Mike sucked in air - outdoor air. He felt a breeze on his cheek and in his hair. He stretched out his hands; the right one encountered hard rock - he was on a blanket overlaying rocky ground. His left hand came against another material over something firm but yielding - someone's thigh felt through their pant-leg. He quickly withdrew his left hand. Scotty?
'You coming to, Mike?' That wasn't Scotty's voice, but then who... Yes! It came to him and he opened his eyes, far more suddenly than his usual routine allowed. Johnny was there, shielding him from the sun with a battered Stetson. Mike tried to speak - too soon, for the words came out slurred.
'Just take it easy. You didn't get scorpion-bit,' said Johnny while he helped Mike sit up. 'Even managed to keep the ants out o' your pants.' Johnny shouted for a beer as he propped Mike against a rock. 'Keeping the ants out was one thing. But man! The fight I put up keeping Summer off your bones - well - that was something else.'
The giggling shout of protest from Summer was drowned out by laughter from the others. 'She thinks you're kind of cute,' added Johnny as a coup de grace. Mike hadn't had such a happy awakening in years - and the beer was ice-cold.
Mike was beginning to believe the cop - Jay's old man - was right after all. He had landed on his feet. Johnny's crowd accepted him as an old friend - without getting in his face and poking awkward questions at him.
Including himself, Mike counted seven folk all told. There was Danny and Summer, Cody who seemed to pair off with Lianne, then there was Kate who may or may not have been Johnny's girl. Apart from Kate and Mike, all were Native Americans, but here at least, race appeared irrelevant.
After the introductions, Mike kept his head down whilst he invoked his tried and tested mouth-shut-eyes-open strategy. These were clearly people who knew each other well; Mike had no wish to shift the balance. Perhaps of them all, Kate was next newest member to himself.
She and Lianne had driven from town in the Nissan. He could tell those girls went back a long way together. Maybe Lianne had acted matchmaker, thought Mike, bringing Kate and Johnny together. Or had she? As he watched, he saw no clues which linked the two, so that he began to think of the group as being made up of two pairs and three singles. For some reason, he hoped he was right.
For an instant that feeling of joy returned to Mike, and it lasted almost long enough for him to grab a hold. He breathed deep and looked in turn at each of his companion's faces. Cody was treading water in a rock pool scooting great columns of water over Lianne who screamed on the bank before leaping up and bombing him for revenge. Danny and Johnny attended to the barbecue - this time getting supper - while the two girls were atop a bluff giving their attention to what appeared to be a small box.
'Hey Johnny. Where'd this river come from? We parked in a scrub desert and I wake up to find a God damned river.'
'Comes out the mountains.' Johnny thumbed towards some distant rippled on the horizon. 'And a few miles downstream it just disappears. One minute there's a river - then there ain't. More beer?'
Mike caught the can Johnny threw and pulled the ring. Then, curious as to what Kate and Summer were doing, he climbed the bluff. The box was a portable T.V. and the girls were watching an episode of Star Trek. Captain Picard and Wesley were stuck on a desert planet and poor old Cappy got knocked out by a rockfall.
'You a Trekker, Mike?' asked Kate, the wind wrapping her shoulder-length yellow hair around her neck.
'Sure. Isn't everyone? 'Cept I like the real thing - Bones, Spock and ole J.T. The bald Brit's okay but...'
Mistake Mike! Two mock-angry young Patrick Stewart fans dragged him to the ground demanding recantation. Lucky for Mike they dealt in tickles, not blows.
'Okay! Okay all right already. Cut it out. It makes me flip!' yelled Mike through laughter, writhing under the assault.
The three of them made an interesting show against the westering sun, like a battle of shadow-puppets. 'D'you think your buddy needs rescuing?' asked Danny as he tossed a chop, it's juices sizzling on hot coals.
'Nah! Let him fight his own battles!' smiled Johnny.
Danny prodded and poked at the chicken legs. 'How come you never spoke about Mike? I mean, you two have got to have known each other a long time.'
'Two days is all' said Johnny.
'Two days? What' he doing here then. I'd been running with you two years before I got to come along.'
Johnny didn't answer immediately - the silence started to make Danny uncomfortable.
'It's just that... I kinda saved the guy's life and. Well now I feel sort of...'
'Oh I get it! Like a Chinaman.'
'If a Chinaman saves someone's life, he's responsible for that guy forever. He has to feed him, find somewhere for him to live - the whole works.'
'I guess,' said Johnny, his eyes distant. 'Used to be like that with some of our people too. Yeah! I do feel responsible for him.'