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Down By the Riverside book cover

Down By the Riverside
Book Nine of the Dawnwalker Cycle
Wes Boyd
©2015, ©2016

Chapter 20
Saturday, November 23, 2002

Perhaps it was a little surprising, but the people who worked for Canyon Tours often didn’t know many of their co-workers very well. The college-student boatmen, especially, tended to stay on crews for the full season, and often for most of their time in college. Unless an emergency happened – and they occasionally did – sometimes a crew might not change all summer, and a crew might consist of more or less the same team in following years. That meant that a boatman might not know anyone on the other crews at all, except by reputation.

That hadn’t quite been the case the year before, when boatmen from two crews had run together for a couple of days as part of the arrangements for Al and Karin’s wedding. This year, teams had occasionally passed each other on the river as a result of one team running the shorter trips inherited from GCR. But that didn’t happen very often, and when it did there was little time for news or gossip.

To try to alleviate this problem somewhat and to build more of a company team feeling, many years before, Al and Louise had started a post-season wind-down party after the last team got off the river in the fall. A couple of times the crowd got much larger than normal, such as the previous year when the post-season party also doubled as Crystal and Preach’s wedding reception, but normally it was just a handful of people.

It took twenty boatmen to make up the four teams that Canyon Tours put on the river. Sometimes Al had to reach pretty deep to make up the crews, especially in the fall after most of the college kids had gone back to school and he had to borrow boatmen temporarily from other companies. Still, only twenty-seven people had served the company as boatmen this year, and that included Karin and Al himself.

Since only some of the college-student rafters went to NAU, and some of the pickup boatmen chose not to show up long after the main rafting season ended, only seventeen boatmen made it to the party this year along with a handful of swampers. Even Duane and Michelle, the Gold Team trip leaders, were absent, off training sled dogs in some far northern forest. It was very muted in comparison to the previous year. Al was fine with that; last year’s party/reception had gotten a little too liquid to suit him, especially considering that some of the college students weren’t of legal drinking age in the first place.

In the past the party had been only a couple days after the last crew got off the water. This year, when Al realized that most everyone would be available if they shoved it back a week or two to allow the fall crews to wind down a bit, he and Karin scheduled it for the weekend before Thanksgiving.

Nanci had been looking forward to going to the party. She’d been away from the river for almost three months and she missed it more than she thought she would. Since it was only a couple hours drive from Phoenix to Flagstaff, she made it home about every other weekend, at least partly to attend Hillside Methodist Church. She’d only managed to catch the White Team off the river once in that period, and she missed everybody more than she expected. These were her people, after all.

It was so good to be back together with everyone that Nanci even considered having a beer – the only one she’d had in over a year had been on a very hot day deep within the Canyon when she’d opened the wrong can by mistake and figured she’d better drink it. That one had been all she wanted. In the end, she decided to stick with soft drinks at the party.

There were only a few people there when she arrived; Crystal and Preach were not among them. But there were enough people that she could hear some stories of the adventures and misadventures of other crews, and some of the latter could be funny. There was the story about a woman who was perched on a groover set up out in the open with a nice view of the water when a motor rig party pulled in for a quick break right in front of her. Her scream, the guy telling the story said, could have been heard up on the rim.

“That probably set a new Canyon record for embarrassment,” Larry grinned.

“Probably not,” Al laughed. “There are other stories, believe me.” It was good that Larry was there; he’d left the crew a week before Nanci so he could get back to Arizona State and get things set up for his senior year. She’d seen him once, in October, when she’d accepted his invitation to attend his church, and he’d driven up separately from Nanci because he had to get back that evening. “So Larry,” Al asked when Nanci and a couple other boatmen were talking about their favorite subject, the river, “are you going to be back with us next season after all?”

“I don’t know yet, but it looks really doubtful,” he replied. “I’ve got a real strong lead on a job with an architectural firm. It’s really kind of an entry-level position, but the pay is good.”

“You’ve done a good job for us over the years, Larry,” Al said. “If it works out that you can put in another summer or two, it’d be fine with me. But I know people have to move on with their lives, and I’ve seen a lot of good boatmen do it.”

“How does it look like you’re going to be fixed for boatmen next summer?”

“It’s awkward,” Al sighed. “But then, it’s always awkward this time of year, and it sometimes doesn’t get much less awkward when we get all the teams on the river.”

Crystal and Preach showed up not long afterward, with Crystal actually wearing a colorful sweater and what Nanci suspected was the only pair of slacks her older sister owned. That was pretty dressy for her.

Nanci hadn’t had much time to talk with Crystal since they’d been on the river back in August, so there was some obvious catching up to do while Preach was busy talking to someone else. It had been a fairly uneventful fall for the White Team, with the exception of a soggy, dreary week early in October that everyone had been glad to have behind them. With Nanci and Larry gone for the fall, their places had been taken by Jerry Palmer, whose season running motor rigs at GCR had ended, and Brett Riley, one of the boatmen who had come over from GCR with the oar trips.

Once they got caught up on the limited amount of White Team news, Nanci and Crystal found other things to talk about, like Nanci’s experiences at Black Mesa, which were going pretty smooth. “I’m really not on campus very much, at least outside of class work or some library research,” Nanci explained. “I mean, I’m not involved with campus social activities at all, and I don’t know anyone except the people I’m going to class with, and not very many of those.”

“I suppose Barbara is keeping you busy,” Crystal smiled.

“Oh, yeah, but not real busy. Tanisha does most of that kind of thing, while I work on the other housework that needs to be done. It’s not a real lot, but I’ve got a ton of studying to do.”

“Out of curiosity, have you found a church down there yet?”

“No, but I’m not even looking. I come up here to go to Hillside about every other weekend, since I really feel that’s my home church. On the other weekends, I move around so I can check out some other churches just to see what they’re like. Some are all right, and a lot of them I don’t particularly care for. I have to admit, though, the ones that send an assistant pastor or someone over to the house to proselytize me are the ones that irritate me the most. I have heard some of the most cockamamie reasons why I should drop my membership at Hillside so I can become one of their admiring throng. I honestly don’t think some of them are particularly interested in Jesus, they just say they are so they can get at your wallet, especially looking at how lavish some of those churches are and how big and expensive the cars the pastors drive are.”

“It sounds to me like someone twisted your tail pretty hard,” Crystal smiled. “You have to wonder if they don’t turn off more people than they turn on.”

“True, but the ones they bring in seem to be pretty hooked,” Nanci sighed. “Let’s get off that subject. It’s turning into one of my pet peeves, and we’re supposed to be talking about rafting tonight.”

“Fine with me,” Crystal agreed. “I’ve met more of those types than I really want to, and especially on the church tour last winter.”

“I was wondering if you were going to wind up doing that again.”

“Believe me, I was wondering, too. That friend of Preach’s back in Tennessee could keep us going every night from now until the first launch in the spring. Well, he might miss Christmas, but maybe not. I’m afraid Preach and I had to draw the line with him on how many we’d do. Well, Preach did, and I think it was because he told Pastor Jordan that I’d strangle him if we had to do it for more than about a month, and then we had to have them spread out a little.”

“I’m surprised you let him get away with that much.”

“Oh, Dad was in on it, too. We’ve got several shows lined up to do, selling trips and just being out in the public eye. Those will take the sting out. We should pretty well be wrapped up with everything by late January, and that’ll be a relief. Then we ought to be able to get away for a while and have a little fun.”

“Are you still talking about going to Israel?”

“We talked about it back last summer, and this fall until we got off the river and started watching TV,” Crystal shook her head. “Then we started to realize that they’re going to be throwing a war over there pretty soon, so we decided to not be in that neck of the woods this winter.”

“That’s probably good thinking, although hotels and those things might be pretty cheap.”

“I don’t think I want to find out,” Crystal shook her head. “I mean, I’m usually ready for trouble when it finds me, but I don’t like to go looking for trouble if I can help it. Anyway, we kicked around a couple other ideas, and we decided to save what we could for a really big trip, maybe next winter, maybe the winter after that. There are several trips down in the Southern Hemisphere we’ve kicked around, big, once-in-a-lifetime things, something that might take us months to do. If we can get one or two of them out of the way, then we might be a little closer to starting a family like Preach wants to do.”

“You sound like you’re not all that crazy about the idea.”

“I’m not enthusiastic, but I’m willing. There’s a difference. I can see that it’s going to be coming sooner or later, and I might as well do it on my terms. One of those terms is to do it on my own schedule, and get some other stuff out of the way first. I’m not getting any younger, Nanci, and if it’s going to happen, I have to face up to the fact that it’s going to have to happen in the next few years.”

“It’s a little further up the road for me,” Nanci admitted. “I don’t feel any great drive to get married or have children. The Lord may change my mind in a few years, and if He does, that’s fine, but for now I realize I have other things to do first.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard you talk about it in the past. Like Preach and I have pretty well agreed that we want to do those trips and have a house of our own before we get started with the family stuff. We’re going to be staying at the Girls’ House again when we’re in town this winter.”

“It seems like it would get a little crowded.”

“It does, but it won’t be long. Scooter, Jim, Mary, and Dave are going to be taking off and heading south in the next few days, and that’ll empty the place right out, so Preach and I will have the place to ourselves for about a month before the church tours and shows start up. Then we might have it to ourselves again for a while in the spring while we’re working on raft maintenance, painting and rigging, assuming Scooter and the gang stay south long enough.”

“Are they going to that place in Mexico again?”

“Turns out they’re not. Dave and Mary have been going down there for several years, and they’re getting a little tired of it. From what I hear, Mary and Scooter passed notes back and forth all summer, and they’re kicking around the idea of checking out Costa Rica for a little different place to winter over. There’s supposed to be some good surf there. Preach and I may go down and join them for a while after we’re done with the show stuff, or we may not. That sort of depends on how much work we’re going to have to do on the rafts and gear. Depending on what Scooter and the others find out, Mom and Al may go down for a while.”

“I hadn’t heard about that.”

“That’s because it’s still up in the air. If they don’t go to Costa Rica, they might go to Hawaii, or that place out in the Pacific they’ve been talking about, but that probably won’t be until after Preach and I get back from the shows. That’s part of why Costa Rica is up in the air for us.”

“Wow, I almost feel like I’m being left behind to hold the fort by myself.”

“Well, actually it’s going to be more of a case of Jeff and Dan being left to hold the fort by themselves,” Crystal shrugged. “Of course, whether we can get away will depend at least a little bit on how much work they can get done on the rafts and stuff by then, so that’s why everything is up in the air. The only thing besides shows and trips I know of is the holidays. The last I heard we’re going to go down to your place and have Thanksgiving with Jon and Tanisha.”

“That’s what I heard, too. The only problem with that is that guess who will have to do most of the cooking? I’ll give you three guesses, and none of them had better be Tanisha.”

“Just think of it as having to do a meal on a river trip by yourself,” Crystal counseled with a giggle. “You ought to be able to handle it all right.”

“Well, maybe,” Nanci teased back. “Maybe if I can get Al to lend me the White Team griddle it ought to work out all right. Then we’re back up here for Christmas, right?”

“That’s how it’s worked the last couple of years. Al usually invites any boatmen without local connections who are hanging around town. I don’t know if Preach and I are going to be here for that or what. The schedule right in there is tight and we’d have to fly back if we can make it at all. There’s a possibility we might stay with Pastor Jordan in Chattanooga. That’s kind of up in the air, too.”

Nanci was getting a little tired of the subject. While it had been a while since she’d had a good one-on-one with her half-sister, she also knew that she’d be spending the winter down in Phoenix, going to Black Mesa and living with Jon and Tanisha, and dealing with Barbara. While there wasn’t much else she really wanted to do, she envied her sister a little for being able to get out and go places like she’d never really had the opportunity to do. “Speaking of up in the air,” she said, at least partly to change the subject, “did you see that TV show about a week ago, the interview with Jennlynn Swift? I know you know her.”

“We didn’t see it when it was broadcast, but Mom recorded it for us and we watched it over at their place the next night,” Crystal smiled. “That was a really interesting interview. I mean, I don’t know her that well, but I found out things about her that I’d never dreamed. Did you see it?”

“I sure did,” Nanci smiled. “In fact, I saw it with Jennlynn herself, Jon, and Tanisha. About a month ago Jon broke down and got a big TV instead of that little black and white portable they got at a garage sale somewhere years ago. He said that sooner or later Barbara is going to get interested in Sesame Street.”

“He might be pushing the envelope on that one a little bit,” Crystal laughed. “So what was Jennlynn’s reaction?”

“She said she was surprised that it came out that well.” Though Nanci didn’t want to say it to Crystal, she’d been the subject of the interview a little, when Jennlynn had compared the way things were at the Redlite Ranch to the kind of life a friend of hers had lived, a former street prostitute she hadn’t named. From some of the things that had been said, she’d known Jennlynn had been talking about her. “Apparently she thinks that reporter was as good as her word.”

“Boy, you don’t see that in reporters very much. Back last spring some bozo girl came after Jon and Tanisha to try to get them to say something about Jennlynn, and I had to breathe on her a little heavily.”

“I heard about that,” Nanci laughed. “Jon said there was a lot of that kind of thing going on back in those days. Anyway, I found myself real interested in what they shot in the Redlite Ranch. I’d never dreamed of a place like that.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty neat,” Crystal grinned. “I’ve been there, you know.”

“Crystal, I find that hard to believe.”

“Well it was actually Scooter, Michelle, and me,” Crystal explained. “We were on our way to go skiing up in the Sierras a few years ago when we drove past the place and we saw Jennlynn’s plane sitting there. Well, she’d told us one time they have a good restaurant and they like people to stop in just to eat if the place isn’t busy. It didn’t look busy, so we stopped. I never saw Michelle looking so embarrassed, and she doesn’t embarrass easily.”

“Crystal, I don’t know about you sometimes,” Nanci laughed. “There was a time when that kind of thing might have interested me if things had worked out a little differently, and I’m talking even before Kip. Now, I’ll admit to being a little curious about it, but I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with it myself. But that’s not what I was leading up to. Have Jon or Tanisha told you about Jennlynn?”

“No,” Crystal shook her head. “Did something interesting fall out of that TV show?”

“Oh, did it ever. I was there when Jennlynn called Jon and Tanisha last night. It seems that missionary pilot who was with her when she landed that airliner in Biloxi, well, he was the go-between who allowed Jennlynn and her parents to make up at least a little bit.”

“You’re kidding!”

“No, I’m not. I mean, all I know is what I got from Jon and Tanisha, but apparently Jennlynn and her parents are on speaking terms again. I don’t think all the pain has gone away, but at least some of it has.”

Crystal shook her head. “I never thought I’d see that happen. I mean, I’ve heard her say some really nasty things about her parents.”

“I have, too,” Nanci agreed. She wouldn’t think of claiming the slightest bit of credit for it, but she hoped that her prayers for reconciliation had been at least a small factor in the miracle, although it was clear that missionary had done the heavy lifting for God. “She’s been over to the house several times, she’s probably Jon and Tanisha’s best friend, so they talk back and forth a lot. But even that isn’t the big news. Have you ever met Will?”

“Will? Who’s he?”

“Will is Jennlynn’s long-time boyfriend, although even Jon and Tanisha didn’t know about him until last spring. He’s in the Air Force in Mississippi, but they own a house together up in the Nevada desert. Apparently they’ve been close friends for years.”

“I never heard a thing about it,” Crystal shook her head. “So what happened?”

“They’re going to get married. I don’t know the details, I only heard about it from Jon last night. It seems that Will is getting sent to the Middle East, and Jennlynn didn’t want to let him go without being married.”

“That does not sound like the Jennlynn I’ve come to know,” Crystal sighed. “I mean, not in the slightest. So when are they getting married?”

“Like I said, I don’t know the details, but apparently pretty soon. I do know that whenever and wherever it is, Jon and Tanisha have an invitation to be there.”

“Well, that much doesn’t surprise me,” Crystal shrugged. “I know they’ve been pretty close. Jennlynn was a big help to them in the years they were out of touch with everyone else.”

“They talk about prostitutes with a heart of gold,” Nanci nodded. “Well, you and I know one. I guess it’s true what they say about the Lord working in mysterious ways.”

“All I have to do is look at you and think back a few years to when I was in high school to know you’re right,” Crystal smiled. “Let’s go over and check out the munchies, then see if we can overhear a few more lies about what went on out on the river this summer.”

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To be continued . . .

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