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 33

George Lindquist was just getting ready to leave the Spearfish Lake Café when Mark and Mike came in, and he didnít need an explanation of what had happened; he could tell from the big grins on their faces. "Been out mushing?" he smiled as he paid his tab.

"Yeah," Mike admitted. "A little. Nice morning for it."

Though it may have been near lunchtime, Mark and Mike both ordered big breakfasts. "Too bad I wasnít there to see Tiffany run your team," Mark said. "Iíd have liked to have seen that."

"She was about the proudest, happiest kid you could imagine," Mike said. "Guess Iím going to have to let her do it again, some time."

"Next thing you know, sheís going to want her own team," Mark laughed.

"She can wait a while for that," Mike responded. "Itís going to take a lot of mushing to keep the dogs in shape, especially for a trip like Warsaw and back. All theyíve had so far is short sprints, and I can see weíre going to have to push them a little."

"Yeah," Mark said. "And, theyíre going to lose their edge a little as it is. Starting a week from tomorrow, we canít run them for two weeks, and theyíre going to have to sit on their butts."

"Whyís that?" Mike asked.

"Deer season," Mark replied sadly. "Iím going to move my dogs inside the hanger. Cumulus goes on a chain and stays there until deer season is over. Youíre going to want to move your dogs into the barn."

"God, is it that bad out there?" Mike asked. Heíd completely forgotten about rifle deer season, which was a big thing around Spearfish Lake. Mike didnít hunt deer, mostly because Kirsten wasnít too happy about it, and he had no great drive to fight her over it. George Webb, his and Kirstenís boss, did go out deer hunting, but Mike knew that sometimes he didnít bother to take a rifle. It was an excuse to go out into the woods for a week or two with the gang, get away from his wife, drink beer, play cards, and tell tall stories. Which was all right, Mike guessed, even if it was beside the point. Still, he could see why deer hunting would appeal to some people, even if it didnít to him.

"Let me tell you," Mark said, real anger rising in his voice, "Jackie and I used to have a horse, but some asshole shot it, thinking it was a deer. If I ever find out who it was, heís going to get a flying lesson from about five thousand feet over the lake."

Mike started to ask what Mark meant by that, but remembered that Mark had been a paratrooper. This was a downside to living on Busted Axle Road that Binky hadnít mentioned, but Mike had lived in Spearfish Lake long enough that he should have thought of it. "There are a lot of idiots out there," he commented.

"Sure are," Mark said. "Look, maybe Iíd better tell you. Donít let the kids play outside, and donít let George run loose. Heís got white on him, so donít leave him outside a minute more than necessary, and never wear white outside. There are assholes out there that if they see a flash of white, they think itís a deer, and BANG!"

"You donít hunt, do you?" he asked.

"Back when I was in school, I lived for hunting," Mark said. "Then, when I got back from Vietnam, hunting season rolled around, and I discovered that I had absolutely no desire to do it. Havenít thought about it till this year, when I got to thinking that I could save a few bucks on dog food, but I still donít want to do it."

"Somebody we know is bound to shoot a doe that they donít want," Mike suggested. "We could ask around."

Mark shook his head. "Yeah, but weíd still have to gut it out, probably, and dress it out for sure, and thatís a hell of a mess. Iíd just as soon buy dog food."

"Youíre probably right," Mike admitted.

"The hell of it is," Mark said sourly, "for two weeks, weíll probably have good sledding snow, and we wonít dare take the dogs out. Even if theyíre hooked to a sled, some idiot will probably decide theyíre running deer, and open up with his assault rifle. Assholes. Then, weíll have bare ground for a month."

"Theyíre not the only assholes running around," Mike said, equally sourly, mentally flipping a nickel in his mind. He looked to each side; they werenít close to anyone. Still, he lowered his voice. "Look, weíve got an even bigger problem."


Mike kept his voice low. "Webb and I are sitting on a big story right now, but we may decide to go with it, anyway. I only heard hints of it, but I got enough hints to file a Freedom of Information request with Kutzley. I got the paperwork yesterday, and itís not good news. Not for me, not for us, not for the city."

Now, Mark looked interested. "Something involved with the sewer?" he guessed.

"Yeah," Mike said. "Kutzley screamed like a stuck pig when I hit him with it. It seems the city is looking at a way around the sewer separation, in case the EPA decides to go ahead and cite them anyway for the plant overflows. You know what Iím talking about?" Mark nodded, and Mike went on, "It seems someone came up with the idea of building a retention pond to hold the sewer overflow until they can get around to processing it. You know where they want to build it? Right in my front yard."

"Thatís miles away from town," Mark said, furrowing his brow.

"Yeah, but the engineering firm says that itís the only place around there where the geology and soils profile are right to build the pond. Itís only going to cost them about twice what it would to build the sewer separation."

"People are going to scream at that."

"The damn thing is going to smell like shit, and itís going to affect you, too." Mike said, shaking his head. "I donít want to sit on the story, because Kutzley is getting antsy to get rolling on the project, so it can get done next summer. Iím afraid heís going to try to ram it through council some night when no one is watching, along with the special assessment district, and then itís going to be a hell of a lot harder to nip in the bud. I tell you, Mark, if this thing goes through, Iím going to have to move, and you probably will want to, too, since youíre going to be dead downwind of the stinking thing. Except that our property values will be third of what they were before."

"Oh, Jesus," Mark said, feeling the punch in the gut.

"Thatís it, exactly," Mike agreed. "I talked to Pat Roberts yesterday. I own about a third of the land that they need, and theyíd have to take it away from me. They could get it eventually, but we could keep them tied up in court for a year or two, until it would be cheaper to buy me out at my price, rather than pay the EPA fines. But that doesnít help you out."

"Well, Iím glad of the warning," Mark said sadly. "What do you think I should do? Get the place on the market now, before the story comes out? Jackieís going to hate losing her shop, and Iím going to hate losing the airstrip. We put a hell of a lot of work into that place."

"I donít know," Mike said. "I hope it doesnít get that far. As long as this snake thing is going on, it may not matter. Iím trying to talk Webb into letting me run the story next week, or the week after next at the latest, just before the next council meeting. If I can blow the whistle on Kutzley, maybe the public reaction to the money will kill the thing before the idea gets off the ground. Hell, theyíre getting up into the numbers where it would be simpler to just expand the treatment plant to deal with the overflow."

"This damn thing just keeps getting worse and worse," Mark said. "Thatís why we got out of town and into the country in the first place, just to avoid having to deal with those city problems."

"My feeling, exactly. If it werenít for the dogs, the city would look pretty good, right now, between the idiots running around the woods with the rifles and the possibility of having the scenic view of the city sewage retention pond out my picture window."

"What can I do about it?"

"Nothing much, at this point," Mike said. "Except that you might want to talk to a lawyer. It might be that you could get the city to buy you out, too, or at lease pay damages for the decrease in property value. But, thatís not as good a solution as stopping the thing. Hell, I donít want to move again, either."

"Well, Iím glad you didnít tell me about this before we went out this morning," Mark said. "That would have really loused up the experience."

"I thought about telling you when we stopped for coffee, but I didnít want to louse it up," Mike said. "Look, donít let it get you down too far. Weíve got a lot we can fight it with, and now that I know what Kutzley has in mind, I may be able to do something about it without going to court."

Mark shook his head. "After this morning, with the dogs and all, if it werenít for the fact that it would be very hard to pull up stakes, Iíd be just about ready to say the hell with it and move to Alaska."

"Yeah," Mike nodded his head, "Me, too."

*   *   *

The day before deer season opened was a Saturday. The town was filled with men in orange jackets, driving out-of-state cars and trucks, and so was the Spearfish Lake Café when John Pacobel dropped by about ten in the morning, to find Heather Sanford in a booth. "Mind if I sit in?" he asked.

"No, go ahead," she said. "You know, after the Halloween Party, I was beginning to like this place. Now, all of a sudden, it makes me sick."

"Deer season?" John asked. "Itís one of those things that a lot of us hate, but weíve learned that we have to put up with."

"Thereís no reason you should have to put up with such senseless butchery," she said. "These murderers make me sick."

"Well, I donít care for deer hunters myself," John said. "But, over the years, Iíve come to comprehend a bit of the logic of the situation. You see, when this area was logged over a hundred years ago, it created a habitat thatís ideal for deer, and continued logging on a sustained yield basis has kept it that way. At the same time, in all our wisdom, we exterminated all the natural predators. The deer are going to die, whether theyíre shot, or they starve to death. If theyíre shot, it adds to the local economy. So, we tolerate it."

"Upset the balance of nature, for money," Heather said sourly. "Thatís what it all comes down to. Mix that with a desire for senseless killing, and you have deer hunting. My God, John, these animals have rights, too. I wish I could do something about it."

John could see very quickly that there was no point in reasoning with her on the matter, and it could only lead to an argument. "Have you heard from Los Angeles how much longer youíre going to be here?" he asked, trying to change the subject.

"No," she said. "I asked them again this month if I could go somewhere else, since nothing is happening here, but they wonít let me, so I have to stay here and be subjected to this genocide. I wish the hell I could get out of the Defenders and get involved with some organization that has the guts to do something."

Once or twice before, John had gotten hints that Heather was not totally satisfied with her job. "I know youíve been sending out resumés," he said. "Is it that bad?"

"John, thereís so much that we could be doing," she said. "Easy things, things that would do a lot of good. Iíve told you about my idea about the whales. But, we donít do them. My bosses seem more concerned with where the money is coming from than they do about what good they could do."

"It takes money to do things," John observed.

"Yeah, I know that," she said. "But I spend most of my time working on raising money, not on things that matter. Thatís why I keep sending out resumés. I want to work on something that matters. If the Defenders wonít do it, maybe someone else will. Then, what really bothers me is that the only reason Iím here doing nothing is that one of my bosses found someone to pay for me being here, and they want me to stay here, even though Iím doing nothing. Itís a total waste. God, I could be doing something useful."

"Thatís a shame," John said, "But, money talks."

"It talks too damn loud," Heather said. "Just like the hunters, it burns my gut to think of all that Iíve wasted here."

"Who knows?" John said. "Your time could come. Maybe something will happen, or maybe your funding source will give up."

"I hope so," Heather said. "If we have to deal with funds, I wish someone could come up with the money to do something about all this senseless butchery of poor, innocent animals, but even I know that you canít solve anything with a picket sign. Maybe in the courts, something could be done."

"People have tried," John said. "Itís a waste of money."

"Damn it John, I wish I could think of something I could do about it, even if it only makes me feel better. I thought of putting up my own money to take out an ad in the local paper. Maybe that would talk some sense into someone. Or, go out and let the air out of their tires when theyíre parked along the road. Or something. I donít know what."

John sighed. While he wasnít very happy with deer season, like a lot of people around Spearfish Lake, it was a necessary evil that had to be accepted. But, Heather was treading on dangerous ground, and she needed to be warned.

"Look," he said. "Put an ad in the paper if you want. All it can do is make you enemies. You go screwing around out in the woods, and itís a different story. Weíve got a saying around here: ĎDonít mess with the deer hunters. Theyíve got guns.í And, some of them will be drunk enough to use them if they feel like it, and then you wouldnít be a martyr, youíd be a statistic."

"John, I canít believe youíd say such a thing," she said. "Donít you realize the importance of this?"

"Better than you do," he said. He was about ready to give up on Heather, anyway, not that heíd ever pushed her very hard. There were a half a dozen times that he could probably have said the right thing, done the right thing, and wound up in bed with her, but he hadnít really tried that hard. It had been a different experience, to have a friendly relationship with an intelligent, mature woman, without letting sex get involved. Naturally, if she had volunteered, or if the planets had been in the right alignment or something, he wouldnít have refused an offer, but he was beginning to wonder what he was doing. This was the first time heíd really seen the fanatic side of Heather, rather than the professional, and he wasnít very pleased with it.

"Then how can you be so blasé about it?" she asked, furious at his indifference.

"Because I understand it better than you do," he said, not caring now if an argument resulted. "Look, do me a favor," John said. "Remember what youíre supposed to be doing here. While it may seem to you that youíre not accomplishing anything, so far, youíve succeeded in your mission, which wasnít deer, it was protecting the Gibsonís water snake. Youíve managed to accomplish that because youíve had the community on your side. If you make enemies, you could jeopardize what youíre supposed to be doing here. Think about that before you say anything, or do anything that might make it more difficult to protect the snake."

"Youíre saying I shouldnít do anything, no matter how much this deer hunting disgusts me?"

"Heather, you have to understand the political realities of this town," John said. "I know thatís hard to swallow, but thatís the way it is."

And, the hell with you if you donít believe me, he thought. There are other fish in the sea.

*   *   *

Since it was cold enough to be blowing snow outside, this time Kutzley couldnít leave the fire hall doors open, although the trucks were outside, gathering snow. The building was even more packed than it had been for the meeting in July, when the special assessment district had first been brought up.

For the hundredth time, Kutzley wondered who the hell had told Mike McMahon about the retention pond, and in deer season, too. That wasnít good; half the cars parked in the back would have high-powered rifles in them, and although nothing was likely to happen, the potential scared him.

Ever since the Record-Herald had come out the week before, his phone had been going continually. People that had been angry at being summarily forced to come up with thousands of dollars for the sewer separation were even less happy at the news that they might be forced to pay out twice as much as theyíd expected.

Heíd asked Mike to keep it under his hat, to avoid giving the EPA ideas, and when Mike had held off for almost two weeks, he had thought that he might have gotten away with it. Then, the phone calls had started coming in, even before heíd seen the Record-Herald, and he realized that his hand was being forced. Well, there was nothing he could do about it now; the council didnít even dare not discuss the retention pond.

At least this time, Kutzley had thought to borrow a P.A. system from the school and set it up in the fire station so everybody could hear. Maybe that could help the meeting from being the same kind of zoo it had been the last time.

Ryan Clark called the meeting to order, right on the dot at 7:30. He banged the gavel and said into the microphone, "The second November meeting of the Spearfish Lake City Council is now in session. All rise for the Pledge of Allegiance."

People took their seats after the pledge, but Clark remained standing. "Again, considering the subject matter, weíll dispense with the regular order of business until this retention pond issue has been discussed. I would just like to say, before we get involved with this matter, that the story in the Record-Herald last week was as much a surprise to all of us on council as it was to you, and about all we know about it is what you read. This is serious business here tonight, and I will not tolerate any demonstrations or remarks out of turn, and I will ask the police to eject anyone causing a disturbance. Is that clear?"

The room remained relatively quiet, with a low buzz of whispers filling the silence. Clark waited for a moment, then said, "I would like to ask the city manager to explain the meaning of this revelation."

Kirsten and Mike and Mark and Jackie sat together in the audience, with Mike writing furiously as the city manager talked; heíd have to go and write the story as soon as the meeting was over. None of what Kutzley said for the first fifteen minutes was new to him, as he took the history of the sewer separation up through the July meeting, and the staff meeting that had been held a couple of days after that meeting.

"Council had directed me to explore alternatives to the separation project," he said finally. "With the help of the Waste Water Treatment Plant Supervisor, Jack Musgrave, we determined that there were two alternative ideas that could be studied, should we be forced to avoid overflows, and still leave the basic sewer system untouched. The first was to expand the size of the waste water treatment plant to the point where it could handle all of the inflow. However, due to the fact that the widely varying rate of inflow would mean that even a larger capacity plant might not always be able to efficiently process the inflow, we didnít take a very hard look at the idea. The other idea was that of a retention pond, to retain the excess flow until such time as the plant could deal with it efficiently."

Kutzley went on with the retention pond idea in some detail, while Mike was writing and thinking furiously, and an idea popped into Markís head.

"Frankly," Kutzley said, "my main concern was then, and is now, that we need to have a good plan available if the EPA comes in and forces us to deal with the overflow problem despite the Critical Interest Area that protects the possible presence of this endangered species of snake. While we have been trying to get a reading from the EPA since July, we have not had any success, and their initial order still stands. It was my intention to come to Council as soon as we got a reading from the EPA in order to go ahead with the retention pond project to avoid the overflows and fines. My intent was to cause a minimum of distress to the citizens of Spearfish Lake, while still obeying the letter of the law."

Kutzley sat down, and Clark took the microphone. "Thank you, Don," he said. "Now, at this point, I want to throw the floor open for public comment, but I expect it to be orderly. Everyone will have a chance to be heard. Weíve provided microphones out there, and I would ask that you use them. Please line up behind a microphone, and weíll go from one to another."

Mark shot out of his seat, but still was second in line for one of the microphones. When he finally got a chance to speak, he asked, "I want to come back to this idea of the treatment plant expansion for a moment. I understand that the problem there is the widely varying rates of flow. Wouldnít it be simpler, and possibly cheaper, to design the plant for a high rate of dilute flow, and then during times of low flow, just pump water in from the lake and process it to keep the flow rate even, so the plant could work efficiently?"

Kutzley shook his head. "I donít think that idea has been considered. Jack, would you have any comment on that?"

Jack Musgrave stood up; with his booming voice he didnít bother with a microphone. "I never thought about that," he said. "Thereís no reason that I can think of off the top of my head why it wouldnít work, but it hasnít been considered. Weíd have to triple the flow capacity, but itís not like weíd need three of everything weíve got now. Thereís some things that wouldnít need duplication, like the lab and the sludge storage tank."

"Just to follow up," Mark said, "any idea of the costs?"

"Again, right off the top of my head, maybe six to eight million. Itís hard to say without engineering studies and a comparison with other plants."

"So, youíre saying that a larger plant might be cheaper than the retention pond?"

"It could be," Musgrave said. "But I canít give you any numbers at this time."

Something of a buzz filled the room, and Clark pounded the gavel for order. Councilman Hjalmer Lindahlsen raised his hand. When Clark recognized him, he said, "I think weíd be shooting ourselves in the foot if we went ahead with the retention pond without giving thorough consideration to other alternatives."

"Especially if theyíre cheaper alternatives," Councilman Ray Milliman added.

Mark took his seat. Mike leaned over and whispered, "Howíd you think of that?"

"It just came to me," Mark said. "It might buy us a little time."

"We can hope," Mike said. "But Iíll bet that once that idiot Kutzley came up with the retention pond, he never even asked the engineers about other alternatives. Iíve about had it with that joker." He got up, to stand in line at the microphone.

"Mr. Kutzley," Helen deLine shouted into the microphone, "would this retention pond do anything about the flooding that we have all over the southern part of town when we get a heavy rain."

Kutzley took the microphone again. "No, it wouldnít, Helen," he said. "With either the retention pond, or the expanded plant, for that matter, we would still be using the same collection system, and when itís asked to work at more than its limits, things are going to back up."

"Then the Fish and Wildlife Service can come and pump out my basement every time it rains," she said. "If theyíre going to bar our improving the storm sewers over a snake that probably doesnít exist, thatís the least they can do. I read in the Record-Herald last fall that Miss Appleton never found a trace of another snake, and that she wasnít really sure that the snake found last spring was a Gleasonís sewer snake, or whatever it was."

"Well, Helen, we have to accept the fact that the Fish and Wildlife Service has declared the town a Critical Interest Area for the snake, whether we like it or not."

"Do we have to?" she asked. "If it doesnít exist, canít we take them to court?"

"We really havenít considered that alternative," Kutzley replied.

"Well, I should think youíd better before you waste three or four million dollars on a waste water treatment plant expansion or a retention pond, when we donít need either one of them." There was a round of applause at that statement.

It was some time before Mike made it up to a microphone. "Iíd like to direct this question to Mr. Clark," he said. "I know that the engineering study was fairly extensive. It included soil borings, and other field work, that had to add up to some money. Iíd like to know at what time the Council authorized Mr. Kutzley to expend funds on an engineering study."

"Council was never approached," Clark said. "Like I said at the beginning of this meeting, none of the members ever heard about it until you printed it in the paper."

"That must have added up to a considerable sum," Mike said. "Youíre telling me that this work was done without council authorization?"

"The city manager has certain discretion to expend funds," Kutzley said.

Mike was getting hotter under the collar by the minute. "Mr. Kutzley, my question was not directed at you," he said. "It was directed at Mr. Clark. I will submit that the city manager does have some discretion to expend funds, but I would suggest that he far exceeded his authority."

"I think youíre right, Mike," Ray Milliman said. "We never heard a word of any of this, until we read it in the paper. Council certainly never authorized an engineering study of the retention pond."

"Maybe we need a new city manager," Lindahlsen said.

"I donít want to make a speech," Mike said. "But this is not the first instance in this affair where the city manager has seen it fit to overlook certain facts, or else do slipshod work. If we can go back to the original sewer separation project for a moment, I seem to recall that the city owns between ten and twenty percent of the acreage in the drainage district, but that fact was conveniently ignored when the time came to work out the special assessments." The buzz in the fire hall became downright angry.

"Are you sure about that, Mike?" Clark asked.

"Of course, Iím sure."

"Mr. Kutzley," Clark said icily, "I would ask for your comment."

Kutzley rose to his feet. "I . . . well, I . . . since that land Mr. McMahon is talking about is city streets and parks, used by the residents of that district, I thought they should share in the expenses. It was just a simple way of accounting."

"I think the streets and parks of this city belong to all the citizens, not just the residents of that area," Milliman said. "Why was this not brought to our attention?"

"No one asked me," Kutzley said. "I would have told you if youíd asked."

"Iíve heard enough," Milliman said. "I move that the Council ask for the resignation of the city manager."

"Second the motion," Lindahlsen said.

"I would ask that the discussion be limited to the council members at this time," Clark said.

"I request that any discussion of a personnel nature be handled in closed session," Kutzley said. "That is my right under the open meetings act."

"I think we need to settle this right now," Clark said. "Iíd like to ask for the forbearance of the citizens, and ask that the motion just made be tabled, and ask for a motion to move to closed session."



"All in favor, say ĎAyeí," Clark said. The vote was unanimous. "Weíll discuss that in the council chambers. Weíll continue discussion of the motion when we return, and will take further public comment after that." He banged his gavel, and the councilmen got up and walked out of the meeting.

"Mike, did you really need to do that?" Kirsten admonished as the noise level in the hall rose.

"Iíve had it with that turkey," Mike said. "Heís incompetent, and he left himself wide open. What I said tonight was nothing compared to what my editorial was going to say tomorrow. I had it all written in my head."

The council was gone a good twenty minutes before they returned. Clark banged his gavel, and said, "Mr. Milliman?"

"Mr. Mayor," Milliman said, "I withdraw my motion from earlier and move that the council accept the immediate resignation of the city manager."

"Seconded," Lindahlsen said.

"All in favor, say aye."

A moment later after the unanimous vote, Clark went on, "Now that weíre without a city manager, Iíd like a motion directing the city clerk to act as acting city manager until such time as a new city manager can be hired." The motion was made, seconded, and acted on quickly. "This puts a different spin on things," Clark said. "Itís obvious that we need to continue to explore options about the sewer system, since that problem isnít going to go away as easily. Without going to more public comment, it would appear that we need to further explore the idea of an expanded treatment plant. I would ask for a motion to that effect."

"I move that," Milliman said. "And would add that Mr. Musgrave be authorized to monitor the work, and that expenses be limited to $5,000."

"Will that be sufficient?" Lindahlsen asked.

"Itíll get us started," Musgrave said. "If I need more, Iíll ask."

"That would have simplified matters if it had been done in the first place," Clark said.

"Iíll second that motion," Lindahlsen said. "If Mr. Musgrave will report to us regularly in open session."

"I can do that," Musgrave said.

The motion was quickly passed.

"Mr. Mayor," Lindahlsen said. "Before we return to public comment, I have one other item. I thought Mrs. deLine had a good idea. Weíd be better off if we didnít have to mess with either a retention pond, or a bigger sewage plant, and we do need a better drain. I would like to move that the city attorney be directed to approach the Fish and Wildlife Service about having the Critical Interest Area lifted, but not to start a lawsuit without Councilís direction."

"You canít do that!" Heatherís voice filled the hall. "It will ruin any chance for proving that they exist at all."

"Miss Sanford, I did not ask for public comment," Clark said. "A motion is on the floor."

"Iíll take you to court!" she yelled. "You people in this town donít give a damn about nature. You murder deer, and now you want to murder an endangered species. What the hell is the matter with you? You people . . . "

Clark waved his gavel at Harold and LeRoy, who got up and headed for the Defenders of Gaea representative.

"Second the motion," Milliman said dryly.

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