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 27

September 1987

Heather looked out the window of her apartment at the lake. It was a brilliant blue, reflecting the brilliant blue of the morning sky. In only a few weeks, it had chilled noticeably, and even though Labor Day wasnít here yet, the beach was empty. The kids were back in school, and had been for a week now, and it seemed lonelier than ever. She sighed and turned back to the laptop and wrote.

So, all in all, not much has happened. Everything has been fairly quiet here, and even the local newspaper hasnít had much to say about the situation since early in the month. The next move will come down to the decision of the Fish and Wildlife Service, and what action they will take with the Environmental Protection Agency. I visited the Fish and Wildlife Service Office in Minneapolis last week, to try and get a feel for what direction their decision is taking, but a couple of the key people were on vacation, and I was unable to get much of an idea of their thinking.

It was entirely possible that the Fish and Wildlife Service might not want to take on the EPA, Heather thought. If they donít, then the city will go ahead with the sewer separation project; they were not about to fight it out with the EPA over the snake. If the snake saved them a fight with the EPA, so much the better, but there was little desire to go beyond that. Not surprising. In theory, the Defenders might have to go to court, but she doubted that would happen unless fresh funding was available. There was no local support that she could see, but sheíd already outlined that earlier in her monthly report. Whatever happens, itís all futile unless the Fish and Wildlife Service decided to fight. She turned back to her laptop.

So far, there has still not been another sighting of a Gibsonís water snake. I interviewed the woman who captured and killed the specimen that the Fish and Wildlife Service now has, and she was not very helpful, and certainly not very sympathetic.

In fact, she was downright hysterical. That woman didnít like snakes. Her little daughter was actually more helpful about what had happened, but not enough to help matters any.

The chance of another one turning up before the snakes go into hibernation is now very slight. The weather is cooling a bit, and fewer specimens of any kind of snake have been seen. The primary investigator from Athens University is a graduate student who returned to her classes last week, so there is no active investigation going on presently. I have tried to continue some of her searching, and I think I could identify a candidate for identification as a Gibsonís water snake if I saw one, but without professional assistance or much luck, I am very doubtful that further samples can be found this season. However, an enhanced search next spring might be more rewarding, and we should consider continuing funding for future searches.

The joker with that, Heather thought, is that the whole question of whether the city should go ahead with the sewer separation system would probably be settled by then, unless a miracle happened. Another species, lost forever. It made her sad to think about it. Had that woman actually killed the last Gibsonís water snake on the face of the earth? She couldnít be very sensitive to wiping out an entire species. It was disgusting to even think about. She took a sip of her coffee, and got down to the hard part.

Considering that the investigation of the snake is nearing a standstill, and that whatever happens next is dependent upon the decision of the Fish and Wildlife Service in Minneapolis, there is no point in maintaining a field operative here in Spearfish Lake. The time being spent here is nearly totally wasted. A couple of local contacts, particularly the biology teacher at the local high school, have been developed who can keep us abreast of new progress, and the local paper can be depended upon for information on developments, as well. With that in mind, I recommend that I be withdrawn from this project to work on other, more substantive matters, until such time as the need for action arises.

There, she thought. That said it about as clearly as it could be said, without getting on the phone to McMullen, and pleading, "Get me out of here."

The local newspaper did seem to be pretty good, at least as a source of information, Heather realized. That tall editor from the paper had interviewed her, and had done a nice story on her, despite his wife. He wasnít an environmentalist, an ally, but he was sympathetic, and easy to talk to. When sheíd read the story, sheíd sent a copy of it off to California, just to let them know that the locals appreciated her presence.

But, she had a backup, in John Pacobel. Heíd become something of a friend, although she couldnít get over the feeling that he was just waiting for the chance to get her in bed. Though sheíd made it clear to him that she wasnít interested, he still called her up, now and then, and they would get together for dinner, or something. With Pam gone back to school, he was about the only semblance of a friend that she really had in town, and it was hard to get through the days. There had been more than once that sheíd thought about taking him up on his unspoken offer, but so far, sheíd managed to resist the temptation.

She read back over her report, hoping that it sounded as bleak as she felt, and, once she was done, hooked the telephone cable into her modem and sent it off to the Defenders office. McMullen should just be getting in, she thought, and she might get a reply quickly.

With the monthly report sent off, there were only two possibilities of things to do: go downtown and get some more copies made of her resumé and go back to sending it out, or take the periscope and go looking down sewer grates for snakes. Neither one was worth taking the whole day over, so she decided to spend half a day at each.

She could stop and get copies made while she was walking around town, so that argued for the periscope.

After a long, hard, fruitless morning with the periscope, she came back to the apartment, with her new resumés in a paper bag. She could see that it was going to be a long afternoon, and probably not very rewarding. She looked in the refrigerator and realized that she needed to go grocery shopping again, and soon. On an impulse, she decided to check the E-Mail, to see if maybe there was a response from McMullen.

There was: Continued funding dependent upon your presence in Spearfish Lake, it said. Feel free to investigate other possible actions, but to protect funding source do not start anything major without approval. Good job so far. Hang in there.

*   *   *

It was noisy in the locker room. Everybody was up, in high spirits. Josh peeled out of the muddy uniform and threw it in the laundry bin, then sat down on the bench in front of his locker and slowly took off the pads, savoring the moment.

There was a crush of activity in the locker room as guys got out of football gear, headed for the shower, and then dressed. Many of the guys had dates waiting outside the locker room, and the pizza joint would be full.

Josh knew that nobody was waiting for him. Heíd already seen his folks, and they had told him that theyíd meet him at home. So, he mostly just sat in front of the locker, enjoying the memory, as a lot of the other guys hurried to get cleaned up.

"Hey, Stud," he heard Danny say, "youíre looking like youíve got your belly dragging, and if anyone ought to be walking on air, it should be you."

"Man, I donít believe it," Josh said. "I mean, I know it happened, but I just donít believe it."

The Spearfish Lake Marlins had a five-year losing streak in the season opener with the Coldwater Icebergs. Once upon a time, when the schools were in the same league, the game had come later in the season, and it had been the grudge match of the season. Then, Coldwater had merged with a small school district, and it booted them into the next sports class. Since it was now a bigger school, the game had been moved up to become the traditional season opener. Coldwater was enough bigger, now, that the Marlins usually had a tough time handling them, unless they had a really hot team.

Both teams had been pretty much unable to move the ball against tough defenses, and at the end of the third, the score was six to three, with the Marlins on the short end. The Marlinís only score had come on a trick play, a field goal setup that was supposed to turn into a pass from the holder, but the receiver got blocked and the kicker actually had to kick it. Miraculously, it went right between the uprights like it had eyes.

Most of the game had been buck it into the line three times and kick, buck it into the line three times and kick, and that for both teams. By the time the third quarter was winding down, both teams were getting a little tired when the kicking teams had gone out again. The Coldwater kicker got off a really good punt; it bounced near the ten yard line, right in front of Josh, but died out.

It was clear to Josh that it wasnít going into the end zone, so rather than to have to start from the two, he picked the ball up and tried to run it out. There was an Iceberg tackler right at hand, but by some miracle, Josh was able to dodge around him. He cut to the left, still behind the ten, found the field filled with white, the wrong color uniform, and cut back to the right, where things seemed a little more open. Somehow, he evaded another tackle, and one of his teammates threw a block on another potential tackler. All of a sudden the field was open, there was running room, and Josh had his throttle in Run-8, heading for the far goal line, the field strung out with blue and gold and white behind him, the Spearfish Lake crowd on their feet, yelling "Go! Go!"

There was only one potential problem left, right on Joshís heels, but somehow, Danny managed to come out of nowhere to throw a tremendous block. There was no white within ten yards when Josh crossed the goal line.

It was the first touchdown Josh had scored since seventh grade football, despite running into the line an awful lot over the last few years.

The extra point was good, but the game wasnít really over until the end of the fourth, when a big Marlin defense managed to hold the line on fourth and goal, leaving only four seconds to go. The Marlin quarterback then took the snap and knelt down with the ball, and heart rates in the Spearfish Lake stands started to get back toward normal.

There were a lot of high fives, and a lot of congratulations from the crowd, before the team was able to get back to the relative quiet of the locker room for a few minutes, before what would obviously be a night of celebration.

"Who knows," Danny said, "you might even get to start next week."

"Thatíd be nice," Josh said.

"Hey guy," Danny said, "you sure donít seem like the football hero, the guy who saved the day. What the hell is the matter?"

"Nothingís the matter," Josh said. "I guess I just wish Amy had been here to see that. Thereís going to be a lot of fun tonight, and it sure would be nice for you and me to take Amy and Marsha, and go out and party."

"Well, itís not going to happen," Danny said. "You got to make the best of it."

"Yeah," Josh said, "but it would still be nice."

"Donít lose any sleep over it," Danny said. "Thatís the thing about a summer love Ė itís in the summer. Make the best of it. Josh, itís not summer anymore, and you canít get it on with your squeeze if sheís not here."

"You can say that," Josh said. "You and Marsha were the ones who were getting it on." The subject was out now, and he might as well talk about it. "I donít know what else you did, when I wasnít around, but Amy and I never thought you were going to get out of the back seat. You two got out of the car with such big shit-eating grins that we both know you two were on the scoreboard."

"Hell," Danny said. "When you two peeled out of that front seat, we could tell you two were the ones heading for the scoreboard. At least you guys got on it. Marsha and I never did."

"What do you mean you never did?" Josh accused. "Thatís a crock of shit! What the hell else could you have been doing in there all that time?"

"Waiting on you two to do your thing," Danny said. "Marsha was pissed with me, pissed with you, but she was really pissed at Amy, but she sort of figured that since you two were doing it, sheíd better not get in the way. We waited, and waited, and figured you two had to really be getting it on to take that long."

"We never did a thing," Josh said. "We talked about it, and decided weíd better go swimming instead. We stayed in the water until we got cold, and then we stayed on the beach, waiting for you two to finish up."

"Hold it," Danny said. "Are you telling me that you two never did, either?"

"We could have," Josh admitted. "But, we didnít."

"Boy," Danny laughed. "Ainít we a pair of sorry sons of bitches? A couple of times, Marsha and I got to talking that since you two were doing it, we might as well, but somehow we never did."

Now it was Joshís turn to laugh. "I wonder if theyíve told each other yet."

"They hadnít when they left to go home," Danny reported. "It makes sense now. They were both picking at each other for what they thought had happened but hadnít."

"Well," Josh replied, "I guess I was a little mad at you, too."

"Me, too," Danny admitted. "Well, jealous, I guess."

"Hell, you made me jealous, the way you two were hanging onto each other all last month. I thought you didnít like Marsha."

"Weíd never gotten along very well before this summer," Danny said. "But when we compared you and Amy, we kind of got to seeing that we had a lot in common. Well, maybe next summer, we can pick up where we left off."

"Thatís what Amy said. Maybe next summer."

"Marsha said it, too. Hell, it might even happen. It might get real interesting if Marsha and I both go to Athens next fall."

"You want to do that?"

"I donít know," Danny said. "Letís face it, if I go to Athens, and sheís there, well, a lot could happen. Letís not worry about it, now. Weíll play next summer however it comes, if it comes. In the meantime, letís go get a hamburger and see if we can find some Spearfish Lake girls who are ready for a good time with the star of the game and his best buddy."

"At least we wonít have to go to Albany River for a burger," Josh laughed. "What the hell. If next summer comes, it comes."

*   *   *

The sky was threatening in the west, making darkness come early. It seemed to Mike that the woods were getting deep in shadow. By the time he finally drove the eight-dog team up to the side trail that ran to the runway in back of Markís house, it was getting to the point where it was nearly too dark to see.

He was depending on Cumulus Ė and a little on Ringo, too Ė to find the way in the darkness, as much as his own knowledge of the trail. Cumulus apparently figured that it was time to be getting home, so he made the turn to the spur trail without even being told. It was good to know that Cumulus could be depended upon; Mike realized he might have missed the corner himself in the gloom.

Mark was waiting in back of the hanger, sitting on the seat of his pickup truck, when the dogs raced up the runway at a good trot. They came to a stop in front of the hanger in response to Mikeís "whoa." While he set the brakes, Mark got out of the pickup truck to help with staking the dogs out at their doghouses.

"You know," Mark said conversationally "Itís more work than it was when we only had three dogs to mess around with."

"True," Mike said. "But now that theyíre settling down more, itís more fun, too. Itís not like we have to fight with them every inch of the way anymore, especially with this many dogs. I made it back from where we switched without a single tangled line, would you believe it?"

"Theyíre settling down," Mark agreed.

"I thought about putting Cumulus in wheel," Mike said, "and trying to run Ringo in a single lead, but I decided that it was not a real great idea, at least back in the woods and near dark. Next time we go out, letís leave a dog behind and run him in single lead for a while."

"Yeah," Mark said, "or, we could take George, and try it with nine dogs. Heís getting big enough to get the idea."

"I wouldnít want to take him out for a real long run, just yet," Mike said. "But thereís no reason we couldnít run him up and down the runway trails."

"Heís getting ready for that," Mark agreed. "How do you think the rest of them are doing?

"You know, if anything, I think theyíre getting bored," Mike said. "Around the field, up and down the trail. Frankly, I wouldnít mind seeing a little new scenery myself."

"Maybe we ought to see if we can find some strange scenery to run them in," Mark agreed. "Itís going to be kind of a hassle if we donít run them out of here, but that was something weíre going to have to deal with, anyway."

"Once it gets to be winter, we got all the snowmobile trails we can run," Mike said.

"Yeah, but until the ground freezes, thatís pretty much out. Most of those trails run on the frozen ground through the swamps, somewhere along them."

"Well, we could take them out and run them around the golf course," Mike suggested. "If we kept off the greens, I think itíd be OK."

"Well, maybe," Mark replied. "Give me a chance to see if I can figure some way to build a dog box for the truck without it being too big a deal. Going to have two or three days to work on it, anyway."

"The dogs would run in the rain," Mike said, "but Iím not too sure I want to."

"Me either," Mark said. "Let me think about it, and maybe tomorrow night, we could get started building something."

"Beats getting soaked to the skin," Mike agreed. "Maybe the dogs deserve a break, too."

Mark shook his head. "Oh, nuts," he said. "We canít work on it tomorrow night. Iíve got to go to the expedition meeting. I canít believe itís been a month, already."

"Steve and Binkyís, again?"

"Yeah, undoubtedly for something unidentifiable and inedible," Mark said. "I can eat almost anything, but I never could stomach that shit when I was in Vietnam, and I canít do much better on her cooking, even now. Everything tastes rotten. Maybe sheís forgetting how to cook some of it, sheís so used to cooking American."

"Well, enjoy yourself," Mike snickered.

"You know, you ought to come to one of those meetings sometime," Mark said. "Youíve got an interest in this, after all."

"I poke my nose in on them at least once a year," Mike said. "After all, itís not like I have to learn Vietnamese, or anything. Iím not going on the expedition."

"Yeah, well, I suppose," Mark said, taking the last dog by a neckline. "All right, come on, Paul. You were a good dog for me, and I hope you were for Mike."

Eight of the nine dogs were now staked out in a row; only Cumulus was allowed to run free, and he usually slept on the back porch. Mike fastened Ringo up to the stake at his doghouse, and had a long word of approval for him. Mike suspected that Ringo would shape up more quickly if he had more human contact, and several times had thought about taking him over to his house, where the kids could play with him some. They needed to be moving dogs down there pretty soon, anyway, but it was a pointless exercise as long as they only had the one ATV for training. When they could use the sleds, it would be different.

Mark and Mike finished up about the same time. "Want to stay and have a Coke?" Mark offered.

"No," Mike said. "I suppose Iíd better be getting on home. That way, I can say good night to the kids before they go to bed."

"Well, if itís raining, I guess I wonít see you tomorrow," Mark said.

"Would you like me to come up and feed the dogs?" Mike offered.

"Yeah, that would be a big help," Mark said. "It would be kind of a pain to have to feed them, and still have to make it over to Steve and Binkyís by six."

"No big deal," Mike said. "Oh, hey, I almost forgot. Iíve got tickets for you guys for the Halloween Party. Are you two coming, or what? If you donít use them, Iíve got to give them back to Carrie, so she can ask someone else."

"I donít know," Mark said. "Jackie and I have talked about it a couple of times, but weíve never come to a decision. Weíre not really party people, when it gets right down to it."

"You ought to come," Mike told him. "Itís a lot of fun. You have to see it to believe it."

"I donít know," Mark repeated. "Some of the stories Iíve heard are pretty far out."

"Then theyíre probably true," Mike told him. "Like I said, you have to see it to believe it."

"Well, let me talk to Jackie about it again. You donít need to know tonight, do you?"

"Itís not that big a hurry. First of the week, maybe even later. I could put Carrie off longer than that if I had to."

Mark shook his head. He wasnít real sure he wanted to bother with going to the Halloween party. It was a big deal around Spearfish Lake, but it wasnít his sort of thing. "Like I said, weíll think about it," he repeated.

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