Busted Axle Road
CopyrightÂ© 1993, 2001, 2010
Mike stared at the letter, time passing without notice. What a windfall! The information he had there was dynamite that could blow up the whole impasse over the sewer separation system -- if he could figure out how to use it. Under the circumstances, using it might seem a little unethical, but fortunately, he had time to figure out how to use it properly.
The overt tone of the letter indicated that the Defenders of Gaea's interest in the Gibson's Water Snake was mild, at best. Everyone had assumed that it was a big, well-funded thing, but the letter indicated that it was a shoestring operation, on its last legs if further funding didn't come through. Blackbarn needed to know that; it was an obvious first step.
The puzzle was in the donor. Clearly, the letter was worded to not reveal any information about the source. Mike suspected that Heather knew who the donor was, but couldn't be sure, and she certainly wasn't the person to ask. The letter did say that the donor was located in southern California, but that they had Spearfish Lake connections. Also, anyone who could afford to donate $25,000 to the Defenders of Gaea had to have money. "The donor closely monitors events there," the letter said, and all of a sudden, lightning struck.
There was no way of telling for sure, but the easiest way to monitor events in Spearfish Lake was through him -- by reading the Record-Herald.
That got Mike up out of his chair, heading for the mail room. He knew of one person, and only one, that fit the description, but there might be someone he was overlooking. He went through the trays until he found the one with the California plates in it, then started leafing slowly through the plates, reading each name carefully.
It turned out that Mike knew most of the twenty-two California subscribers, by reputation, anyway. Several, he had met, at one time or another, but none seemed to fit the bill.
The only name that was left that fit the bill was the one California subscriber that didn't have a plate in the Addressograph file -- because her paper was hand-addressed for next-day air each Wednesday.
Of course, Mike realized. It had to fit. She'd done those ads for the Defenders of Gaea that he'd seen on TV. Why the hell would Jenny do such a thing?
Jenny's phone number in Malibu was on her mother's Rolodex. Mike went to the office and dialed her, but was met with nothing but ringing. On about the tenth ring, he remembered Jenny saying she was doing that Christmas special from Disney World, and of course, she'd be there. There was no way to reach her that he knew of.
With the phone hung up again, Mike stared at the letter some more. Why would Jenny have given them the money to send a troublemaker to her home town?
Be fair, Mike thought. No one thought of Heather Sanford as a troublemaker until a month or so ago, when she'd revealed her true colors. When she first showed up in Spearfish Lake, she'd come like a gift from the heavens, bringing salvation. He hadn't had any idea she was a troublemaker when he'd written that story on her last summer.
Jenny probably thought she was doing the right thing, Mike realized. That would have had to have been back in the early summer, before her vacation. Perhaps doing something like that would have made her feel a little closer to home.
That put a little different spin on things. "The donor closely monitors activities there," kept going through his mind. Of course she did. Blake had said that it was downright dangerous to get between Jenny and her Record-Herald. She had to be aware by now that what had seemed an asset had turned into a liability.
Or did she? The news of the lawsuit hadn't made it into this week's paper. Certainly the implications hadn't.
"You've got two problems," he said aloud. "You don't know for sure that it is Jenny, and you don't want her to know that you suspect it's her."
Damn, he'd have liked to talk this over with someone. He couldn't talk to Mark about it, since he wouldn't realize all the ins and outs. He couldn't talk to any of the Evachevskis, because they'd feel defensive about Jennifer. He couldn't even talk to Kirsten, because she might say something to Carrie, or someone. He could have talked to Webb; he had a twisted mind that loved little gossip puzzles like this, and had a magic for putting two and two together -- but Webb and his wife were off in Florida. Mike knew that he'd have to solve this one on his own.
Actually, it was fairly easy to solve, at least part of it. The community needed to be aware of all the implications of the lawsuit, and with it, all the implications of having the Defenders of Gaea interested in the community. That story would have to be aimed at just one person, although the whole community would read it. If the donor weren't Jenny, it wouldn't matter.
All of a sudden, he realized that he was just as pleased that he hadn't been able to reach her. That way, she could take care of the problem, without anyone in Spearfish Lake knowing for sure that she'd caused the problem.
Quite suddenly, Mike's thinking changed from strategy to writing, and this story, he could write. He booted up the computer, ready to write.