Busted Axle Road
CopyrightÂ© 1993, 2001, 2010
Mike had just put the dogs away Sunday evening, and was settling down to watch the TV news when he heard a knocking on his front door. He got up to answer it, to discover Heather Sanford and John Pacobel standing outside. "Can we talk to you a minute?" Heather asked, subdued and a little downcast. Both of them looked bedraggled, and a little tired, like they hadn't been getting much sleep.
"Sure, come on in," Mike said. "Can I get you some coffee?"
"That's be nice," John said. "Regular and straight, if you have it."
"Me, too," Heather said.
Mike looked around the house. It was something of a mess. The TV was going, and Tiffany and Henry were making some noise. "If this is business, maybe we'd better go downstairs," he suggested. "It'll be quieter there."
"Sure," Heather said. "Fine with me."
As they passed through the kitchen, Mike asked Kirsten to make some coffee, and have Tiffany bring three cups downstairs. The three of them went down to the basement, to the cluttered little room that Mike used as a home office. "What can I do for you?" Mike asked.
"Actually, I came to offer you an apology," Heather said. "I shouldn't have acted like that last week. I'm getting pretty certain you were right, after all."
"You mean that the Defenders of Gaea is a scam?"
"No," Heather bristled. "I didn't mean that at all. But, more and more, it looks like there are a couple of crooks at the head of it."
Mike tried to look impassive, but inside, fireworks were going off. Maybe the mountain does come to Mohammed, after all, he thought. "What makes you think that?" he asked.
Heather explained how she and John had spent the weekend downloading the files on the Defenders of Gaea computer, and going over them. "It's hard as hell to dig out," she said. "But there's plenty of stuff that doesn't add up. Like, for instance, my paycheck is still coming out of the California office account. But, there's another account, for the Spearfish Lake project, that has a payroll check coming out of it, too, but I can't find it being transferred to the California office account. There's a second paycheck being cut, but I'm not getting it. When John found that, I started getting suspicious."
"Where's the other check going?" Mike wanted to know.
"I don't know," Heather said. "It's in a file I can't access."
"That got us going," John said. "Once we got suspicious, we began looking, and we found other stuff that doesn't quite add up."
"There's only one way it adds up," Heather said. "It adds up that McMullen and Harper are crooks, just like you said."
"What are you going to do about it?" Mike asked.
"I don't know," Heather said, hanging her head. "I know I'm done with the Defenders. I don't know what I'm going to do, but that much, I know."
"There's stuff that we've found that could cause the IRS to give them some trouble," John said, "But that doesn't solve the problem."
"There's nothing conclusive," Heather said. "Plenty of circumstantial evidence, more than enough to suit me, but nothing that's quite clear-cut. I'm sure that what's in the locked files would show something, but I can't get to them. I tried to transfer them file by file, and open them piecemeal, but it won't work."
"There's two big locked directories," John said. "Well, one of them is huge, anyway. We think it's Harper's. The other one, we think is McMullen's, but it only has about half a meg in it. But, all we can get is the directory name and the size. We can't even get filenames."
"I wish I knew what was in those files," Heather said. "It would either clear things up, or disprove them. But, it's clear to me that McMullen and Harper have got to go, or the Defenders will never be what they could be."
"Look," Mike said. "There's a guy I'd like you to talk to. Maybe he can put some heat on them."
"I don't know," Heather said. "The only thing I can think of is that there's a membership meeting coming up in Washington next month. Well, it's supposed to be a membership meeting, but probably only fifty people will show up. Four of the seven board members, including Harper and McMullen, are up for re-election. All of the voting is done by proxy, but there are hardly ever more than two or three hundred proxies filed. I've got the mailing list of the members, and I keep thinking that I could get out a mailing to the members, right at the last minute, and maybe come up with enough proxies to beat them."
"I don't think it will work," John said. "They'll catch you at it, and come up with enough proxies to beat you."
"It's worth a try," Heather said. They'd argued about it for more than a day, now. "There isn't much else that we can think of to try. The Defenders of Gaea have done a lot of good over the years. I mean, I can look back at things like Old Brook, and feel proud of what we've done. I think that's one of the things that got me suspicious, too. It's not in the open files at all, but I went to Harper and McMullen with a good project that would really put the heat on the Japanese to stop their whaling. They brushed it off, and sent me here instead, so they could work this donor, I guess. The project would still work, but it's going to take an organization like the Defenders to pull it off. It would be a shame to give up on the organization, without giving it the best try I can."
Mike didn't totally agree about the Defenders of Gaea; they still seemed like an organization that spent a lot of time talking without having any idea of what they were talking about. But, he kept his reservations to himself; he was sure that Heather and John wanted something, but he wasn't sure what. "I can see that," he said, waiting for the next step.
"I know it's a long shot," Heather said. "But John and I don't have the money to do a mailing like that and make it stick. You said that the person that's the donor for this thing in Spearfish Lake wanted to break McMullen's arms. Do you think they'd be interested in helping to kick his ass, instead?"
Aha. There it was. "Might be," Mike said with a smile.
"Could you tell us who it is, so we could ask?" John said.