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 34

"The beauty of this particular part of the plan," Harris Harper said, "is that essentially, it allows the organization to buy the sixty-one footer for us, and totally legally, too."

"Ingenious," Dale McMullen agreed. The two were discussing PLAN SAIL, which was Harper’s plan to turn the Defenders of Gaea totally and untraceably legitimate, over a three-year period, which would allow them to retire without fear of prosecution. They would no longer need their fingers on the keys to keep auditors and investigators from finding things they didn’t want found. "How’d you manage that?"

"Pretty simple," Harris said. "You and I go ahead and buy the boat outright. We’ve got the cash to do it, but we could go to a bank, just to make it look better. Then, we arrange for the Defenders to lease it from us. That still gives us the option to use it when we want to, but if we run a couple of high-profile operations with it, it’ll make the use look legitimate."

Dale nodded his head. "What kind of operations do you have in mind?"

"Some sort of Cousteau or Greenpeace thing. You remember last summer, when Heather was talking about the Japanese whaling fleet? What happens if we go out looking for them, and take a video crew with us. We can get tapes of the whale killing under way, and maybe do something that looks a little symbolic. Or, maybe something like Japanese drift netting. They kill a lot of dolphins that way."

McMullen shook his head. "Might be safer than taking on whale factories," he said. "A sixty-one footer sounds pretty big to us, but it’s a pipsqueak thing, even next to one of those whale catchers. Those whale factories and catchers are pretty fast, too. We might have a hell of a time catching them or keeping up with one if we did.

"That’s why I like the sixty-one footer we looked at Saturday," Harris said. "It’s pretty fast, anyway, and those two big diesels under the cockpit will bounce us along a lot faster. Anyway, I’m sure we can come up with several projects to justify the boat’s use, while we get to go sailing."

Dale smiled. Buying the sailboat wasn’t really an environmental project, unless you considered checking out the grass skirts in the South Pacific as an environmental issue. He and Harper had paid their dues. "So, how does this fit into the whole picture?" he said.

"It’s not the whole thing, but it’s a key," Harris said. "It’s a high-visibility money pit. Basically, what we do is announce in the magazine that we’re going to make a big drive to cut administrative expenses. We make some highly visible cuts, nothing terribly important, since the biggest cut is phasing out our own rake off. At the same time, the boat – I think we want to call it the "Defender," don’t you? – will throw the financial picture into a turmoil. We can dump a lot of money into that operation legitimately. Then, after somewhere between two and four years, we, as the Defenders, can decide that the boat project is costing more than it’s worth, and terminate it. You and I would still own the boat, but it would account for more money in the organization. At the same time we’re phasing out our take, we cut back on fundraising efforts a little, which means that the bottom line remains about the same. I figure we go on line with this the first of the year, now that we’ve got the best of the money from the Jenny Easton spots."

"I can see that," Dale nodded. "There’s a lot of the old switcheroo going on there."

"Right," Harris agreed. "That’s the general idea. It’s still going to be four or five years before we could destroy all the records, but in three years we could leave. The only thing in the open records that could be considered evidence is deliberately ambiguous and misleading. This plan and my set of records are the only way to tell what’s really going on."

"You’d better keep a close eye on those records," Dale said.

"I always have," Harris said.

They were interrupted by the phone. Harris picked it up, to find it was Mollie. "I’ve got Heather on line two," she said. "She wants to talk to Dale."

"We’re busy right now," Harris said. "I’ll have Dale call her back."

"There’s no place to call her back," Mollie said. "She said she’s calling from Minneapolis, on a pay phone. She says it’s urgent."

"Hang on just a second," Harris said, turning to Harper. "Heather’s calling from a pay phone in Minneapolis, and she wants to talk to you real bad. You want to take it here, or in your office?"

"I’ll talk to her here," Dale said. "Why don’t you put it on the speaker?"

"OK," Harris said, punching a button. "What’s up, Heather?" he said. "What’s so interesting in the Twin Cities?"

"The whole situation in Spearfish Lake has fallen apart," Heather said. "Last night, the council directed their lawyer to contact the Fish and Wildlife Service to see about the Critical Interest Area being lifted, and they were talking lawsuit. I drove all night, after they threw me out of the council meeting, to get here before their lawyer could call."

"You got thrown out of the council meeting?" Dale asked. "Things must have perked up there." It had been a long time since Dale had been in the middle of a public confrontation, and some of the old thrills began to rise in him.

"It’s a long story," Heather said. "That was right after they canned the city manager, and he was trying to work within the limits imposed by the Critical Interest Area. They want to just go ahead and put in the sewer separation."

"Any luck with the Fish and Wildlife Service?" Dale asked.

"Not really," Heather said. "I got the impression that they might be open to lifting the Critical Interest Area, or at least not opposing a lawsuit. They didn’t say that in so many words, but that was the message I got. We’re going to have to launch a countersuit if the city goes ahead with their suit."

Dale looked across at Harris, who was shaking his head. "Heather, our fund well has just about run dry for Spearfish Lake," he said. "We’ve got enough there to keep you on the scene for a couple more months, but we don’t have the funds for an intensive legal battle."

"Dale, the only move we have available to us right now is through a countersuit," Heather said. "I’ve tried to build a little public support, but there just isn’t any there. The only sentiment in Spearfish Lake is to spend as little as possible on the sewer system. They don’t want to hear anything else."

"Heather, let me put you on hold for a minute while I talk with Harris," Dale said. He saw Harper punch the "Hold" button, and said, "She’s probably right. Just how committed to this damn snake are we, anyway?"

"It all depends on the Jenny Easton funding, and how much we want to tap into it. The original funding is about run out, unless you want to pull a little shuffle."

McMullen shook his head. "There’s no point in getting committed to a big battle up there, unless there’s funds to pay for it."

"That means we have to go back to Jenny Easton," McMullen said. "The question is, how committed is she to it?"

"You’re going to have to be the one to find out, and I don’t think you can find out right away."

"I guess we’d better hold the line for a while," McMullen said. "Let me have Heather back." Harris leaned forward and punched the button on the phone, and Dale continued, "Still with me, Heather?"

"I’m still here," she said. "It’s an outside phone, and I’m freezing."

"OK, Heather. This won’t take long. Find another phone, access the mainframe, and see if we have any legal contacts right there in Minneapolis. If we have one, open discussions with the man, but don’t take any action until the Fish and Wildlife Service makes a move. We’re going to try to contact the funding source, and see if they’ll come up with the money for a legal fight. Until then, don’t start anything you don’t have to."

"What am I supposed to do?" she asked plaintively.

"Hang in there," Dale said. "We’ve waited until this situation broke. Now, it’s breaking, and there’s room to do something."

*   *   *

With hunting season over, Mike thought that it was safe to move the dogs outside again. They hadn’t much liked being locked in the barn, and seemed gloomy, not seeing the sun or being able to go out for their accustomed run. Mark’s prediction hadn’t quite worked out; there hadn’t been much snow during hunting season, but the day after it was over, several inches had fallen, and Mike and Mark had both taken off work early to get the dogs out and take them for a run up the trail.

The dogs had been exuberant, eager; it took a long time for them to get the first-mile madness out of their system and get settled down to a steady trot.

With the short days as the winter solstice neared, there wasn’t a lot of daylight for a long run, and they finished up in total darkness. Running in the snow at night had been fun. The dogs seemed to like it and seemed more settled down. The trail had turned into a strange, ghostly landscape, eerie in its appearance, strange to see and experience. Once their night vision became focused, they became entranced with how the dogs’ breath created halos over their heads. They ran quietly, except for the whoosh of the runners, and the occasional jingle of a harness. The rabbits were out in force in the night, and every now and then they felt their teams surge when a rabbit crossed the trail ahead of them. It was a magical experience.

When they finally made it back to Mark’s house, both of them were a little chilled; it had turned colder than expected. "I know a good way to take care of that," Mike said. "When you get your dogs tied up, why not grab Jackie, come over to the house, and we can all crawl into the hot tub?"

"Sounds like a great idea," Mark said. "I think I’d better grab a bite first, but we ought to be over in half an hour or so."

"Great," Mike said. "See you then." He gave his dogs a "hike" and ran up the edge of the road to his house.

It took a while to get the dogs and the sled put away before he went inside. "How’d it go?" Kirsten asked.

"Pretty good," Mike said. "I want to do some more running at night. That’s a lot of fun. It helps if you stay on the two-ruts, though. The trail gets awful narrow in the dark, even with a headlamp."

"Would you like some supper? We’ve already eaten, and the kids are in bed."

"Just a sandwich," Mike said. "I want to run down and check the temperature on the hot tub. Mark and Jackie are going to be up in a few minutes."

"Temperature’s up," Kirsten said. "I figured on going down there later, anyway, but I had something else in mind."

"They may not stay late," Mike smiled. "Any mail for me?"

"One Christmas card," Kirsten said, "But, it’s a Christmas card you’ll be interested in." She went and got it for him.

"Hey, it’s from Andy Bairnsfether," Mike said when he saw the envelope. Bairnsfether had held the job Pat Varner held now, his first job out of journalism school – the job that Mike had held, when he’d first come to Spearfish Lake a dozen years before. Bairnsfether had been the first reporter to do sports and general assignments in Mike’s old job after Mike had become the editor. Unlike Mike, he hadn’t had a reason to stay in Spearfish Lake, and had a hankering to be working for a big newspaper. Well, so had Mike, once upon a time. "Haven’t heard from him in a couple of years. Wonder what he’s up to?"

"Read it and see," Kirsten smirked. She’d already read the note in the card.

"‘Thought I was going to be stuck in Phoenix for a while,’" Mike read the note out loud, "‘but last spring, got on the L.A. Times, investigative reporter, no less. A long way from Spearfish Lake, babe. I suspect you’re still at the same old stand. The babes here are something else. Saw Jenny Evachevski once, at a distance, and she may be the hottest one in town. Fortunately, I’m still single, so I can chase some of them.’ Hey, he’s making out all right, it sounds like."

"Sounds like it to me, too," Kirsten said. "He was a sharp cookie. I didn’t think we’d keep him for long."

"Meaning that only the dumb ones stay?" Mike laughed.

"No," she smiled. "Only the smartest ones stay in Spearfish Lake. Here’s your sandwich."

Mike barely got his sandwich finished before Mark and Jackie arrived. By now, the Gravengoods had gotten used to getting into the hot tub nude with Mike and Kirsten, so it wasn’t long before the four were down in the basement, driving the chill from the mushers’ bones. "Aaaah, this feels good," Mark said. "I got colder than I thought I would out there tonight, but wasn’t that a run to remember?"

"That was nice," Mike agreed. "How’d you like to run all night, like they do in the Iditarod?"

"That would be different," Mark said. "You’d have to dress for it, though. We’ll have to try it some time."

"You two are not going to run the Iditarod," Jackie said. "Kirsten and I have to draw the line somewhere, and that’s it. Period."

"I wasn’t thinking about that," Mike said defensively. "You’ve got to figure we’re going to be twelve to fourteen hours making the round trip to Warsaw, so we’re going to be in the darkness a part of the time, anyway. And, I think we ought to do a layover in Warsaw, just to rest the dogs. Mark, what if when we do the Warsaw race, we start out just before sunset, and run all night, layover in Warsaw, and then make the run back?"

"Might work," Mark said. "The numbers don’t quite work out, but maybe we could start after dark, during the bonfire Saturday night. I looked that weekend up already. The moon doesn’t rise until 8:30 or so, but there’ll be good moon all night."

"You know, we ought to go and check out the trail, up to that end of the course," Mike said. "We’ve got two months before the festival and this race, so there’s no reason we can’t do it on the weekends, a piece at a time."

"Saturday looks good," Mark said. "The weather’s supposed to be real good. Maybe we could go over there then, run out from Warsaw two or three hours, then run back. I’d like to show the dogs to Jim when they’re in the snow, anyway."

"He’d like that," Mike agreed.

"You know," Mark said, furrowing his brow, "one of the things we’d talked about when we got the dogs was maybe doing a winter camping trip. There’s a heck of a nice little campground about fifteen miles out of Warsaw, right on a bend of the river. It’s a hike-in and canoe-in campsite, and it ought to be deserted, this time of the year. We could run over to Warsaw Saturday, get started about noon, and have plenty of time to get set up before it gets dark. Then, we could run on back to Warsaw Sunday morning."

"Won’t that be awful cold?" Kirsten said.

"It’ll be cold," Mark said, "but it won’t be so bad if we’re prepared for it, which we will be."

"That’s why I had Mark buy me that winter sleeping bag last fall," Mike said. "We thought we might use it. You’re right, this would be a good time. We wait much longer, and I’m going to be so wrapped up in holiday activities that it’ll be January before I have the time again."

"We’re going to have to carry a lot more gear than we’ve ever had along before," Mark said, thinking out loud. "Tent, sleeping bags, food, dog food, a gas stove, a big cooking pot to warm dog food. At least we won’t have to melt snow for water, right there by the river. That takes half of forever."

"A bale of straw, maybe," Mike added. "That way the dogs won’t have to sleep right in the snow."

"They could do it if they had to," Mark said. "Heck, you see ’em sleeping in the snow during the day. We’ll want a good picket line for each of us, too."

"Sounds like more trouble than it’s worth," Kirsten observed.

"Don’t think like that," Jackie said. "Remember what Jim Horton said: ‘You gotta be nuts to be a dog musher.’"

"I think these guys qualify," Kirsten agreed.

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