Busted Axle Road
Chapter 31

Copyright© 1993, 2001, 2010

One of the things that went without saying was that Heather Sanford, like all the other members and staffers of the Defenders of Gaea, was unaware of the innermost financial workings of the group. Those were left to McMullen and Harper, and the latter managed to fuzz and launder money so well that even a good auditing firm that regularly went over the books couldn't find the stashes where money had been hidden.

In the years that Heather had been a staffer for the Defenders, McMullen hadn't had to call on her special talent very often -- mostly, because Heather didn't like to feel used. McMullen's normal approach was to set a goal for Heather, something that needed to be accomplished, and left it up to her how to accomplish it. Usually, he didn't ask about the details of how it got accomplished, but more often than not, she was successful, which suited McMullen just fine.

So, McMullen was a little surprised when Heather refused to deal with Knox again. "There are things that I just won't do, even for the good of the environment," she'd told McMullen, and he decided that he'd better not push her.

He brought the matter up with Harper at the next morning strategy session. "So, we're up the creek with that approach," he reported. "I think I'd have been able to talk her into it if I'd wanted to, but what would have happened the next time?"

"Yeah," Harper agreed. "No point in burning her out. We've got to tread a little lightly with her right now, anyway."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, yesterday, I got a call from some gal in some state nature conservancy back east, checking references on Heather. It seems that she's got a resume in with them, for some sort of a field operative thing."

"Jesus, Harris, you're just full of good news today, aren't you? What does she want? More money?"

"No," Harper said with a head shake. "In fact, I got curious. We ran the job announcement in our magazine, so I looked it up. The top of their range is a little less than we're paying her now. I got the impression from this conservancy person that Heather is getting a little tired of working in an office in L.A., and wants to get her hands dirty. Dale, I don't think we want to lose her, even if she didn't carry the ball on this one."

"We can't lose her," McMullen agreed. "She's brought in a hell of a lot of money. More than that, she's been a key player in a lot of our operations. But, I could believe that she thinks she's getting stale. After all, we've had her in pretty much the same spot for eight years."

"Well, if she wants to get her hands dirty in field operations, we ought to be able to find a place for her," Harper commented. "Maybe six months or a year out in some grubby little hole out in the field would make L.A. look pretty good to her. God knows, there ought to be someplace that we could find for her like that."

"Can't think of anything right now, at least nothing that's going," McMullen said. "Maybe this snake thing with Jenny Easton. Maybe six months or snow of snow and dumb hillbillies will make her see the light."

"We don't have an operation there," Harper said. "We don't have any local support, and reading between the lines, I'll bet that anyone in that town that you asked would never have heard of that snake, and, if they had, would say that the fewer snakes in the world, the better."

"You're probably right," McMullen conceded.

"What's more," Harper went on, "It would cost us ten grand to fund the study, which has to go on or there's no proving that the snake is there. On top of that, it would cost us twenty or thirty grand to fund an operative there for a year, and it could take that long to make something out of it. And, that doesn't count any legal expenses that might get wrapped into the matter, since if you ain't got squat for local support, your next recourse is lawyers. So, there's a minimum of forty, maybe fifty grand, and unless we get some sort of funding for it, we just haven't got fifty grand for that sort of thing. Hell, that's a couple of good 30-second spots for this Jenny Easton ad, and you know what that'll bring in."

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