Excerpt from the novel Chasing God's River
THE ROYAL GORGE
Less than a mile downstream, Wade and Malachi came around a bend and saw two spent men sitting on a boulder near their overturned boats. A camera operator was videotaping them from a bluff across the river.
“Howdy, Wade,” Bratt said.
“Howdy, Bratt. Looks like we made it a-ways,” said Wade.
He and Malachi pulled to shore and climbed out of their kayaks, stretching their legs.
“That we did, Wade,” Dimens spoke. “But the snake took its toll. Anybody left behind you?”
“Nope. As far as I can tell we're the last ones. He looked at the bandage on Dimens head. “Concussion?”
“It's comin'. Feels like I'm drippin' blood in the back of my brain.”
“Guess I'll take dim Dimens and me into the next town for some x-rays,” Bratt said.
“Where’s Dennis the Menace?” Wade asked.
“You mean Spooky Dennis - been staring at his derriere all day,” Dimens said. “You'll find him around the next bend up ahead in his boat. Been dodging us like we got a plague. Every time we move up, he moves up, hoping a television camera will see him in first place. But nobody can get in this part of the river. I don't think he wants to enter the gorge but then again, he ain't gonna let nobody pass him either. I’ll bet you a buck he’s parked in his boat around the next bend, praying we’re all finished.”
“Dennis doesn’t pray,” Malachi said.
“Old bastard,” Bratt said.
Wade took a long drink from his water bottle. “Malachi? I'm gonna walk the river up ahead, see if I can talk some sense into Dennis. Maybe I won't spook him if he sees me on foot. Can you get these kayaks up to the roadside?”
“I’ll take care of it,” said Malachi.
Wade cautiously followed the fast-flowing river, gripping at the vegetation along the riverbanks so he wouldn't be forced into the current. Fifty yards ahead, he turned a sharp bend, climbing a rock to get a view downstream. He found madman Dennis Nicholson below, his aching body half in his banged up boat, eyes twitching, examining the river upstream for humans in kayaks. His arms and face were bloodied.
“Jesus,” Wade said. He yelled down to the man. “What the hell kind of mess you get yourself into, Dennis?”
Dennis turned around, flashing his paddle like a weapon. “Jes' keep yer distance, Jones!”
“Hell, Dennis, if I wanted I coulda jumped you and smashed your head in already.”
“You'd like that, wouldn't you, Wade? You'd like to claim the day. Just like always! The great Wade Jones gettin' all the glory while old Dennis lays back sucking on what's left of the tit!”
“Come on, Dennis. It ends here,” Wade said. “We can climb this hill together and be done with the river.” He glanced ahead at Deadman's Drop - the narrow entrance to the Royal Gorge - a point of no return. “Your boat won. Gotta be worth at least forty thousand dollars cash in your pocket.”
Denny's eyes scanned the horizon. “So you say - and not a damned camera in sight to prove it,” he said.
“Hell, Dennis, you can take my word.”
“Your word don't mean nuthin' to me! I got you to two Olympics and what did you do when you got there? You pissed it all away, pissed away that God-given talent, never listening to a damned word of advice I gave you. You think them Olympics cost you? What about me? I lost everything trying to take you to the top! My wives, my career - all bet on you - and you threw me away like an old penny when it was over.”
“I got married, Dennis. Tried to move on. Even got a kid coming now!”
“Not so much as a Christmas card from you,” Dennis yelled. “To a man who treated you like a father!”
“Dennis... Let's get off the river. We'll talk about old times. I got a kid coming. You won the race.”
“Any kind of lie to get me to stop - to hell with you! To hell with everybody!” He slid into his boat.
“Denny, don't...” Wade started sliding down the rock to stop him.
“Yeah, that's right, Jones! You just try to stop me!” He pushed off into the river.
“Come on, Denny. Pull over!” Wade yelled.
“I'm right where God wants me to be,” Dennis decided.
Wade fell into the water and reached for Dennis' boat. The old man fought back, slapping at Wade's fingers with the blades of his scarred paddle.
“I'm taking the day! Me!” the older man ranted.
“Dennis...” Wade called out. “Stop Dennis! There's another way!”
“To hell with you, Jones!” Dennis shouted as his boat caught the current and drifted downstream between the narrow granite walls of the gorge. “This is the only way!”
The old man drifted into Deadman's Drop and was gone.