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 54

May 3 - 5, 2001

Flagstaff

The trail was familiar -- she'd hiked it a couple months earlier; one of the hike-ins had done it a couple years before, it turned out, so he was familiar with it, too. She suggested he take point since the trail could be tough to find in spots. Scooter figured she'd take sweep, to make sure everybody made it up all right, but right now her mind was mostly on other things.

A little ways up the trail she turned around for one last look at the six rafts and the river. She was sad to have to leave her best friend behind and then not see her for months. It was hard to leave a trip that had started rough but had turned into a lot of fun. There were questions there she knew she'd like to see worked out -- would Nanci continue to work out as a swamper? Would Nicole conquer her fear? She figured she'd find out sometime, maybe from Karin in the office later in the summer, maybe from Crystal in the fall, but it wouldn't be the same as being there.

In the last few words she'd exchanged with Crystal, it seemed as if her friend was saying that she wasn't going to compete for Jim at all. That opened that question up wide -- the whole idea of taking Jim to bed had hinged on accomplishing much on the three turnarounds when they could get together without Crystal. It might be that Jim would even run with them in the fall, but maybe it wasn't too good an idea to hope for that. Things were changing on this trip, were going to change this summer; she could feel it in her gut -- and it seemed likely that some of the changes were things she wasn't expecting. She turned and looked back again, but Team 2 and her friends were hidden behind the rocks.

Duane wasn't far ahead of her, and she picked up her pace a little to catch up with him, to be able to talk with him a little. "Sure is hard to leave that crowd," she said absently.

"Yeah," he replied, "They say any river trip you can walk away from is a good one, but I don't think they were talking about a walk like this."

"It's not too bad," Scooter replied. "Of course, it's not too good, either. But yeah, this is the hard way to walk away from one."

"Yeah, I'm sure going to miss some of those people, especially Josh and Tiffany."

"I noticed you were pretty thick with them, and every time I got near to you on the river you were talking dogs or they were telling dogsledding stories."

"They have a lot of them to tell," he replied. "Looks like I'm going to have a few to tell myself. Back up at Cardenas, they offered me a job as a dog handler for the winter. I'm taking them up on it. That's what we were talking about back at the trail head."

"Duane," Scooter shook her head, "You've heard that story Crystal tells about feeding dogs and cleaning up dog shit all winter. I've been there; it's fucking acres of dogs."

"Things are a little different, they tell me," he said. "They're building a big new dog barn this summer to make feeding and cleanup a lot easier. They tell me that their main concern is that they get someone to put a lot of trail miles on the dogs, since Tiffany's not going to be much help. If everything goes all right I may get to run some races this winter. Local ones, not the Iditarod, but it looks like I'll get to go to Alaska in March to help out."

"Sounds like a deal," Scooter nodded. "Better than sitting on your ass all winter. Does this mean you're quitting the river?"

"No, I still want to stay with it," he said. "But you're right, it ought to beat sitting on my ass. I talked with Al about it. I told him that I'd work as late in the fall as he needs me to, but as fall gets along Josh and Tiffany are going to be needing me more and more. He said we'll see when we get there."

"I took a ride on one of their dogsleds once and it was fun, but I guess it's OK if you like that kind of thing. Duane, you keep that shit up and you're going to be freezing your ass running a dog team across Alaska in the dead of winter."

"I hope so," he said. "It might be a few years. Wouldn't that make for some neat tales around a river campfire?"

"It sure would," she grinned. "I'm just hoping I get to hear some of them next summer."

"Oh, I'm coming back unless something unexpected happens. I plan on being here for the first trip next spring."

"The unexpected has a way of happening,especially in this company." She shook her head, "We got a dose or two of it on this trip. But hey, we're both outdoor nuts, we have to be prepared for the unexpected and take advantage of it when it happens. Good deal, even if you come back to us frozen like a Popsicle."

They talked for a while longer, but soon the talk died out. It was a long climb to the top, roughly the equivalent of climbing Mt. Katahdin back when she'd done the AT, so it wasn't something that couldn't be done. She was going well and the knees weren't giving trouble, but some of the people ahead of her weren't exactly Nicole-level power hikers, either. By the time they were getting close to the top, some of them were dragging their butts pretty good, and there was a group of half a dozen that she and Duane had to keep pushing. As a result, it was getting close to dark before they got to the top trailhead, where Ray was waiting with his Jeep Cherokee. Scooter was just about butt whipped herself when she crawled into the seat and hung on while the Jeep wallowed out the bad road to where Jimmie was waiting with the crew bus.

 

It was another hour and a half before they were getting close to the office, later than she figured, probably later than Jim would have wanted to wait for her. Shit, all that worry shot in the ass, she thought. Well, for once we don't have to unload and clean gear tonight. She had only a few things she really wanted to accomplish, like a couple beers, some food, and some sleep.

To her surprise, Jim was waiting near the door of the crew bus as she got off. "I was just thinking I wasn't going to see you," she said. "We wound up running later than I thought."

"We had some trouble with a truck, we just wrapped up in the last half hour ourselves," he said. "I figured I'd better come by and see if the deal was still on."

"As far as I'm concerned, it is," she told him. "But I'd like to have a couple beers and something to eat before we head over to the house because I don't want to have to mess around with cooking something myself when we get there. And for once I'm really not interested in a Burroburger."

"Works for me," he told her. "How about one of the places out by the highway?"

"Sounds just fine," she replied. "Let's take your car; we'll pick up the Dodge tomorrow or something."

"I sometimes wonder how Crystal keeps that thing running," he commented as they headed for his Chevy.

"I do, too," Scooter admitted. "The answer is that she doesn't run it much. Back on the river, she was talking some deal with her brother about some kind of trade; I wouldn't be surprised if it comes off. So how was your trip?"

"Pretty good," he said as they got to the car. "Really pretty routine. Had a guy who couldn't get around very well; he was on crutches, and two or three of us had to lift him on and off the rig, but he had a heck of a good time. How about you?"

"For a half-trip it was pretty interesting," she told him as she opened the door and got in. It felt good to sit in a nice, soft, relaxing car seat, not the hard benches of the bus or the rocks of the river. "Neat wedding, and there's a couple new stories to tell."

A beer and something to eat, and the chance to sit on something that wasn't moving made some inroads on the fatigue she felt from the stress of the unusual trip and the hike out. She began to feel more human, and once again the question floated to her mind. Finally her brain suggested that they just head out to the house and see what happened before they fell asleep, whatever the hell the bed arrangement worked out to be.

It seemed strange to walk into the house. She hadn't been there for almost a month -- on the burnaround last week there hadn't been the need to come out here, nor had there been the time. When she got inside, it seemed doubly strange, because Karin's stuff was gone and her room now empty. She'd known that Karin was planning on living out of her suitcase toward the end and moving the last of her stuff over to Al's before they left on the trip. Apparently that had happened; Michelle had also obviously been there and dropped off the clean laundry that they'd left for her to do at the burnaround. "Home, sweet home," she sighed.

"Better than a motel room," he replied. "Where do you want me to stay?"

Scooter turned toward him, with a smile on her still-exhausted face. "Jim," she said. "I've been trying to figure out a way to say this, and I'm just too damn tired to be creative. You know what I told you down at Redwall, that there's an empty bed in this house?"

"Yeah, I remember that."

"Jim, the bed that feels emptiest is mine," she sighed. "I'm sorry that I'm just too beat to shit to do much about it tonight, but I'd be pleased if you'd help make it a little less lonely."

He took a step toward her, and took her in his arms. "I've spent the last few days hoping that's about what you were trying to say, because I wanted to say something like that to you," he said warmly. "I'd love to do more, but I'm a bit beat to shit myself to be able to do a good job. What do you say we take a shower, get some sleep, and do it right tomorrow?"

"That may be the best proposition I've ever had," she smiled, pulling him close and kissing him on the lips. It was a warm kiss, and it went on for quite a while. By God, maybe this was going to work! "I'll take you up on it," she said as they pulled apart.

"Sounds good to me."

"There's only one problem," she said as she pulled back a little, "The water heater in here is tiny. You can have a hot shower, but not a long one."

"That's all right; I could stand a Hollywood shower, but I don't absolutely have to have one."

"Hollywood shower?"

"That's what we call a real shower in the Navy. To save water on ships you have to get wet, shut it off, soap up, then rinse it off."

"Hey, Jim," she grinned. "I know another way to save water. Shower with a friend."

 

Although she'd done some sportfucking now and then over the years, Scooter had only rarely woken up in a bed after a night with a man, and the snugness of the three-quarter bed only made this seem more intimate. They'd had their Hollywood shower, soaping each other down and letting the hot water rinse them down until it ran cold, and then they barely noticed since the feeling of their hands on each other was about enough to make all the heat they needed. But, not quite enough; they got out of the shower, dried off, and headed for her bed to warm up by cuddling each other nude under the covers. Though they both claimed exhaustion, it led right where they both expected, and it wasn't to sleep. It felt pretty damn good, and not like sportfucking at all.

But now, it was morning -- early morning; river time was still on the both of them, used to getting up before dawn to get started on breakfast to get back on the river early. They were still snuggled up pretty tight together, and the narrow bed had something to do with it. Scooter had been lying awake for a while, just enjoying the sensation and the cuddling, when she started to realize that he was awake, too -- and probably had been for a while. "I'll bet you're thinking that you'd better get the rest of the crew up, right?" he whispered.

"Wake up, crew," she whispered back, for no more good reason than her lips were only inches from his ear.

"It's too damn early to wake up," he protested. "We're not on the river. But, hell, there's no going back to sleep, not that I want to."

"Me either," she smiled. "I'd rather be awake like this."

"I've got an idea of something we can do to pass the time."

"It better involve more of what you were sticking into me last night," she giggled, and slipped her hand down to where it was ready, hard, and waiting, and getting a grip.

"Funny you should mention that," he grinned.

For quite a while there was no more talking. Moaning, sighing, deep breathing, sounds of ecstasy and enjoyment, there were plenty of those. It was some time before they just lay there holding each other in their arms, relaxed and sated, but it was quite a pleasurable time. It was light outside now, although still on the early side for many people. "You got any plans for today?" she asked in a more normal tone of voice.

"About the only thing I can think of is to get up and take another Hollywood shower together until the hot water gives out," he smiled. "Then come back here to warm up while the water heater catches up, then do it all over again."

"Sounds like a hell of a plan," she grinned. "And in fact, pretty close to what I had in mind. But I mean seriously."

"Other than laundry, not much," he said. "How about you?"

"Laundry, and I need to take a run into a big-box store for a few things," she told him. "But we can do that later. Right now, I like your idea better."

She was on her knees in the shower when the hot water ran out, but she barely noticed, and neither did he. They got warmed up soon afterward, with him down between her knees, using his tongue on her powerfully before they got conventional and exhausted themselves again, and afterward wound up cuddling under the covers. "Really, I hate to say this, since I'm enjoying it so much," she smiled. "But I could stand to get up and have some breakfast."

"I think I could, too," he admitted. "But if you want to just lay here in my arms for a while, I think that would be about as nice."

"God, you say the sweetest things," she said, snuggling just a little closer, resting her head on his shoulder. "How come a guy like you wasn't caught a long time ago?"

"Good question," he smiled as he put his hand on her breast; in spite of the last couple hours, it still felt exciting. "The simple answer is that the right woman hasn't come along."

"What do you mean, the right woman?"

"Face it, Scooter, we're both outdoor bums," he told her. "I've met women who are interesting, a lot of them at the ski lodge. But it always seems like they want to civilize me. I'm not particularly interested in being civilized, and I don't think you are, either."

"By civilized, you mean like regular jobs, a mortgage, kids, shit like that, right?" she frowned. "You're right, not interested."

"I thought that the first time I met you," he smiled. "That's been, what? Two years now, I guess. Back then I don't think I'd realized how thorough an outdoor bum I was. Too much Navy in me, I guess. I told you a while back I'd like to be able to spend the time in the Canyon that you do."

"Yeah, I remember that," she replied, realizing that his long-range plans may have been running in pretty much the same channels as hers had been. "Did you ever meet Louise?"

"Just once, and real briefly."

"Have you ever heard the story of how she and Al got together?"

"She went home and her husband gave her a choice between him and the Canyon, and she chose the Canyon, right?"

"That's the story; it's no secret," Scooter nodded. "Down at the bottom line, I'm the same way. I'm not going to absolutely promise to stay in the Canyon forever and ever, but there's no way I can stand that regular-job shit. I tried it once and I learned it wasn't for me."

She could feel him squeeze her a little tighter as he said, "I tried it for four years in the Navy and learned it wasn't for me, either. But Scooter, there's been times that it's been damn lonely."

"Me too, babe. Me too."

 

It wouldn't be fair to say that they spent all day in bed, but they weren't done for the day when they got up. Crystal and Scooter had rarely cooked when they were on a turnaround break, and she didn't now, either. They drove to a neighborhood breakfast/lunch place, had a long, lazy, talkative breakfast with several cups of coffee that didn't have to be strained through a sieve, then drove to K-Mart for some shopping. When they got that done, they took their laundry over to the Burro, and, since it was still early, stuck with soft drinks and Burroburgers while it was getting done.

Eventually they headed back to the house; Scooter had in mind picking up where they left off earlier, and suspected he did too. As it turned out they got a couple beers from the refrigerator, settled on the couch, and nursed them for a while as they talked about the river, things they had done in the past, and things they hoped to do in the future. There was some cuddling and kissing going on there, as well, and eventually another enjoyable visit to the bedroom. After a while, they drove back out to the highway for dinner and thought about going to the Burro for another beer, but decided they'd both rather be back at the house doing more fun things. All in all it was a fun day, and although neither one of them quite articulated it, if someone had asked, both would have admitted to being boyfriend and girlfriend by the time the day was over with.

Saturday started out much the same way, an early wakeup and an enjoyable morning session before going out for breakfast -- but afterwards, Jim dropped her off at Canyon Tours and headed on over to his shop. He had groceries and packing to do much the same as she did. Michelle was in the office when Scooter walked in to check the manifest for the number of passengers and do a couple other such items of business. "I figured I'd see you in here yesterday," she smiled.

"No, it was a day off; I took off and did something else."

"A little lonely with Crystal still on the river?" Michelle smirked.

"Sort of, but I found something else to do," Scooter smiled, figuring where this was headed but wanting to tease Michelle out a little.

"So I heard," Michelle grinned. "The word at the Burro was that you and Jim had trouble keeping your hands off each other when you were doing laundry. Did you have trouble with it any other time?"

"Didn't bother trying," Scooter grinned. "I always figured he was pretty cool, and I was right. Anyway, I'd ask you if there was any news topside, but you've been on the river with me so I know better than to ask."

"It seems strange," Michelle admitted. "Well, I guess I get to go with Team 2 next trip, maybe that'll get things back in shape. I suppose you're interested in your next trip?"

"It always helps to know how many you're buying groceries for," Scooter nodded. "By the way, I want to thank you again for the job you and Jeff and Jimmie did on the groceries last time. We couldn't have done it any other way."

"We've talked about doing it that way regularly, but this way the trip leader at least knows what they've got and where it is," Michelle nodded. "Anyway, you have a full passenger load this trip, and you already know about crew. Al said you're going to have to make do with Wade and Hannah as swampers, but you might have another one the next trip, either a first-year or a high school tryout, he didn't know."

"Yeah, he told me, too," Scooter nodded as the back door opened and Jerry came in, along with a shorter red-haired girl. "Hi, guy," she said. "You having a good break?"

"Pretty decent," he smiled. "The word around the Burro last night was that you were having a pretty good one yourself."

"Jeez, did they put it on the radio station, too?"

"If it comes out in the Burro it might as well be, at least among rafters, you know that," he snickered. "I don't know if you knew my girlfriend, Kelly, but she came along to help us with the groceries, she did it last year. Kelly, this is Scooter, the trip leader on my team this summer."

"Hi," Kelly said, obviously sizing Scooter up as that possibility of her being any competition. "I don't think we've met."

"I don't think so either," she replied. "Unless you were at the season closer last year. I didn't run with Jerry last year but I did some the year before."

"I had to work when the party was on," Kelly nodded, apparently figuring that since Scooter was several years older, the chances that she might make a move on Jerry seemed unlikely, so she loosened right up. "Yeah, Jerry told me about running with you and this other girl. It sounds like you have a good time down there."

"Mostly it's a lot of work, but we have our moments," Scooter smiled. "The idea is to make it fun for the customers, and some of it rubs off. Have you ever run?"

"No, I've thought about it, but I don't think I could handle it."

"I know Al occasionally lets girlfriends or boyfriends sign on as swampers so they can get a freebie trip," Scooter said. "He'd probably let you come."

"He told me," she admitted. "But, well, I don't know about it. I'd be kind of scared."

Oh shit, Jerry, Scooter thought. You are in trouble up to your ass, and you don't know it; you're just letting your dick think for you. We have got to have a little talk down the river somewhere, not that it'll do any good the way you're looking at her. Just like Jim said, she's found her wild man, now she wants to civilize him. "We had a woman on the last trip who was so scared she almost walked out after the first rapids," Scooter told her, and decided to stretch the truth a little for Jerry's sake. "By the time we got done with Adrenaline Alley she was enjoying it so much that I thought she was going to ask Al for a job. It could still happen; she's on one of the trips that's still on the river. The Canyon will do things like that to you."

"Jerry's told me that," Kelly replied. "Maybe someday."

"You'd be welcome," Scooter smiled. "Come along with us this summer; we've got a good crew; we ought to have a good time."

"Well, maybe," she said dubiously.

They talked around for a couple minutes before Jerry and Kelly headed back outside, while Scooter and Michelle went over the manifest. "The odds are getting longer that Crystal's not going to have to do it," Michelle said, shaking her head.

"Do what?"

"Walk down Main in a blizzard wearing her Wild Wet."


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