Busted Axle Road
Chapter 59

Copyright© 1993, 2001, 2010

Halfway across the Rockies, Heather Sanford gave up on the idea of going to Walden Pond. Any way she could cut it, it was another three thousand miles to drive, and she realized she'd be spending all her time behind the wheel of the little red Omni she'd bought. It was only two years old, seemed to be in pretty good shape, and didn't have a lot of miles on it. It seemed like a lot solider a car than her Honda, and the gas mileage would have to be almost as good. She'd thought of buying a big, wine-colored Cutlass Supreme, which would have been a lot more comfortable to drive, and had a trunk to lock her stuff up in, but it obviously was going to be a lot harder on fossil fuel.

It had been a long time since Heather had worked on endangered species, except for whales, and within the U.S. there was a considerable body of law and regulation that she needed to be brought up to date on, so she decided to stop off in Boulder for a few days to brush up on it. There was more to study than she'd thought, and it had been Tuesday before she'd filled a notebook with notes and a briefcase with a pile of xeroxed documents for study later. It had been a long, dull drive from there to Minneapolis, where she stopped in the regional Fish and Wildlife Service office to get the latest update on the critical interest area for the snake, and the Service office's policies about endangered species in general.

It was in Minneapolis that she actually saw the Gibson's Water Shake specimen; a pathetic looking little black shoestring, rather battered, floating around in a jar of formaldehyde. It filled Heather with gloom to look at; she'd be spending months and sweat working on this thing when she could have been working on blue whales if she'd played her cards right. But, every species is as important as every other one, she reminded herself, and had added to her pile of notes and background material.

She'd stopped off in Athens on Friday afternoon, in hopes of seeing Dr. Gerjevic, only to find that he was in Greece. However, the department secretary had been able to give her the name and address of the investigator in Spearfish Lake, and the news that no other specimens of the Gibson's Water Snake had been found.

After the drive from L.A., the drive up to Spearfish Lake on Saturday had been relatively short. Harper had been right; she'd needed the drive across the country, to help her see the size of the problem. It was, she realized, a pipsqueak problem, compared to the sins she'd seen from the window of her Omni, but thinking about the problem at hand had cleared up a lot of her depression. Bring this one under control, and there'd be a really good line of field work to show on her resume, and she could send out resumes in comfort for months while she piddled with this snake thing.

Camden struck her as just another town, nothing like the size or the diversity of Boston or L.A., but it was only as she drove north from Camden did she realize just how small and remote Spearfish Lake was going to be. After L.A., it was really the middle of nowhere. Mile after mile of tamarack swamp rolled by, broken by higher pine or aspen forests, and only rarely were there houses along the way. The last town before Spearfish Lake, Albany River, didn't seem to be much more than a wide spot in the road, and the leg from there north may have been the bleakest of all, but by now, it was getting dark.

She was obviously going to have to look for an apartment, but it was too late to do it today, so she pulled into the first motel she found after pulling off the state road, the Spearfish Lake Inn. "Got one room left," the lady behind the desk told her. "Afraid it's not the nicest in the house, but it's Saturday night, and there's some sort of a special deal going on at the Turtle Lake Club, so we're pretty full. I can move you to a better one tomorrow, if you like."

Heather was expecting a real dump, but was pleasantly surprised. The room was small, but neat and clean, freshly painted; she'd paid six times as much for a worse room in Honolulu. "This is fine," she told the lady. "I'm going to be looking for an apartment, so maybe I'll stay for a few days. Don't worry about moving me."

"If you say so," the lady smiled. "The pool and hot tub are down to the left, and the restaurant's to the right. The restaurant closes at nine, but the grill in the lounge will be open till midnight."

Plenty of time to eat, Heather thought, and after the day in the car, even the thought of the pool and the hot tub sounded wonderful. She took her luggage into the room, but it involved some digging around in the car to find the box with her one swimsuit, a bikini she'd splurged on in Hawaii. It was rather brief for her body, but who cared?

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