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Ambush (Short Story No 34)

Updated on August 25, 2017

Author's note

These short stories will be part of the sequel to my novel The Lady Who Loved Bones. Any suggestions for improvement or for future stories are welcome.

A new kind of terrible lizard

Bounty hunter Thomas Tate Tobin followed the tracks made by the camel the Arapaho princess Sweet Water had been riding. He decided not to interact with her just yet and wait until her intentions became clearer. Besides, the dog that followed her looked quite ferocious. Knowing the fondness Arapaho had for dog for dinner, he hoped the woman would get hungry soon and eliminate the dog as a potential antagonist.

# # #

The paleontologist Hannah Monroe ventured into a canyon with gritty sandstone formations that looked promising in terms of fossils in light of the heavy sedimentation. As she bent over a creek to splash water on her face, she saw what looked like petrified wood sticking out from a rock. It reminded her of the trip she and Hex Hawkins and a few others had made to Pompey’s Pillar on the Yellowstone River. There they saw what William Clark had discovered some sixty years earlier, a bone sticking out from the rock, about three feet long when Clark had seen it, but broken off some when Hannah saw it. Clark wrote about it in his journal and drew a sketch of it on a map. He thought it was a rib of some sort of large fish.

When she looked closer, Hannah determined that what she had thought was wood was instead the fossilized vertebrae of some manner of large animal. She excavated the fossils and determined that it was about the size of a cow, but it looked like a marine reptile. She pictured a broad, flat body and paddle-like limbs, a tiny head and incredibly long neck. She drew her concept of the animal in her journal as she documented the find. Yes, William Clark was right, she thought, some sort of large fish. Too bad Edward Drinker Cope can’t see this. Unless I can get it back to Philadelphia. Cope had also been a favorite student of her own mentor Joseph Leidy. Cope worked at the Academy of Natural Sciences reclassifying and cataloguing specimens and he had studied comparative anatomy at the University of Pennsylvania under Leidy. Cope had published a number of papers on reptiles and amphibians.

# # #

Cope drawing
Cope drawing | Source

Bagging heads

Tobin decided to approach Sweet Water only after observing her roasting an antelope on spits that she had killed with one shot from a Hawken rifle almost identical to his own. Despite his vast experience as a mountain man who hunted for survival, he had not had much success in bringing down any large game lately. He called out “Hello to the camp, I’m a friendly” and walked in warily. Sweet Water welcomed him, but Shag the dog definitely did not like him, growling intermittently and sniffing him profusely.

“Yer dog thinks I’m a bear or some such thing,” Tobin suggested.

Sweet Water responded, “You smell as bad as the camel I’ve been riding.”

They partook of the antelope and interesting conversation. Sweet Water told him she had been searching for the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers led by White Bear and the girls they had kidnapped. When Tobin told her he was a bounty hunter searching for Captain Taz and his outlaw gang, Sweet Water nodded and confirmed she was likewise after him. “I got a bag for his head too,” she mentioned. He then told her the story of how he apprehended the Espinosa brothers and bagged their heads.

“But you have to take this Captain Taz alive if you want to claim the $5,000 reward,” Tobin cautioned. “The individual offering the reward has plans for him. So no cutting off his head and putting it in a bag.”

Sweet Water complimented, “That’s a mighty fine rifle you got there. Just like mine.”

“Where did you get yours?” Tobin inquired.

“I traded with a mountain man who frequents the banks of the Musselshel River. He traded me his Hawken for a poke. Do you want to trade yours?”

“No thanks,” Tobin answered. “Too many Injuns in these parts. No offense intended.”

“None taken,” Sweet Water replied. “Maybe I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse.”

“Promises, promised,” the mountain man muttered as he mounted his horse.

# # #

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner | Source

Livers and pokes

Four days north of Helena, the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers led by White Bear struck. They swept into Sweet Water’s camp from the West offering no good targets. Each brave clung to the offside of his horse, one leg hooked over its back, loosing arrows from beneath the animal’s neck. But Sweet Water had an advantage that the Cheyenne hadn’t counted on. Shag attacked the marauding Indians, yipping and snarling. When the dog nipped at the hind legs of a Dog Soldier pony, the spooked animal broke stride and reared, dropping the rider on it to the hard ground. The fallen savage then suffered a slug from Sweet Water’s Winchester as he attempted to get up. She had a Winchester in addition to the Hawken and preferred it in this sort of battle because it could be loaded much faster.

Suddenly Sweet Water heard shots from another Hawken. The remaining Cheyenne soon fled. A half dozen braves lay in the dirt. Thomas Tate Tobin got came out from behind cover and approached one of the savages. He cut out the liver and began to eat it, raw. Then he focused on White Bear who still lived, barely. Tobin questioned him and then took his Bowie knife and severed his head and put it in a bag.

Tobin and Sweet Water sat by the fire and drank the whiskey they had found on one of the Cheyenne’s horses. “What did White Bear tell you, before he died?” Sweet Water asked.

Tobin answered, “He admitted that he had sold the two captive yellow girls to this Captain Taz fella. For whiskey.”

“So Liver-Eating Johnson is a friend of yours?” Sweet Water inquired.

“He shore is,” Tobin said. “How did you know?”

“I don’t want your Hawken,” the Arapaho princess said. “But I’ll trade you a poke for that head you got in the bag.”

Tobin handed her the bag and said with a maniacal grin, “I’ll git to the poke as soon as I et the rest of them livers.”


According to the blurb on the back of the book.



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