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 50

April 26 - 27, 2001

Lee's Ferry

In a number of ways it was the strangest Canyon Tours Grand Canyon trip that Scooter had been on yet. To begin with, there was the mad rush to be able to launch on Friday instead of Monday, to give them a chance to catch up with the Team 1 trip four days ahead. In spite of six rafts, one more than normal, it was very light on passengers. All were invited wedding guests, although some had insisted on paying the normal fee. Scooter knew that Randy and Nicole were among them -- there had been discussion of it in Florida -- but she didn't know who the others were. They were guests, passengers, and not exactly customers.

It was late in the day when they pulled into Lee's Ferry. When they pulled in, they could see that the S-rigs from Jim's company were well along in rigging -- Jim had swapped pre-trip duties with another boatman who wasn't running to cut the other boatman some schedule slack later in the month. Since they'd be busy, Scooter just reminded Jim of their date at the end of next week, and let it go at that. She still hadn't made up her mind one way or the other about offering to take him to bed, but didn't have to make her mind up until next weekend, so didn't give any hints.

Though it was late, they turned to the unloading and rigging of the rafts, most of which had come out of the water at Diamond Creek a few hours before. Darkness fell before they were finished, but they were far enough along that they decided to let finishing up go until morning. They loaded on the crew bus and went up to the bar in Marble Canyon for dinner and a couple beers; Jim and his crew were there, but Scooter didn't say anything much to them because they were in the middle of their own bull session. After Jeff hauled them back to the boat launch, the guy who had done the pre-trip stuff for Jim got on the Canyon Tours crew bus and rode back to Flagstaff, along with Crystal, who was going to spell Jeff on the driving and officially meet the guests at the Phoenix airport and elsewhere in town early the next morning.

Along in the evening, Al and Karin got Scooter off to the side. "Did Crystal tell you about the special deal we're doing with Randy and Noah?" he asked.

"Nothing much," Scooter shrugged.

"You remember Randy's rant back in Florida about not getting to go anywhere, don't you?" Al smiled.

"Jeez, yes," she shook her head. "He was pissed and trying not to show it."

"You remember when he ran Lava, and afterwards he yelled, 'The hell with construction, I'd rather be a boatman?'"

"Oh, yes," Scooter grinned. "Even with everything else that happened on that trip, it was the high point of it for him."

"I also remember how he had to submit to reality that he'd have to go back to construction," Al smirked. "Ever since Florida, we've been trying to figure out some way to make this trip a little special for him, so we're going to make him sort of an honorary boatman."

"Huh?"

"The insurance requires that someone make four trips to be a boatman, right?" Al grinned. "This will be his second. Crystal and I worked out the last piece of it on the way up here."

"Just to make him feel a little more special, right?"

"What Crystal is going to tell Randy is that if he'll make two more trips after this, we'll carry him as a reserve boatman and call on him when we need a spare hand in the early or late seasons. It'll probably never happen, but we're hoping it'll be a nice gesture to him."

"Yeah, he might appreciate it," Scooter nodded.

"It probably won't solve anything but might make him feel a little better. Crystal owes him, I owe him, and he won't even take a comped trip as a gesture of thanks. So we have to sneak it by him. Noah is in on the deal because he's a long-time rafter, and we can't really offer this setup to Randy without offering it to him. Anyway, what that means for you is that you can have them on the sticks as much as they want to be. The thing is, I want them to be with you or Crystal most of the time, maybe Duane some of the time if needed. I want to run with all the younger ones at least a little so I can be sure in my own mind they're ready."

 

Everyone turned in early; people were tired, some from the hustle of the long day, some from studying for finals, and Trey from driving all night. But, river habits took over, and the boatmen were stirring at first light. They threw together a pretty good breakfast, then turned to the final loading and rigging. Even considering that it was the first rig of the season for most of the crew and many of them had never worked together before, it went pretty well. Finally, they reached the point where there wasn't much left to do until the bus got in.

Usually, they knew when the customer bus from Las Vegas would get in within ten minutes or so, and that was hours later than it was now. This time no one was real certain, since it was the crew bus and coming up from Phoenix. Once they'd done about what they could do, Scooter sat back on the nose of her raft, and just let a few minutes drift by. It was a nice day, although there was a breeze coming upriver, and there was a good chance it would turn into a wind that would be tough to row into. She glanced over to where Jim was in the group working on the motor rigs, and thought about going over to talk to him, but it looked like they were holding some sort of a crew meeting so she thought she'd better butt out. Maybe she could get a minute before they got on the river. She thought about getting out her traditional pre-trip cigar and lighting it, but with no idea when the bus would be in she'd pretty much have to wait until she saw it coming down the valley. Might as well get it out, she thought, that way it'll be ready.

She was just digging in the dry box when she heard a car approaching. She looked up to see Crystal's white Dodge approaching, faster than it should have been -- in other words, normal speed for Crystal.

"Now what the hell?" Scooter said to no one in particular, knowing she was supposed to be on the bus, not driving her car here. Everyone on the trip watched as Crystal slid to a stop as close on the ramp as she could get to them. Doors popped open, and people began piling out -- Crystal, Jon, Tanisha, and a small blonde with a black eye and bruises who Scooter didn't recognize.

"My God, that's Nanci!" she heard Karin gasp.

In a few moments, mother and long-lost daughter were in a deep embrace, as Al and the rest of his pickup family watched, Scooter and the rest of the crew also watching from a distance far enough away to give them some privacy. Nanci was smaller than Scooter had imagined, smaller than her mother -- and looking very forlorn, especially with that healing black eye and other bruises. Someone had worked her over pretty well, she thought. Boy, with everything else that's going down right now, this takes the prize! Over the years, she'd heard Crystal bitching and griping a lot about Nanci and how her wildness and thoughtlessness had ended up with Crystal being driven out of the house, to Jon leaving -- and, for that matter, led to Karin leaving and getting a divorce. Now here she was. Why now, of all times?

"Scooter!" she heard Karin yell, "Would you take Nanci over to the restrooms and get her a soda or something?"

"Sure," she replied, realizing that they needed to discuss this. She swung off the raft tube and sauntered over to the little group. "Come on, Nanci." she told the little blonde. Up close, she resembled Michelle a little -- they both were relatively short, slender, with long blonde hair. Scooter knew that Nanci was younger than Michelle, although their boatman friend looked a lot younger than Nanci had to be. But Nanci looked even older than Michelle really was -- the bruises and the air of defeat added to that.

After all the stories, Scooter was prepared to instantly dislike the girl, but thought she might as well be civil. "What happened to you?" she asked as they walked over toward the restrooms where there was a soda machine.

"The guy I was living with knew I had a little money and wanted to buy drugs," she said, almost crying. "I couldn't take that shit anymore and knew I had to get out of Chicago. This was the only place I could think of to come. I've been driving for two days, and I barely made it; I was almost out of gas."

Scooter shook her head. Nanci had all but told her that she'd blown every cent she had to find her mother and Crystal. What timing! How was this going to louse things up? "If he was that kind of asshole, it's just as well you left him," she replied, not able to think of much else to say.

Usually, what little money Scooter would take with her would be deep in her night drybag, but she'd learned the first trip to have a couple bucks in change for the pop machine. Now, she let the coins tinkle into the machine, and Nanci selected a 7-Up. Scooter told her, "If you're going on this trip with us, this is your last chance to use a flush toilet for two weeks."

"I don't know if I'm going or what," Nanci admitted. "But I guess I better take the chance while I can."

She waited outside by the door watching a discussion between Karin, Al, Crystal, Jon, and Tanisha clustered around Crystal's car. Probably trying to figure out what the hell to do, she thought. Just as Nanci came out Jon waved them over. "I think we better go see what they decided," Scooter said quietly.

"God, Scooter, I'm afraid." She said, almost in a whimper. Scooter knew as well as Nanci that a lot depended on what had been discussed in the last few minutes.

"Courage, child," Scooter smiled. It wasn't a long walk across the launch ramp, but Scooter thought it must have seemed long to Nanci as they walked toward the cluster of five, and she could see that the girl was close to tears.

They walked up to the group. "Nanci, we didn't get introduced," Al said. "But I'm your mother's fiancé," he said gently, as Scooter headed back to the raft, knowing that she wasn't a part of this discussion. If they wanted her in on it, they knew where to find her.

She thought again about wandering down the ramp to have a word with Jim, but their crew meeting was still going on.

"Wonder what that's all about?" she heard Barbie say. Scooter looked up, and saw that she was sitting on a raft nearby, a can of soda in her hand. This would be her first trip with a raft of her own, but Scooter knew from experience that she was pretty good. She was a chunky girl, with short brown hair, but what looked like fat was actually pretty well muscled. Barbie was careful, not without a touch of cowboy like the three guys tended to be -- and, well, like most guys that age, and you wanted a touch of cowboy in a raft guide, anyway. Scooter hoped Al would put Barbie on Team 3 with her when they sorted everybody out for the season somewhere down river. The other three boatmen for this leg were Carl, Duane and Andy; the first two were the guys she and Crystal had pulled in from the east last year, and both of them were pretty good, too. Like Barbie, Andy was on his first trip as a boatman; he was pretty good, but tended to err on the side of caution, which was usually but not always good as a boatman. She knew Trey from last winter at Buddha and Giselle's; Ernie, the other brand new swamper was a college student from Michigan, and had been a customer on a trip last year along with his parents. He'd been pretty good about pitching in when there was work to be done, even grubby work. When he'd talked to Al about a job this summer, Al had been interested.

"Don't know," Scooter shrugged. "But if I had to guess, it looks like trouble with a T which rhymes with P which stands for nothing in particular I can think of. They'll tell us when they want."

"Yeah, I guess," Barbie replied, looking to change the subject. "Looks like a pretty good trip."

"Yeah, should be pretty good," Scooter smiled. "This is sort of a goofy trip. This isn't the usual group of customers. I know everybody on the trip, some pretty well, they're all good people."

"That's good," Barbie nodded. "Scooter, do you ever get a little nervous along about this time? I mean, I haven't run this year yet."

"The river's the same," Scooter grinned. "You'll be OK when we get out there." Truth be told, she was a little nervous, too -- she always was just before a trip. Eager, too, but you never knew quite what was going to happen. The thought lingered, enough for her to get up, pop the latch on the drybox seat of her raft, and dig deep inside for the drybag she'd been looking for when Karin called her over earlier. Might as well, she thought. The bus ought to be along pretty soon, anyway.

"Yeah, I know," Barbie said. "Scooter, what do you think Al would say if I told him I'm thinking about dumping next semester and running next fall, if there's room for me?"

"I'd think he'd be delighted," Scooter said. "Filling out the crew on the fall trips is always a bitch, but you'd have to ask him what's going down this fall. But, do you really want to do it?"

"I'm thinking about it," Barbie said. "I'm getting pretty sick of school."

"Better watch it," Scooter grinned. She found the drybag she was looking for, pulled it out, and began to unroll it. "That's sort of what happened to me, and look where I wound up." She didn't need to elaborate; she knew that Barbie had heard the story last year. She reached into the drybag, and pulled out a cigar. "Want one?" she offered Barbie.

"Are you kidding?" Barbie laughed. "Christ, I'd puke if I tried to smoke one of those things."

"Suit yourself," Scooter grinned, lit a kitchen match with her thumbnail, and used it to light the cigar.

"Barbie," she drawled, noticing that the group over near the shade was breaking up. "Do you see yourself running this ditch for the next thirty years or so?"

"Something to think about," Barbie said. "I could see doing it for a few years, but I don't think that long, though. I mean, I'd kind of like to get married or something, sometime."

"Pity," Scooter grinned. "Guess you're not a real Canyon addict. Yet, anyway."

"Not like you," Barbie laughed, watching as Al wandered over their way.

"Hey, Scoot," Al grinned. "Jeff should be in any minute now. You got another one of those stinking things?"

"Yeah," Scooter said. "You want one?"

"I could be convinced," Al said. "Barbie, do you have any idea what the customers think when they get off the bus and find their woman trip leader smoking a cigar?"

"Maybe something like, 'Oh, shit, what have I gotten into?'" Barbie grinned. "I mean, it does look a little, uh, butch."

"More like a lot," Al laughed, taking a cigar from Scooter, and lighting it from a lighter in his pocket. "Oh well, just another one of those Canyon Tours characters, I guess. Scooter, we've got another guest."

"Nanci?" Scooter observed.

"Yeah," Al replied. "Crystal told you about her, I take it?"

"Frequently," she snorted with distaste.

"Try to forget about it," Al said. "She's been through some trouble, and you'll probably hear about it before the trip's over with. Anyway, she says she wants to put the past behind her, and start over again. We don't know how much of that to believe. She's totally green, knows nothing about the Canyon. We're not going to dump on her, but we're not going to cut her a lot of slack, either. Just try to be fair, but we're going to see that she's given the chance to pull her share of the load."

"I'll try, Al," Scooter said quietly. "It's just that I know how much trouble she caused Crystal."

"Then remember that her coming is Crystal's suggestion," Al said, blowing out a big cloud of smoke from the cigar. "Right now, she's a scared kid, and she knows she's out of her depth. Try to help her, but don't put up with any shit, either."

"All right," Scooter said, and changed the subject: "Al, it's getting late. What would you say if we did a quick lunch here on the ramp as soon as the bus gets in, rather than stopping a few miles out? It'd save us some time. Besides, we ate early and most of the people on the bus are probably still running on Eastern Standard."

"Whatever you want," Al told her. "You're running this trip; I'm just along for the ride. You know the schedule."

"That's what I'm thinking," Scooter nodded. "I'd like to get past Soap Creek if we can, even if we have to run a little late. Barbie, break out a couple tables. I'll get the guys setting up. Don't get out any of the cold stuff till the bus gets here, though."

In only a few minutes they had things as set up as they could get before the bus got there. She looked around, seeing Crystal and Karin and Nanci in a deep discussion, but Jon and Tanisha were over in the shade of the tammies, along with some of the rest of the crew. She drifted over to join them. "Thought we'd get a minute in the shade before the bus gets in," Scooter said. "Ought to be here any minute now."

"Crystal passed it down the other side of Cameron," Jon reported. "They can't be very far, unless Jeff stopped to give everybody a look off the bridge."

"Might be," Scooter agreed. "Hey, I don't think you guys met Trey, he's one of the new swampers. Trey, this is Jon and Tanisha Chladek; they're Crystal's brother and sister-in-law."

"Pleased to meet you," Trey said. "Crystal and Myleigh have told me about you."

"You know Myleigh?" Jon asked, looking up at the swamper. "Something else, isn't she?"

"Yeah, we're moderately close friends," Trey smiled. "I've been kind of her pickup stage manager this spring. Haven't seen her for four days, now."

"Oh, OK," Tanisha smiled. "She stayed with us last night, and she was talking about you. She seems to think a lot of you. Glad you could help her out."

"So, how was the trip up, anyway?" Scooter asked.

"Pretty good," Jon admitted. "At least till we got to Flagstaff and found out Nanci was there. Then, it got a little crazy. Seemed a little strange to do it that way."

"Yeah," Scooter replied, wishing she could ask about Nanci, but not wanting to with Trey standing right there. "Trey, usually the customers come out of Lost Wages on a charter bus, and we don't get out of here for another couple hours, but this time Al decided to run it out of Phoenix and use the crew bus."

"Simplified it for us," Tanisha agreed. "Your first trip, Trey?"

"Yeah," Trey grinned. "Seems pretty different than anything I imagined."

"It's our first, too," Jon said. "Although we've helped rig a lot." He looked up to see the bus driving onto the parking lot. "And, here they are."

"Time to get to work, Trey," Scooter grinned, toking hard on her cigar to make sure it was running. "See you guys on the river."

Although this wasn't a normal trip, one of the things that needed to be done was to check the passengers off against the manifest, so Scooter headed for the door of the bus, with Crystal heading the same way. This time she didn't need to ask for names, because she knew everybody on the bus, some less well than others, though. It took a while, since there had to be time for a friendly greeting.

Myleigh was one of the last passengers off the bus, and of course there was a friendly greeting for her. Once it was over she looked around, spotted Trey, and made a beeline for him. She threw her arms around him, and laid what could only be called a seriously hot kiss on him.

"That," Scooter grinned to Crystal, "Doesn't seem to be your proper professor-student relationship."

"Jesus, I never saw her do that before," Crystal grinned. "Something must have happened since we last saw those two together."

"That may be the most obvious observation of the week, right behind 'the sky is blue'," Scooter snorted. "What else is going to happen before we get on the river?"


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To be continued . . .

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