Busted Axle Road
Chapter 66

Copyright© 1993, 2001, 2010

This was going to be one Wednesday morning that he didn't have to mess around in the mail room, Mike thought to himself as he walked into Kutzley's office the next morning, carrying a handful of the first papers that Webb had brought back from Camden. Fortunately, he'd been able to get that Sanford woman off into a corner following the meeting, and get a little more detail about the Endangered Species Act and its impact on the sewer problem than what he'd heard at the meeting, so his story wouldn't make him sound like a total ninny.

Whatever he learned this morning would probably make everything obsolete, he knew. It was one of the perils of a weekly newspaper; sooner or later, something was bound to break on Wednesday morning, and it would be a week before he could report it.

Probably half of the meeting's attendees were already there, sitting around in chairs hauled into Kutzley's office. Kutzley was behind his desk, getting worked over by Milliman. "What burns my butt," Milliman said, "Is how something like this could happen, and we don't have any warning whatsoever."

"I gotta admit, they did send us a public notice," Kutzley said. "It was even in the Record-Herald. But, you read that notice, and it really doesn't say a thing. There's not a thing in there that says that the snake is living in the sewer system, that the sewer system is part of their critical interest area, what the ramifications of a critical interest area are, or that they were in such a yank."

"Sounds like the damn government," Milliman said.

"Then, this notice we got the other day about the critical interest area, that didn't even say that much, just that one had been declared. Not a word about what it meant. Hell, I never heard of such a thing. I had to look it up at the library this morning."

"Yeah, but nobody ever heard of a damn Gibson's Water Snake, till now, when the damn thing crawls up out of the sewer."

"There could have been a better job done on the part of the Fish and Wildlife Service on keeping us informed," Kutzley said. "On something that doesn't mean anything, they send us a ton of paper. On something that's important, we have to find out like this. Let's see, who's missing?"

"That Sanford girl, and Hjalmer," Clark said.

"Hjalmer had an autoclave blow its zap out at the hospital this morning," Kutzley said. "He said he'll be along after he gets it working."

Just then, Heather stuck her head shyly in the door. "Is this the right place?" she asked.

"Sure, come on in, Miss Sanford," Clark replied.

"I brought Pam Appleton along with me," Heather said. "She's the investigator for Athens University on the snake project. I didn't think you'd mind."

"No, good," Clark said. "The more we know about that snake, the better. In fact, I think we'd better start with you bringing us up to speed on this snake."

"Well, briefly," Pam said. "This spring, a single specimen of a snake that we think is a Gibson's Water Snake was discovered living in the sewer system, here in Spearfish Lake. Now, the Gibson's Water Snake is a a very rare, and we thought possibly extinct subspecies of the Northern Water Snake, which is common around here, but with distinct markings. The markings on this snake are thoroughly consistent with a Gibson's Water Snake, but they would also fall on the limit of the range of markings for a normal Northern Water Snake. Since then, I've ... that is, we have, Miss Sanford has been working with me ... we've been unable to find other examples, in spite of the Defenders of Gaea funding an extensive television surveillance of the sewer system."

"You're saying that this critical interest area was declared over one snake?" Clark asked, increduously.

"That's right," Heather said. "However, it could take years to confirm or deny whether there actually is a population of them living around here."

"You say this snake was found in the sewer system," Musgrave commented.

"That's what Dr. Gerjevic and I were told, down at Athens," Pam said.

"Just where was it found?" Musgrave asked.

"I'm embarrassed to say that I don't know," Pam said. "One of the teachers at the high school brought it to us. He said one of the other teachers brought it to him, and that some child had brought it to class."

"That snake could have come from anywhere," Blackbarn said. "That's pinning an awful lot on a mighty slim chain of evidence."

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