Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online

Pulling Even
Book Seven of the Dawnwalker Cycle
Wes Boyd
2004, 2009, 2011

Chapter 14

None of the rafting companies on the Colorado are licensed to sell or serve beer on the river, so the customers have to bring their own. It gets hot down there, especially in the summer months, so the beer and other drinks are kept cold by dragging them in the river in mesh bags behind the rafts. Sometimes, on trips in the hottest weather, the beer is gone by Diamond Creek, but on spring and fall trips, sometimes quite a bit of it is still loaded low in the rafts or sitting in drag bags when the customers take their ride out of the Canyon. De-rigging is hot work, and a lot of what remains is consumed by the crews in the process, but often there's some left over. It was a Canyon Tours tradition to store at least some of that extra beer back at the warehouse for the season wrap party. Since it was a nice day, a lot of that beer was now on ice in Al and Karin's back yard, not far from the Canyon Tours office. Sometimes it was a little hard to tell what kind of beer it was since the river had sanded the paint off the cans. "You know you've had a rough day," Randy remembered being told, "When you don't know what kind of beer you're drinking and really, you don't much care."

The nice clothes were gone, now; everyone was back in more casual clothes, even the brides and grooms. Al and Karin's house was packed, and part of the party expanded onto the patio in spite of the cool evening air. Since it was a combination wedding reception and season wrap party, there were a lot of rafting stories being told, and the supply of leftover beer was dwindling quickly. Randy and Nicole and Scooter and Jim found a quiet spot in the corner of the patio to talk for a couple minutes. "The one down deal about our getting married," Scooter said, "Is that I would have liked to have seen Crystal's face. I could just about hear her eyes get wide as saucers."

"You sure took everyone by surprise," Nicole smiled. "How many people knew you were going to do that?"

"Beyond us, just Karin and Pastor Jordan," Scooter said. "We ran it past Karin a month ago, we didn't want to step on Crystal's and Preach's toes, but everyone we would have had at a wedding was there anyway, why not kill two birds with one stone? Karin set it up with Pastor Jordan. She told Trey to go easy on the film during the ceremony and don't run out, more was going to happen, but she didn't tell him what and told him to not even say anything about that."

"Look," Randy said, "I'm happy for you, but there we are back to the sailboat again. I didn't want to horn in on Preach and Crystal's honeymoon and I don't want to horn in on yours."

"You're not," Scooter told him. "Understand that. Randy, there's gonna be six of us on a 36-footer, that's a lot of things but no way is it a honeymoon. Jim and I are staying at the house tonight, and in the morning we're heading down to Mexico to that place where Dave and Mary hang out. We may stay a day; we may stay a week; we may stay a month. That's our honeymoon; all we have to worry about is being back here before Christmas."

"OK, that makes me feel better," he said. "We should have a good time."

"Darn right, we're gonna teach 'em what they don't know how," Scooter laughed. "I told you, we have a reputation as Grand Canyon boatmen to uphold."

"There you are!" Karin exclaimed. "Jim, Scooter, get in here! There are cakes to cut!"

"We're coming," Jim grinned. "We'll be right along."

"That was the other reason why we let Karin set things up," Scooter laughed. "She could put some surprises into it."

"Yeah, this is a raft guide wedding," Nicole smirked. "The surprises aren't over yet."

*   *   *

While Scooter may have said that the raft guides considered Randy to be one of them, it wasn't enough to keep him from feeling a little out of place in the crowded room. Although there were a lot of people he didn't know, Randy had some friends in the room, and he tended to look for them. If his life had worked out differently, he would have been happy to have been here, celebrating the end of the long season, but he wasn't really a rafter and probably never would be. Even the chances of his making another Canyon trip seemed limited.

One of the people in the room who Randy did know was Trey Hartwell, Myleigh's fiance. While he didn't know Trey as well as he would have liked, Trey was definitely one of the good guys. Since he would soon be moving to Spearfish Lake, Randy expected that there was a good chance they would get to know each other a lot better. A while after things had gotten under way, Randy happened to run across Trey, who was holding a can of beer in one hand and looking a little lost himself. Randy wandered over to him and said, "I'll bet you're feeling a little out of place, too."

"Well, yeah," Trey admitted. "I only ran a couple trips with this gang as a swamper last spring, and one of the runs was the recording trip, where we were apart from the main group much of the time, so even the people I know, I don't know as well as I'd like to."

"That's both of us," Randy said. "I guess we'll survive. I hear you signed the papers on your house the other day."

"Yeah, that was a little weird," he said. "It seemed like the whole thing was a little detached from reality, if you know what I mean. I mean, we only saw the place once. I'm sure glad you were able to help out from your end."

"No big deal, most of it is stuff that I do anyway," Randy shrugged. "So did you wind up with a pretty good price?"

"Oh yeah, real good," Trey admitted. "I guess that realtor of yours put a little arm twisting on the previous owner."

"Binky is pretty good, and you can be sure that she made out all right on it, too," Randy nodded. "We'll have to make some time when you two are there, before the wedding, so we can see if there's anything else we can do to it while we're working on it."

"Oh, I'm sure there is," Trey said. "It's beginning to look like I might be spending some time in Spearfish Lake before the end of the winter term; maybe there'll be something I can do around the place. Like, there was that one room painted that hideous purple color. I could barely stand to look at it. Something has to be done about that. Does your crew do painting?

"We usually sub painting out," Randy said. "But I can put you in touch with a sub and eliminate the middleman."

"Boy, I'd really appreciate that," Trey nodded. "I mean, I don't know anyone up there besides you and Nicole and Blake and Jennifer. I'm going to have to lean on you guys for a lot of things."

"No problem, you and Myleigh are friends. I'll do what I can to help." Randy let out a sigh. This was about the best chance he was going to have. "Look, I've got something I've got to run by you, and I don't know if there's going to be a better chance."

"Sure, what is it?"

"I don't know where to begin," Randy shrugged. "You've probably noticed there have been a few practical jokes pulled at this wedding. Some of them are paybacks from other ones. Crystal pulled a couple on Nicole at our wedding; you've probably heard those stories."

"The handcuffs, and spiking the punch?"

"Yeah, although the handcuffs weren't Crystal's idea, she just made it a little, well, wilder if you know what I mean. So, a couple of them got pulled on Crystal at this one and there's more to come, although don't you dare tell her that. But here's the question. Crystal, Nicole and Myleigh are good friends, and they've shared a lot. But Myleigh has her own sense of humor, and, well, no one is sure if they should pull something on you and Myleigh or not. I'd be willing to let it slide, but I don't want Myleigh to feel left out, either. What's your call on it?"

"Boy, that's a tough one," Trey said. "Just off the top of my head, you have as good of an idea as anyone of what Myleigh's sense of humor is like, so if you were to pull something mild and fun, I think it would be all right."

"That's sort of been my feeling," Randy admitted. "Although I'll be the first to admit I don't know Myleigh as well as I used to. She's changed some since she's been with you. I can't put my finger on it or say just why, but she's, well, a little straighter than she used to be, I guess I'd have to say."

"Let me think about it," Trey counseled. "Maybe I can figure out some way to ask Myleigh without really asking her about it. Why don't we leave it that it's all right unless you hear from me?"

"Yeah, that'll work," Randy said. "We're not going to play rough, or anything. It's all in good fun, in any case."

*   *   *

This was really a pretty good party, and Michelle moved around the room with a smile on her face, being her normal, exuberant self. However, on the inside she felt frustrated and lonely, which was a strange sensation for her. She'd once heard a barbershop quartet song, Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang of Mine, and though she didn't know the words she knew the sensation.

She'd known Crystal and Preach were getting married, and then going to be making the church trip for the next few weeks and suspected it might happen off and on till spring. Other than the Bahamas trip and maybe the surfing trip in January, it meant she wouldn't be seeing a lot of her friends, and she certainly wouldn't have the adventures they'd experienced the past two years.

She'd known that Scooter had planned to spend a little time with Jim, but they still had some stuff planned together for the winter. It wasn't until this afternoon that it hit her that she'd just become a fifth wheel to both of them, the odd girl out. She didn't think she'd be cut out from Scooter and Jim the way the church trip had cut her out from Crystal and Preach, but it was as clear as it could be that now she was going to be an outsider there, too. She'd known Scooter and Jim were going to Mexico for a few days with Dave and Mary, but now Michelle was as sure as she could be that they would be gone just about every day from now until Christmas.

There were no plans for what they were going to do after they got off the Felicity Ann in early February, but it seemed likely that Scooter and Jim would still want some space before the rafting season opened. Scooter wouldn't just up and tell her to buzz off and give the two of them time together, but she was capable of hinting about it. The only thing Michelle had decided to do was to tell Scooter as soon as possible that she was going to head off by herself as soon as they were off the sailboat.

There was a problem, though. Where was she going to go? What was she going to do? And for December, as well as February and March? Since she'd hung out with Scooter and Crystal the last two years, she had expected the same thing this year and hadn't put much thought into it until Scooter and Jim dropped the bomb on everyone this afternoon.

She should have seen it coming, last year on the Felicity Ann. One afternoon, they'd been sitting under the shade of the boat's Bimini top, talking about one thing and another, and the topic had drifted to the possibility of someday getting married. All three of them agreed it was something that was likely to come sooner or later, but all of them wanted to keep their river lives, too. Al had often said that spouses had cost him more good boatmen than booze ever could, and all of them agreed that the best possible answer to the problem was to marry a boatman. The only problem was there weren't many single male boatmen around who any of them thought worth marrying, and all three of them were starting to get a little old for the run of the pack, anyway.

Michelle had known that Scooter had sort of been friends with Jim ever since she started on the river, but, since they worked for different companies, they only occasionally saw each other. It had come as a surprise to hear that Scooter was spending off weekends with Jim in the house, and more of a surprise when Jim moved over to Canyon Tours. There usually wasn't much movement of boatmen between the companies, but it turned out there were some special circumstances involved in this one, and Scooter and Jim getting serious was one of them. Preach had come as a total surprise; although he'd had lots of raft experience in the east, he'd never seen the Colorado until Al and Karin's wedding trip the previous spring. Michelle had been surprised to hear he'd decided to stay, and more surprised to realize he and Crystal were sniffing around each other. Now, both Crystal and Scooter had married fellow boatmen, and that just made Michelle feel even more like the odd girl out.

It was depressing. Despite knowing she looked like a teenager, Michelle knew that thirty was sneaking up on her more quickly than she wanted. Still, she liked her life, and didn't want to change it. It was clear that at least part of her newly found free time this winter, needed to be spent giving that question a good working over, and really, she didn't want to do it. She wanted last year. Fuck.

Her attention was diverted by a bunch of rafters hanging around Duane. He'd really drawn attention at the wedding this afternoon, dressed in all his Scottish finery and carrying enough cutlery to butcher and dress a steer. "It was just an honest mistake on my dad's part," he explained to the group, which included Preach and Crystal – she was holding a well-sanded beer can, and he a Diet Coke. "I called him up and asked him to send my wedding clothes here UPS. Now, both my Dad and Vicky are big into Scottish cultural stuff, and when they got married last fall I was the best man, so I had to wear the full garb. I hadn't actually worn it for a couple years before that. I opened the package yesterday afternoon and saw all this MacRae plaid staring back at me, so I realized that I hadn't told Dad to send me my normal wedding stuff. You know, black suit and like that."

"That, or he was having some fun with you," Preach snickered as Michelle joined the group.

"It's not impossible," Duane conceded. "Most people would consider Dad and Vicky to be a little strange, anyway. I mean good strange. Dad is Scottish, and he's really into Scottish stuff. He's got a Scottish accent he'll turn on at any time and likes to wear kilts, even around the house or around town."

"Yeah, that's got to be a little strange for a small town," Michelle grinned.

"Nobody says much about it," he laughed, "Mostly because of Dad's other hobby. He makes knives, collector's items. He and Vicky also know how to throw them. He's just about dead accurate, and she's not far behind."

"Well, that explains the knives and sword and stuff, I guess," Michelle shook her head. "I guess I never figured you for wearing a skirt."

"'Tis not a skirt, lassie," Duane replied in a credible fake Scottish accent of his own. "'Kilt' is what happens to th' hoon tha' calls it a skirt. I'm nae a bad hand wi' flingin' a blade, nor makin' it, ither. While I dinna often wear a kilt, I ken there still be a couple greatkilts in MacRae tartan with all th' trimmin's hangin' in ma' closet."

Michelle shook her head. Somehow, this wasn't the Duane she'd come to know the last couple years. "So how's Vicky strange? I mean, other than throwing knives?"

"She's involved in making them, too," Duane replied, dropping the fake Scottish accent. "Her specialty is engraving and scrimshaw, and she does beautiful work. Dad taught her the basics, and she had a fine arts minor in college that really brought it out in her. Dad is getting set to retire in the next couple years; they're going to go into knife making full time from what I'm told."

"Anything else?"

"Oh, not really," he smiled. "Unless you consider it strange that Vicky likes riding her Harley."

"Yep," she nodded. "I guess they don't consider you strange for being a river bum and dogsledder."

"Nae, lassie," he replied in the fake Scottish accent again. "Tha' acorn nae falls fur from th' tree."

"Jeez," Michelle shook her head. "And to think I thought of you as one of the straighter guys on the river."

"Aye, lassie," Duane smiled. "Still waters run deep, especially on th' Colorado."

"Tell me," Crystal laughed. "I've always wanted to know. What does a Scotsman wear under his kilt?"

"Th' proper Scotsman wears shoes and socks, of course," Duane smiled. "Believe me, Crystal, you don't want to go there."

"I suppose not," she shook her head. "You've probably got a comeback for anything I might say."

"'Tis probably true," he grinned.

"I was just thinking that after today you could get quite a reputation for wearing a kilt on the river," she grinned. "It would just add to the list of those Canyon Tours characters. So, how are you getting along in Spearfish Lake?"

"Pretty good," he said. "I'm having fun. You're right; it is a good town, even though the job is a lot of work."

"I told you that you'd spend the winter feeding dogs and cleaning up dog shit," Crystal teased, drawing on her own time as a dog handler for Josh and Tiffany.

"Actually, not that much," Duane told her. "The new dog barn makes a big difference, or at least so I'm told. I could see how it could be a real pain in the butt without it. There are a couple hours a day of it, but we manage to spend a lot more time on the trail. We didn't have much snow for a while, but Phil and I took a bunch of dogs out to Idaho and trained around OLTA for a couple weeks. Nicole managed to arrange for us to stay in the bunkhouse so we didn't have to sleep in the truck. That was a neat experience, but it got a little boring at times. I was actually kind of glad to get back to Spearfish Lake. When Josh and Tiffany moved into their new house they moved their old trailer over to the barn for the dog handler to use, and it's not bad. All in all, the job beats the hell out of working at the Waynesville McDonald's for the winter."

"Well, yeah," Crystal nodded. "Cleaning up dog shit isn't as bad a deal as fast food. I've always managed to avoid that and hope I always will. So you're really getting to learn how to run a dogsled, huh?"

"Oh, yeah. There's a chance I may be able to run some local races this winter. That'll be nice for something else to do, and might make a river story or two."

"I always thought it might be neat to take a dogsled ride some time," Michelle said. "I've seen them around ski resorts, but I've never gone for a ride."

Duane shrugged. "Are you in the crowd coming up to Spearfish Lake for Myleigh's wedding?"

"I sorta planned on it," she replied. "I got near to getting there a couple times before, but something else always came up, but I really want to make it this time. Myleigh and I got kind of close when we were doing that trip last summer, when we took the special raft for recording. If nothing comes up, I'll be there."

"Well, come on out to Run-8 Kennels," he smiled. "Crystal knows where it is. I'll be glad to take you for a ride."

*   *   *

Karin spent a couple minutes getting the brides and grooms in front of their respective cakes, and they were just getting set to cut into them when Nicole proved earlier predictions right – there were still surprises to come. She walked right into the middle of things and said, "Just a minute! Before you cut the cake, there's a special presentation from Randy and me for Preach and Crystal." She turned to Scooter and Jim and added, "If you hadn't surprised us there would have been one for you, too. But your time will come."

She turned back to Preach and Crystal as Randy walked out in front of the crowd, carrying a small gift-wrapped box. "Here you go, Crystal," he said with a big grin.

Crystal had a pretty good idea what was in the box – she'd seen one that size and shape a couple years before – and flashed a glance at Randy that by all rights would have frozen the Colorado River solid from end to end. "Go on, open it," Nicole said with a huge smirk.

Realizing that she was on the spot, and didn't have much choice, Crystal pulled the ribbon to open the package. The lid was wrapped separately; not to her surprise, but to many of the crowd, the box contained a pair of Soliel Lightweight handcuffs, just like Nicole had given to Randy. "Nicole . . ." she growled.

"At my wedding," Nicole said loudly to the crowd, "When Randy was given a pair of handcuffs like that, what did the raft guides in the crowd say?"

Karin got the drift; with a huge grin, she yelled, "Put 'em on her!"

"I didn't quite hear that!" Nicole said, holding her hand up to her ear. "Could someone say that again?"

"Put 'em on her!" she heard Al yell, and a clamor joined in.

When it died down, Nicole smiled, "Preach, there's a trick to it, I better have Randy show you."

Again, there wasn't much that Crystal could do but shake her hands and endure it as Randy and Preach fastened the handcuffs around her wrists. Ruefully, she held them up so the crowd could see them.

"Along with that," Randy said loudly as Nicole stepped back, "There's one more special gift for the bride and groom. Now you all know they're going to be driving to Chattanooga tomorrow to start their church tour. Preach, I've taken a lot of road trips with Crystal and I know she gets fidgety, so we're going to give her something to do while you're driving."

As he said that, Nicole came back into the middle, carrying a white three-gallon bucket; it was obviously quite heavy. "I should add," Randy smiled, "That this gift isn't from Nicole and me, but from the Spearfish Lake First United Methodist Church, where four empty bottles of Everclear with Arizona tax stamps were found after Nicole's and my wedding."

"Oh, good grief," Crystal said out loud, just about clear as to what was coming. Scooter grinned just a little; although she had done the actual spiking, the idea had been pretty much Crystal's. She suspected – no, was dead sure – that Nicole had been right: her time would come. Myleigh was getting married in little more than a month; for an instant the question crossed her mind: would she get handcuffed at her wedding reception too?

Randy bent over, popped off the lid of the bucket, threw the handcuff key inside, put the lid back on and gave it a good shaking before handing it to Preach. "I think we cleaned out every lookalike key blank in a couple fairly large cities to get those," Randy laughed. "And the Methodist Men's Club used four key machines to make all those keys. You could probably open a lot of houses and start a lot of cars in Spearfish Lake if the blanks happened to match. That should keep you going a long way to Atlanta."

"Wait till morning before you get started," Nicole laughed. "It's fun to spend your wedding night wearing only fifteen ounces of stainless steel. But then, raft guides have a reputation to maintain, don't they?"

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To be continued . . .

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