may be right."

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To be continued . . .

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