Busted Axle Road
CopyrightÂ© 1993, 2001, 2010
Heather didn't make it back to her apartment Friday night.
Nor Christmas Eve.
Nor Christmas Day, or the day after that, or the day after that, or the day after that.
She did manage to get dressed on Sunday, but only because both she and John didn't feel that it was right to eat their Christmas dinner in bathrobes. It wasn't turkey, but John managed to find a couple of steaks in the freezer.
It was quite the nicest Christmas she could remember; certainly the best she'd had in many years.
It was Thursday before she made it back to her apartment on Point Drive, and she only made it then because John had to do some grocery shopping, and she figured that she'd better check her mail and access the mainframe for E-Mail.
She'd mellowed considerably in the last few days. The world seemed a better place, more tolerable, now that things had changed a little. Instead of a core of bitterness and depression, there was now a core of happiness, of contentment within her. Even Spearfish Lake didn't seem like such a bad place, now.
The mood lasted while she booted up the laptop, and even with no messages for her, she still felt pretty good.
Unfortunately for her, the good mood lasted only until she saw the Record-Herald.
She had halfway expected something like the screaming headline across the top of the page: "SNAKE SUIT COULD COST LOCAL TAXPAYERS MILLIONS". In spite of the wonderful extended weekend she'd spent with John, she still knew that she wasn't the most popular person in Spearfish Lake, and a story like that wouldn't help matters much. Still, after a weekend like that, there were new reserves within her to continue the fight.
But the sidebar, above the fold of the page, had a different effect. The headline, in type not a lot smaller than the screaming headline, read, "DEFENDERS OF GAEA GIVE GOOD CAUSE A SHADY REPUTATION".
She skipped over the lead story, and moved right to the one on the Defenders. "Saving the earth is a good and noble purpose," it started out. "But good and noble purposes sometimes draw charlatans and con artists.
"The Defenders of Gaea have been much in the news in Spearfish County the last few months. But, who are they?
"They're an environmental organization with headquarters in California, which for some reason sees fit to have a mailing address of Washington, D.C.
"They're an organization that pleads poverty, but whose president drives a huge Mercedes, and whose treasurer lives in a million-dollar house in Malibu.
"They're an organization that the Better Business Bureau and the California Attorney General's office both call 'marginally legitimate', pointing to the fact that less than half of their multi-million dollar budget goes to the projects that they support. The balance goes toward vaguely-defined 'Administration, ' or what might appear to be their real purpose, fundraising. The Better Business Bureau calls organizations with less than 48 percent of their funds going toward their stated purpose a rather formal word that translates as 'scams'.
"'They're right on the borderline," a Better Business Bureau spokesman said last week. "When they're that close, there's plenty of room for funny business that no auditor can catch.'
"'We can't prove that they're an out and out scam, ' a Los Angeles Times investigative reporter who's looked at the organization said Friday, "But they sure smell like one.'"
The story went on from there, getting worse and worse as it went along. The story never quite came out and called the Defenders a con job, but there was plenty of innuendo that sounded like it.
Heather saw red all over the place. Right at the moment, if she'd had the AK-47 that that girl had taken to the Halloween Party, she could have cleaned out the Record-Herald office single-handedly. They could hate her all they wanted, but questioning the Defenders was something else.
Madder than hell, she stormed out of the apartment, without even grabbing her coat, still wearing the torn and saftey-pinned pants from almost a week before. She looked for her car, and realized that she hadn't bothered to pick it up from the Sunoco station, yet. The Record-Herald office was only a few blocks away; she'd walk.
A few minutes later, she stormed into the office, past the counter, and into McMahon's office. "Did you write this piece of shit?" she asked.
"There's nothing there that isn't the truth," Mike said. He'd been expecting this call, and, in fact, had wondered a little why it hadn't come off the previous afternoon.
"The Defenders is not a multi-million dollar organization," she said. "It's supported by donors, and we stretch every penny to make sure they get their money's worth."
"The California Attorney General's office doesn't agree with you," he said. "Neither does your auditor." Mike turned, and picked up a packet of papers in his hand. "Would you like to see the report the Defenders filed with the California Attorney General? This is it. Where do you think I got those numbers."
"I can show you the Better Business Bureau report, too," Mike said. "Especially the part where it says, 'Not recommended.'"
"I don't believe it," she said.
"It's all there," he said, waving the report in midair. "This is a copy. You can keep it, and study it if you like. Look, you may think that you've been working for a noble and selfless and frugal organization, but you look at those numbers, and you get to thinking real quick that something's rotten in Denmark."
"That's not right," she said. "That business about driving a Mercedes! That's pure bullshit. Dale ... Mr. McMullen drives around in an old Honda."
"I didn't check the motor vehicle registrations myself," Mike said. "But I can get the guy who did on the phone myself in about five minutes. He's an old and dear friend, and an experienced investigator. He's the guy who checked the real estate and tax records on Harris Harper's house, too." That was stretching the blanket a bit, but he doubted that he'd be called on it.