Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online

Busted Axle Road
a novel by
Wes Boyd
Copyright ©1993, ©2001, ©2007, ©2013

Chapter 13

"It could have been worse," Mike commented in the cab of Markís truck on Saturday, as they rode towards town.

"Yeah," Mark agreed. "I think Jackie was expecting it, anyway. But, Iím glad we caught them all nice and mellow in the hot tub. How much did that thing set you back, anyway?"

"A couple grand," Mike said. "But, we wrote it right into the mortgage. It was worth it, though. Once Kirsten realized we could have it, she had no second thoughts at all about moving out from town. I can see Iím going to have to finish that area off into a separate room for winter, though, and thatís going to cost."

"Shouldnít be that much," Mark said. "Thereís nothing that you couldnít do."

"I can drive a nail straight, if Iím lucky," Mike protested. "Building a wall and finishing the room are a little beyond me, especially with the ventilation Iím going to have to put in for it."

"Nothing to it," Mark said. "We can do it on a couple of rainy Saturdays, when itís too wet to work the dogs. If Iím going to get one of those, Iím going to have a bigger job. I havenít got a floor that will take that kind of weight, except in the shop, so Iím going to have to build an addition."

"Iíll help where I can," Mike offered. "I may not be able to do a lot, but I can hold stuff while you nail it.

"Just takes practice," Mark said. "I mean, when Jackie and I started rebuilding the place, I knew which end of the nail went into the wood, but not much more."

Mark drove past the turnoff into downtown Spearfish Lake, and went another couple of miles farther south, before he made a turn off onto a road that went into the woods. A couple of hundred yards up the road, he turned into the parking lot of the Spearfish County Humane Society.

"Hope they have something here that we want," Mike said.

"Yeah, so do I," Mark agreed. He looked at Cumulus who had his tail well between his legs.

"He knows what this place is," Mike said.

"No, weíre not leaving you here," Mark comforted the dog. "Weíre just going to see if we can find you a couple of playmates."

One of the things that Horton had told them that made sense was that the dogs had to be able to get along. While there would be a certain amount of dominance testing, the initial reaction of one dog to another could go a long way toward deciding on a new dog, and Mark had figured that Cumulus would have to be the one to make the decision.

As it turned out, the Humane Society had two dogs as possible candidates for a dog team, but looking them over, Mark and Mike rejected one right away. He was a Dalmatian mix, about the right size, but had a thin coat, floppy ears without much hair on the inside, and small paws. "I just donít think heís going to make a good winter dog," Mark said.

"Heís not a real young dog, either," Mike agreed. "Doesnít seem very energetic."

The other dog had to be largely German Shepherd, and the physical characteristics looked good, but he snapped at Mark. "Hey, stupid," Mark said to the dog. "Iím not looking for a mean dog. If you want to get out of here, youíll have to adjust your attitude."

"If heís going to be like that, heís not going to work for Tiffany," Mike agreed, "but he might make a team dog."

They took the German Shepherd out to the truck, where an immediate snarling match ensued; clearly, Cumulus wasnít too crazy about the dog, either. "Didnít surprise me," Mark said as he led the dog back inside.

"Stop by next weekend," the pound manager suggested. "Puppies, sometimes we can move, but we usually donít hold onto older dogs too long before we put them down. We should have some others here by next week."

"God, that just tears me up," Mike said. "I mean, I guess my head realizes that itís got to be done, but my heart knows I couldnít do it."

"Yeah," Mark agreed. "I know what you mean. Itís like that dog we had out here. We were probably his last chance, but if heís too damn dumb to realize that, then we canít use him."

Cumulus was very relieved to hear the truck start; he pressed up against Mark and tried to lick his face. Mark took a minute to comfort the dog before they got on their way. They were well up the highway before Mark spoke again. "Thatís something weíre going to have to learn to deal with," he said. "Weíre going to get dogs that just arenít going to work out. Weíre either going to have to take them back there, or weíre going to be buying a hell of a lot of dog food to feed useless mouths."

"I know it," Mike said. "We can comfort ourselves with the thought that weíre giving them a chance, and maybe we can rescue a few, but itís even hard to say no to a dog like that Dalmatian."

"Yeah, but he probably wouldnít have worked out."

"Weíre going to have to be a little careful," Mike said. "Iím going to have to come up with a dog thatís good with a family, one thatís going to be Tiffanyís dog. Even if that dogís a loser, Iím going to have to keep it."

Mark nodded. "Thatís something I hadnít thought about," he said. "Maybe weíd better keep the dogs up at my place for now, except maybe one for Tiffany. If we decide to build up two teams, then maybe doing a little culling wonít bother her as much."

"Thatís a good way to start," Mike agreed. "It might make it easier. Maybe I ought to just get Tiffany a puppy, and if it grows up to be a team dog, well, good. If not, then Tiffanyís got a dog, and if sheís focused on that, then maybe she wouldnít be quite as focused on the rest of the team."

"Say you got a puppy now," Mark said, thinking aloud. "By winter, itíd be big enough to work out with the rest of the dogs, even if it wouldnít be full grown."

"Yeah, I suppose," Mike agreed sadly, his mind still back at the dog pound. "God, I hate to see those dogs put down. Maybe Iím too soft hearted for this."

"We canít save them all," Mark said. "Nobody can. Itíd be nice, but we canít."

*   *   *

"Iíll tell you, Harris, it isnít often that you get a check for twenty-five big ones and then get stuck for coffee," McMullen told Harper not too long after he said goodbye to the singer. Harperís home wasnít far away, and he wanted to share the news.

"Itís a pity that itís Saturday," Harper said. "We canít get that check to the bank before Monday, and weíre going to lose a couple daysí interest."

"Really, itís kind of a consolation prize," McMullen conceded. "If Iíd been able to talk her into really speaking out on the issue, then we could have really stacked it away. But, if you figure weíre going to have to ante up ten grand for the television surveillance, and maybe five to support Heather there for three months, itís not really a bad deal, especially since it gives us something to do with Heather for a while."

"Oh, Iíll agree, the money is green," Harris said. "And, if we keep Heather on the office staff account, we can double-dip her paychecks and deposit one in Switzerland, so realistically, our net take is closer to twenty than it is to fifteen. It requires a little shuffle, but nothing the auditorís ever been able to catch. It makes for a nice Saturday morning, doesnít it?"

McMullen leaned back in the deck chair, and stared out over the Pacific. "Sure is nice up here, today," he said. "How long have we been grubbing around like this? Twenty years?"

"Closer to twenty-five, and thatís not even counting the civil rights demonstrations, back in the early sixties," Harper said. "But, the first years were rather lean, if youíll remember."

"God, we ate a lot of hamburgers from drive-throughs, going from one thing to another," McMullen said. "But we paid our dues. You know, some day, Iíd like to just hang it up, maybe get a boat and take a couple of babes and go sailing. Just do the kind of revered elder statesman sort of thing. Maybe stir something up once in a while, just for fun."

"I feel that way too, sometimes," Harper admitted. "The hell of it is, Iím afraid Iíd miss the excitement of it, the thrill of the hunt."

"Yeah, me too," McMullen said. "God, this morning was about as easy a score for that kind of money as Iíve had in a while. Remember when we dreamed about getting a thousand bucks to play with?"

"Weíve gotten past that," Harper said. "We could both retire on what weíve got in the bank. Just live off the interest, and have damn comfortable lives. But, you know what would happen. Let some sucker poke his nose out of the woodwork, and weíd be off and running again. Itís in our blood."

"Just out of curiosity, what would it take for us to get rid of all this?" McMullen wondered. "Hand the Defenders over to someone else, say, someone like Heather, and do it in such a way that thereíd be no way of telling how much weíd skimmed."

"Iíve thought about it," Harper admitted. "It would take three years at a minimum of running clean before we could destroy the old records, so thereíd be no proof. Probably closer to five years, because weíd have to phase into running clean, but we could maybe let some cash build up in reserves, and give us each a big golden parachute when we jump out the door."

"In five years, weíre both going to be pushing the hell out of sixty," McMullen said. "Not there yet, but getting there. If one of us drops dead, itís going to be that much worse for the other one. Maybe we ought to think about pulling the plug, maybe get started when we get the cream out of this Jenny Easton promo thing."

"Youíre dreaming, Dale."

"I know it, Harris. But, itís something to think about."

*   *   *

"So how many dogs did you come back with?" Jackie asked, looking up from the sign she was working on. She usually tried not to work on Saturdays, but some orders had deadlines, and the customer was antsy about this one.

"Just Cumulus again," Mark reported. "But, something will turn up, sooner or later. Mike and I are going to get started on the sled."

Jackie shook her head. "I know you two were all aglow with the idea last night, but Iíd sort of hoped youíd sobered up by this morning."

Mark and Mike went through a pair of double doors that separated Jackieís sign shop from Markís general shop. His shop area was well fitted out, neat and clean. "Nice shop," Mike commented.

"I have to make supports and stuff for Jackieís signs, sometimes," Mark said, "so it helps to have everything handy and ready."

They had left Hortonís sled outside the garage before they started for town earlier in the morning; now, Mark opened the door, letting the fresh breeze of early summer blow in. It smelled warm and refreshing, full of life. The two carried the sled inside and set it on a pair of sawhorses. "Going to have to get some rawhide," Mark said. "I donít know where weíd get that, but I suppose for today, string and duct tape will do."

"Thereís a guy down by Albany River who slaughters steers," Mike said. "Maybe he could help out."

"Give him a call," Mark suggested. "Youíll have to use the phone in the sign shop."

Mike was back a few minutes later, to find Mark on a stepladder, rummaging around lumber stored up in the rafters. "He says he sells all his hides to a guy over in Lynchburg," he reported. "So, I called the guy in Lynchburg. Heís going to cut us some strips and drop them off at the office when heís over here Monday."

"Sounds good," Markís voice came floating down from above. "Damn it, I know itís up here somewhere."

"What are you looking for?" Mike asked.

"Iíve got some ash up here somewhere," Mark said. "I got into furniture making a little a few years ago, and I got some from that mill over in Hoselton. It ought to be pretty seasoned by now."

It took Mark a few more minutes to find the lumber he wanted, and the two of them snaked several planks down from the rafters. They laid it on the floor and turned to the sled. "Where do we start?" Mike asked.

Mark shrugged. "Thereís nothing to do but start somewhere," he said. "God, look at all the steam bending thatís going to have to be done. It wonít matter that we donít have any rawhide today, because weíre not going to get that far." He picked up a tape measure and began to figure dimensions.

After a few minutes, Mike began to feel a little useless. Over at a desk at the end of the workbench, he saw a computer, and that gave him an idea for something useful. "You got a word processing program on that computer?" he asked.

"Yeah," Mark said. "What you got in mind?"

"I thought Iíd write up my notes from last night, while itís all still fresh in my mind," he said.

"It doesnít have a hard drive, so you have to boot it from that blue disk," Mark said. "When it gets to the main screen, tell it ĎTEXTí."

Mike went over and turned on the computer, and within a few seconds, green line after green line was appearing before his eyes. Horton had talked a lot, and there was much to get down and fill in from his scribbled notes. He hardly noticed when he heard Mark setting up the table saw, but soon a wonderful smell began to fill the shop, and that got his attention.

Mark had the saw running, and the smell of sawdust was filling the air as he cut strip after strip off of one of the planks. After a while, he shut down the saw. "That sure smells nice," Mike remarked.

"Yeah, nothing like the smell of good hardwood," Mark agreed. "Guess I might as well start with the runners. Letís see, Iím going to need something for a jig . . . "

Back at the computer, page after page went by on the green screen, with Mike giving his attention to what he was writing; he didnít care about grammar or diction yet, just getting the points down and the thoughts and questions theyíd generated. Occasionally, he asked Mark about one point or another, where the notes werenít too clear, and a couple of times Mark came over to read what was going onto the screen.

After a while, they broke for lunch. Mike went home to eat, and Kirsten corralled him into some chores, so it was the middle of the afternoon before he was back in Markís shop. The boards that would become the runners were now suspended from the rafters, their ends in a garbage bucket full of water, which was being heated on a gas stove. "Boy, am I glad I donít have to do the whole length of those things," Mark said. "I can steam bend the rails a little easier, but this is going to take a while."

"Weíre going to have four runners?" Mike asked.

"Pretty well need them if weíre going to have two sleds," Mark said. "No point in having to go back and do everything all over from scratch later if we donít have to."

"But all we need is one sled," Mike protested.

"Hell," Mark said. "You know and I know where this is going to come out, and next fall, weíre going to be too busy with the dogs and everything else to take time to build a second sled."

*   *   *

Josh Archer went home Friday night with the vision of Amy Ashtenfelter almost blinding him. He lay awake, staring at the ceiling, trying to keep alive the vision that had crossed his eyes, and when he went to sleep, he dreamed of Amy Ė Amy playing volleyball out at her parentís cottage, in her natural state, naturally, going high for a spike, running back, bouncing and jumping, until he awoke in a cold sweat.

How could Danny Evachevski not be affected by that?

As far as Josh knew, Danny had normal tastes when it came to girls. Heíd dated around, had a good time, and there even had been that bout of kissy-face and touchy-boobie up on Turtle Hill after the prom, with Danny and his date in the back and Josh and his date in the front. Even though nothing really happened, the windows had gotten sort of steamy, but the girl Danny had been with was gone for the summer, and the girl Josh had been with had taken off after another guy.

But still . . .

Josh got up and went to the bathroom. When he got back to bed, visions of Amy filled his mind again, even in his dreams, as she floated around the volleyball court, her blonde hair flying, her . . .

Clearly, it was going to be a long night.

It was, in fact, a long weekend. Josh knew that Danny was going to be out at the cottage most of the weekend, so didnít expect to see him, and that didnít help his imagination one bit. He could close his eyes, anytime, day or night, and imagine Amy and Danny, running around on the volleyball court bare-assed . . . and not caring.

It didnít help a bit.

Josh didnít see Danny again until Tuesday, when both were at the appliance store, prepared to move machinery.

There were two refrigerators in the back of the appliance-store pickup, and Josh and Danny were heading across town before Josh had the opportunity to bring up the possibility of a date with Amy. "It might work," Danny reported. "Donít get your hopes up. Sheís not going to do anything without talking to her folks, and like I said, theyíre a little sticky. But, she says she thinks youíre sorta cute, if that makes you feel any better."

It didnít really make Josh feel any better, but at least wrestling the two new refrigerators up two flights of stairs and two old ones down the same two flights got his mind on other things for a while. It was hot work, and both were sweating when they had the old boxes in the truck. They decided to stop at the Frosty Freeze for a drink to cool off.

They were sitting in the shade, sucking on the cokes, when Pam Appleton came walking up the street in a T-shirt and jeans, carrying the periscope that Josh and Danny had built for her. "Having any luck?" Danny called.

"Still no luck," Pam said. "Maybe that one was really the last one."

"Come on, sit down, weíll buy you a Coke," Danny told her. "Youíve been out in the sun too long."

"I guess I do look like it, donít I?" she said, as Josh went inside to get the girl a drink. "Well, we should know, one way or another, about the snakes before long."

"Howís that?"

"Dr. Gerjevic called me last night," she said. "Weíre going to get a grant for TV surveillance. He just heard about it."

"Hey, thatís great," Danny said. "Any chance of Josh and me getting in a few hours?"

"Could be," Pam told him. "I donít have a lot of money to play with, but I do have a little elbow room, now."

Josh came back with a Coke, and handed it to Pam, who flipped the lid back and drank deep. "Donít hit it too hard, youíll make yourself sick," Danny warned. "íLeast, thatís what the football coach says."

"I wasnít planning on it," Pam said after she set the Coke down. "But, man, does that taste good."

"Guess you wonít be needing our periscope much longer," Danny observed.

"Iíve got to keep up a regular surveillance," Pam told the boys. "Itís going to be a month, anyway, before a crewís available to run TV cameras through the sewers. I might get lucky before then, and save everybody some money."

"Thatíd be a feather in your cap, wouldnít it?" Josh commented.

"It would," Pam said. "Iíve been after these snakes for a month now, and not a single sipedon gibsoni have I seen. I wish I had money for more researchers, even for unskilled ones like you guys. But no, this damn foundation or whatever it is that fronted the money for the TV camera is sending some sort of an observer with it. Probably doesnít know a thing about snakes, or care a bit about them, either. If I had the money theyíre going to waste, I could hire you guys all summer. As it is . . . well, Iíll call you when I need you."

"You do that," Danny said. "Iíd kind of like to do something besides move refrigerators and stare at my navel before football practice begins."

The three sat and talked for a few more minutes before their drinks were gone. Danny and Josh got back into the pickup, and Pam started back up the street, poking the periscope down the storm sewer grates.

"Man," Danny said as they passed her in the truck. "Did you see the knockers sheís got on her? When she upended that Coke, I thought she was going to take my breath away."

"Yeah," Josh said, and then the realization hit him. At least it took away his doubts about Danny in a way, but . . . "Danny, how the hell do you do it? Bare ones donít count, but in a bra and a T-shirt?"

"I donít know," Danny said. "Beats the hell out of me, too. The lure of exploring the unknown, I guess."

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