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 14

The two new sleds, sitting side by side in Mark’s shop, were starting to take shape by the middle of the week. There was going to be a lot of finishing work to do, but it was going fast. While Mike may not have been much with a hammer, there was little hammer work to be done, and his fingers, nimble from years of pounding on a keyboard, proved to be agile at threading, lashing and tying the wet rawhide. Both of them knew that when the rawhide dried out, it would shrink, making for very tight lashings on the sleds, still smelling sweetly of ash.

Working out a way to make the stanchions fasten to the runners had been the tough part, even with the example of Horton’s sled to follow. When that had been figured out, everything came together more quickly than Mike would have imagined. There were only another few pieces to be steam bent for the sled, like the brush bows at the front, and the upper railings. These went more quickly than the runners; Mark heated each one, one at a time, in a pipe filled with water, standing more or less upright in a bench vise, with a welding torch supplying the heat. Pretty soon, though far from done, the dogsleds were beginning to look like dogsleds. Once everything dried out, there was clearly going to be a lot of varnishing required, but the sleds were coming out very pretty, like works of art.

"We’re going to have to get some dogs," Mike commented one evening as the two of them worked on the dogsleds. "It’d be a shame to have sleds as nice as these, and not get to use them."

"Well, maybe the pound will have something in by this weekend," Mark said. "If not, I suppose we can head down to the pound at Coldwater, or another one. But, we don’t have to be in any real big rush."

"I suppose not," Mike said. "But I’m getting kind of anxious to give this a whirl."

"Me, too," Mark admitted.

Jackie had seen the two sleds sitting side by side, of course, and she knew very well what they meant. The guys were definitely going to go through with this, and two sleds meant two teams. Of course, she told Kirsten about the two sleds one evening while she was down at Kirsten’s soaking in the hot tub while the guys messed with wet rawhide. Kirsten pretty well understood what it meant, too, but her only real comment was, "Boys will be boys."

"It’s keeping them out of trouble this week," Jackie said. "But what happens after that?"

When Saturday morning rolled around, Mike, Mark, and Cumulus were again heading down to the Humane Society. Cumulus seemed a little more confident this morning, but his tail was still between his legs when they pulled into the parking lot. He seemed relieved to be left in the truck while the men went inside, but he watched anxiously out the window.

"I figured you guys would be in this morning," the manager said. "Got a couple dogs I been saving for you." He led Mark and Mike out into the back, where a number of dogs were in cages. It was hard for Mike, especially; there were a number of good-looking dogs there, if not the sort of thing for a dog team. "This dog was brought in a couple days ago," the manager said. "Seems like a friendly dog, pretty low-key. He’s a stray the dog truck brought in, no collar or anything."

The dog was a little larger than they had been looking for, taller and heavier than Cumulus, but not out of line. He wagged his tail at them. The two looked the dog over carefully; he obviously had some shepherd in him, but was almost coal black. "Must be some lab in there," Mike commented.

"He might do," Mark agreed. "What about the other dog?"

"This one was left with us," the manager said. "Guy and his wife split up, and neither had room for the dog."

This dog seemed happy to see Mark and Mike, too. He was a smaller dog, closer to Cumulus’ size. He had a fairly heavy coat, reddish and dark, and looked to have possibilities as a sled dog. "The guy who brought him in said there was some shepherd in him, and some Irish Setter," the pound manager said.

"They both look good to me," Mark agreed. "We’ll have to see what Cumulus thinks. What do you think, Mike?"

Mike hadn’t been looking at the reddish dog, for a lone, forlorn puppy in a cage had caught his attention. "Hey, you look like a good dog," he said.

The puppy perked up and came over to the edge of the cage, his tail wagging. Mike looked into the dog’s eyes, and the dog sort of smiled back. He couldn’t help himself; he unlatched the cage, reached in, and gave the dog a little pat on the head. The gray and white puppy, still in the fuzzball stage, licked his hand, and rolled over to have his belly scratched.

"That dog grows up, he’d be about what you’re looking for. He’s the runt of a litter, and he’s half Malamute and half shepherd. Something kind of went bump in the night, and the family managed to get rid of the rest of the dogs. Their kids did not want to give this little fellow up, though, but the parents wouldn’t keep it. Unfortunately, he’s been here a while," the kennel manager said, not finishing the thought, leaving the conclusion up to Mike.

"Looks like a nice dog," Mike said, not quite surrendering to the inevitable. "But we’re really looking for more than puppies. Back to your cage, little fella." He had a hard time getting the puppy to disentangle himself from his arms, and get the cage latched again. "Let’s go see how Cumulus gets along with these two."

One at a time they took the older dogs out to Cumulus. There was a lot of eyeball to eyeball dog talk, and sniffing at hindquarters, and a couple of low-key growls to establish relationships, but no real show of violence. "I think we might have something here," Mark said, bringing a couple of collars out of the truck. The reddish dog was the second one checked out, and he put a collar on him and took him around to the back of the truck. "Up you go, Red," he said, and the dog leaped up into the back of the truck. Mark secured him to a corner of the truck bed by a neckline.

The other dog, the black one, had been taken back inside, so as to not get involved with the discussion between Cumulus and Red. Mark went back to the cage to get him, while Mike dealt with the paperwork with the kennel manager. It took a little longer than Mark expected, so he went back out to the truck, to secure the dog in the opposite corner by another neckline.

He met Mike coming out of the pound. "Well, we got us some dogs," he said as the two went back to the truck.

"Yeah," Mike said, a little downcast. "We’re off to a start."

They got in the truck. Cumulus was standing on the seat, looking out the back window, tail wagging. "Yes, Cumulus, we got you some playmates," Mark said, starting the truck.

"God damn it," Mike said, opening the door. "I’ll be back in a minute."

It was closer to five minutes before Mike was back, carrying the tail-wagging Malamute puppy in his arms. "I knew you couldn’t do it," Mark said.

"I tried," Mike said. "I really did, even though I knew the minute I first saw him I wasn’t going to be leaving without him."

They got back out on the highway, with the puppy squirming in Mike’s arms, Cumulus looking on with amusement. "The red one is obviously ‘Red,’" Mark commented. "But I can think of half a dozen names for the black one, ‘Coal’, ‘Blackie’, ‘Midnight’, ‘Shadow’, ‘Umbra’. What do you think?"

"With you and that telescope, I think maybe Midnight," Mike said.

"How about that one?" Mark said.

"I’m not going to be the one to name him," Mike said.

Mark smiled. "I knew that, too."

As Mark drove down Busted Axle Road toward their houses, Mike said, "Why don’t you just drop me off in front of my house, and I’ll be back up to your place, later."

"Like shit," Mark said, driving past. "I want to see this, too."

They tied Midnight and Red out on necklines behind the barn – at least Mark did; the puppy never left Mike’s grasp. "We’ll have to build them some doghouses, come up with a better arrangement this afternoon," Mark said. "But that shouldn’t be a big deal."

Jackie came out of the shop, a little bemused, or perhaps perplexed, at the sight. "It begins to look like we’re going to have a dog team," she said.

"Come on," Mark said. "You’ll want to see this, too."

Mike and the puppy rode in the back, while Mark and Cumulus and Jackie rode in the front. It was only a quarter mile up to the house.

Mark and Jackie followed Mike up the back steps and into the kitchen, where Kirsten stood, working on lunch. She saw what Mike was carrying, and shook her head, but said nothing. "Where’s Tiffany?" Mike asked.

"In her room, watching TV," Kirsten said.

"Tiffany!" Mike called. "Come here!"

"Coming, Daddy," they heard. In a second, she appeared, then stopped in her tracks at the sight, eyes aglow. Mike set the puppy down on the floor, and he scuttled across the floor to the girl, half sideways, tail wagging.

"Ohhh, Daddy!" she cried, "He’s beautiful!"

*   *   *

Even before Jennifer Evachevski turned sixteen, years before, she’d started bugging her father about getting a car. It would be unfair to say that Gil was immune to Jenny’s charms, well-developed even at that age, but as befits a Green Beret, he could be hard-nosed when he wanted to be. After Jennifer turned sixteen, he’d called all the kids from Jennifer down to Danny together, and told them, "I want you kids to all get it out of your heads that your mother and I are going to buy you each a car when you turn sixteen. I’m going to buy you one car. Period. It’s going to have to last all of you till you go to college."

The car, a ’72 AMC Hornet, was no hot rod, but it was in pretty good shape when Jennifer got it. She was careful with it, and things went pretty well for the first year, until Garth, the next Evachevski kid in line, got his driver’s license. There were some squabbles at first, but Gil ruled that the senior kid got dibs on the use of the car, but the senior kid lost rights to it when they left for college. Since the gap between Garth and the next kid, Brandy, was the largest among the five Evachevski kids, Garth, who was no fool, could see that his day would come.

Unfortunately, Garth was a bit hard on cars, and the Hornet was rather a clunker by the time Brandy got her hands on it, and she only used it to drive around town or out to the club, carefully. However, Gil had ruled early on that the kids were going to have to be responsible for the maintenance. Garth had worked on it some, but neither Brandy nor Tara was the kind of girl thrilled to have a wrench in hand. Through four kids, though Tara didn’t drive it much, it had acquired a broad array of dents and bruises, and was getting pretty rusty by the time Danny had acquired sole rights to it. As a result, Danny had the clunkiest car on the football team.

However, Gil wasn’t insensitive to the fact that Danny, the last kid, was getting the short end of the stick, and so he didn’t say much when Danny mostly drove the Appliance Center pickup around town, as long as it was available for deliveries.

It was the pickup that Danny was driving over to Josh’s Saturday morning; he found him throwing a basketball around in his driveway. Josh!" he called from the pickup.

"What’s the problem?"

"I think I’ve sorta got it worked out with Amy for tonight, but we’re going to have to come up with something real safe to do."

"You did? That’s wonderful."

"It’s not real wonderful," Danny said. "I’ve got to run whatever we’re going to do and where by her folks, before they’ll say yes or no. And, we’ll have to go double, and I’ll have to take her sister, Marsha."

"What’s this Marsha look like?"

"Sorta like Brandy, but with black hair in a butch cut," Danny explained. Danny’s older sister had been one of the best female athletes that Spearfish Lake had ever produced, shorter than average and stocky, plain appearing, with a real gift for suckering opponents who reasoned that because she was short and stocky and not very pretty, she was a soft touch. Brandy was not a soft touch; she’d been all-conference in basketball and softball at Michigan Tech. "She’s kind of a jockette, like Brandy, too."

"Could be worse," Josh reasoned.

"Could be a hell of a lot better, too," Danny said. "But what you gotta figure is anything that happens is going to get back to their folks, so we’re going to have to be real straight."

"Well," Josh shrugged as he sat down on a convenient box, "I hadn’t exactly expected to get out to Turtle Hill on the first date. Would be nice, but . . . " he trailed off.

"So what the hell are we going to do?" Danny said. "There ain’t exactly a lot to do here in the summer, and about three quarters of it is out because it would get back to their folks."

"We could go down to the game in Camden," Josh suggested. "I think the Toledo Mudhens are in town, and if they’re kind of jockettes, they might be interested."

"I wish I could say that interests me, but it doesn’t," Danny replied. "But, they’re from Camden. Why would they want to go there on a date? It might work sometime later, but not for a first date."

"How about the beach?"

"Naw. Think about it."

"But . . . " Josh protested, the vision of Amy in a bikini obscuring clear thought. Oh, that was what Danny was driving at. "Yeah, you’re right. What would they want to go to the city beach for if they’ve got the one at the club?"

"Right. Think of something else."

The list of possibilities was rapidly running out. "How about we go down to the roller rink at Albany River, maybe have a burger afterwards."

Danny shook his head. "If you want to get anywhere with Amy, don’t even think the word, ‘hamburger’."

"God," Josh said. "I can think of things to do, but there’s not much for a first date. The roller rink, and ice cream, maybe."

"They might buy that," Danny said. "If they don’t, there’s always the game for something to fall back on."

Josh shook his head. "I wish I could think of something perfect, but I can’t."

"Me, either," Danny said. "Let’s go wash your car. Then, we’ll leave the truck at the store, I’ll drop you here and drive your car back out and hit ’em with it."

"What about your car?"

"You want to go on a first date with Amy in my car?"

"Not hardly."

"You can’t pick her up, either," Danny reminded him. "I’ll have to take care of that."

That stopped Josh for a minute. This was getting to be complicated, maybe more complicated than it was worth – but he closed his eyes, and the vision of Amy crossed his mind again, wiping out any second thoughts.

Danny was reading his friend 20-20 again. "You think it’s bad now," he said. "It’s just going to get worse."

*   *   *

Sarah Archer could put up with Danny Evachevski, but wondered at the wisdom of that. She did wonder at times about what influence Danny had on Josh; it couldn’t be real good, though he seemed to be at least a decent kid in her presence. There were a lot worse kids that Josh could hang out with.

But there were limits. She wasn’t sure she liked the idea of Josh going out with Danny and a couple of girls from out there. That could lead to no end of problems. Over the years, she had rejected any suggestions that Josh be allowed to accompany any of the Evachevskis out to the club for a weekend, or whatever, though Walt didn’t care, either way.

But Walt was a little soft-headed about his kids, anyway. She had been thoroughly bent out of shape when Jackie ran off with Mark, years before, without a word or by your leave to anyone – and Jackie hadn’t even been her daughter. Johnny had still been little then, and Josh not even born, and she had never really gotten close to Jackie. When Jackie finally called home, after weeks, Walt’s attitude was mostly one of "Well, what’s done is done. You kids have fun." It incensed Sarah, though there had been nothing she could do about it. It all worked out for the best; Mark and Jackie had been happily married for many years, now, and were as successful as anyone could have hoped for, but she’d resolved then and there that she wasn’t going to let Walt be as casual with Johnny, or later with Josh.

It wasn’t a totally unexpected complication to the plans for the date, but it meant that Josh had to endure at least half a dozen lectures before the afternoon was over with. By the time evening came, he began to wonder if any girl was worth it, even one as pretty as Amy.

He was still getting lectures when, that evening, Danny pulled up at his door, Amy and Marsha with him. So it was with relief, rather than anticipation, that Josh got behind the wheel, while Danny got into the back seat of the little car with Marsha.

It was good to see Amy again, sitting in the seat beside him, now. She had on the same short shorts he remembered from the week before, and a blouse, one tending to obscure the chest that had caught his attention the week before, but her long legs were enough to engage his imagination. God, I hope this works out, somehow, he thought.

Josh hadn’t seen Marsha before, but soon found that Danny’s previous description of her was accurate, except that he thought Brandy was nicer, on balance. Marsha’s voice had an unpleasant note to it, and he could see why Danny hadn’t seemed too thrilled about the arrangement.

He turned south, toward Albany River. He was no big fan of roller skating, either, but maybe sometime he and Amy would be able to skate double tonight, and he’d have a chance to put an arm around that pretty waist. It was several miles before he was able to work in to the conversation, "Do you girls like roller skating?"

"I’m not very good at it, I’m afraid," Amy said. "I’ve only been a couple of times."

Well, so much for doubles, Josh thought.

He was still working on his disappointment when an oncoming car veered across the road in front of them. Josh stood on the brakes, cut to the left, and was still hoping for a miss as the brown car flashed by on their right. In the rear-view mirror, he could see the car go into the ditch and roll over.

"Holy shit," Danny said from the back seat, turning around to see.

"What the hell?" Josh said, his heart pounding still standing on the brakes. He popped the car into reverse, and quickly backed up to where the wrecked car lay in the ditch, upside down, wheels still spinning.

Being in the front seat, Josh and Amy were out first, but Danny and Marsha weren’t very far behind.

Josh and Amy wound up on the driver’s side. Inside the wrecked car, they could see an older man and a woman, both unconscious. "Get the woman, other side," Josh yelled to Danny, who was running up.

"Yeah, let’s get ’em out of there," Danny yelled back. "This thing could blow."

Josh wormed his way into the car a little, where he could reach the seat belt release. With the man hanging upside down, he knew he had to let him down carefully, but work quickly, too. He reached up, popped the seat belt latch, and tried to let him down easy. From across the car, he could hear Danny say, "She’s bleeding like a stuck pig," but Josh’s attention was on the man in front of him. With Amy’s help, he managed to snake him out of the window.

"It’s Mr. Sloat," Josh yelled.

"Don’t know him," Danny said, as he and Marsha pulled the woman out the other side.

"Works with my dad," Josh replied, trying to get a pulse. Sloat didn’t look good; gray and ashen.

"He’s not breathing," Amy said. "He might have had a heart attack."

"I can’t get any pulse," Josh said, rolling Sloat over onto his back for what he knew had to come next.

"I know CPR," Amy said.

"I do, too," Josh said. "I’ll do chest pressure." That first aid class in school might have been boring, and so was the CPR course he’d had through SADD, but all of a sudden, Josh was glad he’d aced the class. He watched Amy bend over to give mouth-to-mouth, as he started pushing on Sloat’s chest.

Over on the other side of the car, Danny and Marsha had determined that the woman – Mrs. Sloat, he guessed, though he didn’t know for sure – was bleeding from the forehead and from her shoulder. Danny ripped off his shirt, and with his football player hands, ripped it in half in one pull. Taking half of the shirt in each hand, he applied pressure to the wounds. "Get in the car," he told Marsha. "There’s a house about a mile back toward town. Call 911, and tell ’em we’re just past the corner of the state road and 337."

"But . . . "

"I can hold on. Do it."

"State road and 337." Marsha got up and ran toward the Chevette, still idling alongside the road. In an instant, she was off, as hard as the little Chevy could go.

"How you guys doing over there?" Danny called.

"CPR," Josh said, trying to keep his attention on chest compression rhythm.

"You’ll have to keep it up till Marsha gets back," Danny yelled. "I can’t let go here."

"We’ll hang in there," Josh said, and focused his attention to what he was doing.

It could only have been a couple of minutes before Danny heard the sweet sound of the fire siren going in town. Say, five minutes to respond, another six or seven to get out here . . .

Josh didn’t hear the siren; he was too concentrated on chest pressure, relax, press again, relax. The next thing he was aware of was Danny’s yell, "Here comes Marsha. Do you need relief?"

"We can hold out a while," Josh replied, hoping the same was true for Amy. The girl didn’t speak, but nodded a little between breaths, and Josh kept up the chest pressure, arms starting to ache.

"Marsha, get down here," he heard Danny yell a few seconds later. "I just noticed she’s bleeding from her leg, and I’m out of hands."

Chest pressure, relax, press, relax. Time ceased to have meaning. Press again, relax. Press, relax.

"Keep it up for a second, kids," Josh and Amy heard a strange voice say. Josh looked up and saw Joe McGuinnis from the fire department carrying a defibrillator package. Rod Turpin was there too, already checking vitals, speaking into a portable radio.

"OK, set up to defib," Josh heard a voice in the radio say. While Josh kept up with the chest pressure, and Amy kept up the mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, Turpin ripped open Sloat’s shirt and hooked up the leads. "Prepared," Turpin reported.

"OK defib," the voice on the radio said. McGuinnis touched a button on the portable pack, and Josh could see Sloat’s body buck. "Continue CPR," McGuinnis ordered, studying the readout. "Nothing. Well, maybe a little." he said into the radio.

"Again," the voice on the radio said.

Again, Josh could feel the man buck under him in response to the electric shock from the defibrillator.

"Definite pulse," McGuinnis reported. "Weak, but there."

"Discontinue chest pressure, and see if it holds," the voice on the radio said. Josh recognized it now. It was Doctor Brege, his own family doctor; he must have drawn the ER duty this weekend. Josh leaned back, still straddling Sloat, his arms aching, but ready to pick up in a second if he had to.

McGuinnis studied the readout carefully. A minute later, he reported, "Pulse is picking up a little."

"Try discontinuing mouth-to-mouth," Dr. Brege’s voice said.

Amy didn’t hear the radio; it took the pressure of Turpin’s hand on her shoulder to get her attention. "Give it a rest, kid," he said. Hair disheveled and sweating, Amy sat up.

"Getting respiration," McGuinnis reported from the monitor.

"Better prepare to transport," the radio squawked.

"OK, kids, good job," McGuinnis said. "Damn good job. We’ll take it from here." As Josh and Amy got up to get out of the way, the EMT yelled, "How you coming with that bleeder over there?"

Only now did Josh look up and see that the rescue truck was there, along with the ambulance, and that another EMT and some firemen were working with the woman. From each direction, a police car was coming. One of them was a sheriff’s car, the other was a city car. Josh could see Harold and Leroy, the city cops, get out of the car. He and Amy stood back, close together, breathing hard, hearts still pounding so hard that it seemed like their own chests would explode.

Harry Masterfield, the fire chief, came around the upended car. "You about ready to transport?" he asked McGuinnis and Turpin.

"Couple of minutes," McGuinnis said. "This’d have been a 10-14 if it weren’t for these kids."

"You two did good," Masterfield told them. "Josh, I know you, but who’s your lady friend?"

"Amy Ashtenfelter," Josh said. "She’s from down in Camden."

"Well, Josh, Amy, when you turn eighteen, remember that we’re always looking for EMTs who can think fast and do the right thing."

The ambulance was long gone before the four could leave. They had to give a report on the accident to the deputy, and that took until the wrecker arrived and had the car upright. None of them were the neatly groomed kids they’d been an hour before; all were now dirty and disheveled, and Danny and Marsha were bloody as well. Danny was still without a shirt. "I don’t suppose anyone’s still interested in roller skating," Danny observed.

"Let’s go to the hospital, and see how Mr. Sloat is doing," Josh suggested. Amy nodded agreement, silently.

"Let’s swing by my house, first," Danny suggested. "I need to change clothes, and there’s probably something of Brandy’s laying around that Marsha could wear."

"I need a shower," Marsha said.

"Yeah, so do I," Danny agreed.

It took them a while to get cleaned up at the Evachevski house, then they drove over to the hospital and waited in the emergency room waiting room for quite a while, before Dr. Brege came out to talk to them. "I think he’ll make it," he said. "We’re going to get him stabilized, then transport him to Camden. We don’t have the facilities for critical cardiac care here. I’m sure the EMTs have told you, but we wouldn’t have to be transporting him to Camden if it hadn’t been for you kids. You did well, and I’ll make sure your folks know it."

The sun was setting when they got back in the car. All four were quiet; their adrenaline had been pumped way up, and now they all felt a little dazed. "You want to go get some ice cream?" Josh suggested.

"You know what I’d really like?" Marsha said.

"What?" Danny asked.

"A big juicy hamburger," she said.

"Yeah," Amy agreed. "No onions, no relish, no fixings, just a bun and that wonderful meat taste. We don’t get to sneak out and have one very often."

"Hamburgers, it is," Josh agreed, a little startled, but too worn to react.

"Let’s go to Albany River to get ’em," Danny suggested. "There’ll be less chance of someone seeing us."

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