Busted Axle Road
Chapter 17

Copyright© 1993, 2001, 2010

"I don't know about this Spearfish Lake of yours," Gerjevic said. "Would there be a lot of favorable habitat for this snake outside of the sewer system?"

"It's pretty swampy, especially south of town, and off to the north a ways," Pam said. "I haven't exactly spent a lot of time out in the swamps looking for water snakes, but I've never seen one that's marked much like this one. I think if I had, I'd have picked up on it."

"John?"

"Me, either. It'd be a good habitat for them, but there's a hell of a lot of area that you'd have to go through with a fine-tooth comb if you're looking for them. This is the wrong time of year, anyway. Most water snakes are going to still be curled up under some log, zonked out."

"This one obviously wasn't," Gerjevic said. "Sewers are usually down pretty deep, and you'd expect that they'd be a little warmer than the outside. You've got a warmth source, a food source, and an air source, and probably not a lot of predators. It sounds like the sort of environment where an isolated species could find a niche."

"I think that's been demonstrated," Pam replied.

Pacobel reflected on how college had changed the young brunette. When she'd been in school, snakes had been about number 107 on her priority list, if it had been there at all. Now, she was even beginning to sound like this tall, bearded herpetologist, and maybe even think like him. There had been a window of opportunity with her, once upon a time, and he had taken advantage of it, but now it was probably closed. Well, that was life. Everybody changed. "It doesn't really matter," he said. "The fact that it came out of the sewer meant that it had been in the sewer. It sure seems to me like it needs further investigation, but what's the next step?"

"Good point, John," Gerjevic replied. "Actually, what I think we should do next is to notify the Fish and Wildlife Service. They're the ones that actually administer the Endangered Species Act, and if there's even a possibility that this snake is a nathrex sipedon gibsoni, then they would be the ones with the authority to take whatever means necessary to protect it."

"At least until it can be defined that there is a colony of them living in the Spearfish Lake sewer," Pam added."

"That's an interesting question all by itself," Gerjevic said. "Obviously, some one is going to have to go look for them. There might be some emergency grant money available, perhaps from the Fish and Wildlife Service, perhaps from one of the environmental associations. You're still looking for a project for this summer, aren't you, Pam?"

"My grant applications got shot down one by one," she admitted. "It was beginning to look like I'd have to flip burgers somewhere this summer."

Gerjevic smiled. "Well, if you don't mind spending the summer at home, perhaps we can find some last-minute money. If you don't turn up any more of these, then it'll be kind of a negative result, and there wouldn't be much in it except the field experience. Of course, if you do, it will make quite a research report. I can't spend the summer there, but I could get up there a couple of times to consult with you."

"It would be nice," Pam agreed. "It's been a long time since I've been able to spend much time at home."

Pacobel's ears perked up. Maybe there was a chance to renew the old relationship, after all. Something seemed strange about Gerjevic, anyway, but Pacobel couldn't quite put his finger on it. He was kind of a queer duck; perhaps that was is. Maybe he was a little swishy. But how did Pam fit in? It didn't matter. If she was going to be home for the summer, then there were all sorts of possibilities. "I don't know that I can put a lot of time into it, off the cuff," he said, "But I'd be willing to help where I can. One thing we've got to think about is if they really are living in the sewers. We'll have to inspect those lines, somehow. They're not big enough to get down into, so we'd probably have to get some company that does TV inspections of sewers."

"Good idea, John," Gerjevic said. "We'll have to be sure to write something into the grant proposal for that. Do you have any idea of how much that would cost?"

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