Food, an Effective Truth Serum (Short Story No. 12)
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.
The third degree
Pinkerton agent Helen James and Helena Herald editor Robert Barnes sat in the Red Horse restaurant since it opened that morning drinking coffee. Barnes started the discussion by informing Helen of what he knew about the discovery of dinosaur fossils in the Montana Territory. He had occasionally published articles in the newspaper on the subject.
Barnes related that in 1855 Ferdinand Hayden, a surveyor for the U.S. Geological Survey discovered fossils of bones and teeth near the mouth of the Judith River. He sent the fossils to Professor Joseph Leidy in Philadelphia. Leidy was Hannah Monroe’s mentor and it was he who sent her and her late cohorts off on the expedition to the Hell Creek Formation in the Montana Territory. Leidy identified the fossils as dinosaurian and created new genera and species for them; Deinodon horridus, Trachodon mirabilis, and Troodon formosus.
“That’s all Greek to me,” Helen commented.
“Actually, it’s Latin,” Barnes said.
Just then Shorty entered the restaurant, looking like he had been weeping.
“When are you getting married?” Helen asked politely.
“I’m having second thoughts,” Shorty said sadly. “Penelope wants to wear the pants in the family. I spose I could give her my pants and borrow a kilt from Tiny Tim, the leprechaun from Dublin.”
“That’s the Scots that wear the kilts, not the Irish,” Robert Barnes corrected.
“Oh well,” Shorty moaned. “I spose you want me to get on with my story.”
Shorty did after Helen nodded. He explained that the two Germans had been acting suspiciously, like they had something to hide. So the expedition followed them. During that trip, they found more fossils, footprints embedded in rock. Hannah insisted they were the footprints of dinosaurs and gave orders that the fossils be recovered.
“Them rocks was heavy,” Shorty observed.
“I bet,” Helen sympathized. “So did you catch up with the Germans?” she asked as she passed Shorty another biscuit.
“Yup,” Shorty said. “They was takin’ dirt naps. Well, Hans was and Heinrich soon joined him, after having a few words with Hex. The Germans had been shot with arrows, by white men who wanted it to look like the work of Indians. We buried the Germans and followed the tracks to a box canyon.”
“Have some of this bacon,” Helen offered and Shorty grabbed a handful. “So what did find in the box canyon?”
What the Mormons want
“Yup,” Shorty reiterated. “Mormons who had acquired quite the collection of young women, and they wanted more.” Shorty elaborated on how they devised a plan to infiltrate the Mormon camp without violence. Hannah and Sweet Water, dressed to the nines, were taken into the camp by Hex as captives to be sold. The Mormons called themselves the Danites, supposedly a special Mormon order established by Joseph Smith. The outlaw Big Ben Davis rode into camp with young women he had abducted that he now intended to sell. Davis recognized them and Hex killed him in a gunfight. Hex left the women at the camp and happened to meet up with Sweet Water’s father, Black Wolf. They developed a plan to subdue the Mormons, which they did, to the extent that the Mormons had no choice but to give up all the women they had who wanted to leave. Hannah also took some golden plates.
Shorty continued his story after Helen let him finish her eggs while complaining that Penelope hated to cook. Sweet Water disappeared again, angry when she found out that Tiny Tim was married, and Hex, Hanna, Tiny Tim, and Shorty went off exploring a cave where, besides bats and huge snake eggs, they found hundreds of pictographs on the walls, some of which appeared to be of dinosaur-like creatures. Hannah documented the pictographs in her journal. Sweet Water soon returned with a large live python and the head of another in a bag. She said the snake had tried to kill her. When they returned to camp, the notion was discussed that the snakes belonged to an outlaw named Taz who kept exotic animals from foreign lands and wore a snakeskin vest, hat, and boots.
The expedition then made its way to the Missouri River, which took four days. They set up camp at the abandoned Kerchival City trading post and waited for a passing steamboat, taking measures to make sure the steamboat would stop. After several days and no steamboat, Hannah took to going off and exploring for more dinosaur fossils and the like. Hex went hunting each morning and had given orders for everyone to stay in camp, which Hannah ignored. Hannah discovered a burial mound. When she began to dig into it, with the help of Short who she had bribed to help her, Taz ambushed them. He sent them off with a Cheyenne chief, Yellow Bear, who swore he would ravish Hannah and scalp Shorty. Of all people, the Mormons rescued them. Hex found them and he made a deal with the Mormons to exchange Hannah for the golden plates, which Hex vowed to give the Mormons back, and he made arrangements to do so.
“What did Hex offer in exchange for you, Shorty?” Helen asked.
“Nothing,” Shorty answered. “That’s what Penelope says I’m worth. The Mormons threw me in the deal for free.”
“Please go on with your tale, Shorty,” Helen requested.
"Dude, where's my leg?"
“Are you buyin’ lunch too?” Shorty inquired hopefully.
“If you keep on talking I am,” Helen confirmed.
Shorty continued summarizing the events of the expedition. Sweet Water vanished again. This time she was scouting upriver for a steamboat. Suddenly Sweet Water came riding into camp firing a pistol and shouting, “Steamboat coming! Steamboat coming!” And the steamboat Victoria, captained by Brody Trent, soon did come. Arrangements were made to transport Hannah, Sweet Water, and Tiny Tim to St. Louis, along with the fossils and journals and the like. Also on board the steamboat, in addition to the crew, were a half dozen armed guards provided by the Allen & Millard Bank in Virginia City to protect the safe containing several hundred thousand dollars in gold.
“I don’t know all the particulars about the robbery and sinking of the Victoria, only what Tiny Tim told me,” Shorty said. “And Timmy wasn’t in the greatest shape, having suffered a concussion. And losing a leg in the explosion.”
“Where did you talk to Tiny Tim?” Helen questioned.
“He was taken to the U. S. Marine Hospital in Louisville,” Shorty replied. Helen knew that hospital had opened in 1852 and was intended for victims of disease, temperature extremes, and mechanical deficiencies of the era’s naval technology. Many amputees injured in the war had been treated there. “It was there Tiny Tim told me how the Victoria exploded and that Taz took Hannah and Sweet Water, and the safe.”