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Lizard Lips (Short Story No. 44)

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.

The dragon

Paleontologist Hannah Monroe made an astounding discovery during the journey to the dog fights at Cripple Creek and a rendezvous with Hex Hawkins. This is a monumental scientific discovery, she thought. Much more important than anything discovered to date, including the fossils I obtained on the expedition that are now on the bottom of the Missouri River after the steamboat Victoria sank.

Hannah documented the find in her journal with drawings and narrative as sheriff of Helena Leslie “Shorty” Baxter, editor of the Helena Herald Robert Barnes, and several others carefully attempted to excavate the fossil. The problem, of course, would be getting the fossil to her mentor and benefactor Professor Joseph Leidy in Philadelphia. Recovery of the fossil would likely require a team of scientists traveling to this location. She sadly reminisced about the last team of scientists that came here to the Hell Creek Formation in the Montana Territory. They were all brutally massacred by the Cheyenne and had been buried near Fort Kearny, near the bodies of soldiers killed by Indians in the Fetterman Massacre.

Shorty unearthed the jaw of the gigantic animal, and Hannah carefully cleaned it with a small brush designed for just that purpose.

“It’s a dragon!” Shorty exclaimed as more of the creature was uncovered. This wasn’t just a fossil skeleton. Much of the skin, internal organs, and flesh appeared to have been fossilized along with the bones. The walnut brown fossil contrasted with the gunmetal gray stone from which it had been freed, mostly by erosion.

Reverend Issac Nelson, along for the ride much to the chagrin of most on the trip and after having begged Hannah to tag along, pulled out his King James, turned to Revelation 12:3 and read: “Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his head was seven diadems.”

“That there dragon ain’t red,” Shorty noted sarcastically.

“It may have been red at times due to being covered in blood after feasting ferociously,” Hannah stated matter-of-factly. “Look at those teeth! What we appear to have here is a prehistoric predator that was the most formidable fighting animal that ever existed.”

“That dragon head is like the one we found before,” Shorty observed. “That jaw looks like the one we found when we was after that bear and blew up some rocks with dynamite. We kilt the grizzly that bit poor Percy in the ass while Delilah was draining his hose.”

“Dinosaur head,” Hannah corrected. “Don’t you remember what I told you about Richard Owen coining the word dinosaur in 1842?

“Yup,” I ‘member,” Shorty responded. “I never forgit nothin’. I ‘member when you got buried in that sink hole and Hex rescued you. I ‘member when he pulled yer shirt open and twisted yer nipples ‘til you woke up.”

It don't pay to kick a skunk

“You keep bringing that up, Shorty,” Hannah complained. She slapped Shorty, and he started to cry. “It took dynamite to reveal that other dinosaur jaw. Unfortunately, much of the rest of the dinosaur was blown to bits. This one was naturally revealed, not only the jaw but the rest of it.”

“How did that happen?” Shorty inquired.

Hannah explained again that the formation of what they saw in these badlands was the result of deposition and erosion, deposition being the accumulation over long periods of time of deposits of clays, silts, and sand. There were layers of this sediment and once the sediments that had been deposited solidified, the material was subject to erosion. Layers of the solidified material were eventually revealed because of erosion, the most recent first. Very heavy sedimentation in the badlands and Hell Creek Formation were ideal conditions for fossilizing dinosaur bones, and now they were being revealed, millions of years later. She expounded upon what had been discovered to date about these dinosaur fossils. Then she added, “Dinosaur fossils with this degree of preservation are extremely rare because many different factors must come together to allow it to occur. The carcass first must escape scavengers as well as degradation by the elements. The soft tissue must then be mineralized before it decomposes. Finally, as with all fossils, the mineralized body must escape destruction by geological forces over millions of years.”

Reverend Nelson objected, “Don’t believe that horse dung, Shorty. The world is only 6,000 years old, not millions.” He held up his King James. “This makes that perfectly clear.”

Hannah rolled her eyes and Shorty muttered, “Never mind. It don’t pay to kick a skunk.”

Shorty held up the five-foot skull. The teeth stuck out about eight inches out of the gums and were shaped like railroad spikes. “Kiss these lizard lips,” he suggested to the preacher.

A really big egg

Hannah commented, “This lizard killed its prey by biting it as hard as it could, crushing whatever part of the body it bit into. That would kill prey almost instantly. The victim would be dead before it lost too much blood.” And then Shorty, who had continued digging while talking, found the egg. He lifted it up and Hannah took it from him. “About two foot long and forty pounds,” Hannah observed. “It probably weighed about a third that much until minerals combined with the egg during its fossilization. The mother here was likely protecting the egg when it died in some sort of terrific storm.”

Shorty asked quite seriously, “Can we crack this egg and fry it up?”

“No,” Hannah snapped. “It must be hard inside now. I suspect its not only millions of years old, but worth millions of dollars.”

“Don’t forgit it was me who found it,” Shorty demanded.

Robert Barnes interjected, “This is gonna make another great episode for my dime novel.”

“What’s the name of yer dime novel agin?” Shorty asked. “You keep changin’ the title.”

Hell Creek Hellcats,” Barnes replied. “All about paleontologist Lady Hannah Monroe, Arapaho princess Sweet Water, Pinkerton agent Helen James, circus bearded lady Anne Hope, Chinese prostitute and murderer May Ling, and circus snake charmer Princess Takuhatahime.”

“But Princess Tattoo-on-her-heiny is dead,” Shorty said.

“Murdered by Captain Taz,” Hannah added.

“Yes indeed,” Robert Barnes concurred. “Her throat was cut. Her face had been mutilated, her abdomen had been ripped open and her right kidney and much of her uterus had been removed. The killer carved something on her back. Nobody could make out what it was. That’s all in my book.”

“Robert, do you remember that other fossil I found?” Hannah inquired.

“Of course,” Barnes responded. “The one you named Thomas.”

“Right,” Hannah said. “The fossil that mysteriously disappeared. I’m taking the jaw of this one with me. That and the egg. The rest will have to wait.”