Paul Hunter’s adventure continues. He falls in love, seeks revenge for a wrong committed against him, and tumbles into a life of crime. Can he escape? Good guy – bad guy? Read and decide. Enjoy the ride!
Once upon a time ago, in a peaceable land of rivers and mountains, a drama unfolded. The telling may entertain you for a day or two. And it’s all true, I swear by mom’s tattoo
COC, MONDAY, APRIL 1, 2000
Dahlia Schmitt was a delight. Her pretty figure and boyish haircut caught Paul’s eye on her second day at Caverns Outdoor Center. She seemed taller than her actual 5’4” because of her confident posture and long neck. She was in the United States on a work/study visa and she planned to be in the states for the summer.
The Outdoor Center seemed like a paradise to Dahlia when she’d first planned her visit from her home in Germany. She hadn’t yet made friends with the women working at the center and felt shy about the men. Her English was good and getting better every day. As she bantered with the staff while bussing tables and taking her turn at the dishwashing station her accent and vocabulary improved. She missed her family in Berlin.
Archie Phillips, the restaurant manager, liked her but she spurned his advances, partly because he seemed too old for her, and partly because he thought he had a right to touch her when they spoke. He would put his hand on her arm or shoulder and it creeped her out. She was scared by the lust she saw in his eyes.
Paul was cooking when he first met Dahlia. When he became a waiter, he sometimes helped her with overflowing bus tubs, or crinkled his eyes as he held doors open for her. His beard was full and he had a ponytail. His hazel eyes were beautiful. He stood six feet tall and looked strong and solid. She jumped at the chance to get away from staff housing when he asked her to go rafting on her day off.
Paul was thrilled when she said, “Oh yah. Dat vould be nice.” He loved her accent.
Paul did not like the way some people treated her as he often felt something of an outcast himself. He hoped to make a friend.
Archie, standing nearby, out of sight, overheard the invitation with displeasure. He marched off angry at Paul’s success.
Paul reserved a boat for the next Monday. He ordered a two-person “Duckie,” as they called the slender rafts propelled by double-bladed kayak paddles. He felt it would be more fun for a novice like Dahlia. He had taken the guide course the previous year and knew the Clancy River well. Sometimes he got work as a raft guide on his days off.
Monday, in the staff-housing washroom, he did his morning toilet with great care. He scissored and razored his beard to a fashionable buzz. His ponytail was pulled tight and his teeth were brushed and flossed. Clean shorts and a new tee shirt made him feel fashionable in the woodsy way. He donned his visor at a jaunty angle. He wore his neoprene river shoes.
There was no charge for employees as long as equipment was available. Guided rafting trips on the Clancy River cost clients forty dollars per person. They received their gear and attended a five minute safety lesson before riding to the put-in by bus, along with other guests and employees. Dahlia wore a pink baseball cap, shorts, tee shirt and sturdy Teva sandals. Paul thought she looked smashing.
The two boarded the bus for the put-in after donning wet suits. They carried their paddles and Paul’s waterproof wet sack containing their clothing. The rubber suits were needed because summer heat had not yet set in. Paul had packed cool cokes, crackers, and apples for sustenance. Their deflated boat was on top of the bus along with the larger rafts and other duckies according to guests’ choices when they signed up.
The drive was a bit over five miles on Route 72. They saw the Clancy River from time to time as it romped alongside their route. The pace was slow and the driver deliberate as they maneuvered along the winding road. The trip leader stood near the driver and regaled the passengers with funny stories, jokes, and river safety reminders. There was a lot of laughter and kibitzing.
Paul explained that the rapids they would traverse were Class I, II and III, in the parlance of the whitewater river sports authorities. Class I and II are mild and easy enough for even inexperienced boaters. Perhaps boring for hard-core paddlers. Class III requires a degree of skill and effort that may be within the limits of inexperienced but fit people. Class IV and V are increasingly challenging. Class VI is over the line – too dangerous for recreation.
The Clancy River was great fun for the thousands of people who ran it in rafts, kayaks and canoes each year. A hydroelectric dam controlled water levels on the river to provide appropriate flow for recreation and electric power at different times of day.
There were about forty people for the last trip of the day. Paul sat on the aisle next to Dahlia. Their shoulders pressed together as the bus made its turns on the forest road in the leaf-filtered sunlight. Paul felt a great peace in Dahlia’s presence but she showed some apprehension about their upcoming adventure.
“Don’t worry Dalia,” Paul said.
“It vill be my first time on a river,” she said quietly. “You vill have to show me how to do it.”
“No problema. You’ll love it. It is the most peaceful place on earth. We’ll be close to nature but your wet suit and your PFD will keep you safe and warm. I know the river and I’m sure you will want to go again. I’ll be happy to take you anytime.”
She smiled up at him and felt a building trust. Her grayish blue eyes were clear and direct. He seemed so strong and sure of himself. “What’s a PFD again?”
“A personal flotation device. PFD. Your life jacket.”
“Oh, yah. I forgot the initials.”
She liked the confident way Paul conducted himself. He did not swagger. His attitude was deferential and he accommodated everyone he encountered with a polite smile and strong eye contact.
The bus turned off into the raft staging area by the river called the put-in. The deflated boats were quickly unstrapped, lowered to the ground, and inflated by the put-in staff. Paul helped handle the boats as guests and guides formed into groups and departed on the water. Dahlia stood to one side holding their paddles. The number of people watching dwindled as rafts departed.
Dahlia and Paul were the last boat of the day. Paul planned a leisurely pace to make sure that Dahlia would not get too tired and to insure that they would be alone in the river world.
The shouts of the other boaters from their bus faded and the magic environment asserted itself. The sunlight was intermittent with great rocks and green forest on the banks. The air was still and cool and the mineral smell of clear water bubbling over river rocks added to a sense of change from land animals to river creatures.
The initial Class I and II rapids were interesting rather than frightening for the novice. She paddled as Paul directed, sometimes pulling forward with her twin blades, sometimes resting, and sometimes using a reverse stroke on one side or the other to help him steer around rocks.
Dahlia’s seat in the bow of the boat was supremely comfortable. The inflatable boat’s bottom was just a big long flat air cushion to make the boat self-bailing. The thwart was a firm backrest and the stiffly inflated sides rose to a comfortable height. The rubberized fabric of the craft was strong enough to resist the daily assault of shallow water and sharp rocks.
Her wet suit, PFD, and neoprene shoes made her feel like she was wearing a comfortable suit of armor. The dollops of water that splashed aboard as they progressed down the river did not discomfort her. The whole process was exciting.
Paul, in the stern, was alert to the flow of the river over its bottom and sides. There were many large rocks all around them and he picked their way through waves and rocks with respect for his passenger’s enjoyment.
“There’s Eddie’s Bath Tub,” Paul said.
She saw his paddle reach along the side of the boat to point at a huge rock ahead on their left side. The water noises grew loud as they approached and she could see the water curling around the giant boulder with great force. “What do you mean?” her voice quavered slightly with fright.
“That’s where Eddie Minton’s kayak got broken on the big rocks, just where the water moves the fastest. He had to bail out and swim in the whirlpool with a dislocated shoulder.
“Don’t worry” he called out. “I know just where to enter the big eddy behind the rock. Let me paddle and you give me a big reverse stroke on the left side when I tell you. It’s like a carnival ride. Raise your left hand. Yeah. That’s the side you need to reverse when I tell you to do it.”
They drew ever closer to the “Bath tub,” and the roar of the water got louder. This was far bigger than the other rapids they’d experienced.
They moved faster and faster toward the maelstrom. She could feel Paul paddling hard. Then they went over a giant drop of rushing water as Paul yelled, “Now Dahlia. Hard left reverse!”
She dug her paddle in and the boat spun into a tight left turn into the calm water behind the rock. The boat bobbed quietly now and the river was really rushing by and was higher than the boat. They were nestled in the eddy that was like sort of a quiet hole in the water.
They both vocalized. “Wow!” “Yay!”
“Good job Dahlia. Was that fun?”
“Oh my God. It vas vonderful. Thank you for showing me. I feel that you saved my life. How is Eddie now? Did he recover from his injury?”
“Yeah. He’s fine. Eddie is COC’s head of accounting and he runs the river almost every day.”
They ran several rapids and Dahlia grew more confident. Paul pulled to the shore at deserted Riverside Park. She wrestled her wet suit off to pee in the ladies room. It was a smelly wilderness toilet, like a big outhouse, but her empty bladder made her more comfortable and she looked forward to their next rapid as she buckled her PFD and helped paddle away from the shore.
Paul surprised her by steering for shore into a thicket of flowering bushes. “Bring your paddle up into the boat,” he directed.
As the bow pushed into the bushes she realized that they were entering a hidden branch of the river. The trees were thinner here and transparent water revealed pebbles and green algae flowering just under the surface.
“Let’s rest here a while,” Paul said as he stood and stepped out of the boat into the shallows. He offered his hand to steady Dahlia as she stepped out of the boat next to him. She gave him a shy smile.
“This is the most beautiful spot I have ever seen.”
The nearby river murmured. Bird songs trilled and the slight breeze was welcome. She spotted some blue and gold flowers at the edge of the water and stooped to get a better look.
Paul kneeled in the stream next to her and then sat back on his heels. “I like to come here. This is my favorite chilling spot. I don’t think anyone else knows about it. This is the reason I love COC so much.”
He splashed to the boat, dragged it to shore, and flipped it over. He sat on the boat and leaned back. He looked so comfortable that Dahlia wanted to join him. They lay on their backs quietly and took in the smells, sounds and sights around them. They did not talk at first and spent a quiet half hour. Their silence was warm and they both slipped into a light sleep with late afternoon sunlight brightening their eyelids.
After a time Paul said, “My parents live in Alabama. I have a brother living in Charlotte. His name is Mitch and he is doing very well. He owns and operates a second hand furniture and consignment store.
“I’m sorta the black sheep of my family. I save my salary and try to live simply. The money I get this season will last me all year. This is my second season at COC. I cooked all last year. Mostly on the line but sometimes I baked and did general cooking for clinics, staff and the daily specials. I liked working in the kitchen”
“Yes. I know about Charlotte. That’s in North Carolina, yah? How long does it take to get to Alabama from here? How far is Alabama?” The cadence of her voice was slow as she formed the words into English from her native German.
“Huntsville is a 6 or 7 hour drive from here. It’s even further from Charlotte to Huntsville. Do you have sisters and brothers?”
No but I have a lot of cousins. Mostly on my father’s side of the family. I am an only child. When I get home I hope to work for an airline. My English is good. Yes?”
“Very, very good,” he replied. “Where did you go to school?”
“After high school I attended a hospitality school where we learned about hotel, restaurant and amusement company management. How about you?”
“I graduated from Huntsville High school four years ago. I did a lot of construction work as a laborer and carpenter in high school – mostly for my dad. I’ve done a lot of other jobs but guiding rafts is my favorite. I do it here at COC on my day off sometimes. Waiting on tables pays about the same but it’s steady. Sometimes guides wait all day and don’t get a trip. They make their money from tips too.”
They were both twenty-two years old.
She nodded and they spoke intermittently, getting to know each other. She would have to leave the country in October to go back to her real life in Berlin.
She said that her mother was a “haus frau with lots of friends and community activities. Mine dad is an architect.”
“Cool,” said, Paul. My mom and dad both work. Mom sells insurance. She’s a certified financial planner and gives investment advice. She is why I have money in the bank. Dad is in construction. Sometimes he’s employed and sometimes he free lances. He let me help him every summer when I was in school, so I know a bit about carpentry and I can do plumbing and electric work too.”
They returned to the river after a time and enjoyed the miles on the water, the solitude, and peaceful mountain scenery that unfolded around them. Paul never tired of it and Dahlia was beginning to love it.
Two weeks later, on their third trip down the river, they took 2 one-person duckies. Paul led and Dahlia followed him through the rapids. She felt empowered as she successfully managed her duckie. This was her first time in a boat alone. They pushed though the bushes to their secret spot, flipped their boats, removed their PFDs and flopped down to rest. They were hot and the sun was strong this day.
Dahlia was sweating and pulled down the big center zipper to expose some skin to the slight breeze and reclined. Paul, right next to her, unzipped his wet suit to the waist slipped his arms and torso free of the garment. He too lay back, facing her.
Her baseball cap was off, and he could see a slight sheen of sweat on her forehead. Her short hair looked a little spiky and damp in the warm air. He thought it gave her a pixie look.
Without thinking Paul reached out and touched her zipper. She looked hot. His finger lingered on the zipper and she looked at him with wide eyes. She licked her lips and he touched the zipper again with two fingers and ventured to lower it an inch more.
To their mutual surprise, she sat up and pulled the big zipper all the way down and slipped the garment half-off just as Paul had. Her beautiful breasts, freckled shoulders, and back were covered with goose bumps. To Paul she was the most amazing sight he’d ever seen.
Paul was not a virgin. He had girlfriends in high school and had first done the deed in the back of his prom date’s Ford Explorer. The tailgate window was up and the back seats folded. They had spent a happy night rolled up in a comforter in the back of the truck. They’d broken up the next afternoon when he’d suggested a ride in the Explorer. Paul was not sure why she had blown him off but, gentlemen that he was, he took it like a man and never saw her again.
Dahlia lay back making no attempt to cover herself. She filled his eyes and then his hands as he began to stroke her smooth skin.
Her armpits were unshaved in the European fashion that many female COC employees followed. He saw that her body hair was sparse. She had never used a razor. Her leg fuzz was very soft and blond. They kissed gently at first then with rising passion as the intensity of their situation took hold of them.
She had been naked under the wet suit and they were soon rid of the heavy garments. She tugged at the damp waistband of his boxers and now they were together like Adam and Eve in a wilderness Garden of Eden. She noticed that Paul was a beautiful man in the nude. His body hair was dark and it accentuated the muscles of his chest and abdomen. Paul’s skin and hair were soft to her touch.
They made love twice. Rough and quick the first time. After a rest, they entwined again and made love on top of her duckie with delicious care and deliberation.
Their kisses were passionate and their words breathless. “Oh Paul. This is vonderful. Ve are like a natural man and voman.”
Paul murmured an assent and, in a few minutes, came up with a question. “Dahlia. What about, uh – protection. I mean you’re not ready to get pregnant. Are you?” His voice rose slightly as he managed the question.
“Don’t vorry Paul.” Her accent was showing itself. “My mum gave me a supply of Morning After pill in case… You know, in case I made love mit somebody.”
She smiled at him. “I never thought I vould need them. I’m not a virgin but I don’t make love very often. Not for two years maybe.” Paul fell in love.
Their stay in the secret garden was almost too long. The power company dam at the head of the river shut down at 8 o’clock most nights and they got back to the take-out just as the river water receded to its dammed flow rate. They dragged their gear to the designated drop-off area, changed out of their wet suits and sat on the river bank, dangling their feet in the clear cold water for a few minutes while they snacked on Paul’s crackers and split the last coke. The staff dining room had closed at seven. They could have bought snacks at the store but he didn’t want to face his fellow employees with the taste of Dahlia fresh on his lips.
They hitched a ride to staff housing by hanging out near the bridge. It was fully dark when they were dropped off. Paul kissed her lightly on the lips and they went off to their separate buildings to sleep and dream about paradise.
The Caverns Outdoor Center, COC, had grown from humble beginnings over its quarter-century existence. The heart of the business was located on an eighty-acre parcel of land in the Chattahoochee National Forest where Georgia Route 72, the Appalachian Trail and the Clancy River cross paths.
Despite its distance from any city, rafting, restaurants and boat rentals served thousands of people every day during the season from April through November. Many customers came from Atlanta. The Motel, the Restaurants, the Outfitter Store, the Instruction Department, and Guided Travel departments each generated substantial revenue, but the guided raft trips down five nearby rivers were the biggest moneymaker.
The mountain elevation here kept the nights cool and the days mild. The woodlands were beautiful now; they had recovered from destructive clear cutting that previous generations had wrought. Rivers and streams abounded. None were more beautiful than the Clancy River.
Paul Hunter was a pain is the ass so far as Cornelia K. Johnson was concerned. She ran the restaurant operation. She managed it, and had created it from scrub pine, sweat, and wisps of her dreams. So Paul had to go. God damn it! She liked him, but the staff, including cooks and shift managers were complaining about him.
“He stinks like a dog,” Archie, the restaurant G.M. told her.
“Paul even looks dirty, and he refuses to follow the rules,” the breakfast manager whispered.
“Which rules?” Cornelia asked. She was surprised because Paul was always polite.
“He won’t give customers water when they’re first seated. He insists on asking them if they’d like something to drink… they only get ice if they ask for it. Paul says it’s better for the planet to conserve water.
“Then there’s that crap about aluminum pans poisoning us. It’s something about light metals causing Alzheimer’s and memory loss. He won’t recite the specials if they’re cooked in aluminum pots.”
“But all our pots are aluminum!” said Corney.
“Exactly,” said the manager. “And I can’t budge him. He talks about this stuff at shift meetings. I either look weak or the servers begin to grumble. They may be joking to tease either me or Paul. The situation gets worse every day.”
Corney thought back to other conversations over the last months. Complaints from the kitchen might have been motivated by jealousy over Paul transferring from line cook to server. Some cooks tended to look down on people whose only job was to deliver the beautiful food they created in the hot and confused kitchen. Paul was a traitor. The head chef had warned her that Paul was too generous with salads and bread and that he seldom served a dessert.
“Corney, you got to shape him up. He’s costing us money.”
She nodded. Paul Hunter had to go.
I hope you enjoyed this sample chapter and want to know more. The book is available as a paperback or kindle edition. See you in 2055 in Hunter III. BS