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 58

July 15 - August 5, 2001

Team Three's Summer - 3

It stayed hot through the following half-trip and virtually all of the next one, the last one of the summer season. Although it was the first time that Karin had the responsibility of a raft of her own (despite what Scooter had insinuated to the customers), to no one's surprise she did just fine for the rest of the trip as an emergency replacement -- but then, she had her daughters to set a good example for her.

Around a down-river campfire one evening, she revealed with a little smug embarrassment that Michelle had given her a Wild Wet bikini at a quiet spot on the wedding trip. She wore it one day on the second half of the wedding trip when she and Al were running separate from the rest of the party. She didn't say how that came out, but what was unsaid was unsaid in such a way that everyone figured a sandbar had been visited somewhere along in there.

Four days after the crew swap, they saw Jerry again, this time at the throttle of an S-rig, a big smile on his face. They stopped and talked for a minute, things were going fine and Kelly was a lot happier.

Michelle replaced Karin for the next trip. Like Karin, she claimed to have been stir-crazy from sitting around the office all summer -- she'd actually only missed one full trip cycle, and half of the last one, having filled in a trip on Team 1 when Mike had some unexpected family business come up. She reported that Nanci had been doing just fine with the gear boat after Dan was flown out; Kevin had ridden with her in a couple rapids, including Upset, a top ten for difficulty, but Nanci was at the sticks all the way. Michelle said Nanci was doing so well she pretty well stayed at the sticks the rest of that trip while Michelle lay back on the gear pile, worked on her tan and caught up on her naps. With Michelle riding along, she even ran left at Lava! It was nearly unbelievable for a small, distinctly unathletic, non-outdoor bum of a girl on only her fourth trip, who had never been in a sleeping bag four months before!

Michelle also reported that Crystal and Preach were obviously close but that they were clearly keeping it above board, not merely looking like they were trying to. She said she'd talked to Crystal about winter plans; much was still up in the air and would have to be worked out in the fall. Both she and Crystal had agreed that if Scooter went along with the idea they should confirm the reservation for the Felicity Ann. Who would go and when was still pretty uncertain, but it seemed likely there'd be enough to pay the charges.

The heat broke significantly toward the end of that trip; fall was clearly on the way, and this was the last Team 3 trip of the year since the summer boatmen would be heading back to school as the trip ended. As always, the team shuffle to get into the fall setup was a little complicated. The plan was that Scooter and Jim would hike down to Phantom to replace Duane and Larry. Team 1 was losing everyone but Dave and Mary; Barbie from Team 3 would wait in Flagstaff for a week to join Team 1, and Duane was going to run with them for a trip or two before heading to Spearfish Lake. Either Al, Karin, or Michelle would take the last spot, but after Duane left there'd probably be some fill-ins. "I've seen it a whole hell of a lot worse," Al commented.

In the early morning hours a couple days after they'd come off the river, Scooter and Jim drove Al's Olds to Pat and Rachel's store on the South Rim and headed to the Bright Angel Trailhead to hike down for the exchange. Jim had not previously met Preach, and admitted to being a little concerned about how he'd get along with such a straight arrow. Scooter told him not to worry about it, Preach was cool. Besides, Jim had run with Glenn in the past and liked him; Scooter said Preach was nowhere near as uptight.

Still, she had to admit to some unvoiced concern of her own. In the trip and a half, she and Jim had managed to get much closer than they'd been at the start, even though they were doing their best to keep their romance out from in front of the customers. It wasn't wild, hot sex -- they saved that for the breaks -- or romantic moonlight walks or things like that, it was just being together, talking about things, working together, fitting together. With no great deal of discussion, it was clear they'd be spending the winter together, and hopefully more, no matter what happened with Crystal and Preach. While that begged several questions, they had all fall to work it out.

Thus it was that when Team 2 came around the bend, Scooter and Jim were in the shade of the same tamarisk that he had been sitting under five weeks before when he'd come down to join Team 3. When they pulled in, Scooter and Crystal fell into each other's arms; they had not seen each other since the beginning of May, and now it was nearing the end of August. A lot of water had flowed down the river since then for both of them.

"Scoot," Crystal gushed, "I'm glad to see you. This has been the coolest summer, and I've just been sorry you haven't been around so I could tell you about it."

"Mine started a little rocky but turned pretty cool for me, too," Scooter grinned.

"Hey, we've got bunches to talk about but not much that needs to be done right this instant. I take it the plan is the same as it was a week ago?"

"Right, Al's Olds is at Pat and Rachel's store, Larry or Duane can drive it back to Al's house."

"Good enough, they can stick around for lunch before they head up the hill." By now, the rest of the boatmen had gathered around, and there were some introductions. Preach was, as always, tall and good-natured, rather quiet, but he didn't look much like the Baptist minister as he still was wearing cutoffs and a T-shirt that had seen better days years before, a big smile on his face. "The river rumors say you two have had a good summer," he offered by way of greeting.

"Hey, they've been saying the same thing about you two," Scooter laughed. "Jim, this is Preach. I don't know if he's using his real name or not anymore."

"I still answer to Noah once in a while, but I guess I forgot to mention it at the introductions back at Lee's," he grinned. "But we know how that works, don't we Rhonda?"

"Rhonda?" Jim frowned, "I never knew that."

"Jim, if you want to stay alive, you'll never say, 'Help me Rhonda, help!' in my hearing," she laughed. "Preach, you look like you've had a pretty good summer. I was a little surprised to hear that you were staying on the river."

"No more surprised than I was, I'm sure," he grinned. "We'll have to talk about it sometime, but not now. Jim, I've known Scoot for years, as long as Crystal almost, and I want to tell you she's one cool lady."

"I figured that out," Jim grinned. "Scooter is really a good name for her since there's times she gets hard to keep up with."

"I presume she's told you some stories about the old days on the Ocoee and the Nanty. Sometime Crystal and I will have to tell you the truth."

"Looking forward to it," Jim smiled in reply; Scooter could see that he was loosening up a bit.

"Scoot, Jim," Crystal said. "I don't know if you know Kevin or not," she said, introducing him to the blonde young man.

"We've met," Scooter said. "I can't recall running with you though, Kev."

"Same here," Jim said.

"I better warn you," Crystal smiled, "Kevin is pretty strange; he's one of the few boatmen I've ever seen who actually shaves every day, and gets a haircut after every trip. He's a good kid, even though he's always late for loading on loading Sundays, since he has to sneak off to church."

"A lot of that going around, I hear," Scooter said obliquely.

"Yeah, we're still doing the turnarounds the old way because of it," Crystal nodded. "We probably ought to talk about that sometime, too." Crystal looked around. "Jim, I'm sure you don't know my sister Nanci, here."

Scooter swiveled her head -- and barely recognized Nanci! The hearty young woman in the one-piece swimsuit and shorts was far from being the frail, forlorn, frightened waif that she remembered first meeting at Lee's Ferry not four months before. Her long blonde hair had been cut way short, and bleached almost white by the desert sun. The black eye and bruises were long gone, replaced by a deep, healthy tan, more results of lots of time in the sun. Scooter guessed she'd had to have put on fifteen pounds, and every ounce of it was solid muscle. She looked strong, competent and confident, and from the stories Scooter had heard, that was actually what she was. In one look, Scooter was ready to bet a hike through a Flagstaff blizzard in her Wild Wet bikini that Nanci would have a raft this time next year. "I hear tell you've been doing fine, Nanci," Scooter grinned. "You've changed a touch since I hiked up the Bass back in May."

"A little, I guess," Nanci agreed with a grin. "It's sure not what I thought I was going to be doing this summer."

"No fooling," Crystal shook her head. She looked around, then gave a shrill whistle. "Nicole!" she yelled. Scooter looked up, to see Nicole head their way -- that was a surprise; she had totally forgotten that Nicole had arranged to be on this trip. "Jim, this is our one-trip junior swamper, Nicole," she said by way of introduction. "There's a long story about her, but Nanci is real glad someone else gets to dump the rocket boxes this trip after all. She thought she was past that, being the senior swamper all summer."

"If I have to, I have to," Nicole grinned. "Scooter, how have you been?"

"Pretty good," Scooter shook her head. "Well, I lose that bet, I guess?"

"What?" Nicole said. "Whether Randy would let me come?"

"No, I figured you'd manage that," she laughed. "It was whether you'd be making the trip in handcuffs."

"I have to admit to a little surprise," Nicole said neutrally. "There's a story about that."

"I figured," Scooter nodded. "Now's probably not the time, though."

"We better get started on lunch, so we can get these guys going up the hill," Crystal said. "Jim, Scooter, Duane, Larry, get started swapping your stuff around while the rest of us break out the chow."

"Hey, Duane," Jim smiled as the others started for their rafts, "I just want to apologize to you."

"Apologize? For what?"

"That's twice we've done a crew swap this summer, and both times you've had to be the one to go up the hill. It's not as hot this time, though."

"That's good to know; that last trip was a killer. By the way, we keep seeing Jerry every now and then, he seems happy. The last time I talked to Al he said he might run with you a little in the fall."

"Are you going to be heading on up to Spearfish Lake?"

"Don't know yet. Nicole said Tiffany hadn't had her baby yet last weekend, and Josh said they're going to take it easy till she does, so I may have to fill in a trip on Team 1. At least that was the plan if Al couldn't come up with something else by the time I got topside."

Scooter shook her head. "He didn't say anything, one way or the other," she shrugged. "Like I told you the last time, though, have fun looking at dogs' asses all winter."

"I've tried to tell him he's out of his mind," Crystal grinned, "But he won't listen to me. Maybe a winter of dog shit will drive some sense into him."

 

That afternoon they ran down to the campsite above Granite. Nicole, Kevin and Nanci led a hike up Monument Valley, while Scooter, Jim, Crystal and Preach stayed behind, ostensibly to get going on dinner but mostly to find a place in the shade and catch up a little. "I honestly can't believe it," Scooter said as she leaned back against a tamarisk, a cold beer in her hand. "Nanci can't be the same girl that I met at Lee's four months ago."

"If you can't believe it, think about me," Crystal shook her head. "The second trip she took is the first time I'd really ever seen her display any enthusiasm and drive about anything but cheerleading or chasing boys. Since Trey was concentrating on sound recording, she was for practical purposes the only swamper, and she was just one busy little beaver all the time. I'm still not sure what all happened, but I am not complaining."

"She seems to be pretty good friends with Kevin," Scooter observed.

"That's a little strange," Preach smiled. "In a lot of ways they're boyfriend and girlfriend, but in a lot of ways, they aren't. I'm not revealing a confidence to say that Kevin knows that Nanci has been burned and burned a lot, so they've sort of worked out an agreement to take it real easy with each other."

"I honestly doubt that they've even kissed," Crystal shook her head. "Oh, you get a little handholding once in a while, but not much. That is really not the Nanci I used to know, the one who had trouble keeping her pants on, and am I glad!"

"We've all worked with her on her rafting," Preach nodded, "Kevin more than most; she usually rides with him, and she's usually the one at the sticks."

"She's got Mom's eye in the rapids, a finesse rafter, but she's building some power to go with it." She shook her head. "I'm still not sure if we've created a Canyon junkie or what, but the Canyon has worked a lot of magic on her."

"The Lord's hand has been on her a mite, that's for sure," Preach smiled. "Now, you want the Canyon working magic on someone, I have to argue that's what happened with Myleigh and her harp. Did you hear about that?"

"Better than that," Scooter grinned. "Trey sent Al a rough cut of the album, it showed up yesterday, so the first thing we did was pop it in the CD player."

"Good?"

"Awesome," Scooter shook her head. "I can't find the words to describe it, just like I can't find the words to describe the Canyon as well as she did with Blue Beauty. The story I heard was that she thought the Canyon was talking to her through her harp. I believe it."

"I believe it, too," Crystal nodded. "I called her up on break last time. While she and Trey were working on editing the album, she got to talking with Jennifer's brother's girlfriend, who's a tribal shaman of some kind. I didn't get the ins and outs of it, but this gal sure convinced Myleigh. She says this girl told her that earth, man, and spirit are all different aspects of the same thing."

"I don't want to get metaphysical here," Preach smiled, "But she may be right."

"I suspect that most of us down here feel that way," Jim nodded. "I'm not a big religious person, but I don't know how anyone can spend a lot of time on the river without feeling that there's something beyond the mere physical going on here. Mere chaos can't account for everything we see."

"Chaos is never merely 'mere'," Preach replied. "I'm not a creationist, but you know those lava beds down above Whitmore, the ones that are only a quarter million years old? You hardly see any evidence of the river eroding that lava at all. If that's true, I can't believe that everything else in this Canyon was done by the river in only six million years. Something does not compute."

"Back when we did that Park Service trip last spring -- you know, a couple centuries ago, Crystal?" Scooter giggled and continued her thought, "The geologist said that was one of those things that get geologists throwing rocks at each other."

"You're right," Crystal sighed. "That trip had to have been a couple centuries ago. Preach, we're going to have to talk to Al about getting you on it next spring. Scoot, Jim, and I have done it and I can't believe how much we learned. But if I can move from the metaphysical to the practical, I didn't want to say anything up at Phantom, but did Al say anything about whether we're to swap leading, or about assistant leaders or like that?"

"Yeah," Scooter nodded. "He said to work it out for ourselves because we'd probably argue with whatever he came up with. The only input he said is that if Preach is an assistant trip leader it might get awkward if Duane comes back in the spring. On the other hand, Al figures Duane is 50-50 at best about coming back, even though he says he's going to, so it might be a moot point."

"You have any thoughts about it?"

"I can see two ways to do it," Scooter said. "I become your assistant for the rest of the trip, and then we swap like we did last year, which leaves the guys just boatmen. The alternative is that you and Preach lead one trip and Jim and I the next. The first way is probably a little less awkward if Duane comes back because I suspect Al made him assistant trip leader to give him some incentive to come back at all."

"Let's do it the first way," Crystal said thoughtfully. "That leaves the door open for Duane a little. If Duane doesn't come back next year, then maybe we can do it the other way."

"Suits me," Preach nodded. "I'm realist enough to know that the women are going to run things anyway."

"Works for me," Jim nodded. "And really, it doesn't matter to me. I just wanted to get over to Canyon Tours to work full seasons. I've accomplished that, now I'm just as happy to let someone else do the worrying."

"I'm glad that worked out for you," Crystal said. "Boy, I can't believe it when I see a baloney boat going by with Jerry twisting the throttle."

"I stopped by to thank Marty the break before last," Jim reported. "He says that Jerry has the touch to run one; he ran one on a Park Service trip a couple years ago and thought he had the knack. Fine for him; I've done it and I prefer oar boats. I told Al I planned on keeping this job for a while."

"I hope I can," Crystal sighed.

"Crystal?" Scooter said, alarmed at the tone of her friend's voice.

"Scoot, Dad says that if we want to go running around this winter, it's fine, but he'd like me to plan on getting some time in the office this year, and most likely more next year."

"Office?" Scooter frowned.

"Yeah, office," she sighed. "He and Mom want to take off for a couple months this winter, go bumming, maybe Mexico, maybe somewhere else, it's not sure. In theory Michelle could cover it and probably will, but in the long run I need to learn what's happening topside, what to do, what strings to pull, meet some people. I mean, I understand, Mom and Dad are in their fifties and are going to have to work pretty hard on catching up on their quality time. Plus, there's a continuity problem at the office with Mom, Dad, and Michelle trading off."

"I can see that," Scooter nodded. "They've done pretty well with it, but it gets awkward at times."

"Right," Crystal said. "It's something that's working now but won't work forever. Al didn't flat come out and say it, but most likely in time this outfit winds up in my hands. It's not a real big business, but it's a valuable one. Dad says he's turned down over four million for it because he doesn't want to lose the connection with the river and plans on keeping it. The scary part is that I'm probably going to have to be managing it in the foreseeable future so he and Mom can at least semi-retire. I may be able to get away with running for another few years yet, but then I'm going to have to be putting in the majority of my time in the office."

"I hadn't thought about it," Scooter nodded. "But you are the obvious candidate when you look at it that way."

"I agree," Crystal said bleakly. "I may take off next spring to take some business courses at Northern Arizona, or next fall, or something. Maybe some online or correspondence courses, or maybe just hands-on stuff from Dad and Mom. But you know what? Every time I think about it and look in the mirror, I see Randy looking back at me."

"Randy?" Scooter frowned again before the light hit her. "Oh, because he got sucked into having to manage the family business when he'd rather be doing something else?"

"Right between the eyeballs," she said. "It's hit me even harder having Nicole on this trip. I mean, I thought I escaped that when I managed to avoid marrying him, but it came right down into the Canyon sniffing me out." She let out a sigh. "So, whatever happens, I guess that's going to have an effect on our winter plans. I need to put in a couple months in the shop at a minimum."

"No big deal," Scooter told her. "That's about what we did last year, except we did most of it in the barn. Rip another month or six weeks out for Buddha and Bahamas, and what's left starts getting tight."

"That's true," Crystal admitted. "Do you two have any winter plans? I mean, other than the Felicity Ann, I presume."

"Not really," Scooter shrugged. "It's going to have to depend on you a little. We'd more or less planned on going somewhere and doing something, but with you or whoever or just us we hadn't worked out. How about you?"

Preach spoke up. "Crystal and I worked out a while back that we were just going to try to get through this season, and after it's over with go somewhere by ourselves for a while and sort of assess where we're going and where we want to go. That may involve getting married; it may not; it may involve waiting for a while longer."

"Scooter and I hadn't worked it out that formally," Jim added, "But we're in pretty much the same place. We talked at one point about going down to that place in Mexico that Dave and Mary go to. They bent my ear enough about it last fall, it sounded interesting. That might be for a couple days, or a couple months, and it might not come off at all."

"Hmm, hadn't thought of that one," Crystal admitted. "I don't know them that well, but it might have some potential."

"I know Al set them up with it," Jim observed. "He might be a good one to talk to about it. It might be we all could work out a package to share a place at different times over the winter."

"Good thought," Crystal agreed. "Sharing a place leads to another question, though. You two are more or less living together on break, I understand."

"Pretty much," Scooter admitted. "We'd more or less agreed to keep it up through the winter, anyway, not necessarily at the house."

"Preach and I haven't been, you probably knew that," Crystal said. "He's got a room at Kevin's parent's place, and Nanci and I have been staying at the house. I suppose we can fudge our way through the fall like that, but it might be a little awkward if we try to spend a lot of time there together over the winter."

"I thought about that, too," Scooter agreed. "We thought maybe move Nanci's stuff into what was yours and my room, and mine and Jim's into what was your mom's, that'll get us through until the season's over if we cut each other a little slack. Over the winter, and another season, we might want to do it differently, but I don't want to have to go back to living out of a car trunk. I kind of like having my own bed, even if it's only three nights out of every three weeks."

"Yeah, I've gotten spoiled like that, too." Crystal nodded. "Let's figure on keeping it through the season, anyway, and figure out where we are from there. Maybe we can sort of share the place through the winter if we're mostly going to be gone at different times, and that probably takes care of next summer, too. Nanci sort of figures into that some; we'd have to find something to do with her when Preach and I are gone. Maybe stay with Mom and Dad. Most likely not Michelle, she thrives on the kind of life that almost killed Nanci."

"We ought to be able to work out something," Scooter nodded. "Again, it's one of those things we really don't need to worry about too much until the season is over with." She snickered for a moment. "Jeez, I forgot to tell you one other thing."

"What's this?"

"We got to talking about metaphysics and it slipped by," Scooter explained. "You know Myleigh's album? They sent a tentative cover in the jewel case; it's a photo that Trey took of Blue Beauty up at the Nankoweap Granaries, and it's just stunning."

"It's a pretty stunning view, all right," Crystal smiled. "I can never think of photos there without thinking of Andrea and Debby."

"Me either," Scooter snickered. "And that's what I thought when I saw the cover. But Al told me back last spring that part of the deal on Myleigh going on that second trip with you guys is that if an album came out of it he'd like an acknowledgment for Canyon Tours."

"And she did?" Crystal grinned, knowing Myleigh's skewed sense of humor and expecting what was coming.

"In the largest lettering on the cover," Scooter smiled. "It's the title."


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