An Offer You Can't Refuse (Short Story No. 47)
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.
It didn’t take long for the representative of Othniel Charles Marsh to find the beautiful blonde paleontologist Hannah Monroe. She had lingered in Helena temporarily, waiting for another telegram from her mentor Joseph Leidy in Philadelphia regarding the team of scientists being dispatched to the Montana Territory to recover the fossil of the giant dinosaur she had discovered. She had the jaw of the creature and an egg in her possession. She hoped the telegram would arrive soon because she was anxious to get to Cripple Creek and a rendezvous with her beloved Hex Hawkins. She reminisced about the first team of scientists that had had been brutally massacred by the Cheyenne, and from which she had been rescued by Hex when she was tied to a tree naked and marked for rape and torture.
The man sent by Marsh reminded Hannah of her former fiancé the good doctor. He was short and slight of build, with sleek hair, muddy eyes, and a pencil-thin moustache. Marsh’s man identified himself as Mortimer Miller and said he had travelled from Fort Benton where he had been supervising the loading of fossils on a steamboat to be sent to Marsh back East.
“So where did you get those fossils? Any large terrible lizard bones among them?” Hannah questioned.
“Here and there in the Hell Creek region of the Montana Territory, mostly from near the mouth of the Judith River. We have a team in that area. Much ado about nothing, apparently. Marsh wasn’t excited much about anything that was reported discovered, until he heard about your find.”
Hannah frowned and Miller expounded. He asserted that this was just the start of the search for fossils in the rugged Badlands of the Montana Territory that stretched for more than 100 miles along the southern banks of the Missouri River. He suggested that millions of years ago that dinosaur she had just found had chased its prey through a luxuriant flood plain that covered this windswept hardscrabble locale. He concluded with, “Give it another decade or so, and we’ll have bone hunters all over this place. It will be a war, a bone war! Marsh is determined to be recognized as the country’s leading authority in the new field of dinosaur paleontology. But so are others like Edward Drinker Cope.”
The marl pits
Hannah said, “I thought Marsh had enough to worry about in Haddonfield, New Jersey. What’s going on there these days?”
Mortimer Miller explained that Marsh had secretly made arrangements with workers at the marl pits in and around Haddonfield, New Jersey, to send any fossils they find to him at the Yale Peabody Museum rather than to Cope at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Marsh had heard the rumors last year of dinosaur remains being found in a marl pit owned by the West Jersey Marl Company near Barnboro, outside of Haddonfield. Cope gave Marsh a tour of the marl pit where that dinosaur fossil had been found. “Marsh and Cope started out as friends,” Mortimer continued, “but they are becoming bitter rivals. Mr. Cope has moved his family to Haddonfield to be close to that action.”
The telegraph operator had been listening to the conversation and asked, “What is this marl you speak of?”
Hannah responded, “It is a mineral-rich clay-like substance that is the leading farm fertilizer these days.”
“Oh shit,” the telegraph operator muttered with a stupid grin.
“Something like that,” Hannah agreed.
The telegraph operator began to say something else, but an incoming telegram interrupted him just then. He soon handed a slip of paper to Hannah. She read it and appeared to be upset. “What is it?” Mortimer asked. “Bad news?”
Hannah replied, “The telegram is from Pinkerton agent Helen James. A friend and colleague of ours was murdered at Cripple Creek by this serial killer known as Captain Taz. The victim was Bob Wells, a former Texas Ranger, a member of my original bone-hunting expedition, and recently a Pinkerton agent like Helen. Taz could not possibly have beaten Wells in a fair gunfight. As Sheriff of Helena Leslie Baxter, also know as Shorty the circus clown occasionally said, ‘Bob Wells can shoot quicker’n you can spit and shout howdy.’ Taz must have taken Bob by surprise. The telegram said the body was burned. Taz is known as a man-burner.”
“My condolence on the passing of your friend,” Mortimer said. “Was Wells with the circus? I heard some rumors that this Taz murdered some performers with the Great Western Circus. One of the persons responsible for those rumors is George Bartholomew, the owner of that circus. He gave that as a reason for needing to hire new performers.”
“Taz murdered Princess Takuhatatime, the circus snake charmer. He mutilated her and removed some of her organs. He carved an inverted pentagram on her back, the symbol of Satan and her minions. He stole her snake, Beezelbub, an albino reticulated python. He already had an albino reticulated python of his own, but bigger, much bigger. That snake, named Roscoe, swallowed the dwarf and circus clown Sammy Short whole. Taz had an even bigger snake named Fagin. My friend the Arapaho princess Sweet Water cut off that snake’s head when he tried to squeeze her to death. She put his head in a bag and carried it around, just waiting for an opportunity to pull it out.”
Do or die
Mortimer looked like he might be sick. He asked, “Can I see the dinosaur jaw and egg you recovered?”
“I guess so,” Hannah said. She opened the crate where she had the fossils secured and pulled them out.
“Incredible,” Peters said. “And you believe the entire creature can be excavated?”
“Yes, I do,” Hannah stated affirmatively. “By people who know what they are doing. My mentor Joseph Leidy in Philadelphia is sending a team of such people. They will secure the fossil, transport it back East, and it will become the greatest paleontological discovery to date.”
“And you will become famous for making the discovery,” Mortimer suggested.
Hannah responded, “Some say I should already be famous for fossil discoveries. But those fossils obtained on my first expedition are lying at the bottom of the Missouri River after the explosion on the steamboat Victoria.”
Mortimer said, “Marsh already has a team in the Montana Territory. Why don’t you let them excavate your new find?”
“No way,” Hannah snapped. “I don’t trust Marsh.”
“I have been authorized by Mr. Marsh to pay you $100,000 in gold for the dinosaur jaw, the egg, and directions to the rest of the creature,” Morris said.
“No thank you,” Hannah said with a snarl.
Mortimer Morris pulled a Wells Fargo Pocket Pistol from inside his coat and pointed it at Hannah’s head. “Accept Mr. Marsh’s offer. Or die.”