Shag the Dog (Short Story No. 31)
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.
Shorty noticed that Hannah appeared depressed. “What’s wrong, Lady Monroe?”
“Just thinking about all those fossils we sweated blood to find that are now at the bottom of the Missouri River,” Hannah replied. “Thanks to this Captain Taz and his gang.”
“Some days you shag the dog,” Shorty responded, “and some days the dog shags you.”
“I’m not going to argue with you,” Hannah said. “I never argue with a pig. It makes one look foolish and it annoys the hell out of the pig.”
“Well, I got some good news for you,” Shorty said. “One of the heroes, besides me, from the expedition has made an appearance. The doc is checking said hero over right now.”
“Hex?” Hannah blurted excitedly.
“Nope, not Hex.”
Just then Doc Eberlin came walking up to them sitting on the porch of the Red Horse, and he was being followed by Sweet Water the Arapaho princess, and an animal.
Shag ran up to Hannah, tail wagging, and jumped on her, which was rewarded with a hug. They slobbered all over one another.
“She’s in pretty good shape,” Doc Eberlin announced, “considering. It looks like she recently did battle with a wolf, or another big dog.”
“Well, I guess Shag can’t tell us where she’s been,” Shorty said. “Too bad. It’s probably a good story.”
“I’m just glad to see her,” Hannah said softly. Sweet Water nodded, and Hannah kissed her sweetly. “I got my two favorite girls back. I thought I’d never pet them again. Let’s go inside the Red Horse and get something to eat,” Hannah suggested. “Shag looks hungry.”
Mervin Baker, owner of the establishment, overheard the comment as he was standing on the porch having a smoke. He snarled, “No animals allowed in my place, unless they are on the menu, like those camels was.” Shag growled at the man. He added, “One of these days I’m going to get that camel that weirdo Pinkerton agent has adopted. Camel was quite popular and my business was never better. I bet my customers would find that dog tasty too.” Shag growled again, more ferociously, and Mervin tossed his smoke and hurried back inside the restaurant.
Hannah recollected out loud how Shag came into the picture. Shortly after the expedition embarked from Fort Smith, they came to the Peter Smock homestead, and upon the ravaged family. The father, son, and grandfather had been killed with arrows. Their bodies had been stripped and mutilated. Mrs. Smock had been raped and murdered. The children had been butchered at the scene except for a sixteen-year-old daughter who was taken by the five Cheyenne savages. Hex and Bob Wells trailed them and soon found that daughter dead and brutalized sexually. Hex and Wells caught the perpetrators and hanged them. Wells scalped them and would have cut off their privates like they had done to the Smock men, but Hex stopped him.
“And then Shag found that bone,” Shorty interrupted.
“The bone you thought was from an elephant,” Hannah added.
“I didn’t know nothin’ about no mastodon,” Shorty said, “until you educated me. You educated me that a mastodon was a real horny animal, just like me. Lady Monroe, please tell me the story about the mastodon agin. I forgit.”
Hannah proceeded to tell the story of the mastodon and how a tooth of one of these creatures was discovered in the village of Claverack, New Jersey, in 1705. In 1739, bones of the animal were found in Kentucky by French soldiers who carried them to the Mississippi River and had them transported to the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. Dr. William Goforth excavated a skull like the one they had found and more remains at the Big Bone Lick in Kentucky. Meriweather Lewis himself went to the site and sent a box of fossils to Thomas Jefferson with a letter about them. More bones turned up in South Carolina. Slaves who had come from Africa indicated the bones looked very similar to those of an African elephant. French anatomist Georges Cuvier gave the animal the name mastodon. Other mastodon bones were discovered in Ohio and elsewhere in America.
Thomas Jefferson became quite interested in the discoveries and thought such creatures might still exist in the west. He anticipated that the Lewis and Clark expedition might encounter them, not just the bones but the creatures themselves, on their journey. Back then in the early nineteenth century, there were very few who believed in the possibility that such animals had become extinct. Jefferson had a great interest in paleontology, and in 1808 had the unfinished East Room of the White House turned into a bone room. He acquired all sorts of fossils, some of which nobody knew for sure what creature the bones belonged to.
Hannah added, “That mastodon skull we found was not really what we were looking for, but we took it with us. Science already knows much about that animal. On the expedition we were looking for something different, and bigger, much bigger. And we found it. Unfortunately, those fossils are now sitting atn the bottom of the Missouri River.”
Hannah went on to tell them of Richard Owen, who coined the term dinosaur in 1842. Obviously, Thomas Jefferson didn’t know what Owen knew. And her mentor, Professor Leidy, knew more today, 25 years later, than Richard Owen knew. And 25 years from now, she insisted, much more would be known about these dinosaurs. That was the purpose of her recent expedition. Find more fossils and learn from them. Hannah predicted that 10, 20, 30 years from now, the Montana Territory badlands and Hell Creek Formation would be swamped with fossil hunters. The threat from the Indians was one reason it wasn’t happening now, but that wouldn’t last forever.
# # #
May the Knife
Helen James, the Pinkerton agent, continued to investigate the murders. She questioned May Ling again and asked to see her knife. “That’s not the same knife you showed me before. It’s not the knife you killed Russ Lane with. This is a coffin-handled Bowie knife, unlike the other one.”
“You are correct,” May Ling admitted. “No wonder you are a detective,” she praised. “That other knife, I got it stuck in somebody, and I couldn’t get it out.”
“Who were the two women taken by White Bear and his braves when they raided Helena last week?” Helen asked.
“They were Chinese prostitutes, like me,” May Ling said.
“Very young weren’t they? Friends of yours?”
“Yes,” May Ling said. “Very young, and friends of mine. Yu and Yan Wong, sisters from Hong Kong. They came to America to San Francisco a few year back, so they said. Both very tall, with bound feet. Can we go look for them?”
“Let’s go talk to the sheriff,” Helen suggested.
Helen and May Ling walked over to the Red Horse and joined the group on the porch. They indicated they would like to join the posse that had already departed to search for the kidnapped girls and White Bear and his Cheyenne savages.
After listening to the plea Hannah inquired, “Shag, do you think you can find those girls and the Cheyenne?”
Shag barked twice.
“I’m going along,” Sweet Water insisted. Bob Wells said the same thing. As did the dwarf and circus clown Wee Willie Wilson and the circus bearded lady, Anne Hope.
“The Great Western Circus is on hiatus for a few weeks,” Anne reported, “while the owner George Bartholomew finds some more attractions. I’m bored.”
“He could prolly use one of them there mastodon critters,” Shorty offered and added, “we leave in half an hour.” Then he said to Robert Barnes, editor of the Helena Herald, “You should come too, being my biographer and all.”
“I’m not your biographer,” Barnes protested, “I’m writing a dime novel about you. But now, I think I’ll make Shag the dog the star of the story instead of you.”
Shag barked twice and growled at Shorty.
THE WILD WEST JUST GOT WILDER
According to the blurb on the back of the book.