Busted Axle Road
CopyrightÂ© 1993, 2001, 2010
As the dog team disappeared into the driving snow, Heather scurried around, trying to retrieve some of the papers that had been spilled from her briefcase, but the wind was taking them, and she was only able to salvage part of them. There were papers there that she didn't want to lose, mostly concerning the lawsuit, but the wind and pure chance controlled what she could save. In only a few minutes, it was clear that she had saved all she was going to.
She went over to where her car was stuck deep in the snowbank. Being front wheel drive, and stuck backward in the drift, she thought there was a chance that it might be driven out, but it was futile; the front wheels just spun in the snow.
That was the final straw. There was nothing left to do but sit behind the wheel and cry.
Everything had started out so well in Spearfish Lake, and now everything had turned sour. She put her arms on the steering wheel, buried her face in them, and sobbed helplessly.
She wasn't sure how long she sat there, tears streaming down her face, oblivious to everything, for the next thing she knew, she felt a hand on her shoulder, and a voice ask, "Heather, are you all right?"
She lifted her head, and with her reddened eyes saw John Pacobel standing in the snow next to her car, a look of concern on his face.
"Wha ... what are you doing here?" she asked. "Don't you hate me like everybody else?"
"I saw your car stuck here, and I was worried about you," he said. "Are you all right?"
"I think I scraped my knee and bruised myself when I fell down," she replied, a little touched that someone still showed some concern.
John looked down at her legs, and could see that her pants were torn. "I'm not going to be able to get your car out," he said. "Let me take you home, and I'll call a tow truck."
"Thanks, John," she said, gathering her briefcase, and the sack that she'd gone to Albany River to buy.
It was warm and cozy inside John's car, and she felt relieved to be there. He got in, and started up the road back to town. "What happened?" he asked, peeling back the hood of his parka. "Looks like you spun out."
"I got towed into the damn snowdrift by a dog team," she said.
"I've got to admit," John said, "As many years as I've lived in Spearfish Lake, that's a new one on me."
In a couple of minutes, John was able to pry most of the story from Heather. "That's strange," he said. "That would have had to have been either Mark Gravengood or Mike McMahon, and those have got to be the two most even-tempered guys in town."
"I know Mike," she said. "It wasn't him. It must have been Gravengood. Why would he have done something like that to me?"
John shook his head. "Heather, I'd be lying to you if I said that you haven't made some enemies in this town. I told you back before deer season that there are some things that we have to tolerate, no matter how much we don't like them. Things aren't black and white, just shades of gray. I don't want to have to judge whether running a dog team is being cruel to dogs, or not, but when you consider the alternative, they're happy, well-kept, living dogs."
"Animals have their rights," she sobbed, not liking John's lecture.
"They do," John agreed. "If you consider that a right to life, and to a good meal, and care and exercise is important, then those dogs are very well off indeed. They could be dead, would have been dead, all of them, if they weren't running a dog team. It's a small price to pay."
"How do you know so much about it?" she asked.
"You remember Josh Archer? That kid I introduced you to at the beach last fall? He's Mark's brother-in-law, and he works with Mark training the dogs."
"But they whip the dogs, they mistreat them."
"No, they don't," John said. "They don't even own whips. The dogs are all carefully trained to respond to voice commands. Believe me, I thought that too, until Josh set me straight."
"But ... where are you taking me?" she asked, only now paying attention to where John was driving. "This isn't the way to my apartment."
"I'm taking you to my place," John said. "I want to get a look at your knee, and bandage it up for you. You need that, and a good, stiff drink, I think. Then, I'll take you to your place."
It was a touch of kindness that touched Heather, as misused as she felt just then.
John's house turned out to be smaller than she had imagined, but cozy and neat, not like a bachelor pad at all. They got inside, and he took her coat and hung it in a closet. There was a gas log fireplace in the living room, and John set it to running, more for the cheeriness, than the chill she still felt. "Anything you'd care to drink?" he asked.
"Whiskey and soda would be my choice, she said," but I'll take anything that you have."
"Got some whiskey around here some place," he said, "But I'd have to look for it. How about a screwdriver?"
"I can do screwdrivers," she said, sitting down on the couch in front of the fireplace.
In a couple of minutes, he put a drink in her hand, and then brought a first aid kit out from the bathroom. While she watched, he knelt down before her, rolled up her pants leg, and treated her knee. "Just scraped it a little," he said. "No point in putting a bandage on it, but I've got some goop I'll rub on it." He did, and a few minutes later, rolled her pant leg back down and put a couple of safety pins in the tear. "That'll hold till you get home," he said, "But I think you've got a new rag, after that."
"Thanks, John," she said with feeling. "It seems like forever since anyone's been nice to me. It's getting pretty lonely out there."
John shrugged. "Welcome to the club," he said. "It's been lonely around here, too. It just doesn't seem like Christmas, this year."
Heather was surprised to detect pain in that statement, something like the pain that she felt. "Why's that?" she said, pushing a little.
"Well, you know that my wife walked out on Linda and me years ago, so it's always been Linda and me for Christmas," he said. "This year, she's with her husband's family, and it really feels empty. I'd thought about going to Florida, or something, just to get my mind off of it, but I realized that I'd feel just as empty there."