The Deliverance Boys - A Verde River Adventure by Robert Miller - Page 01

It wasn't just the cowboy hats, or the cheap, horse-collar PFDs around their necks. Or the orange crates filled with tin cans, loose produce, and loaves of white bread. Or even the battered canoes, victims no doubt of some municipal park's rental inventory upgrade. No, it was the high-top Keds and .44 caliber six-shooters holstered high on their belts, Filipino-style, just below the floating rib that told a tale. This river, now flooded to 40-times its normal size, could grind up and make sausage out of this crew.

Not that we were much of an improvement. For starters, none of us knew all four of us. Chuck, who'd put the trip together, was a Grand Canyon boatman for Hatch, the Earl Scheib of low-budget river trips. Tall, strikingly well-formed, and slightly lordotic, he sported thick Barry Goldwater glasses below a broad, bulbous forehead-his flat-top haircut offset by a Wilford Brimley mustache. But Chuck didn't actually guide any passengers; instead, he piloted a dunnage scow by himself. He'd been quarantined away from paying clients when his employer had noticed that Chuck was somehow "different"-liable to alienate customers with inappropriate behavior, lack of social graces or, worse, reminding them that if "they were serious about running the Grand Canyon, they wouldn't hire a guide, would pilot their own boat, etc."

For our proposed week-long descent of the Verde River through the Mazatzal wilderness, Chuck and I would paddle kayaks. For our other two companions, Chuck brought along an army surplus raft that was state of the art when the 2nd Marine Division stormed the beaches at Tarawa in 1943. Made from real rubber, it was heavy, floppy, and puncture prone; pockmarked with patches upon patches. To pilot the 350-lb. state-of-the-trash inflatable he'd brought along Norton, a fast-talking Phoenix-area commercial property realtor. Garbed in an excruciatingly brief purple Speedo with a matching, oversized, purple engineer's cap splotched with oversize white polka dots, Norton did not immediately impress.

Chuck had met him as a Grand Canyon customer who'd decided he had more in common with Chuck than with the other clients, and so had joined the exiled boatman in the luggage raft. Interminably loquacious, Norton's BS flowed like blank hip-hop verse-some of it undoubtedly true. But his whoppers were so big, and told with such a straight face, he could short-circuit a polygraph just by saying, "Trust me." Though he'd never piloted a whitewater raft, he didn't lack confidence.

To run swamp-that is, help launch the raft, bail it, beach it, secure it, load and unload it, and generally submit unquestioningly to the boatman's bidding-I'd brought along Joyce, a gullible high school football star who was dating my sister. Joyce would later end up wholesaling chicken parts, finding Jesus, and marrying my sister-not all as a result of multiple contusions. That day, at the river's edge assembling our kit for this at-least-we're-better-organized-than-those-other-guys float trip, he thought we were all gambling with empty purses. Later he confided that, save for knowing me, he'd have folded his hand right then and there.

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