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 55

May 6 - 24, 2001

Team Three's First Trip

The rest of the weekend went quickly, but enjoyably. Once they got the groceries packed, the crew headed over to the Burro; as planned, Scooter caught a ride with Carl and Duane, who were staying in the bunkhouse in the barn that crews occasionally used on turnaround. Jim showed up before too much longer; they had a couple beers and another Burroburger, and then announced they had things to do, so went back to the house and were soon doing what they really wanted to be doing. Sunday morning, they each had their normal loading to take place in their own companies' parking lots before the trips up to Lee's Ferry. And as for the rigging -- for once they'd be doing it at the same time, not a common occurrence, and to do it two trips in a row was unprecedented.

Around nine on Sunday, Jim drove her over to the Canyon Tours lot. He pulled into a parking space and said, "Scooter, you know how it is up at Lee's, we might not get a lot of time, but let's try for a few minutes."

"Right," she said. "Maybe, if it works out, both crews can head up to the bar about the same time."

"I'd like that." He let out a sigh. "Scooter, this has been a wonderful weekend, and I thank you. It was a lot more than I ever figured."

"I hope that's not a 'but' I'm about to hear."

"I don't think so," he said. "Look, you don't have to if you don't want, but I'd sure like to do it again."

"That kind of 'but' I can handle," she smiled. "How about three weeks from last Thursday?"

"How about three weeks from last Friday, that's when we get in."

"Guess we'll have to make it work," she sighed. "Let's not piss around with laundry while we're together, that'll save us some time."

"Works for me," he grinned. "Scooter, like I said, I had a great time. The thing is, maybe over the next three weeks we want to make up our minds if we're just having a good time or we want it to go somewhere."

"You better believe I'll be thinking about it," she smiled, squirming around in the seat to kiss him. "Let's not waste time now; we can talk about it then."

The kiss went on for a long time before they broke apart. "Hey, babe," he whispered. "You take care of yourself."

"You too, babe," she smiled. "See you on the river."

 

The rigging went well -- there was no reason it shouldn't; four of the five boatmen on the crew had rigged together last time, and that speeded things up a lot. Wade and Hannah did a great job helping out, and Scooter told the crew that everyone needed to make sure the two swampers got plenty of time on the sticks; she or Jerry would let them row some of the big ones on each trip. Privately, Scooter would not have been surprised if either or both of them got raised to boatman towards the end of the summer if the crews shifted around to need extras, and they were hands-down favorites to be boatmen next year.

The rigging went so well, in fact, that Scooter and a couple others spent a few minutes hanging around with the motor-rig crew as they rigged -- in several ways a much more complicated job than it was for the oar boats. That evening, they all went up to the bar for the last chance before the customers, but it was a big, friendly gang of rafters from the two crews, and while there were some good stories told, she and Jim didn't get much time together.

They did get a few minutes the next morning, while Scooter was waiting for the customer bus -- the motor-rig bus was about an hour behind, on the normal schedule. They just leaned back against a raft talking, until she saw the customer bus coming down the road. She pulled her traditional cigar from her hatband, lit it, and turned to Jim and said. "Time to get the game face on, guy," she smiled. "I'm looking forward to next time."

"So am I," he grinned. "Good luck, Scoot. I'll wave at you when we go by."

 

After some of the adventures of the last trip, this one went smoothly. It helped that the customers started out as strangers, not friends that they already knew. It wasn't as good a group as the last trip, and it was somewhat larger. All that seemed long ago and far away, now.

The trip was also different in that Scooter really was the trip leader, all alone. When she'd led trips in the past, she'd had Crystal with her to back her up on her thinking, her decisions; sometimes Al would be along, as well. Now it was all in her lap; while Jerry was a nice guy, this was still just his third year as a boatman and fifth on the river. He was still a little young and green, still a touch of a cowboy. There were things she could have depended on Crystal to do without asking, where now she had to talk them out with Jerry ahead of time. It was clear they were going to be a while getting into the same smooth-working team she'd had with Crystal for almost two years.

As expected, Jim passed her twice on the trip -- the first time when they were having lunch and orientation at Cathedral Wash, so all they could do was give a quick wave back and forth. The second was down below Lava while the trip was winding up. This time they were on the river, and Jim sidled the big S-rig over to her raft and they talked for a couple minutes; yes, they were both having good trips, see you Friday.

That night, as the customers were bedding down, Scooter called a little crew meeting on one of the rafts. They clustered around and talked quietly. "I've been thinking," she told them. "I don't know why we piss up a day off on Saturday getting groceries and packing them, unless it's one of those 'we've always done it that way before' things. What would you say if I got together with Al when we get in and ask him if we can get started early Sunday morning? I know the damn grocery store is open all night. We might be a couple hours late getting to Lee's to rig, but hell, we spend half a day sitting on our asses up there most trips, anyway."

"Want to spend a little more time with your boyfriend?" Duane wisecracked.

She really hadn't talked much about Jim or what they'd been doing, but the way they'd acted around Lee's, and a couple other things that had been said left little doubt, either. "What do you think?" she snorted, not giving a direct answer. "Besides, I doubt Kelly would get very pissed off at Jerry, either. Look, I know it means cracking those lids river time on Sunday, but it gives everyone a whole Saturday off. It also pretty well means no closing the Burro Saturday evening, but I don't think anyone on this team is very big on closing the Burro, anyway."

"Well, I'm in, obviously," Jerry nodded. "I never figured that out, either. I know I've heard Al wisecrack that he hired Jeff because he figured that after thirty years of driving a school bus he ought to be able to come close to putting up with a bunch of drunken raft guides coming off break. I'll bet they used to party pretty hearty."

"Could be," Andy said. "I've heard stories like that. And I'll bet the timing is tied in with it, too. I'd say it can't hurt to ask."

"Try it," Duane nodded. "Anybody who wants to get really shit-faced Friday night would have all day to sleep it off Saturday."

Barbie, Wade, and Hannah also agreed quickly. "All right, no promises but I'll run it by him. I'll try to get to him before we're done unloading topside, so make sure you check in with me before you take off."

 

Loading up at Diamond Creek Wash was nowhere near the fastest she'd ever seen -- that had been the time when Norma warned them of a flash flood -- but it went pretty well, considering. While it was always hard to have the trip end and say goodbye to the customers, it was a little easier this time since she wasn't all that sorry to say goodbye to some of the customers. Besides, she knew that after a day off she'd be seeing Jim, for less time than last trip, but still seeing him.

In the process of loading up, Scooter asked Jeff how the rest of the last trip had gone, and whether he'd liked it. "Turned out it wasn't as bad as I thought," he admitted. "Might be I'd have to consider doing the other half sometime, too. Seemed like everyone had a good time to me, even though a couple things happened."

Jeff didn't list any specific happenings, and Scooter reasoned that something that might have been a big deal for him was routine for the crew, anyway. Still, there were some things that she'd like to know about, like what happened with Nanci and whether Nicole made the rest of the trip all right. She'd liked to have talked with Jeff about it a little more, but the loading was going on, and as soon as they were at the top of the hill she was sawing logs in her seat.

Back in the lot, she got the crew to going on the unloading, and headed in to see Al about the idea of doing the groceries early Sunday morning. "You're the trip leader, it's your choice," he replied, to her surprise. "We did it a little that way a few years ago, when the grocery store first started being open 24/7," he explained, "But we used to have some boatmen that needed the time Sunday morning and the ride up to Lee's to sleep it off, and then some."

"I doubt we're going to have that trouble with this crew," Scooter told him as her suspicion was confirmed. "So how'd the tail end of the last trip go?"

"There was some interesting things happened," Al smiled. "A couple of 'em was all-around shockers, too."

"Jeff was saying something happened, but he didn't say what," Scooter smiled. "You want to fill me in?"

"Hell, I don't know where to start," Al snorted. "Maybe the best way to do it is to tell you to look at the trip board."

Scooter glanced up at the plastic board that listed things like the members of each team, starting and ending dates of each trip, and the number of customers. She glanced at Team 2, and noted that it had six rafts, rather than the usual five -- that was odd. And then she read the boatmen's names: Crystal, Dan, Larry, Kevin, Michelle, Preach.

"Preach!" she exclaimed, thoroughly shocked. "Al, what in the hell?"

"That's what he was wondering," Al grinned. "Scoot, did you know he almost didn't come on the wedding trip at all?"

"Not really, I know he had to ask someone about it."

"The story he told me, and this was down the river, was that he'd been worrying and praying over whether he was supposed to get his own church, or what."

"We talked about that a little, way upriver."

"Right, we did, too. Turns out there was more to it than that. Remember when Crystal called you and asked you to come out here? She talked to him then, too."

"I know he turned her down," Scooter nodded. "He said he figured he was where he was supposed to be."

"For two years, he got to thinking more and more that he'd made a mistake when he told her no off the top of his head," Al grinned. "When she invited him out here for the wedding, he was so damn sure he'd made a mistake he thought it was the devil tempting him away from the idea of him having his own church, like he thought he was supposed to. We talked about that several times, and what it comes down to is I told him that if he thought he was really supposed to be here I'd put him on as a trainee boatman till we can get him qualified. Well, he still couldn't make up his mind, so he went to Crystal and told her that if she was willing to work toward being something more than just good friends, he'd stay. She took him up on it."

"Crystal and Preach," Scooter shook her head, stunned at the revelation. "They always used to be good friends years ago, but I never, I mean I never, ever thought I'd see that happen!"

"You ain't the only one," Al smiled. "You can put Crystal and Preach both on that list, too. But, you know there were a few extra days after Team 2 came off. They flew back to Atlanta, picked up his car, went up to Chattanooga, loaded it up and drove back out here. He resigned as youth pastor, but they're keeping him on as an unpaid assistant pastor in case he changes his mind."

"I will be damned," Scooter shook her head. "So now, I have another roommate, huh?"

"No," Al grinned. "Part of the deal he and Crystal worked out was that everything was going to be above board right from square one. He's planning on staying with Kevin's family when they get off river. That ought to be interesting, a Baptist preacher in a houseful of Methodists."

"Well, knowing Preach, that part I can believe," she sighed. "So, you sent the extra raft as a gear boat to get him qualified?"

"Partly," Al shook his head. "That's the weird one. Did you catch Myleigh going out and playing her harp by herself?"

"A couple times," Scooter admitted. "I never recognized any of the music, but what I heard was pretty good. I figured she was just trying to turn her reactions into music."

"It got better and better as we went on," Al said. "She wanted to be alone with the music, didn't want to be interrupted, and got real pissy when she was. That didn't keep most of us from sneaking up on her at one time or another to hear her play. Well, we got down to Granite Springs and she came clean. You know the harp she had, Brown Bess, she wasn't real comfortable with?"

"Yeah, I remember her saying she didn't want to risk Blue Beauty on the river."

"She said to me, and there was Karin and Trey and Crystal standing around, 'I feel I have been hearing the Canyon attempting to talk to me through Brown Bess. I want to take the trip again with Blue Beauty, that I might hear it better.' Well, I'd heard enough of that music that I took her up on it. We're standing around talking about it, and the next thing you know we're talking about recording it. So, the sixth raft has Myleigh, Trey, Blue Beauty, and about fifty thousand dollars worth of digital field recording equipment that Myleigh borrowed from Jennifer and Blake Walworth. Remember them from Spearfish Lake?"

"Jenny Easton," Scooter nodded, "I remember."

"I sent Michelle along in that raft, because she really is going to be the safest with all that stuff. That also lets them run a little separate if Myleigh feels like she wants to stop and record. Crystal called before they left Lee's, they'd done a cut right there, and she thought it was better yet."

"Yeah, that would perk a trip up all right," Scooter shook her head. She glanced up at the trip board again: the swampers were Trey and Nanci. "I guess Nanci worked out all right then," she said.

"Oh, yeah," Al smiled. "That was a shocker, too. I mean, not that she worked out; she was doing pretty good. Scooter, you spent enough time in East Tennessee to know what accepting Jesus and being saved means, don't you?"

"Preach talked her into it, huh?"

"No, and that had something to do with Preach deciding he wasn't supposed to have a church, and don't ask me to explain it; I don't get it either. Mostly it was Kevin with a little help from Tanisha that set her to thinking. After it happened Preach and Kevin and Tanisha baptized her down at the mouth of Havasu Creek while everyone else was out hiking and me and Karin was down river." He let out a sigh. "It's too early to tell how that's going to work out in the long run, but she still seemed pretty serious about it back up at Lee's last weekend. She'll have Preach and Kevin with her to help her work on it. I don't want to say she's getting sweet on Kevin, but they're getting to be pretty good friends."

"Jeez," Scooter shook her head. "After all that, the next thing you're going to tell me is that Nicole ran Lava at the sticks."

"Not quite, but damn near. You knew Crystal was setting up a gear boat, didn't you?"

"She didn't say but it was pretty obvious."

"It was Randy's turn on the sticks when we got to Lava. Well, he got up there on the hill and decided he was going to run the Bubble Line; he said later he figured that a dump there in the gear boat wouldn't be the disaster it would have been in any of the others, so Crystal didn't tell him not to. Well, he was about second to run. Nicole shoved him out, scrambled aboard, grabbed some straps and rode up front. He kept it upright, but the raft got sloshed pretty bad, and there was Nicole, screaming with delight, and a smile that could have lit up southern California."

"Good, she conquered her fear."

"Oh, did she ever," Al shook her head. "Well, me and Karin was the last to run, Karin was at the sticks, and guess what, she headed right for the Bubble Line, too. Hell, I was in the back and I got a pretty good bath, so I can't imagine what a beating Nicole must have had up front. She was just damn tickled pink. She came to me later and asked if she could run again late in the summer; she was ashamed of how chickenshit she'd been and wanted to wash it away while she remembered how bad she'd been. The trips are booked, but that's right after we shift to the fall schedule, so she's planning to go as a swamper."

"I didn't think Randy could get away at that time of year; he said the summer was going to be pretty busy."

"He still can't," Al said. "You remember when they told us about him leaving Nicole in handcuffs for two weeks? I figured we were going to have the first handcuffed run of the Grand Canyon. I mean, considering the fear she'd conquered he couldn't turn her down, but he was not the happiest camper I've ever seen, either."

"I can imagine. He tries to cover it up, but it hurts, and I don't blame him. He's an outdoor bum like the rest of us, but he's trapped behind a desk."

"Or on a construction site, same difference," Al agreed. "To try to make him feel a little better Crystal offered to take him on the sailboat down in the Bahamas like she did last winter. He turned her down, of course. Then Nicole got pissed, and told him he was going if she had to have some friends of his put him in handcuffs and send Crystal the key. Well, they talked it around, and for a while Karin and I were going to go just to keep it legal, but then the deal with Preach came down, so I don't think Randy can bitch too loud about going sailing with some girls and a Baptist preacher. I also asked him to come run a gear boat on the last trip of the season; I doubt if he'll do it, but the offer is there. He still ain't the happiest camper I've ever seen, and under the circumstances I can't say as I blame him."

"Me, either," she sighed. "When you get down to it, there isn't much we could do to solve it anyway. It's one he and Nicole are going to have to work out for themselves."

"I suppose you're right," he nodded. "Then, to top everything off, Jeff had a ball, said he wants to run a full trip sometime."

"And so we go from the astonishing to the unbelievable," she shook her head. "Strange things happen down there sometimes, don't they? I guess I better get back to work. I'll tell the team we won't do groceries until six AM Sunday."

"Yeah, you have a good day off with that boyfriend of yours," Al grinned. "Bet nobody sees much of you two Saturday."


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To be continued . . .

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