Busted Axle Road
Chapter 57

Copyright© 1993, 2001, 2010

"Marjorie, I'm out of here," Don Kutzley told his secretary.

"Don, you must have at least a dozen phone calls to return," she protested.

"Right," Kutzley said. "I could just about follow the Record-Herald truck around town from where I was getting phone calls. They'll keep. I'm going to go over and see how they're coming with the sewer inspection. That'll get me out of here for a while, anyway." He was gone before Marjorie could protest.

It wasn't as if he hadn't expected it, but it was still pretty frantic on the phone after about 11. The calls before then had mostly come as a result of the rumor mill, but as soon as the Record-Herald came out, it got bad.

The last phone call was the worst. Don had expected to be cussed out a bit, but Binky Augsberg had lit into him in English, French, Cajun and Vietnamese, and he'd been just as glad he didn't know what she was calling him in everything but English; that had been bad enough. He hadn't been aware that she owned as much property in the separation district as she did, but she stood to take as big a hit as the school was going to have to burp up. The school superintendent had been less than thrilled, too.

As Don got into his car, he reflected that there were probably seven city council members that wouldn't be answering their phones for days.

The car started hard; it was a former city police car that had seen better days, but Don hardly ever drove it farther than the city limits, and it saved the city a few ostentatious dollars.

The sewer inspection crew had been working on the sewer system since Monday, but Don had yet to be able to get out to see what they were up to. He gave Jack Musgrave a call on the city radio, to see if he knew where they were working, and was rewarded with the reply that Musgrave thought they were working somewhere out around the far end of Oak Street.

There really wasn't a lot to see; a big step van, like a bread truck, and a pickup truck, parked on each side of the open manhole. Next to the manhole, one of the city crew helped one of the specialists feed a small cable down the manhole. "The rat's quite a ways up the street," one of the TV crew said.

"I thought you had to push it up there," Don commented.

"Used to," the crewman said. "This is the latest gimmick. The rat's got electrically driven wheels all around it, so it drives itself. You just have to keep the cable halfway tight when it's backing, so it doesn't back over the cable. Then, you've got a real mess."

Inside the step van, another technician monitored a black and white TV, which gave a real-time playback from the rat while two videotape machines recorded what the TV camera in the rat was seeing. Behind the technician, Pam Appleton sat looking over his shoulder. Don glanced at the monitor, which showed the inside of a damp, rather dirty pipe, but nothing in particular. "Finding any snakes, Pam?" he asked.

"Not a snake," Pam told him. "We've gone almost halfway through the sewers, except for the household feeders where we can't see and can't make the turn, and haven't seen one single snake."

"Finding anything else?" Kutzley asked the technician.

"Finding a few breaks," the technician reported, lighting a cigarette for something to do. "Nothing spectacular today, although we found a pretty big one over on Elm Street yesterday. Overall, it's in pretty good shape, so far." He consulted a map, and pointed at a dark spot that rapidly crawled closer in the monitor. "OK, this has got to be the feeder for 219 coming up."

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