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 31

Saturday, January 19, 2002

It was warm in the airport in Miami – a little too warm for Randy the way he was dressed. It would have been suicidal to be this lightly dressed back in Spearfish Lake, but he knew it was a lot warmer in Florida. To avoid having to deal with a useless encumbrance, he'd left his heavy winter jacket with Nicole, who hopefully would have it in the car for him when he got back to Camden.

Just to make sure it would get to the Bahamas with him, he had a large carry-on bag with everything he would need for the next two weeks. In spite of his distrust of the airlines, he had checked one bag – an old gig bag with a cheap guitar in it, one he'd picked up used at a garage sale a couple summers before for no good reason that he could think of at the time. He'd figured that if Seaboard Airways managed to lose it, he wouldn't be out anything. Since it wasn't worth much he figured it would arrive on time. A little over a year before South Central had managed to lose Blue Beauty, far and away Myleigh's favorite harp. A heroic effort by Trey had recovered it. That wasn't all bad, for Myleigh had gotten Trey out of the deal, too – but that kind of luck couldn't be counted on twice.

There wasn't much he could do once he got off the plane but hike through the terminal to wait for his flight to Nassau. This trip was going to involve a total of four plane changes – he'd already had one at Minneapolis-St. Paul – so it seemed as if there would be more than ample opportunity for the guitar to turn up missing forever. It was a long walk carrying his bag to the proper gate, and it took a while, but it was a good opportunity to stretch his legs after being jammed into a tiny airline seat. He still had plenty of time when he got to the gate area, so decided to have a cup of coffee to kill some time. The coffee was ungodly expensive, perhaps three times what he would have paid at the Spearfish Lake Cafe, and for a cup that didn't taste particularly good, but he figured they knew when they had a captive customer and made the best out of it. He decided to skip getting a dried-up looking roll that was on display, and looked around for a place to sit when he saw a familiar face behind a cup of coffee. "Michelle," he grinned. "What brings you here?"

"Same thing as you, I expect," she grinned as he sat down across the table from her. "You have a good flight?"

"No worse than usual," he replied grumpily. "Other than the fact that I had to kill three hours in Minneapolis-St. Paul. How about you?" Since they'd decided on flights at different times they'd been on different planes, but had wound up at the same place at the same time. Considering his experience with airlines, it seemed like nothing short of a full-blown miracle.

"Oh, it went pretty good," she replied cheerfully. "I had to change planes in Milwaukee, but it wasn't a long wait and it was a straight shot down here. I've only been here for a few minutes myself."

"What was that? South Central?" he snorted. "I think I looked at that flight myself, but after the number that they did on Myleigh last year there's no way they're getting any of my money. So, are you ready for some sailing?"

"Oh, yeah," she grinned. "Remember, I've done this trip twice before. We're gonna have a good time, Randy. What's more, you ought to have a story or two to tell Nicole."

"I'll consider myself lucky if I come out of this without any stories that I don't dare tell Nicole," he smiled.

"Well, it is a bunch of raft guides, you know," she laughed. "We have a reputation to uphold."

"I've heard that before," he snickered. "In fact, I've heard that so much that I'm beginning to wonder how much truth there is to it."

"I guess you get the chance to find out," she laughed, then went on, "Or, maybe not. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if this trip is a little tame compared to the ones we took the last two years."

"What makes you think that?"

"Come on, think about it," she grinned. "Last year we were three single girls looking for a good time, which included getting laid if everything worked out. This year we've got two married couples, and one of the most married guys I've ever seen. And then, there's me. I'm looking forward to getting back to seeing Duane about as bad as you want to get back to Nicole. At least as far as I'm concerned, that takes the idea of partying hearty in bed out of the deal. So, yeah, it's going to be tame by comparison. I'm just hoping we can keep it from being totally dull."

"You really like the guy, don't you?" Randy nodded knowingly.

"Yeah, Randy, I really like the guy," she replied. "I'm not real sure about where things are going with him and me, but at least for the moment, we both seem to want them to go forward. I've got a couple ideas I want to bounce off you while we're down here, partly because you're a guy, and partly because you don't have the river bug as bad as the rest of us."

"Sure, any time," he said. "I may not be able to give you any useful answers, but at least I can listen to questions."

"At the moment that's about all I really can ask for," she sighed. "Look, let's not get into that now. There'll be plenty of time out on the boat, and I need to bring you up to date on a couple things. Scooter called before I left. I had a chance to talk to her for a bit, but had to head right out the door for a night run so I never got a chance to call you. She and Jim and Dave and Mary are all at Marsh Town, they're going to meet us at the airport. I guess you almost have to call it an airstrip, there isn't a lot of port to it. They're getting all the chow and stuff together. We've got rooms for tonight, and we pick up the Felicity Ann in the morning. We should just be able to throw our stuff on board and get out of there. I don't know where we're going, it's something Scooter wants to talk about tonight."

"Two more flights and I think I'll be about ready to have something to eat, a couple drinks and some serious sleep," he said. "This airline shit wears me out."

"Yeah, me too, and my internal clock is all screwed up because of all the night running we've been doing. I've really been enjoying working with the dogs. It's a lot of fun and I've been learning some neat things, but there's a reason Duane and I haven't seen much of you since New Year's, and It's because we've been working our asses off."

"Goes with the territory," he said. "I'm not much of a dog driver, but I've pitched in at this stage in past years just to help out friends, so I do know what it's like. This year I've been pretty busy with work trying to get everything cleared away to make this trip, and there just hasn't been any spare time."

"Well, you're here, and that's all that counts. We're gonna have some fun on this trip, Randy, even if we're both jonesing to get back to the people we left behind."

They sat there talking about things for nearly an hour before it was time to be getting to the gate for their trip to Nassau. This proved to be a lot more casual, and there were a lot of people heading on vacation like they were, so that helped quite a bit. It seemed as if they were hardly in the air before they were coming in to a landing at George Town. Randy almost wanted to pinch himself to make sure he wasn't having a dream. He'd looked forward to this for months, had it washed out from under him, only to have it revived, and it had been touch and go for a while there around Christmas. Now it was really here, and while he wished that he had Nicole in the seat next to him rather than Michelle, it looked like this actually was going to work out.

There was a sense of relief as they went through customs and headed for the gate to the inter-island plane that would take them to Marsh Town on Abaco, where the Felicity Ann waited for them. This proved to be a much more casual deal. The plane was a lot smaller than the one they'd flown from Miami – two engines, and propellers on them at that. The cabin was only wide enough for two seats with an aisle between them. Randy was a little relieved and surprised to see the crew loading his gig bag onto the plane – it was a true miracle, he thought. He'd have bet money that it had been lost or trashed somewhere between Camden and here.

The flight to Marsh Town was interesting. The plane was not only a lot smaller than the airliner from Miami, it was slower and flew lower, low enough to get a good look at some of the sea and islands they passed. It took longer than the flight from Miami, too, but Randy was starting to get over some of the tension that he normally got from airline travel. This was more the way things were supposed to be.

Best of all, when they got off the plane at Marsh Harbour, they found Scooter, Jim, Mary, and Dave waiting for them. Randy didn't know Dave and Mary well – he'd only met them at the girls' house and the weddings and reception that followed – but he knew Scooter quite well. He'd first met her years before, back when she'd been working at NOC near where Crystal had been working on the Ocoee on her summers off from college. It had taken a while to get to know her, but he liked her – she was sort of a smaller and coarser version of Crystal, and her liking to smoke cigars was both a legend and no joke. "Hey, Randy!" she said, her smile broad across her face as she threw her arms around him. "Good to see you again! How's Nicole doing?"

"Prettier than ever," he smiled. "Hey, that marriage stuff looks good on you."

"Better than I expected," she replied. "Pretty good, in fact. Let's grab your shit and get out of here, we can catch up on all the bullshit when we have a glass in our hands."

It took them an hour or so to get their baggage, take a taxi to the motel, and settle in before heading to a nearby bar, and in that time there just wasn't a lot of time to talk. Finally, when the six of them were settled around the table, they could do some catching up. "So," Michelle said, "The word we've been getting is that the four of you were having a good time down in Mexico, but we didn't hear more than that. So, how did it go?"

"Actually, it's been fairly quiet," Scooter told them, "Other than Dave fucking up his back there for a while, but it seems to be all right, now. The surf where we were staying was nothing much to write home about, so we took a ferry over to Baja and found some pretty decent surf there. We were just camping out on the beach and screwing around most nights, so it seemed like home. We did catch a spell where it was flat, so we drove up to Scammon's Lagoon so we could check out the gray whales. That was pretty cool! Well, after Dave hurt his back we went back to their place and hung around. By then it was getting close to Christmas. We sort of had plans to come up to Spearfish Lake for Myleigh's wedding, but we got to talking it around one night and decided that we'd rather do some more surfing after Dave healed up. So we drove down and caught another ferry over to LaPaz, and found some neat surf there. Well, one thing led to another and we stayed a week or so more than we planned on, so we went back up to Dave and Mary's, closed the place up, then drove up to Phoenix and caught a plane to Miami the day before yesterday. When we get done with this trip we're going to head back to Phoenix and then on up to Flag. I guess we're just gonna stay at the house and do some day tripping until it's time to do some rigging."

"It sounds like you've had quite a winter," Michelle said.

"Yeah, shit, the time just flew by; I don't know where the hell it went. It'll be kind of strange to be back at the house. I don't think anyone has been there since we left, unless Nanci and Kevin have been sneaking over there to do the dirty or something."

"I doubt that's been happening," Michelle grinned. "I think they're both a little straight for that."

"Could be," Scooter giggled. "But for years I've had earfuls from Crystal about how wild Nanci was, so I guess I've sort of been waiting for her to return to form. So, what's been happening in Flag?"

"I really don't know much myself," Michelle said. "I left a few days after the weddings and haven't been back since. Duane and I have been living in this beat-up old mobile home in Spearfish Lake and working on training dogs for the Iditarod."

"Wow, you've stayed with someone for what? Almost two months now? Isn't that some sort of record for you, Michelle?"

"Yeah, and it's been pretty good. We went to Duane's dad's for Christmas; that was a scream. I'll have to tell you about it when we're on the boat. His dad is something else, and it proves that Duane is just as crazy. It's been interesting. But, have you talked to Al much?"

"Only a couple times, and then not a lot," Scooter replied. "He said there's going to be some changes coming this summer, but he didn't go into the details. I guess that means that we're going to be running three crews all season, like he was talking about last fall."

Michelle let out a laugh. "Well, you almost got it right. I guess you have been out of touch."

"So, what's the change?"

"We're going to be running four crews all season," Michelle told her. "Duane is going to lead Team 4, and I'm going to be his assistant."

"Four teams?" everybody around the table except for Randy echoed.

"Yeah, four teams," Michelle repeated when the hubbub died down. "To make a long story short, we're going to be making thirty Canyon Tours launches and taking over six GCR launches."

"What the hell?" Mary asked.

It took Michelle probably fifteen minutes to work through everything that Al had told Duane and her right after Christmas, more than a month before. "I don't have all the details," Michelle summed up. "Al didn't have everything worked out the last time I talked to him, which was on the phone one day last week. It's a definite go, but he said there's still some schedule stuff and other stuff up in the air. We probably won't know everything until we all get back to Flag."

"Wow," Mary said. "When the cat's away and all that shit. That's really going to change things. I wonder what he plans on doing for boatmen for four crews."

"I don't know," Michelle told her. "Al said back at Christmas that he was getting a couple people from GCR, but he didn't say anything else about it when I talked to him last week."

"Well Jim, I guess that means we're not going to be running with Crystal at all," Scooter shrugged. "Don't get me wrong, but it was getting a little intense on Team Two back there last fall. Have you seen Crystal since our weddings? I figured she'd be up there in Spearfish Lake for Myleigh's wedding."

"Oh yeah," Michelle nodded. "She and Preach were there, along with Al and Karin. There's a couple stories there that I've got to tell you when the time is right."

"So, how are they getting along?"

"Better than I expected," Michelle admitted. "I halfway expected that she was going to turn all 'Come to Jesus' on us, but it hasn't happened as far as I could see."

"Well, that's a relief," Scooter shook her head. "I guess she changed more than I expected her to."

"Oh, she's changed," Randy put in. "There's no doubt about that. But she's still the old Crystal in a lot of ways, except that she doesn't swear quite as much. Some, but not as much."

Scooter let out a laugh. "So, did she tell you how that deal with the handcuffs worked out?"

"She didn't tell us much," Randy smiled. "Apparently she was most of the next day getting the handcuffs off. Then the next morning Preach locked them back on her and stirred the key into the bucket again. Since he's still alive and they're still together the last I heard, I guess it worked out, but I don't know how."

"The odds are that a bed helped smooth things a lot," Michelle commented. "But I don't know how. Anyway, she said the church tour was all right but mostly a drag since they were on the road so much and had to be on their best behavior most of the time. We could tell even Preach was getting a little tired of it. If you had to ask me for an opinion, I don't think they'll do it next year, and they're a little sorry they did it this year."

"Well, I don't know," Scooter sighed. "Maybe there's hope for them after all. We haven't even talked about plans for next winter yet, and I guess I'm just as glad we haven't. We kicked around the idea of heading down to Costa Rica or something for surfing and shit, but that might happen and it might not. After the last couple years I feel a little sorry that we haven't had much to do with Crystal this winter, but maybe it was for the best. How about you? Do you think you'd be up for Costa Rica instead of doing this Bahamas trip?"

"It's real doubtful," Michelle said with a shake of her head. "Right at the moment, it looks like Duane and I will be back in Spearfish Lake looking at dog assholes again. We've really enjoyed working with those mutts, and I've really been enjoying hanging out with Duane. There might even be an outside chance that he might get to do the Iditarod next year, rather than the gal who's running the second team this year, but we won't know about that till next fall, maybe."

"Jeez," Scooter said, shaking her head. "You gotta wonder about that. I don't think I'd be up for looking at a bunch of dog assholes at forty below, but I remember Tiffany and Josh from last spring – I guess if you like it, it must be all right."

"Something different, and I kind of like it," Michelle grinned. "In fact, the thought of doing it has crossed my mind once or twice. It won't be next year, though."

"I've always thought you were out of your head, but that proves it," Scooter laughed. "Randy, has she been pulling our legs?"

"No, she really has been getting along with Duane real well, and it seems like both of them are almost as interested in dogsledding as they are in rafting."

"Jesus, everything changes, doesn't it?" Scooter sighed. "The hell with this, let's get another round and get down to business."

Pretty soon there was another round of beer sitting on the table in front of them, and Scooter had a place mat with a stylized map of the Bahamas sitting in the middle of the table. "OK, we're here at Marsh Town on Abaco," she pointed with a swizzle stick. "The first year that Crystal, Michelle, and I were here we mostly farted around on Abaco and Eleuthera, mostly because it was close by and we were really more interested in chasing guys and drinking than we were in sailing. We picked up a couple cool guys on Bowman Cay and spent some time pissing around with them – that was fun until they had to head back home. Last year, just for the sake of something different, we decided to head west to check out Grand Bahama. After that, we headed over to the Biminis, and then on to Andros. I kind of liked Andros, it's not quite as overrun with snooty tourists as some other places. The Biminis and the west end of Grand Bahama seemed a little stuck up to me, but we had a lot of fun on the beaches on the east end of Grand Bahama. You guys, they're just about as empty as a beach can be; we hardly saw a soul."

"Yeah, God, that was cool," Michelle agreed. "Especially when I got you and Crystal on the beach in micro thong bikinis."

"Don't forget that they also turned transparent when you got them wet," Scooter snorted. "You may want to do some of that shit this trip, but somehow I don't see Mary and me wearing that kind of thing. A lot has changed in the past year, and this ain't the same crowd. Anyway, the way I see it, the only thing we really have to do is be back here two weeks from now to give the boat to Crystal and Preach. We can cover some of the old ground where Michelle and I know which bars are pretty cool, or we can try to explore some new territory, like I understand the Berrys aren't overrun with tourists, even if there ain't much there. Nothing says we can't change our minds as we go along, but I could stand to head southeast and explore some new ground. Does anyone else have any ideas?"

"Doesn't matter to me," Randy said. "It's all new to me. My only thought is that it'd be fine with me if this cruise didn't turn into an all-out pub crawl. I don't mind hitting a few, but I wouldn't mind drawing a sober breath once in a while."

"Yeah, I think this cruise is going to be a little different than the ones Michelle and I have been on here before," Scooter told him. "I guess I'm getting older, I don't think I'm up for closing the bars every night like I used to be. Now most nights, that might be OK."

"A little pub crawling never bothered me," Mary said. "Especially when I could watch people try to drink Michelle under the table. One of the downer things about the Grand Canyon is that it's hard to go down to the bar for a Saturday night blowout."

"Unless it's a sand bar, on the end of the trip when there's still some beer left," Jim grinned. "I have seen a pretty good party or two the last night out."

"Well, we all have," Mary grinned. "At least I assume Randy has."

"Well, pretty good," Randy laughed. "Not legendary, but pretty good. Al sure tried to get me sloshed the night after I ran right at Lava."

"Jeez, you did that?" Mary asked, eyes wide. "I knew you'd run a raft down the Canyon a couple times, but I didn't think you'd done that!"

"Well, it was a gearboat," Randy said. "It was loaded with full rocket boxes and empty coolers after Al and Karin's wedding, so I figured that if I wiped out it was no harm done. As it turned out I ran it with Nicole in the bow, and while she looked like she'd been through the washing machine when it was over with, she had a grin that was wider than her face."

"I heard about that," Scooter said. "I'd liked to have been there."

"It was pretty good," Randy laughed. "It was also the first time Karin ran the bubble line, too. Al was with her, but at least he was smart enough to be in the back of the raft."

"Oh, boy," Jim said. "You think that's bad, you have to try to run a motor rig down it sometime. Now, that's really fun."

"Oh, shit," Scooter snorted. "It sounds to me like the business part of this meeting is over and done with. Tell you what. Assuming it ain't blowing a hurricane tomorrow, let's just get in the boat, head for Eleuthera and see how far we get. If we get to the point where we've had enough we can hole up somewhere and figure out what we're going to do the next day. Does that sound all right to everyone? If so, we can get started with some serious bullshitting, and any truth you hear about Grand Canyon stories is only accidental."

"Works for me," Mary said. "God, I remember the first time I ran the bubble line. God, I was so nervous I thought I was going to shit . . ."

The stories got thicker and deeper for the next hour or so. While Randy was sort of an honorary boatman and had run the river a couple times, everyone else at the table was a professional and had done the trip more times than Randy could imagine. He couldn't help feeling a little out of place under the circumstances, but it was fun to sit back and hear the stories flow. The truth quotient was probably a little low, but it was fun to listen to.

Still, these were all good people used to having fun with strangers, and there was nothing said intentionally to make him feel like the outsider that he was. In a way, he already felt a little like part of the group, and the best part was that he was actually here in the Bahamas, ready to go sailing in the morning. Somehow it still seemed like a dream.

They didn't go real late; everybody was tired, and he and Michelle were especially so after having traveled since early morning. The party broke up early, and everybody headed to their rooms. Randy thought about calling Nicole, but decided against it; they'd decided that he wasn't going to try to call all the time, but only once or twice for an update. Instead, he spent a minute looking out the window at the foreign seascape, and the unfamiliar night.

This ought to be a good trip, he thought. It was about time he had his turn, and now he was really going to get to do it. Nicole had wanted badly for him to make this trip, and now it was here. The next time he did a big trip like this, she would be with him.

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