Busted Axle Road
CopyrightÂ© 1993, 2001, 2010
Mike figured that sooner or later, things were bound to thaw enough for the Henry Toivo Search Expedition to come off, even though each year that passed probably made any traces of Henry that much fainter. If, by some improbable chance they were to settle what had happened to the young Amboy Township PFC back in '70, then maybe the ghost of Henry Tovio could be gone from his life. It was a lot to hope for.
The Toivo expedition had been "locked and cocked" for more than five years now, even though it seemed no closer to actually coming off than it had when it was first dreamed up many years before that. Gil Evachevski had promised Kirsten, and Henry's father, Heikki, that if the chance ever came to go back to Vietnam and look for clues to what had happened to Henry, he'd go.
Back in '81, it had looked as if there might be a chance, and several local Vietnam veterans had agreed to come along with him. Although it was a consideration, Mike's peculiar relationship with Kirsten wasn't a major cause for the expedition; every man set to go on the expedition had known Henry, and felt that settling the issue of what had happened was the best way they could pay their respects to him.
Unfortunately, the '81 expedition never came off, at least partly because the Spearfish Lake Vietnam veterans hadn't been ready when an admittedly slim chance came, and the chance was gone by the time they were ready. They decided that would never happen to them again.
The Vietnam Veterans post was actually a result of the expedition. Most of the men who planned to go had been an informal veterans group for years before that, but they needed to have money in the bank to be able to make the trip, and organizing gave them tax-free status. There were several pledges made for money, which Frank Matson at the Spearfish lake State Savings Bank had agreed to cover, and Kate Ellsberg, with a little pressure from her husband, had agreed to the Donna Clark Memorial Foundation chipping in a good share. Though the post had taken over the moribund Amvets building and held fish fries and bingo twice a month to help fund the expedition, there was enough money available on short notice that it would not be a problem.
There were several men in Spearfish Lake that kept bags packed and passports and shot records current so that if the Vietnamese ever gave permission, they could be on the road for the airport in Camden in an hour. Gil Evachevski was one of them, of course, and so were Mark Gravengood, Ryan Clark, as well as Bud Ellsberg, the railroad president, Harold Heikkinan, the football coach and athletic director, and Steve Augsberg, a production expediter at Clark Plywood. Frank Matson's half-brother, Rod, was also on the list, even though he wasn't a Vietnam veteran; he was an archaeology professor, and Gil had long had a hunch that whatever they did was going to require a trained, professional dig. The group met once a month, to update the latest information about the chances of getting permission, and go over skills that might be needed.
Some of them went even farther than that. Steve Augsberg had a special ear for languages, had learned some Vietnamese while on the American Embassy security staff in '74. On his own, he'd decided that the expedition would be better off if it wasn't totally dependent on local interpreters, so he'd worked to keep up on and improve his knowledge of the language. He had the help of a Vietnamese refugee who had taken a crowded, leaky fishing boat to freedom back in '78 and through an improbable series of events wound up in Albany River.
The fact that Nguyen Binh Ky was a lovely girl in her early twenties may have had something to do with his continued interest; he married her in '83, but kept up with his language lessons. Binky, as everybody called her, had the group over to the house every now and then for language lessons and Vietnamese food, so they'd be exposed to it, but drew the line at going back to Vietnam herself.
Even though Nguyen Binh Ky had only been seventeen when she stepped aboard that leaking fishing boat in 1978, she was thoroughly prepared to leave Vietnam behind her forever. In only a brief time, she had become thoroughly Americanized; she spoke English with only a trace of an accent -- not Vietnamese, but California Valley Girl mixed with Boston, of all things. Televsion had something to do with that.
It was clear to everyone that knew Binky that she never would have made it in a communist Vietnam; she was too thoroughgoing a capitalist. She had gone to work for Northwoods Realty as a receptionist right after her marriage to Steve, and within a year was their top salesperson. She had a touch for real estate that was almost uncanny. Prospects and listings somehow came out of the woodwork for her, and she was an utter magician for putting one and the other together. Success breeds success in real estate, and she had success to build on.
Getting listings hadn't been a problem after she'd managed to sell the old Wayne and Donna Clark house for $450,000, about $400,000 more than Wayne's son, Brent, and Donna's son, Frank Matson, ever thought that anybody in their right mind would be willing to pay for the old lumber baron's mansion. Very quickly, Binky's income had become several times what her husband made out at Clark Plywood, but most of it went back into real estate investments, so she and Steve lived modestly.
Without anything verbal tipping her off, she had realized within a few minutes Wednesday evening that getting Kirsten and Mike out of their old house and into a bigger one was going to have to be a deal done quickly, before it fell apart. Without knowing why, she'd realized that Kirsten could back out of the deal, so she didn't waste any time getting some parameters to work from: At least four bedrooms, a little bit of land, fairly close to town, not a fixer-upper, at least a two-car garage and a septic tank. The reason for her client's insistence on the last escaped her, but Kirsten really seemed anxious about the point.
"I think I've got just the place for you," she told them. "Four-bedroom ranch, built about 1960, well insulated, oil heat, full basement, three-car garage. It's on forty acres, mostly young pine and popples, and on a gravel road, which isn't necessarily a drawback if you have young children. It'd be, oh, three or four miles out from downtown."
"Sounds pretty good," Mike admitted. "How much?"
"The owner wants seventy-four nine, but that kind of gags me, you know?" Binky replied. "Offer sixty-five cash, and you'd be in there so quick all you'd see is a blur."
"You know where we live," Kirsten said. "What's our house worth?"