THE RIVER QUEEN
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
As the community council meeting ended and people began to depart, Abby heard a familiar gruff voice behind her: “Do you have a moment?”
She turned to see Sammy smiling at her.
“I thought I might see you here,” he said, and handed her an envelope. “I calculate twenty hours of work… I hope that’s okay, we made a lot of money the nights you worked, and please, come and work at the coffee shop tomorrow if you can.”
“Oh!” she said in surprise, feeling the rather thick envelope. “What a relief! I’m broke right now. Thank you, thank you!” She gave him a hug.
“Let me know your plans, we’re reopening tomorrow.”
“Oh, I wish I could, but I’ll be gone for a day or two visiting my parents in Rivergate. But I’ll come by Thursday or Friday.”
“Don’t take too long now,” he said, and moved off to talk to Stephanie.
Phoebe pulled Abby to the side where they could not be overheard. “Please,” she said, “find out all you can about the real reason for this ‘relocation business’ Pastor Banks was talking about. The state and the corporations, what’s in it for them? I have a guess about that… something we should discuss.”
Abby stared into space for a moment and looked back at Phoebe. “Ah, you’re quick. I can guess too. I’ll get right back to you.”
The following morning early Abby rushed to pack a few things for her journey to Rivergate. It occurred to her that the watchers would certainly notice her departure, and could take the opportunity to search her cottage overnight. The lock on the front door was virtually worthless. The only thing among her few possessions that might interest the Morphy organization was her collection of seeds, so on her way out Abby stopped by Reverend Tuck’s office. He was fine with her plan to visit her parents, and took the bag of seeds to hold overnight. As Abby headed out the gate she noticed the eyes of two men on her. “Okay,” she thought. “I was right. They’ll follow me and see me leave in the boat.” She had to bite her tongue to keep from looking behind her. Like a soldier she marched down toward Main Street, and from a distance saw a group in front of the garden center. Isaiah, Pastor Banks, Ishmael, Cali, and Alison were already standing amid their bags and a wagon of some kind. “There’s my girl!” exclaimed Isaiah. She received hugs all around.
One of those new super-compact cars sped into the parking lot and came to a stop, skidding on the gravel. Out jumped Sara Williams carrying a huge canvas bag, and ran over to the group. “Just on time,” said Isaiah. “Okay everyone, we’re off. Thank you again, Alison, you’re the best!” Pushing the wagon like an oversize shopping cart, he led the group across the street and down a path to the river’s edge. A few feet of open ground sloped down to the water, and a fair sized boat was aground there, it’s bow wedged into the mud.
“The River Queen!” yelled Cali, and ran forward. “Sharon!” A tall dark skinned woman in a long-sleeved tee shirt and jeans stood there holding the bow line. Abby noticed she wore a cap identical to Cali’s, with the words Black Hills on the front.
The bow of the boat did not come a point, but formed a flat ramp that Sharon had lowered to the ground, enabling Isaiah to push the cart aboard. Everyone followed and sat on the side benches. Sharon raised the ramp, pushed the boat out into the river, and jumped aboard. In a moment the boat was heading upstream, hugging the shoreline where the current was slow. Soon they passed under the arch of the Main Street Bridge, struggling against the fast water, and then hugged the shoreline again. The branches of willow trees dripped right down to the river, forcing them to duck as they glided through. Pastor Banks sat behind the wheel with Sharon while Isaiah and Ishmael sat on a bench working on the lyrics to a song. Abby and Sara joined Cali leaning against the flat bow of the boat. Cali never took her eyes off the river ahead, and was constantly warning Sharon about floating branches, rocks, unusual currents,and oncoming boats. Abby studied the shoreline and was amazed by the high water, running over the bank and sweeping away anything in its path. They passed small boats on the way, shooting downstream in the center of the current. A man in a canoe yelled out, “Fallen tree, branches, hole on the right! Go left! Left!” In a second he was gone downstream. Cali stopped talking and focused on the water ahead.