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 35

Thursday, January 30 - Friday, February 1, 2002

The trip was winding down; there was no doubt about it. Randy could feel it coming to an end, and there was a sadness that it wouldn't continue much longer, mixed with the anticipation of not being far from being back home with Nicole. It had been a long time, and he missed her.

Andros had been fun, but after a couple days it had been time to move on. On this evening, they had the Felicity Ann tied to the pier on Great Harbour Island in the Berrys, the first time they'd found pier space on the whole trip. They were going to have to shove off in the morning, because it was a long haul back to Marsh Town on Abaco, where they had to be on Saturday so they could hand the boat off to Crystal and Preach. Besides, Randy and Michelle had an early flight to Nassau and on to Miami, so they wanted to be at Marsh Harbour or at least close to it the next night.

They'd spent much of the day snorkeling on the big reef that lay to the west of Great Harbour Cay. It had been a lot of fun, even though Randy had gotten a little casual about sunscreen, figuring he was fairly safe after all the sun he'd had in the last two weeks. He was paying the price now, having become quite sunburned, and in the mood to get a little buzz on to ease the pain. The sun was down, and they'd found a pretty good bar that advertised having a band. It seemed like a good way to wrap up what in many ways would be the last regular night of the trip.

It was still early in the evening and they all were feeling pretty good, when the bartender walked up to the little stage in the bar, flipped on the microphone and announced, "I'm sorry, but I just had a call from the band. They missed the last flight onto the island, so they're not going to be here this evening."

There was a sigh of disappointment in the room. This was going to take the edge off the evening, no doubt about it. Then Scooter said, "Hey, Randy, Alien. The two of you ought to go get your guitars and fill in. You've been getting pretty good."

Randy was usually pretty reticent about performing in front of an audience. He'd had to do it a few times with Jennifer and Blake, who occasionally took the Boreal String Band out to play a date. Randy was a member of the group, but he preferred to play for friends or at best in front of a small party. However, he'd had just enough beer to make it seem like a good idea. "Sounds good to me," he announced. "Alien, you go talk the barkeep into it; I'll run and get the guitars."

"Sure," she grinned as she got up. "It sounds like a ball."

It wasn't far to the Felicity Ann, and he was back with the guitars just as the bartender was announcing, "It looks like we're going to have a band after all. I don't know how good they are, but they're going to play for drinks, so the price is right." Randy couldn't help but break a grin. He was determined he wasn't going to get as blown away as he had been the first night out, but if Alien was in her true form it might have been cheaper to pay the original band.

He handed Michelle her gig bag and pulled out his guitar. It was nowhere as good as his primary six string at home, and nothing like as good as the bass guitar he played for the Boreals, but he had come to like it. They headed up to the stage, spent a couple minutes tuning up, then Randy stepped up to the mike. "Hi, everybody," he said. "We're Randy and the Alien. I'm Randy, and I call her 'the Alien' because she's from Roswell and she's kind of spacy."

Michelle turned, stuck her tongue out at him, and said sweetly into the other mike, "I call him Randy because, well, he is."

About half the audience caught the obvious double meaning, and there was a laugh that went around. "I know you've never heard of us," Randy said. "And with any kind of luck, after tonight you never will again unless maybe you want to take a ride down the Grand Canyon with Canyon Tours, but let's have some fun anyway."

"That's it, Randy, get a plug in for the company, right at the beginning," Michelle laughed. "You know what we ought to start out with?"

"Darn right," Randy laughed, starting in on the opening on his guitar, and then beginning to sing, She was afraid to come out of the locker,"

"She was afraid that somebody would see," Michelle took the next line. They'd practiced this one more than most, during the long evenings on the deck of the Felicity Ann.

When they got down to the chorus, She wore an itsy bitsy teenie weenie tiny yellow thong bikini" Michelle whipped off the tiny wraparound skirt she'd been wearing. It had been about the shortest skirt Randy had ever seen, unless you counted the ruffle around the waist of one of one of Myleigh's bikini bottoms as a skirt. It didn't cover her bikini bottom when she was standing up. Singing the chorus with him, Michelle swung around and wiggled her almost bare butt at the audience in time with the music, and that drew a huge howl from the crowd. She swung back around for the next verse, but wiggled her butt at the crowd through each of the choruses.

They drew a big round of applause from that, as Michelle picked up her skirt and tied it back on. As the noise died out, Randy laughed. "I've got a song about a nude beach but we'll have to get Alien drunk enough before we can do it,"

That drew another laugh, and several drinks were set on the stage in front of her almost immediately. Alien being Alien, she picked them up, tossed them off as if they were water, then said, "You're not talking about Girls On The Beach, are you?"

"No, but let's do it," he said.

It was a decided change of pace, but went over well. As Randy was singing, the thought crossed his mind that he'd inadvertently set up the opportunity to attempt the impossible. No one had ever seen the Alien well and truly drunk, but this could be the night to give it a try, and with the crowd paying for it. He made a mental note to stick to beer and not too much of it. After all, the worst that could happen is that he would have to come up with a song about a nude beach. He didn't know any and was no songwriter, but he thought he could make up something if the crowd was drunk enough.

After two weeks of playing guitar together most days, he and the Alien pretty well had the range of each other, and they had a pretty good stock of songs. It was not only the stuff they'd picked up from Blake and Jennifer, but Beach Boys stuff, Jimmy Buffett stuff and Steam Train John stuff. It was all pretty rowdy by itself, and they didn't even include Alien's stock of dirty songs she sang in the Grand Canyon when the mood was on her and the crowd receptive. They weren't going to run out of material; that was for sure.

Apparently the word got around that there was a pretty good party going on, because after a while the bar was jammed to the gills. It was standing room only in there; the waitresses had given up trying to keep up with all the orders and were behind the bar, helping the bartender keep up with self-serve orders. Even then they still had a line to work against. Every second or third song, Randy managed to make some comment about doing the nude beach song if they could get Alien drunk enough, and despite the backlog from the bar there was always something set in front of her. Randy didn't want to think about how much she'd already drunk that evening – probably more than he had in his whole life combined – but she didn't seem to be slowing down any.

Everything was going pretty good when Randy heard a shout: "Hey, that's that fuckin' chick that messed with me over at Dunmore Town last week!" He looked up to see the guy Alien had drunk under the table their first night out. Oh, shit, he thought. Here we go, just when it was getting to be a good party.

"Hey, if you could hold your booze you wouldn't have passed out puking," Alien sneered into the microphone. Everyone in the bar could hear it, of course.

"Chick or not, I don't take shit like that from nobody," the guy yelled back. Randy could see that he was pretty drunk again.

Alien stopped playing in the middle of the song, set the guitar down, and said into the microphone, "Losers always think they're hot shit, too."

The drunk came storming up out of the audience as Alien stepped off of the low stage, but somehow Scooter got between them first. "Hey, wait!" she yelled. "Just a fucking minute. The last time you two went at it I didn't get the chance to get any money down. How about it folks? I've got five to one on the chick. Get your money down now!"

The drunk stood there fuming, his buddies holding onto him, while Alien stood there giggling as a pile of money quickly accumulated on Scooter's table. Scooter let it go for a couple minutes, then said, "All right, I think we're pretty set. Have at it, you two."

If the drunk had been steaming before, he was incandescent now. He charged across the few feet separating him and Michelle, swinging wildly. He never even managed to connect, and it took nothing of Alien's martial arts skills to have him laid out on the floor in less time than it takes to tell about it. His five buddies seemed to figure he should have at least had a chance to land a punch, so they rushed Alien, while Randy stepped off the stage to give her some fire support. That melee didn't last long either: Scooter and the rest of the Canyon Tours people were still gathering money off the table when it ended. They barely finished by the time the barkeeper along with the enthusiastic help of some of the crowd had the inert bodies tossed out the door. Michelle dusted off her hands, stepped up on the stage, and gave a standing back flip onto the floor by way of celebration.

Randy picked up his guitar and headed back to the microphone. "Sorry about the interruption there, folks," he said, "just rowdies we've run into before and were too drunk that time to learn anything, either. I think the young lady deserves a drink, don't you? I don't think we've got her anywhere near drunk enough yet."

There was a big cheer and several more drinks were set down in front of her. Randy snagged a beer out of the stack and took a couple swallows, while she downed several glasses of the harder stuff. "OK, that was a pretty good break," she smiled. "Let's take that last one from the top again, shall we, Randy?"

*   *   *

It was going to be a beautiful day out there; it wasn't early and was warming up nicely Randy noticed when he poked his head out of the hatch from time to time. It was bright out there, a perfect Bahamas day and it looked like there would be a nice breeze for the run back to Abaco.

The coffee was boiling nicely on the galley stove – river style, just a pot with a pound can of coffee thrown into it, and boiled until it could dissolve any horseshoes that could sink into it. It was really a pain to try and do bacon and eggs on the other free burner of the two-burner alcohol stove that was all the Felicity Ann was equipped with.

Randy was really glad he'd stayed real light on the drinking the night before. He had a mild head on him, nothing very bad, and certainly not bad enough to keep him from doing what he'd set out to do, he thought as he sang the chorus to Tiny Yellow Thong Bikini. It had been quite a night, he thought. It could well turn into a Grand Canyon legend.

"Oh, fuck!" he heard a moan behind him.

He smiled to himself and started the song over again. "She was afraid to come out of the locker . . ."

"Fuck you, Randy, and get your bare ass out of my face while you're at it," he heard Alien say.

"You remember what we promised Duane and Nicole," he laughed. "No fucking, remember?"

"Fuck you, Randy," she replied from behind him. "What am I doing in your bunk, anyway?"

"It was easier to pour you in there," he told her. "Glad you're awake. Breakfast is almost ready. I've got bacon and eggs going, and coffee making – river style, of course; I figured you'd want it strong."

"Fuck you, Randy. And why don't I have any clothes on?"

"You were the one who took them off," he said. "I got to playing The Stripper and you couldn't stop yourself. That was something to remember."

"Me doing a striptease? Don't tell me I did a striptease right down to nothing!"

"OK, I won't tell you," he laughed. "I'll let Scooter tell you. Or Jim. Or Dave or Mary. They'll be glad to tell you, and everyone else on the river."

"Fuck you, Randy," she said again, apparently starting to remember some of the later events from the evening prior.

"I'm sure they'll also be glad to tell everyone on the river about how you passed out while right in the middle of reciting Eskimo Nell in the nude," he laughed.

"Oh, fuck," she said. "I feel terrible. I don't pass out. I never pass out from drinking."

"First time for everything," he laughed again, and began to sing from a Hobo Jim song they'd sung the night before. "Oh, the Dramamine fisherman goes up and goes down, while his belly inside him goes round and around, he gets a whiff of the fish and that old coffee pot . . ."

"Oh fuck," she said, scrambling out of his bunk and heading for the steps to the hatch, still nude, of course. "I gotta hurl."

". . . and it's heave away, heave away boys," he finished the chorus as he heard retching from outside. He stuck his head out of the hatchway to see Michelle hanging over the stern rail, her bare butt pointing right at him, as she blew her cookies with Scooter, Jim, Dave, and Mary looking on from the cockpit in various stages of hangovers themselves.

"Randy," Scooter said, "You're cruel."

"Yep," he said, deciding the coffee was about done. He took a coffee filter, poured some into a mug and handed it outside, following it with others before he joined the party on deck. Alien lay in the footwell, shaking like another round was coming any time now. "Maybe she is human after all," he observed. "But I think I'll still call her Alien. Bacon and eggs coming right up."

"Fuck you, Randy," Alien said in an exhausted tone. "While you're at it, fuck the horse you rode in on."

Randy leaned in the hatchway, taking a sip of coffee while looking at her. "Come on, Michelle. You've caused enough hangovers over the years; you really need to know what you've been causing. What goes around, comes around. If it makes you feel any better, I don't think you have it as bad as I had it last week."

"Fuck you, Randy," she said again, then added in a rather squelched tone, "Oh, shit," then headed for the rail again.

"Looks like a nice day for sailing," Randy observed to Scooter. "Any chance we're going to be right on the wind and bouncing around all day like we did on the way to Exuma?"

"No, thank God," Scooter whimpered at the thought. "Downwind all day, at least till we get in the lee of Abaco. Now that Michelle's up, we probably ought to think about having breakfast and getting moving. We ain't gonna make it in till after dark."

"Like I said, bacon and eggs coming right up," he said. "Maybe I'd better get some pants on, too."

"Yeah, one nude on deck here in the harbor ought to be enough," Jim grinned.

Given the state of everyone's heads it took a while to get around and get the Felicity Ann's bow pointed toward Abaco. It was downwind, and relatively calm; seas that would have splashed over the deck had they been pounding into them barely lifted them as they moved slowly along. Time passed slowly, and it barely seemed like they were going anywhere although the taffrail log said they were moving along adequately.

"You know," Jim remarked after a while, "We probably would move along a bit better if we flew that spinnaker that's stashed up in the locker under Dave and Mary's bunk."

"Yeah, maybe," Scooter agreed from her position on the deck, where she was picking up some sun, topless as usual when offshore. "But to tell you the truth, I've never flown a spinnaker and wouldn't know where to start."

"I've done it," he said. "They take a little rigging and can get tricky when you're not dead downwind. We are, so it shouldn't be any problem."

"Then fuck, go ahead and do it," she said. "In fact, let me help so I can see how it's done."

Having the big sail billowing out in front of them did make the boat go a little faster, though it seemed like they were going a lot faster. However, with the wind not being very strong they were just rounding Hole in the Wall and getting set to turn up the east coast of the island when the sun was setting. They used the last of the light to drop the spinnaker and bag it up, then make the turn to run up the coast well offshore. The wind was dying down now, just a gentle breeze. "We're going to be out all night," Scooter said. "At this rate we're not even going to get to Marsh Harbour before dawn. That's just fine, I wouldn't want to try to sneak through between those outer islands in the dark anyway."

"Randy and I have a plane to catch in the morning," Alien reminded them.

"We'll make your plane, no problem," Scooter said. "Even if we have to motor the rest of the way in. I haven't used a motor down here yet, though, and I don't plan to start now."

Once again, they set watches, although everyone stayed on deck for a while before going below – the trip was really ending now, and none of them wanted it to. Still, Randy and Alien managed to get some sleep before Scooter came to wake them up. She was yawning; given the closeness to land, she wanted to be called at the change of every watch. "That's Little Harbour light off there in the distance on the port bow," she told the two. "As long as you stay offshore of that we should be all right. We're not moving real fast, so you probably won't get it abeam before the watch changes on this course. If you do, call me."

"Sure, no problem, Skipper," Alien yawned. "It's hard to believe this is the last night."

"All good things come to an end," Scooter yawned in reply to Alien. "I've got to get my ass back to sleep. Don't be afraid to call me if you have any problems."

"Sure enough," Randy told her.

Alien went below to make coffee for herself and Randy, while he steered the Felicity Ann northeastward. In a few minutes she was back topside, carrying the two coffee cups. "She sure makes a good skipper, doesn't she?" Alien said absently.

"Darn good," Randy said. "Best I've ever sailed with, not that my experience counts for anything."

"I've been on the river with a lot of trip leaders," she replied. "I think she's the best I've ever been with, and that includes Al. Don't get me wrong, I like Crystal, I like Dave and Mary, but it's not quite the same thing. You hear stories about people willing to follow a leader into hell. Frankly, Scooter is about the only one I'd care to try it with."

"How about Duane?" he asked.

"I don't know yet," she sighed. "I have the feeling he's going to be as good a leader, maybe even better, but I won't know until we've been on the river for a while. Off the river, yeah, I think he's going to do just fine. You would too, Randy, if it came right down to it, which I know it won't. I know I could never be a leader like that."

"I find that a little surprising," he said. "Hell, I know you're the senior boatman in the company. I know you look young as hell, but since you got rid of your braces and kicked the bubble gum habit you at least look like you're in your twenties. I think you'd make a hell of a leader."

"No, I wouldn't," she said. "I have to have someone setting limits on me, like Scooter just did. Keep on this course, call me when that light gets abeam. Oh, I could manage it in an emergency, but I'd hate it like hell. I've come to the conclusion that I'm a follower, Randy, not a leader. There's nothing wrong with that; good leaders need good followers, too. It's like a dog team. You need a leader to get you there, but you need the team dogs, too."

"I suppose," he said. "I hadn't looked at it that way before."

"And on top of that, the leader of a dog team needs a musher setting limits and telling him were to go. I love the dogsledding, but I don't know how bad I want to try the Iditarod. I mean, I think it would be a challenge, but I'm not sure I'm leader enough to manage it. I think I learned that behind a dog team, too."

"Best you learn it now, rather than out in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness somewhere," he observed.

"Yeah, that's true, isn't it?" She was silent for a moment, then added, "Randy, I don't know how to say this, but I have to thank you for last night."

"That was a pretty good party, wasn't it?" he grinned.

"Oh, yeah, it was a good party for quite a while," she laughed. "At least up to the point where things got a little bit fuzzy. God, I can't believe I actually did some of that stuff you guys said I did. And on top of that, what you did to me this morning was no goddamn fun, either. But I guess I deserved it."

"Yeah," he said softly. "You did."

"I guess that's what I meant about leadership and setting limits," she said. "You guys let me run pretty free without any limits last night, and it bit me in the ass. The hell of it is I've done that kind of shit before, and I've always gotten away with it. The running wild is fun but I do need someone to set those limits for me. You finally managed to show me what happens when I don't have someone setting those limits. I was thinking about it today, and I guess I've been, well, a little reluctant to have someone set those limits, but I can see that I was wrong. I think Duane can let me run wild when he wants to and not let me go over the edge."

"Michelle, I almost hate to tell you, but that's kinda what's known as growing up."

"Yeah, it sorta sucks, doesn't it?"

"If it's any consolation," he said, "ever since I've known you I've had difficulty looking twenty years into your future and watching you still with bubble gum, braces, and Michelle Specials. I think it would have looked pretty goddamn silly."

"Yeah, you're right," she sighed, "It would have looked pretty silly. Maybe it's time for me to settle down to being a good assistant trip leader, and maybe a good wife, too. I hope Duane will pretty much still be an outdoor bum, but if he is I think he'll be a good one to be with."

"I don't think he's ready to settle all the way down yet, just like you aren't," he said. "But I sort of suspect you'll wind up settling each other down. My guess is it's going to work out pretty good with the two of you. Icewater and the Alien sounds like a pretty good team to me."

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To be continued . . .

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