My first attempts at writing fiction reflect my inattention during high-school English classes and my lack of attending formal writing classes. You will discover misspellings, grammatical errors and story-line ambiguity, among other things. In spite of these short comings, I hope you will be entertained enough to recommend the following three adventure stories to friends and family.
1 – The Murdochs is an adventure of Scottish brother and sister heirs to a whisky fortune. They become crack shots and decide to tour through the immediate post Civil War American West, challenging
tall comers to shooting competition and offering big cash prizes. They become American icons who use their shooting skills to thwart Company intrigue, assassination attempts, and New York City gangsters.
2 – Thylacine follows two high-school friends who discover a thought to be extinct population of Tasmanian tigers while working summers at a sheep ranch in Tasmania. They desperately try to save the remaining marsupials from hunters and Middle Eastern animal collectors.
3 – Wolfric and his son lead their Pleistocene clan against other humans tribes expanding into their territory. The clan domesticates horses, hunts mammoths and battles invaders as glaciers melt and change the landscape 15,000 years ago.
The Murdochs – Chapter One
Gavin was bored with the family business. At twenty-four, he and his recently deceased father had already turned the small family distillery in Glasgow, Scotland, into an American monopoly. With the End of the American Civil War and the expansion West, the demand for quality scotch whiskey skyrocketed. Murdoch’s new location in New York City was immensely successful. Buyers were lined up every morning in front of the “Murdoch Scotch Whisky Limited” building. Prior to his death Gavin’s father, established distributors in New York and Boston. But now, the whole country was a growing market for good scotch whiskey. Murdoch distributors moved West as fast as they could by land and by sea. The special smooth blend Murdoch scotch was the preferred brand in all American cities. To many, whiskey was a medicinal, a remedy for all the woes of bustling and wildly growing American cities; cities populated by the desperate, the sick, and the tired searching for a palliative. To the elite, it was a sign of good taste and culture.
Gavin did not drink his family elixir, not even occasionally. He considered himself too busy and too smart to be slowed down or influenced by alcohol. On his seventeenth birthday in Glasgow, a group of friends coaxed him to celebrate the occasion with a drinking party. Gavin lost track of how many drinks he put down in the course of that evening, but on the wagon ride back home he became deathly ill, so ill that now the very smell of scotch made him sick. He wondered why so many loved the gold liquid that tasted so bad. Yet, it had made the Murdoch family one of the wealthiest families in Scotland.
When his mother passed away, Gavin returned to Glasgow from NYC, for the funeral and to convince his sister, Annie, to leave the homeland and return with him to the adventure and excitement of America. This she did with relief that she would not be doomed to a life of a house wife and doting mother for a whiskered rich landowner. She told Gavin there was plenty of time for that later and she wanted adventure now; she wanted to experience more than a sooty industrial city in Scotland.
The everyday business of marketing and selling Murdoch Scotch Whisky was left in the able hands of one quarter part owner, and most trusted family member, Uncle Jim Murdoch. Uncle Jim was paid additional salary to oversee the company and insure that shipments of the famous whisky continued to flow on schedule to ports in New York and Boston, and to the new markets opening across the expanding American nation. The New York distillery was now producing more scotch than the original one in Glasgow. Relieved of the burden of keeping the business going, brother and sister could now follow their passion and explore America and especially the great American West.
It was the turn of the century and cheap land was the great enticement for shiploads of immigrants. The West was offering a new life, but also hardships equal to what they experienced in Europe. Still, they came.
Now that the Transcontinental Railway was completed, the siblings decided to use it to explore the West. As they traveled west toward the great Mississippi, the lawless towns boggled their minds. The lawlessness intrigued Gavin and worried Annie. Gavin, being young and an adventurist, decided he should be able to protect himself and Annie while they traveled. In a small Indiana town, they were robbed at gun point. Gavin knew little about the American West other than what he had read in unreliable cheap picture fiction books. They crossed the great Mississippi and paused their westward trek in St. Louis, MO. Gavin took Annie to a famous western supplier, “Westward Ho,” that outfitted travelers heading west by wagon and train. The store sold everything a traveler could need or want.
What interested Gavin most were their selections of firearms. They had every rifle and handgun ever designed in the nation and in Europe. They also boasted elaborate firing ranges where clients were able to test fire any weapon in stock. One unique firing range included facilities for shooting mechanical moving targets and firing while on simulated horseback. There was expert instruction in the use of the latest scopes and ammunition. Gavin and Annie had been schooled in the use of firearms since they were children. Their dad took them with him whenever he went hunting so they were already excellent shots. In St. Louise, they became daily users of the firing ranges. They practiced their skills faithfully, often twice a day for hours at a time. It became an obsession with them. Eventually, they both set all shooting records at the “Westward Ho” ranges and were unbeatable in competition.
“Westward Ho” offerings delayed the sibling’s westward exploration but they relished the opportunity to learn a new skill. For a while the siblings joined the popular “Shaw’s Wild West Show”, that was touring the American Mid-West, and met cowboys, Indians and even a few real gunslingers skilled in the fast draw technique.
Gavin and Annie became sharp shooters with both handgun and rifle. They took additional lessons in the fast draw technique from retired sheriffs and even a famous outlaw, recently released from prison. Fast draw techniques fascinated Gavin when he first read about it as a youth in Glasgow. He wondered, why were some individuals so fast and accurate and some so much slower. He used to debate the issue with friends back home. He surmised that anticipation of an opponent’s intentions had much to do with success, but there were other important elements. He knew that the first person to make a move had a great advantage over his opponent, all else being equal. Accurate anticipation was vital.
Gavin analyzed the gun-fighter’s draw motion by breaking it down into three elements: Reaching for the weapon, removing the weapon from the holster, and finally, raising the weapon to a firing position at waist height or higher. It took Gavin several frustrating months to figure out a best fast-fire technique by trial and error. On the firing range with He had a special time piece built and installed on the firing range
After much experimenting, Gavin realized that shooting from the hip was more difficult than he had anticipated. Accuracy from this position was dismal. Shooting at further than forty feet from the hip decreased accuracy by about 70 percent. Even with expert instruction and tedious practice, shooting from the hip was still unreliable, especially at longer ranges. The best solution was the open front holster and naturally fast reflexes, which seemed to run in the Murdoch family.
Gavin hoped he would never have to prove his fast draw theory in a gun fight, but if he did, he would feel more confident that he could protect himself and his sister. Annie also experimented with the new technique. In addition, she insisted her guns be altered so trigger pulls were more delicate. Pulling a heavy trigger killed accuracy. Gavin agreed and had his pistols altered to “hair” triggers as well. The siblings became infatuated with target shooting and made a point to practice it whenever they got a chance. Initially, they traveled through the Midwest entering target shooting contests and won everything they entered. Eventually, they began sponsoring their own competitions offering big cash prizes to anyone who could outshoot them. No one could, although many tried.
The Murdoch’s fame spread as did the name of their quality scotch whiskey. The Murdoch business continued to grow and Uncle Jim could barely keep up with the orders from new markets.
Gavin’s true love and interest was the American West so he and Annie returned to exploring it as soon as they could. The wild American West offered adventure and danger which the siblings relished. Prior to a planned trip west, Gavin received a message from Stanford Mills, then Secretary of State, requesting the siblings meet with him in Washington, D.C. Mills had a fascinating request. He wanted the Murdochs to represent the federal government and assist lawless territories set up law enforcement offices and court systems in what hopefully would become a model for the thousands of towns currently being established in the new territories and states. The Murdoch’s sterling reputation would be invaluable in this endeavor, so believed Secretary Mills and President Garfield. The Murdochs accepted the challenge and prepared for the trip to the wild west territories as official federal officers, who’s authority transcended that of local officials who might not care to cooperate. They brought documentation with them that suggested military intervention if towns did not cooperate.
Cattle towns were notorious for lawlessness. Bars lined main streets, brawls and shootings occurred every night and local sheriffs and traveling judges were overwhelmed. Gavin and Annie studied the situation carefully and got approval from Secretary Mills and President Garfield for their plan. They knew it would be extremely controversial.
The Murdoch’s first encounter with a lawless, out of control town occurred in the cattle town of Junction City, MO. It was typical of what they would encounter later. If they were successful in Junction City, word would spread and hopefully make their job easier in the future.
It was decided that Junction City would to be a gun free town. Town officials posted signs all around town announcing a rodeo and shooting contest with big prize money. In fact, the top five finishers would receive generous cash prizes totaling five hundred dollars each. Anyone who could outshoot either of the famous Murdochs would receive another five hundred dollars. The event was well attended as were the Main Street bars. Competitors were pleased with the opportunity to win up to a thousand dollars. Gunslingers from all over the Midwest and West showed up to compete for the cash. Some traveled by train from as far West as Colorado.
The rodeo was a huge success, but the shooting competition was icing on the cake. Target shooting with rifles and handguns took up half a day and although no one could match the Murdochs’ accuracy, everyone had fun and some walked away with big prize money. The fast draw and shoot completion was last. The judges rang a bell and used stop watches to determine the fastest draw and then examined the targets for accuracy. The finals found two competitors left, Gavin and sister Annie. The onlookers then considered it a draw after ten even draws and ten bullseyes in a target.
After the festivities, the happy crowd received the bad news from the town sheriff and mayor. “Junction City is now a gun free town.”, they announced. Everyone must check their six shooters and rifles at the sheriff’s office, when entering Junction, and pick them up upon leaving. All those who disagreed with the new law were advised not to enter the town, or leave their weapons at their home ranches. Dissenters were advised to take their complaints to the Murdochs who would be available at the sheriff’s office. Only a few drunks showed up to complain.
Had there been another town close by the cowboys might have gone there to drink and brawl, but the nearest town was two hours away on a fast horse. Reluctantly the cowboys checked their guns at the sheriff’s office. They went to the same bars, got drunk, gambled, womanized and fought, but it turned out after a month, no one was killed in a gunfight. The policy was successful. Even the cowboys were pleased. They could have a drunken brawl and survive to brawl again the next time. No one had the nerve to challenge either Murdoch, so the siblings never had to shoot or intimidate anyone. Junction City enjoyed peace and quiet for the first time since its founding in 1790.
Gavin and Annie packed up and moved on to Central City, KA. where they sponsored another rodeo, and shooting contest with another big prize to be shared by the best five shooters. Most of the competitors were cowboys, except for an Englishman who showed up at the last moment. He was a slim middle-aged man with a finely styled moustache and goatee. He brought with him a reputation as a fast draw sharp shooter. He wished to earn a little fame and cash by a head-on competition with the famous Gavin and Annie Murdoch, so he claimed. After the competition, Central City would be given the official news about being gun free. Rumors about the change were already circulating around town.
A large banner advertising Murdoch scotch whisky was hung across Main Street by the new state distributer. Local bars were well stocked with it after a train arrived with crates of the gold liquid.
After the rodeo was concluded, the shooting completion began. The crowds grew, lining both sides of Main Street where the competition would take place. The first event was handgun accuracy at fifty paces shooting into gunfighter silhouettes with bright four ring bullseyes on their chests. The top ten shooters went on to the next round at sixty paces. Then, the top five would shoot at seventy paces. Accuracy was essential. However, if a competitor drew too slowly, he could be disqualified by the boos from the festive crowd. Gavin, Annie and the Englishman had perfect scores at fifty and sixty paces. At seventy paces both Gavin and Annie outshot the Englishman to his great chagrin and obvious anger. Apparently, he was not use to losing. He was good, but had several shots slightly off bullseye. Gavin and Annie competed against each other in the finals until each had fired twenty perfect shots and the judges and the crowd deemed the competition to be a draw. The crowds and the gamblers loved it.
The fast draw contest was next. It consisted of pairing the contestants who were to stand side by side, draw when a bell was rung and fire at a bull’s eye targets. The contestants had to fire a total of six fast consecutive shots per round. A combination of accuracy and fast shooting moved a contestant on to the next round. Each round eliminated half the competitors until two were left. During a practice session Gavin and Annie watched the Englishman carefully. He used a short barrel revolver and a small holster, both of which made for a very fast draw. Nevertheless, Gavin seemed confident that the Englishman’s accuracy was lacking. Annie did not compete because the Central City Mayor deemed it unseemly for females to compete against men. Gavin’s warm up with his unique open front holster fascinated the onlookers. The betting odds between Gavin and the Englishman were even as the completion began. In the semifinal round, six Cowboys, a Scotsman and an Englishman squared off.
The winners of the competition had to shoot quickly and accurately after the starting bell was rung. Competitors received points for firing first and for finishing six shots before their opponent did. The judges then would examine the targets for accuracy. Eventually, all the cowboys were eliminated and the Englishman and Gavin were left. The crowd grew silent, waiting for the bell. The late afternoon was hot with no breeze to clear the street of Gun smoke. The smoke hung heavy around the competitors and all but obscured them from the crowd lining both sides of the town’s main street. The crowd finally settled down and grew silent. The bell rang, and both competitors drew fast and fired smoothly. It was obvious that Gavin completed firing his six shots first. The Englishman obviously fired the last shot. The crowd cheered and called Gavin’s name loudly as the obvious winner. The designated judges hurried to the targets to access the accuracy of the shooters. All of Gavin’s shots were exactly in the bullseye, but strangely, the Englishman’s target only contained five bullet holes. As the smoke cleared, the crowd noticed Gavin slowly drop to his knees and then fall flat on his face. Annie was the first to reach him. He was bleeding from a gunshot wound to his side. The town doctor arrived and tried to stop the bleeding. Gavin was carried off the street to the Palace Bar and placed on a billiard table. The crowd packed the sidewalk and street outside concerned about Gavin’s condition. Ten minutes later the doctor looked up at Annie and smiled, “He’s OK, I stopped the bleeding. The bullet went in and out without doing major harm. He will recover. Just keep his wound clean and bandaged.” Annie cried in relief at the news. It was one of the few times she cried. The crowd cheered when they heard the news that Gavin would recover.
Annie looked around the Palace Bar for the English man, and then ran outside to the street. “Where’s the Englishman?” she demanded. Nobody knew. He was gone, and no one had seen him leave or knew in which direction he went. The sheriff scratched his head and said “How on earth did the Englishman miss his target by so much and hit Gavin?” No one could answer that question. The town serif and mayor thought it was a terrible accident.
Annie had her own theory. “That damnable Englishman shot my brother deliberately!” She screamed. “In the confusion of gunfire and gun smoke, his last late shot must have been directed at Gavin.”
“Why would he have done that?” asked the sheriff.
No one could answer that question except the missing Englishman, who was nowhere to be found in town.
The sheriff hustled down to the telegraph office and sent messages to the four nearest towns to be on the lookout for an English looking and sounding dude with moustache and goatee, riding fast. An artist was already drawing up “Wanted Posters” to be sent out to surrounding towns. Newspaper reporters were writing their stories and waiting in line at the telegraph office to send them to their papers. The “gun Free Town” project was forgotten in the excitement.
While Gavin recovered, the Murdochs waited for a response from President Garfield and Secretary Mills about their first success. Unfortunately, there had been a national election. Garfield was voted out of office and the “Gunless Town concept” lost favor in spite of its initial success. The “town without guns” experiment died on the vine.
After Gavin recovered, the disappointed Murdochs moved on. They continued sponsoring rodeos and gun competitions and enjoying the expansive country. They commissioned The Great Western Coach company to build a special coach so they could travel in comfort. The coach was loaded on a flat car when they could travel by train, but unloaded and used to reach the smaller towns that did not have a railway depot. To increase interest in the already popular rodeo and shooting competition, they upped the prize money to anyone who could outshoot either them. No one could although many tried. Wanted posters of the Englishman were posted in every town they passed through, but there were no leads.
The Murdochs moved on Westward.
In the cattle town of Rolling Hills, Kansas, the siblings stayed in May’s Hotel on Main Street. They were in the midst of dinner when they heard gunshots from across the Main street. Dinners rushed to the windows to see what was happening. It was the bank; it was being robbed and the four robbers were apparently still inside. Gavin and Annie grabbed their rifles and waited on the hotel porch for the robbers to exit. Town Sheriff Roberts joined them. As the four bandits exited the bank, Sheriff Roberts ordered them to “Throw your guns down and put up your hands.” The bandits replied with a hail of bullets that took the sheriff down, shot in the arm and calf. Annie bent over to help him as another volley of shots rang out and shattered restaurant windows making everyone run and duck, except Gavin. He had to protect his sister and the wounded sheriff, so he took four rapid shots with his lever action rifle, and then, all was quiet. Four nervous horses pulled on their reins at the hitching post and as the smoke cleared onlookers could see four bodies lying still in the street in front of the bank. Gavin hoped that would be the last time he would have to kill someone, or, that someone would try to kill him. But, he was mistaken because another shot ran out and a bullet clipped a notch out of Gavin’s ear. With blood pouring down his face, he dove for cover back into the boarding house and yelled out, “Any one see the shooter?” No one did, not even Annie who was searching where the last shot might have come from. Every one waited a few minutes before two deputies crept cautiously into the bank looking for the last shooter. They found no one. Eventually, Gavin and Annie guessed the last shooter was a lookout for the others and had fled. She cleaned and bandaged Gavin’s ear, but it would forever be scarred from the close miss. Any closer and Gavin could have been killed by a bullet through his brain.
The siblings returned to the boarding house and finished their meal while the deputies cleaned up the street. The townspeople and wounded sheriff were grateful for the help of the Murdochs and soon there was a large crowd outside the boarding house cheering the siblings. Word spread around town and to neighboring towns of the shooting. Rumor had it that the number of bank robbers, killed by the Murdochs, was fifteen. Reporters from Eastern newspapers showed up wanting to interview the Murdochs. Their fame grew and publishing houses sent writers to document the now famous sharpshooters. Interviews always were well lubricated with Murdoch scotch. The business was rapidly growing along with the fame of the siblings.
Gavin and Annie were invited to join several famous touring Wild West Shows, but they declined; they were still headed West to California, but first to a special area in Wyoming they heard about.
They were told a wild area was reputed to be a natural wonderland of natural sights never before seen anywhere else in the nation. They joined a band of adventurous tourists who, like themselves, were from back East. Their little caravan found the fabled area, called Yellowstone by the Indians. Three local white trappers offered to guide them to the natural wonders. The trappers were a surly group but did an excellent job guiding the group and providing them with fresh meat and sturdy cabins they used for trapping. The Murdochs and the tourists were led to the most wondrous sights; pools of boiling sulfur water and clouds of steam bubbling from deep underground through brightly colored rocks and surrounded by snow and ice; they saw huge geysers periodically shooting water and steam two hundred feet into the air; waterfalls that winter had turned into elaborate ice sculptures; vast herds of bison and elk that were constantly harassed by wolf packs. The scenery was spectacular but the tourists had to be rugged because of the cold nights. Their timber shelters were poorly heated by open fires and everyone suffered. After a week of exploration and viewing the most beautiful scenery they ever had seen, the tourists and the Murdochs were cold and weary, ready for the comforts of the nearby town of Parkland.
The morning of the day they were to depart they were surprised by complaining guides. The trappers demanded more money from the tourists, triple the amount agreed upon. The Murdochs had the cash, more than enough to pay for the other eight tourists, who were short of cash, but they balked at their guides demand. The day before, the guides were pleased with the generous payment for their services. They had been in good spirits, about to be paid a year’s worth of trapping for a week catering to the city folk. What had changed? It was obvious that the trappers did not know who the Murdochs were because most of their complaints were directed at Gavin.
Gavin stepped forward and casually pulled his beautiful nickel plated 45 revolver from his parka. Annie did the same.
Gavin addressed the trappers: “Gentlemen, would you consider revising your charges downward a bit?”
Annie added: “Downward to what we agreed upon, Gentlemen.”
The tourists gasped and stepped backward away from the Murdochs. They were afraid and would have agreed to the Trappers demands. The trappers seemed not to be intimidated by the pretty guns and likewise, the Murdochs were not intimidated by the burly trappers.
The trappers laughed and one blurted out, “Do you know how to use that pretty gun, boy”
Gavin assured the man he did. “Much better than you Sir.”
Nevertheless, the head trapper was stubborn. He insisted, “We deserve more that what was agreed upon.” He seemed to want to pick a fight with Gavin. It appeared money was not the top priority for him. “ I think I’ll take your money and that pretty six shooter.”
“Tell you what Sir,” Gavin added, calmly looking into the head trapper’s angry eyes “I’ll give you a choice. Take what was agreed upon and guide us back to town, or go for your guns right now. The wolves will be feeding on your frozen bodies by morning.”
The trapper, who had confronted Gavin, was pulled back by his companions, who were intimidated by Gavin’s calm confidence. They conferred with each other and eventually agreed to the original deal. The head trapper, who had argued with Gavin, was reluctant and threatened to shoot this kid and take his “pretty gun.” He was not about to back down to this smart-ass tourist.
By now, Annie was fuming. She had enough and lost her temper. She addressed the trappers in a loud voice. “You bastards are messing with Gavin Murdoch, best shot in the West. You are lucky my brother is so accommodating. I would have shot all of you if we didn’t need you to guide us back to Indian Flats. If you don’t get us to town by nightfall one or more of you will not be doing any more trapping, ever.” She could tell the trappers had heard of Gavin and Annie Murdoch, the best shots in America.
As she spoke, a crow, that had been scavenging around their camp for the last few days, just happen to flutter in a near-by tree top at the edge of the clearing about 25 yards away. Annie looked up, raised her gun, aimed quickly and fired. The cawing stopped and the crow dropped to the ground hitting tree limbs all the way down. The trappers and tourists were amazed and intimidated. All discussion about fees was ended.
Gavin played along with Annie’s threat. “Please Annie, don’t shoot all of them. Let one live so he can guide us to town.”
That was all Gavin had to say. The head trapper backed off his demand for more money and claimed he was just joking. The tourists packed up were led back toward the town. By late afternoon they could see Parkland in the distance. As they rode single file, a shot rang out and a bullet whistled by Gavin’s head. A second shot followed and shattered a tree limb inches from him. In alarm the tourists split up and galloped off in different directions looking for cover, and hanging low in their saddles. An hour later, the tourists and the trappers met up down the road to Parkland. “What was that? Who the hell was shooting at us?” screamed Annie. The trappers claimed it must have been drunk Indians. She screamed an obscenity at the trappers who never said another word. They seemed eager to get back to town and get paid. But, in Annie’s mind, there was no doubt, someone definitely was bent on killing her brother.
Back in town the trappers got their agreed upon pay. Gavin and Annie suspected they knew more than they let on. Annie claimed they were in on the attempt to kill her brother because they made it a point not to ride close to him, and they gave Gavin ride the only white horse they had. Annie was sure that marked him as the target from a distance.
Gavin told the town sheriff about the trapper’s attempted breach of contract, and the shooting on the trip back to town. Gavin warned the trappers that he and his sister would pass through Parkland in the Spring. “If the sheriff tells us you tried to intimidate tourists again, so help me I’ll kill you.” Gavin did not mean it, but the trappers believed him.
As the siblings walked across the street to their lodgings, they heard the sheriff say to the trappers, “You idiots just tangled with the Murdochs. Had you pushed them a little further, you’d all be dead right now. They’re the best shots in the world. You are lucky to be alive.” The trappers trudged down the street toward the Parkland City Bar, where several well – dressed gentleman stood.
Chapter four – Companions
The Murdochs decided to move on through Colorado. By now, they had hired two teenage half Indian, half white, travel companions. The Murdochs met them as they passed through a Sioux reservation. The brothers were working the tourists by performing Indian dances and showing their skills with Bows and arrows. Chris, short for Christian and Bart, short for Bartholomew were twin brothers. They looked so similar, Annie insisted they always wear different clothing. If they did not, they were difficult to tell apart. The lads helped them pack and unpack, drive the Murdoch’s new coach, cook meals, care for the horses, etc. The lads became good friends with the Murdochs. When the Murdochs were not traveling by train they traveled in their luxury coach in relative comfort. They rode well gaited horses much of the time but often retired to their sturdy coach upon which their baggage was loaded. The young lads took turns driving the coach and leading the other horses. They were an immense help because the Murdochs had acquired gear relating to the shooting competition they continued to give in select towns along the way. The coach provided sleeping areas and protection from the elements for all four of them when no other accommodations were available.
Annie still had the belief that someone was out to kill Gavin. She suspected every stranger they met on the road and seldom left her brother alone in a position he could not protect himself. On the road to Flathills, CO. the Murdochs acquired mysterious traveling companions. Four mounted men with a pack animal appeared behind them on the road and kept pace with them about one half mile back. Annie brought their appearance to Gavin’s attention, but he had already noticed them. When he asked the boys to speed up or slow down the four men adjusted their speed as well. It was suspicious.
One evening in the fading light, the Murdochs were alarmed by the sound of shooting. They armed themselves and cautiously investigated. They spotted two of the mysterious travelers in an open field about fifty yards from their coach pointing their rifles in the Murdoch’s direction. The firing resumed and the Murdochs ducked behind their coach with the boys. The boys, who by now were good shots themselves, prepared to defend themselves and the Murdochs. Annie advised they turn and scan the woods behind the coach for the other men. The two strangers walked nonchalantly toward the Murdochs, then stooped to pick up something in the field.
Then one of the men, a black bearded man, greeted the Murdochs.
“You all alright?” the man called out. “Didn’t mean to scare you. We were hunting for tonight’s chow.”
The Murdochs relaxed somewhat at the man’s friendly greeting.
The men introduced themselves. “As traveling companions to you good folk, we wanted to be good neighbors.” They held up two tom turkeys, still dripping blood from the loss of their heads. They presented one kill to Bart and suggested they and the Murdochs share the evening meal together.
The Murdochs could not refuse the friendly gesture and asked Chris and Bart to take the turkeys and prepare them.
The man asked if the Murdochs minded if the four of them camped near them that night. The Murdochs agreed.
After an excellent turkey meal, the travelers sat around the campfire and chatted. The men were on their way to join family in California. Although there seemed to be nothing suspicious about them, Gavin was uneasy. He was sure he had seen the bearded man’s cold grey eyes before. He could not place just where yet. Annie too, was concerned. She seldom forgot a face.
After a pleasant evening, the travelers said “good-night” and bedded down near the Murdoch’s campfire which was left burning. Flickering shadows and a crescent moon enveloped their camp. Gavin asked the boys to take sleeping shifts so as to have someone always on guard. A whip-o-will serenaded them as the siblings fell asleep in the coach.
About midnight when the last embers of their fire had died, Annie shook Gavin’s arm. “I think I remember where we saw that bearded man.”
“Where” whispered, Gavin.
“Don’t you remember? It’s the English man who shot you in the competition and then disappeared?” Annie whispered back.
Gavin thought for a while. “Could Be, but he had a heavy English accent and no beard.”
“So what, he could have many accents. Actors do.” She replied. “I’m almost positive it’s him.”
The siblings lay awake for a while, uneasy about who the black bearded man might be. Finally, they drifted off to sleep to the sound of an owl calling in the darkness and crickets in the grass.
The silence of the night was shattered. “Stop! Who’s there? Stop or I’ll shoot!” It was Chris’s voice. All bedlam broke loose next. Shots were fired from both sides of the coach into the coach. Gavin grabbed his sister and rolled to the coach’s floor. Bullets whizzed through the walls and doors of the coach. They heard return firing from the top of the coach where Chris had been sleeping, and then more shots from under the carriage of the coach where Bart had been sleeping. Gavin and Annie found their guns and prepared to return fire, but at who? They could see no one lying on the coach’s floor. They open the coach’s door and prepared to fall out to the ground when they heard another shot followed by an agonizing cry.
Gavin whispered to Annie, “Someone’s been hit.” Then, both siblings tumbled out of the coach to the ground and searched the darkness. They fired at the gun flashes out in the darkness. The crescent moon came from behind the clouds and provided a little light. Everything was silent. Gavin called out”, “You alright Bart?”
Bart replied, “I’m OK.” Chris piped up also, “I’m OK too.”
The four lay quietly for several minutes, ready to return fire as needed. Then, in the darkness, they heard the sound of galloping horses receding into the night down the road from where they had come. The four lay quietly in the darkness, not sure the danger had totally passed. Finally, Bart whispered, “I’ll check to see if they’re gone.”
“Be careful”, Annie whispered back.
A minute later, more shots were heard. “Stay back they’re trying to trick us.” Bart warned. Someone is still out there.”
The Murdochs hugged the ground as another volley of shots splintered the coach’s doors. They heard Chris and Bart fire back, but they were afraid to join in because the boys were out there in the darkness, someplace.
Another few minutes passed, the shooting stopped and everything remained silent. Soon they heard more horses galloping away from their camp down the road. Crickets, silenced by the gunfire, finally began chirping again.
Bart volunteered: “Our guests were damn killers. They must have been hired to kill us, or more precisely, you Gavin.”
“Yeah” Chris replied, “But everyone is OK. We did good.“
“Stay where you are and keep alert.” Gavin advised. Everyone lay back on their sleeping pads and waited for morning.
Finally, the Eastern sky began to lighten. The Murdochs and the boys determined all the shooters were gone.
One of their horses remained behind tied to a fallen tree, so they searched for its rider. They found him face down in a little pool of blood. Gavin searched the man for identification and found something that he could hardly believe. The man was Scottish and from Glasgow. That seemed so odd. The siblings were amazed. Was there a tie in with this man and the distillery and,,, Uncle Jim?
“What a coincidence!” Annie exclaimed.
“I don’t believe it is a coincidence. Something strange is going on.” Gavin replied. “I recognize that dead man. He was Uncle Jim’s body guard. He usually kept out of sight, and ran errands for UncIe Jim. I never really got to know him.
While the boys packed up their gear and Annie prepared hot tea and honeyed muffins, Gavin remained deep in thought. He still found it hard to believe that Uncle Jim, had anything to do with the attempts on Gavin’s life. Uncle Jim was Gavin’s most trusted friend and relative. He asked himself, “Why would his father’s brother want to kill his nephew?”
Gavin congratulated the boys for being so brave and Annie gave them each an envelope with a cash bonus, which they both refused. But, they did accept a heartfelt hug and kiss from Annie.
Gavin and Annie talked about the possible connection between Uncle Jim and the problems they were encountering. “What was it that caused good people to do bad things?” Annie asked.
“That’s easy” Chris volunteered. “Money, love and hate.”
Gavin replied, “Uncle Jim doesn’t hate me, I don’t think he does anyway. He has plenty of money with his quarter share of the business plus his salary… and, he told me himself, that he loved me as a son.”
Bart added, “This may sound silly…but maybe a quarter share is not enough. Could it be he believes he is worth more than a quarter share?” If you die, he is that much closer to owning the whole company.”
“No, no, no, that can’t be. Jim never spoke to my Dad or me about wanting more of a share.” Gavin sputtered with some doubt in his voice. “It just can’t be.”
Annie had been silent, in thought. She finally spoke up and gave her opinion. “Well, it seems to me that Uncle Jim’s involvement in this is the best explanation for the attempts on Gavin’s life. I hate to think he is involved but… it looks like he is. Maybe he got involved to deeply in gambling and has debts.
Gavin continued her thought. “So far, that is the best explanation.”
They all agreed, but now, they pondered what they should do about it?
“What about this dead guy?” Bart asked.
Annie replied, “Load him on his horse and we will take him to the nearest town.
Bart and Chris did what Annie told them. They were feeling good about their performance in the shoot-out, and they were gratified that Annie and Gavin treated them as friends rather than employees. They felt as if they had been “adopted” by Annie and Gavin. Now, more than ever, they felt part of the family.
The Murdochs dropped the body off at the sheriff’s office and explained the circumstances. They described the man with the black beard and the sheriff assured Gavin he would have a poster made and have it circulated around the state. On the poster, it would be stated that the wanted man sometimes spoke with an English accent and sometime did not have a black beard. The sheriff said the chances were slim that the wanted man would turn up.
The first thing Gavin did was to upgrade the coach. The boys installed bullet proof panels in the doors and sides just in case they might need the protection in the future.
Before the Murdochs could deal with Uncle Jim, they needed more proof that he had conspired to murder Gavin. They decided to leave the coach behind with the boys and attempt to back track the bearded assassin themselves. The next town they came to was Averdale. Gavin and Annie met with the Averdale sheriff and reported what had happened. Then, Gavin went to the telegraph office and presented his official federal government identification and badge too the operator.
“I’m tracking a dangerous assassin and I need your help.” He said. “We think he sent a telegram from this office to New York City a few days ago. There may have been a reply from New York that day or the next. I need copies of what was on those telegrams.”
The operator replied that by law he was forbidden to disclose… Gavin interrupted him. “I am a government marshal working on an international murder case in behalf of the President. Your government insists that you turn over this information to me immediately.”
Fortunately, the telegraph office kept duplicates of all telegrams in its files. The intimidated operator turned them over to Gavin. There were two messages, one from William Briggs to Jim Murdoch, and one from Jim Murdoch to William Briggs.
First telegram: To Jim Murdoch (stop) First attempts failed (stop) Plan another soon (stop) It will be done. (Stop). Signed William Briggs.Reply telegram: To William Briggs (stop) Urgent! If you are successful (stop) Your reimbursement will be doubled when you finish job ( stop) Hope you make a killing soon (stop) Signed Jim Murdoch
Gavin almost laughed out loud as he read the telegrams. So, it was Uncle Jim, as they suspected. This was the evidence he needed.
Before he left the telegraph, office Gavin ordered that the operator not divulge what had occurred. Gavin indicated any such divulgence would be considered a federal crime, punishable by a year in prison. “I’ll return tomorrow to see if any other telegrams between these two parties have been sent. Above all, don’t tell this Mr. Briggs I was inquiring about his telegrams.”
Gavin left the telegraph office the way he had entered, unnoticed through its back door. He returned to his camp outside of town to share the messages with Annie and the boys.
The next day Gavin returned to the telegraph office, again unseen through the back door and got copies of two more letters recently sent that morning, and just received.
First telegram: To William Briggs (stop) Imperative you are successful (stop) It is matter of life or death (stop) Great rewards (stop) Signed Jim Murdoch
Second telegram: To Jim Murdoch ( stop) It will be done soon, no worry (stop) GM will be no more (stop) Willian Briggs.
While Gavin was reading the telegrams the office door suddenly opened and the bearded William Briggs strode in. Both men saw each other exactly the same time. Both men reached for their guns but only one shot was fired. The telegraph operator watched as William Briggs keeled over backward, his right hand on his gun handle, the gun still in its holster. Gavin told the operator to get the sheriff.
When the sheriff arrived, Gavin explained everything to him. After picking up a couple of deputies the four of them walked down the street to the Walker Boarding house where Mr. Briggs had been staying. The lady at the front desk said Mr. Briggs’s companions were probably across the street in the restaurant having breakfast. The sheriff, Gavin and two deputies entered through the salon’s swinging doors and approached two men eating at a corner table.
At their approach the three men looked up in alarm. The Sheriff ordered the men to unbuckle their gun belts and raise their arms.
“What’s the charge Sheriff?” one demanded.
“Attempted Murder” replied the Sheriff.
Gavin stood away from the Sheriff and deputies. It was obvious the gunslingers were professionals and knew who he was.
Gavin informed them.
“I am Gavin Murdoch. I just killed your boss William Briggs.”
The three men did as Gavin expected. They looked at each other and then simultaneously went for their guns. It was the worst decision they ever made in their lives, and the last one. Before the Sheriff and deputies could react, Gavin had drawn and fired three times. The men fell to the floor with their hands still on their holstered guns.
The Sheriff and his deputies looked at Gavin in amazement. They never saw anyone draw that fast. In fact, they ever really saw him draw. They knew he probably saved their lives.
Back in camp, Gavin explained what happened. “Just as well” Annie said. “They deserved it.”
Now, Gavin and Annie had one last score to settle. It was with Uncle Jim.
“We have to go back to the New York office and confront Uncle Jim.”
Annie answered, “I agree. We have the telegraph messages that are evidence of Uncle Jim’s plot to murder you. But why did he want to do that? What was his motive?”
Gavin answered, “I’ve been thinking about it and think I know why. Bart is right. Uncle Jim currently has a one quarter share in the business. I’m sure he thinks he is worth more than a quarter share. Maybe he has debts we don’t know about.”
“Maybe he has an expensive lady friend.” Chris added.
“But his quarter share in the business is a fortune now, and it increases every day.” Annie replied. “It’s more than enough for Uncle Jim and Aunt Emily, and all eight of their children.
Then, turning to Gavin, “You and Dad did all the work setting up the business from nothing. He had nothing to do with that.”
Gavin replied, “I know, but I still would like to hear his explanation. I have a plan. Tell me what you think of it.” Gavin explained what he had in mind. Annie thought it was great. It would require sending a bogus message to Uncle Jim, from the deceased assassin, William Briggs, saying he was successful in killing us and he was coming to NYC to collect his money in person. Gavin smiled, “And then, we show up and surprise Uncle Jim. He won’t have time to change the books. I’ll check the company’s business records for any irregularities and confront him if there are some. There are bound to be many. Even if the books are clean we have him on an attempted murder charge. If we let him know we are alive and coming to New York, he will have time to prepare a cover up. We need to catch him totally by surprise”.
“Our appearance will probably give him a heart attack.” Annie added with a half grin on her face. Chris and Bart laughed out loud at her remark.
Gavin and Annie left their travel coach with the boys in St. Louis and took the train to New York. The city had changed since they were there last. They hardly recognized the neighborhood as they traveled by cab from train station to the old family home north of the business district. The large house was built by Gavin’s dad when the business first moved to the city. It was used by the family infrequently because Gavin’s dad died soon after it was built and his mom moved back to Glasgow prior to her own death. The mansion looked deserted except for one dim light in a window. Annie rang the bell and they waited. She rang several times more before the door opened and they were greeted by an elderly man, who the siblings recognized as Richard, the original butler hired by their dad so many years ago.
Richard recognized them immediately and was pleased they had returned. He greeted them warmly. “There are many repairs needed on the Mansion.” He said. “Its dusty and empty in since you left three years ago. Your Uncle Jim and Aunt Emily moved downtown to be near the business and left me alone to take care of the house.”
That night Gavin and Annie planned carefully for the confrontation with Uncle Jim the next day. The home itself, was destined to become the home for Chris, Bart and the Murdochs for years to come.
The next morning Gavin and Annie paid a visit to Mayor Bonsett’s office before going on to the Mudoch distillery and offices. Mr. Murdoch Senior had been astute in the ways of city politics. Politics were essential for business success in old Glasgow as well as New York. A substantial political contribution and a case a Murdoch scotch was delivered faithfully to New York City mayor’s office every Christmas. The name Murdoch opened most any official door in the city.
After visiting with the mayor, the Murdochs went on to Murdoch’s Scotch Whiskey Limited in downtown Manhattan. They stepped out of the cab in front of their building. It had not changed much since they left, except now the large double front doors were guarded by a rather large uncouth appearing person. He inquired as to who they were and what they wanted. He said “I have orders not to let anyone in who don’t work here, or have an appointment.”
Gavin opened his coat jacket to reveal his nickel plated 45 revolver. “Listen my good man, I am Gavin Murdoch and this is my business. Stand aside.” The man didn’t know how to respond. He stood there totally befuddled, so Gavin and Annie brushed by him, opened the doors and entered. They went directly to the business office in the back, through a room full of workers labeling and packing bottles into crates. Those who recognized Gavin and Annie stood in respect and waved. Gavin and Annie walked straight into the “Manager’s Office” without knocking. Uncle Jim was sitting behind the huge hand carved desk, that Gavin’s dad had imported from Scotland. He looked up with an annoyed expression on his face, for having been disturbed. It took several seconds before what he saw, sank in. it appeared as if he had seen a ghost. “I, I, I thought you were…ah, ah
Gavin interrupted him, “Yes, we were held up. Didn’t you get our telegram?”
“If fact,” added Annie, “we were almost killed. Someone actually tried to kill us. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you Uncle Jim?”
Uncle Jim’s face turned ash white, he tried to recover his composure. “N, N, No, of course not! Why should I? I am glad to see you are both in good health. Now, ah, please tell me what…”
Gavin interrupted him again. “We’ll tell you about that later Uncle Jim. First, tell us about yourself and Aunt Emily. Have you been well? After they had gotten through brief pleasantries Gavin said, “The first thing I want to do is take a look at the books.” Gavin walked over to where the files of all transactions are recorded every day. “Why don’t you heat up some tea and send out for lunch. We can eat and you can help me understand how the business is doing.” Uncle Jim stumbled through his duties as if in a fog.
Later in the afternoon Gavin closed the last transaction book. He looked at Uncle Jim and said “The business seems to be in good shape, despite the missing funds. I have many questions about our bottom line. It does not reflect the excellent sales and profits we have experienced. We should have 20 percent more cash reserve. Please explain Uncle Jim.”
At that very moment the office door burst open and the burly doorman and three other tough looking men barged in. “What the hell is going on here.” a man with a cigar in his mouth asked, “and who the hell are you?”, as he looked at Gavin.
Gavin calmly turned to Uncle Jim and asked “Who the hell are these men who can burst into your office without knocking?” I’ll have to throw them out.”“No!” Uncle Jim blurted out. “Please, let’s be calm. I’ll explain.”
Meanwhile, Annie quietly moved behind the men.
Uncle Jim confessed to Gavin that he had gambling debts, big debts. “I had to use the business as collateral. I just got in too deep to pay it and the interest off by myself.” Uncle Jim was almost in tears. “I had to take cash from the company or they would have killed me. I even sent Emily back to Glasgow so she would be safe.”
Annie slipped out of the room unnoticed and went to greet a group of men who were gathering at the front doors. Among them was Mayor Bonsett and Police Chief Ryan. were several uniformed police in the group. She led them back to Uncle Jim’s office door. They stood silently and listened, unseen by the mobsters.
The head mobster told everyone to shut up. My name is Pat Monahan “Dis guy owes me five towsan bucks.” pointing to Uncle Jim, “and I’m going to collect it from him or dis compny, I don’t care which. So, who’s gonna pay me? Or, do I have to kill somebody?”
Gavin spoke up, “I’m Gavin Murdoch and I own this company. Pointing to Uncle Jim, “This man no longer works for me.” Gavin turned to Uncle Jim and said “You’re Fired Uncle Jim.” Turning back to the gamblers, “I just fired him. He has no further access to company funds, so you will have to take up his debt with him personally.”
Uncle Jim hid behind Gavin, clutched his arm and pleaded with him. “I’m your father’s brother…you can’t do this to me…They’ll kill me.”
The mobster lost patience and pulled his gun out to scare Gavin. The men who accompanied him also drew their guns. The mobster threatened Gavin. “Either you pay up or you’ll regret it.”
A voice from the back of the room loudly ordered “Lower their guns. I’m Police Chief Ryan. You are all under arrest.”
The surprised mobsters all turned to see who gave the order.
The Chief continued. “and this is the Mayor Bonsett. You gentlemen will hand over your guns to my constables.”
The gangsters never said another word and meekly handed over their guns.
The Chief cleared the room and loaded the mobsters into a waiting paddy wagon to the applause of the Murdoch employees.
After the room was cleared, Gavin turned to Uncle Jim and handed him an envelope of cash. “This should be enough for a boat ticket back to Glasgow. We never want to hear from you ever again. You will never enter the facilities of the family business again in Glasgow or New York. Understood? We hope the gamblers don’t catch up to you in Scotland, for Emily’s sake.
Poor Uncle Jim was totally destroyed and began sniffling as Gavin took him by his arm and escorted him to the street. As the paddy wagon pulled away with the gangsters, Gavin thanked the Mayor and Police chief.
Gavin turned to Uncle Jim and said, “Uncle Jim, be grateful you won’t be doing time in jail for conspiracy to attempt murder and embezzlement.” Annie added, “Give Aunt Emily our love.” With stooped shoulders, Uncle Jim wandered down the street and disappeared into the bustling noon-time crowd.
Gavin and Annie turned to their applauding workers. The upper floors of the business emptied out as workers flooded down the stairs to join the celebration. They knew exactly what was going on. They knew the Gangsters had taken over the business and now, finally, Gavin and Annie would set things straight.
Annie shed a few tears again at the warm reception from their workers. After the hugs and handshakes were over Gavin announced that he was giving everyone the rest of the day off, a 10% raise, and a complimentary bottle of scotch. Annie and Gavin were heartily cheered again as the workers filed out. They would have a good story to tell when they got home.
City newspapers got hold of the story and the next day’s papers were full of the confrontation, and of course, and Chief Ryan’s and Mayor Bonsett’s courageous action against crime in the city.
Annie and Gavin decided it best to spend a few months in New York to attend to business and make sure gamblers did not return or harass the business. Gavin sent a message to a close cousin in Glasgow offering him a job in NYC.
There was bound to be repercussions on the arrests. Police Chief Ryan posted a constable at the front and back door of the Murdoch business, just in case.
The next week, Annie and Gavin received an invitation to dinner at the Mayor’s Mansion. After dinner, before it got dark, Annie and Gavin put on a shooting exhibition in the Mayor’s back yard for the mayor, Chief Ryan and several other city big-shots. All of them took home silver dollars that were shot out of their fingers by the siblings. The mayor and guests were thrilled at the exhibition insisted the siblings conduct several clinics on the fine points of shooting for the constabulary sometime in the future.
Gavin telegraphed Chris and Bart to let them know all was well and to invite them to the Big City. Annie telegraphed money for their trip. The twins were ecstatic about their first trip East. Gavin and Annie wanted to introduce their two most trusted friends to the New York elite. The boys arrived and were overwhelmed with the big city. Every day they visited another section of the city. Their dark faces enabled them to go where a lighter face could not. They insisted upon being of some useful purpose to Gavin and Annie, such as security for the family and guests. Their presence would prove to be a needed defense against New York city’s gangsters.
A week later Annie received a strange letter in the mail. The return address was Hamilton Bermuda. Inside the envelope was a letter from Jeanne McGann, Annie’s best friend when she was in school in Glasgow. Jeanne had married a businessman from Bermuda by the name of Ambrose Gosling. Ambrose had recently inherited the family business, Gosling Brothers Spirits, LMTD, from his deceased father. Gosling Brothers had a monopoly on the wine and rum trade in Bermuda. Their main office was in London, England. Jeanne and Annie had long planned a reunion, and Jeanne hoped this would be a good time for it. They could catch up and see the sights of New York together. Jeanne also wanted Ambrose and Gavin to meet and possible do some business together.
The next page of the letter was from Ambrose addressed to Gavin. Ambrose wanted to discuss the possibility of expanding Gosling Brothers Spirits into New York and Boston. He also was interested in introducing Murdoch scotch into Bermuda and then New Brunswick and all of Canada. Gavin was immediately interested and asked Annie to set up the visit. The old Murdoch mansion was more than big enough to accommodate the visitors. In fact, the whole West wing was available for guests. Maids, cooks, butlers and ground keepers needed to be hired, but the Murdochs planned to do that anyway.
The last paragraph of Jeanne’s letter asked, “If it is possible, we would like to bring Ambrose’s older sister Ruth, and his younger brother Benjamin with us. They have never been to the United States and this would be a great opportunity for them. I hope I am not imposing on your generosity. Don’t hesitate to let me know if I am.“With enduring love, your friend. Always, Jeanne”
Annie thought to herself, “How exciting! Finally, the family home would become a real home, filled with laughter and love.”
Gavin agreed with Annie, “We have plenty of room, they can bring anyone they wish and stay as long as they wish. It should be fun.”
Annie was excited and began planning for her guests immediately. There was much to do.
While the Murdochs prepared for Bermudian visitors, NYC gangsters were planning revenge. Half of their gang was in jail and the survivors were furious. Jim Murdoch had vanished still owing them five thousand dollars. Their reputation was at stake. Other debtors might think they could also welch on debts.
The first inkling Gavin had about Uncle Jim’s lingering debt came when a wagon of scotch was high-jacked from Grand Central train station. The police had no clues but suspected the same gang that controlled Uncle Jim. But, unfortunately, there was no proof of who did it. A second wagon of scotch was hijacked a week later but still there was no indication of who did it. Gavin was sure who did it and thought he would have to take matters into his own hands.
The social section of the NYC Times newspaper made a big deal about the soon to arrive visitors from Bermuda and the business section had an article with a headline, “Booze Giants Meet”. The hoodlums thought the Murdochs would be” easy targets for revenge.
A month before the arrival of the Bermudian Guests, Chris and Bart noticed a strange man lurking on the road outside the property walls. The same man showed up several other times, but never realized he was being watched. The boys reported their discovery to Gavin who suspected, correctly, Uncle Jim’s gamblers were out for revenge.
“Follow this person and see where he goes, but don’t let him see you.” Gavin told the boys. “Let’s prepare for the worst.”
Gavin worried that any act of revenge by the gangsters would ruin the upcoming visit of their Bermudian guests. He and the boys decided they must take the initiative and strike first.
Gavin reported his fears to Police Chief Ryan. Chief Ryan sympathized with Gavin but felt he could do little without more evidence. “This is unofficial of course, but I suggest you go ahead with your plan. I’ll have my men nearby if you need help and to clean up after you do your thing.”
“Perfect” Gavin responded, “Start thinking how I can be of service to your department.” The Chief smiled and two men shook hands.
Gavin did not let Annie in on his plans. She had enough to do planning for their guests.
The next night Gavin and the boys armed themselves. Gavin had a new invention to show the boys. It was a tube-like extension that fit over the end of their pistols. Its purpose was to muffle the sound of a pistol shot. The boys were fascinated and equipped all their guns with the clever invention.
Gavin and the boys took their carriage to a dark warehouse on the outskirts of the city. They noticed two police vans parked nearby, hidden behind an old building. There was a light in the window on the second floor of the warehouse.
No guards were evident so Gavin and the boys entered the unlocked door and silently ascended the stairs to the second floor. Through a crack in the door, they saw six men sitting around a table busily eating and drinking. A half empty bottle of Murdoch scotch sat on the table and an empty one was on the floor. In the corner of the room was a half empty case of Murdoch scotch.
“Follow my lead”, Gavin whispered. They drew their guns and quietly stepped into the room.
The six men looked up, totally surprised. Gavin noticed all the men were armed with pistols in shoulder holsters.
“I’m Gavin Murdoch. I understand you gentlemen think I owe you something. What can I do for you?”
The gangsters saw Gavin and the boys were armed and already had their guns drawn at their sides. The gangsters did not know what to do, so their leader said, “Jim Murdoch owes us five tousand bucks and he skipped town. So, you, Mr. Murdoch are gonna have to pay for his sins.”
“You gentlemen are dreaming. Your beef is with Jim Murdoch not me.” Gavin replied. “We are here to settle up with you once and for all. I hear you have plans to crash a house party I’m about to have. I’ve come to announce that you are not invited, and to insure you don’t show up.”
There was a short silence that seemed much longer. The gangster leader finally responded with a long series of curse words. Gavin and the boys stood quietly. After the gangster chief tired of cursing, he looked at his gang and smiled, perhaps thinking he had intimidated Gavin.
Gavin replied, “So, does that mean you are planning to attend my party… or not?”
The gang leader cursed again and decided to act; he went for his gun and his gang followed his lead.
The police outside did not hear six popping sounds from the warehouse. What they did see was Gavin and the boys leaving by the door they just had entered, just five minutes earlier.
Gavin tipped his hat as he and the boys passed the incoming police.
“They’re all yours’s gentlemen.” He said. “We’re finished here.”
Gavin looked over his shoulder and saw the police enter the warehouse with guns drawn.
Later that evening, back at the Murdoch mansion, the three friends retired as if nothing happened. Gavin was almost asleep when he heard a soft knock on his bedroom door. “It’s me, Annie.”Annie had a premonition, when she could not find them earlier, that Gavin and the boys were out “fixing things” so the visit of their friends would not be interrupted.
“What did you do tonight? Did you settle with those terrible gangsters?” She wanted to know everything and Gavin knew he’d get no sleep until he told her everything. Although Annie was feminine and gentile, to those who knew her well, they knew she could be tough minded and sometimes, appropriately crude. Annie laughed when she heard Gavin’s comments to the incoming police. Above all she was relieved. Now she could continue to plan for her guests without worry.
All four city newspapers covered the murders with glee. There was much crime in the growing city, but a mass shoot-out between gangsters, was always top news. Police Chief Ryan was pleased to have most of the biggest New York gang behind bars.
On Sunday afternoon, May 1, Annie received news that her guests had arrived and were waiting on Pier Five downtown at the Battery docks. Gavin and the two boys were ready for their arrival with three elegant carriages. By early evening all the guests were safely settled into the beautifully renovated Murdoch mansion.
That evening was everything Annie had hoped for. It seemed everyone mixed easily. Jeanne, Annie’s childhood friend had not changed at all and her husband Ambrose, was tall and handsome, and truly as intelligent as he was charming. His younger brother Bryan was Annie’s age. He and Annie had much to talk about. He was fascinated with her Western adventures and could not hear enough of her stories. Annie and Jeanne were especially watchful of Gavin’s reaction to Jeanne’s elder sister, Ruth. She must have been close to 6 feet tall almost as tall as Gavin himself. She wore her dark hair long over her shoulders. Her beautiful dark eyes always seemed calm, as if she already knew what someone might say to her. Gavin was intrigued but unsure of what he should say to this beauty from Bermuda. It was the first-time Annie ever saw her abundantly confident brother lose a little of his confidence with a beautiful and charming woman. Annie and Jeanne thought the two were a perfect match, and hoped for the best.
The Bermudian guests hardly knew what to make of Christian and Bartholomew. They were the first Native Americans they ever saw. They knew very few educated ex slaves in Bermuda who spoke, as intelligently, as the half breed brothers. They marveled about the stories of bravery Annie told concerning them.
Christian and Bartholomew had other duties to attend to so could not linger to long with the Murdoch’s guests. There was still a potential risk from the few gang members who might remain, fuming that their gang had been decimated.
The first evening and night at the Murdoch’s was quiet. Chris and Bart patrolled the grounds on stealthily on foot, the way their father had taught them in their youth. They had become adept with the use of telescopes that could bring most of the estate grounds into their view.
The second evening the boys spotted a rider circling the estate. He stopped several times at the estate’s heavy iron gate. The third evening he returned, his horse pulling a small cart laden with two heavy boxes. He quickly stashed them in the dense bushes next to the front gate. Both boys kept close track of him, but made sure he had no idea he was being watched. When the stranger left, the boys checked the boxes. They reported to Gavin that the boxes were filled with dynamite.
Gavin planned to celebrate the arrival of his guests with his own fireworks on the estate grounds, but now, this was his chance to enhance the fireworks with the explosives left at his front gate. Gavin and the boys checked out the explosives later that night. They were more than large enough to blow the massive front gate down had they not been moved. Gavin had Chris and Bart move the explosives into the woods along both sides of the road, but leave the empty boxes and long fuse at the gate so the perpetrators would not notice the change. Chris and Bart kept watch until about midnight when two mounted men appeared on the dark road to the Murdoch mansion. Chris signaled Annie the fireworks were about to begin, and Annie announced to her guests about the fireworks display in their honor. In the darkness of the house everyone waited expectantly at the front windows. The two dark figures rode up to the front gate; one dismounted from his horse to light the fuse.
With a little fumbling in the dark he managed to strike a match and light the fuse. Unknown to him, Chris had replaced his slow fuse with a fast one, which in turn was connected to the string of explosives along the road in both directions. Instead on a single blast large enough to take the massive iron gate down, there were a series of smaller blasts. The first one appeared to injure the dark figure who lit the fuse because he was blown backward several feet onto his back, holding his face and screaming in pain. The subsequent blasts lite up both sides of the road and sent the other rider galloping away in terror. The dark figure dragged himself away into the night. The next day at breakfast the guests were informed of Chris’s and Bart’s little game with the gangsters. The boys were applauded heartedly. Gavin warned his visitors that the gangsters may not be finished trying to exact their revenge on the Murdochs. But, he confidently assured them Bart and Chris were doing a superb job protecting them all, and would continue to do so.
Although personal attachments were not initially planned by Annie and Jeanne, it was inevitable that such things had a way of occurring without planning. Annie could not help but be attracted to Jeanne’s brother in law, Bryan. They were the same age and had the same interests. He was especially interested in guns and Annie’s great skill in shooting intrigued him. He convinced her to take him to the backyard range and give him lessons. Bryan caught on quickly and both he and Annie spent long hours on the covered range every day. The shooters had to be reminded by Gavin to change their clothes often due to the strong odor of gun powder. It became a standing joke that Annie had to hire two additional maids to just do their laundry.
Gavin was intrigued by Ruth. She always had a subtle smile on the face but seldom initiated conversations. She seemed to be somewhat of a mystery. Her sister-in-law, Jeanne, said She was educated by imported professors from Europe and the States. She assured Gavin and Annie that she was just a little shy until she got to know someone. Then, she could be quite fun, and even mischievous. Ruth was the oldest of the Gosling siblings, one year older than Ambrose. Her parents were disappointed that she was not a boy, to carry on the family name. Ruth enjoyed the distinction of being the eldest, and in her mind, the wisest. She often gave, her brothers Bryan and Ambrose, good business and personal advice, of which they were grateful. Bryan recognized his elder sister’s common sense and always relied upon her input.
But, to Gavin, Ruth was a total mystery. He often asked sister Annie for advice and always gratefully took it. But still, he did not how to approach this tall, intimidating beauty. To Annie and Jeanne, it was obvious these two needed a little personal guidance. In a crowd, they seldom addressed each other. They needed to be alone with each other.
“Then it’s decided,” Annie said in private conversation with her friend Jeanne, “We need to arrange an outing for just the two of them, so there will be no distractions from the rest of us.” They will be forced to talk to each other.”
Jeanne agreed, “Absolutely. Once she gets talking about one of her special interest Gavin is bound to find her both charming and fascinating.”
“So, exactly what is it that turns her on?” Annie asked.
“Well,” answered Jeanne, “She likes sailing…and swimming…and…
Annie interrupted “Sailing it is! Sailing is perfect. It will put both of them alone together on a sailboat. They will have to talk with each other.” They both laughed heartily at the plan.
Not more than several miles away from the Murdoch estate, there was a delightful little reservoir lake that helped supply the nearby city with safe water. Annie arranged to have a Murdoch/Gosling outing, on the shore of this lake with plenty of food, wine and, a small rented sailboat on the beach.
Gavin would soon discover that the demands of sailing for a novice include both sailing with the wind and then sailing back against the wind. Gavin knew nothing of these skills and would, for once in his life, be well over his head in the confines of a sailboat. Ruth would have to assume control, and be forced to teach Gavin what to do and not to do.
“It is a perfect set up,” said Annie. Jeanne agreed. With a little teasing from the girls Gavin and Ruth agreed to take the sailboat out into the lake.
Gavin naturally assumed the position at the tiller as he and Ruth were pushed out into the lake. The breeze was strong and filled the sail. Within a matter of minutes the two were racing along, almost out of sight of their waving families.
“This is great fun” exclaimed Gavin. “This is the first time I have ever been sailing. Nothing to it.” He shouted to Ruth, who had been sitting quietly with her usual sly smile.
“You’re doing great so far Captain.” Ruth took off her cover-up and stretched herself out on the port seats. Gavin could not but help notice her beautiful figure. He felt he had to compliment her some way, “Nice bathing suit” He said. “What happened to the middle section.” She laughed at his “off the cuff” joke. It was cute, and of course, she knew her two-piece bathing suit would have attracted stares from anyone who saw it.
Gavin looked back to where they had started miles away down the shore. “Look back there!” He shouted, “we’ve covered quite a distance. Maybe we should head back.”
Ruth replied, “Good idea Captain. Think you can handle it?” She was almost laughing as she spoke.
“Sure, no problem!” Gavin shouted back over the flapping sound of the sails.
Ruth watched as Gavin did his best to turn the boat around. Several times she reached up and prevented the fast swinging boom from knocking Gavin overboard. Eventually, the boat wandered into a little sheltered cove. Gavin managed to pull down the sail and paddle the boat onto a small sandy beach. “I thought we could take a little rest here and open this bottle of your ‘Gosling Brother’s’ wine.” He knew she did not believe him but he didn’t care; he was having the most fun he ever had in years.
After three glasses of wine, Gavin found it easier to admit that he was unable to sail back to their starting point against the wind. Ruth laughed at the admission. “About time the great Gavin admitted defeat.”
Gavin was embarrassed but flattered that this attractive woman was entertained by his lack of sailing skills. He could not but help laugh at himself.
Ruth and Gavin laughed together for the first time. The ice was broken. One subject led to another and before they knew it the sun began to cast shadows on their little isolated beach.
“You better take over at the helm. There is no way I’ll be able to sail this damn boat back to our beach. What can I do to help Captain?” Gavin said as he stood up and saluted.
Ruth leaned toward Gavin. “I just need one thing in payment for rescuing us in this storm.”
“What’s that?” asked Gavin. Ruth leaned close and planted a lingering kiss on Gavin’s cheek. Gavin laughed and looked into her beautiful eyes. He summoned his courage and pulled her close to return the kiss onto her soft lips. The trip back to the picnic would have to wait a while as Ruth and Gavin lay back down in the grass, in each other’s arms.
Later, as the sky darkened, Gavin finally pushed the little sailboat back into the lake and then settled back next to Ruth as she sailed them back to the family picnic. It took multiple tacks, even for her, an expert Bermudian sailor, before she finally maneuvered their boat to the beach where they started.
Annie’s and Jeanne’s eyes met in the knowledge that their plan apparently worked. They saw Ruth snuggled comfortably next to Gavin in the stern of the boat. Everyone suspected what had happened and everyone was pleased. There were several wise cracks and many sly smiles. The two families seemed to be developing strong ties. The future looked promising.
New York City was a big city with numerous and tenuous underworld weeds with deep roots. Pull one out, and another grows in its place simply because the earth was so fertile, and illegal money-making ventures were an ongoing temptation. The Murdochs knew they had not yet seen the last of syndicate crime, but they had no way of knowing about the passengers of a steamer from Glasgow that had just docked on pier 34. Six men debarked carrying heavy duffels; they were met by three local men who had been patiently waiting for them. One of the men debarking from the steamer looked familiar, something like Uncle Jim, only with a full grey beard, and a confidence that the old Uncle Jim sorely lacked. Uncle Jim was back… with a vengeance, and a plan take control over “Murdoch Scotch Limited”.
Each time one of the Glasgow passengers crossed the gangplank the skipper of the ship tapped his pipe on the metal railing of the gang-plank. It was distinct enough to be heard on the dock where two dark skinned youths lingered in the shadows, watching them.
It was easy to tell that the Glasgow passengers were impressed by the size of New York. Uncle Jim took the five Scottsmen to a local boarding house in the downtown area. As Uncle Jim explained multiple times to the Scottsmen, they were to seek employment tomorrow at Murdoch Distilleries, Limited, who at that time were conveniently hiring. All five were given jobs and accepted into the mostly Scottish community. After a week employed, Uncle Jim thought they might be enjoying themselves too much. After all, there were many fair lasses that worked at Murdochs. Soon, the five new immigrants were happily immeshed in their work and the after-hours social life of the Murdoch employees. Uncle Jim seemed not to be enthused about their contentment and had to remind them they had agreed to the murder plot and would be handsomely paid when Uncle Jim took control of Murdoch Scotch.
Unknown to Uncle Jim, his nefarious plan had been long discovered by none other than Uncle Jim’s Wife, Aunt Emily. She was bitter having been forced back to Scotland and away from all her New York friends, and she resented her husband’s plans to take over the company. Emily had fallen out of love with Uncle Jim years ago and was offended by his dishonesty and disloyalty to the family name, Murdoch. She kept in touch with Annie to Annie and Gavin and warned them of her husband’s plans. Chris and Bart kept close track on the five Scottish visitors and letting Gavin and Annie know of their every move. Positions at Murdoch’s were purposely made available to the men from Glasgow so Gavin could keep his eye on them.
Uncle Jim had chosen his gang poorly. The young men from Glasgow were more interested in good jobs and fair lasses than in a murder plot. Soon, they were taken into Gavin’s confidence without Uncle Jim suspecting a thing. Annie and Gavin liked all five of the Scottish boys and they became fast friends with Bart and Chris as well.
Uncle Jim’s carefully planned murder of both Gavin and Annie using the sharpshooting English man had failed miserably and now, unbeknownst to him, his current plot was also destined to fail. Uncle Jim, driven by desperation, was about to attempt a bombing, which he expected would be blamed on the local mob. It was planned that the Scottish youths would design a bomb, similar to the one’s used, where they had worked in the Glasgow coal mines. A bomb was to be planted on the main factory floor next to Gavin’s office and be detonated when Annie and Gavin entered the store in the morning. The bomb was a dud, of course, supplied by the police department, but it looked convincingly real, and Uncle Jim bought into the plan and the device. Uncle Jim waited expectantly several blocks away from the Murdoch packaging facility. The blast never occurred, but the police, along with a passel of reporters, raided Uncle Jim’s boarding house room and arrested the bewildered Uncle Jim. The Glasgow five testified against Uncle Jim and Aunt Emily’s letters were used as additional evidence insuring Uncle Jim’s conviction of attempted murder.
All five Scottish lads were all happily married within a year of their arrival at the New York docks. They were hired as security guards and protected the wagons loaded with scotch on the way to the great train hub, Grand Central Station. The New York gangs abandoned their vendetta with the Murdochs, and did not attempt to hijack any more shipments. Murdoch retaliation was too great a price to pay. Defenseless victims abounded in the City of New York.
Weddings were still in the planning stages when Annie and Gavin, accompanied their houseguests, visited Bermuda for a month. It was to be a double wedding in Bermuda and then another double wedding in New York upon their return. The serenity of Bermuda was not as attractive to the Goslings and Murdochs, as the hustle and bustle of New York City. And then, there was an ongoing national demand for the resumption of the Murdoch shooting competition and rodeo.
California showed great interest in hosting the Murdoch Sharp Shooting Competition and Rodeo. The show was booked to play two months in both San Fran Cisco and the City of the Angels. The competition drew competitors from all over the world.
(to be continued)
Chapter One – The journey
Roy Dimwitty said good-by to his mom and dad the night before, and then early the next morning walked the short block to the bus stop with his luggage. He picked up a copy of the NY Times from the news stand on the corner to read on his subway trip to downtown Manhattan. The D train took Roy to Columbus Circle and 59th street where he walked the short distance to Ian’s home and waiting transportation to Kennedy Airport.
It was Saturday, so the subway was almost empty and left him plenty of room to open and scan the paper without elaborate foldings required in crowded subway cars. His mind wandered as the doors closed and the cars lurched forward into the dark tunnel. Tomorrow was his college graduation day, June 1958, and he would miss it. Hunter College in the Bronx had been close to his family’s Bronx apartment and was free. He regretted the college did not have more to offer in the way of science courses, but four years of free college had been a panacea for him, if not for the bankrupt city government.
In a few hours Roy would be on a direct flight to Australia and then connector flights to New Zealand and Tasmania. The rest of the journey would be by private plane to the Townsly Ranch. But for now, he scanned the Times as he had done for years while commuting to The McBurney School for Boys in downtown Manhattan. Roy recalled that his social studies teacher always opened class with a discussion of the latest news. McBurney was where Roy met Ian Townsly. The boys became fast friends, played on several varsity teams together and vacationed together at Townsly Sheep and Wool Processing Limited, (TSWPL) in Tasmania. Actually, the four summers of high-school were anything but a vacation; the boys worked seven days a week at Townsly, learning the trade, shearing sheep, and processing wool. Much of their time was spent manning park ranger stations strategically placed along the southern boundaries of the ranch. A sturdy six-foot high wire fence separated the grazing lands from the foothills and mountains to the south, which were park lands and off limits to visitors. Summers at the ranch had continued through college although the friends had attended different schools. Ian was now a graduate of Harvard and Roy was about to graduate from Hunter. Ian had a dual major in business and animal husbandry while Roy had been a zoology major.
The familiar rattling and screeching of the subway car was comforting to Roy, who spent much of his life on subways commuting back and forth to high-school and college from his family’s Bronx home. Roy had just about finished scanning the paper when he noticed a short paragraph on the next to last page. It read “June 2, 1958: Extinct Animal Sighting Reported. The Tasmanian Daily News reports Thylacine sightings in the Southern mountains. Thylacines, better known as Tasmanian Tigers or Tasmanian Wolves, became extinct in Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania due to relentless bounty hunting at the turn of the 19th century. The last surviving Thylacine died in an Australian zoo in 1933.” Roy carefully tore out the announcement and put it in his pocket. Mr. Townsly would be interested.
Roy lugged his knapsack and suitcase up the stairs of the Columbus Circle station and over the few blocks to Ian’s home. Ian’s mom and dad were standing out front with Ian as a cab pulled up. Short greetings and good-byes barely gave Roy time to give Mr. Townsly the newspaper clipping. A faint scowl flashed across his face as he read it and then passed it on to Ian.
The flight to Australia was long and gave the boys plenty of time to discuss the newspaper article and their summer plans. Little did they know their stay in Tasmania would be extended. More importantly, they would not only face adventure, but also unexpected danger.
Chapter Two – Townsly Sheep
The boys were tired and napped on and off during the flight. Roy recalled his first visit to the Townsly Sheep Ranch and his encounter with a Tasmanian ghost. Roy’s father faithfully recorded this unusual adventure for a book he was writing about his son’s adventures. That adventure, July, 1952 is worth being included in these writings.
Roy and Ian rode along the southern border fence, checking on the sheep and repairing fence as needed. In a wooded area, a tree had crashed down and flattened a portion of fence. There was evidence that an undetermined number of sheep had slipped through the opening into the transitional forest belonging to the Park Service. The boys and the border collies had no trouble finding and rounding up about twenty wayward sheep. By that time the winter sun had slipped behind the trees and darkened the little glen where they found themselves. The boys built a cozy fire, had some chow and settled in for the night. Later that night, the dogs became restless and woke up the boys. Something above them on the mountain slope was coming their way. Minutes later a wallaby broke out of the tree line and bounded quickly through the clearing as if something was chasing it. Less than a minute later a dark shape about the size of a large dog appeared out of the blackness and bounded across the clearing with its nose to the ground and disappeared into the darkness. The boys held the excited dogs close so they would not give chase. The sheep milled about so the boys eventually released the dogs to control the sheep. No sooner than they had done that when they heard more crashing sounds from the darkness above them. Four small versions of the dog like animal, bounded through the clearing and disappeared into the darkness as the first one had. The whole encounter took not more than a few seconds, hardly time for the stunned boys to comprehend what had happened. Ian was the first to take a guess. “They weren’t dogs, so the only animals they could be are…tigers.” Roy shook his head, “Can’t be, Tasmanian tigers are extinct…aren’t they?” “Yes, so they say”, replied Ian, “but there are rumors that a few have survived and still prowl these mountains.” “Let’s call your dad on the short wave and tell him what we saw.” insisted Roy.Ian had a better idea, “Better yet, let’s tell him in person when he drives up here the day after tomorrow. That way, no one will be able to listen in on our news.” The boys couldn’t sleep after their adventure and talked the rest of the night hoping the extinct marsupials, if that’s what they were, might return. In the morning, the boys and the collies drove the sheep back through the downed fence into the grazing lands. They repaired the fence and then finished their inspection down the fence line. Two days later, Mr. Townsly arrived at the ranger station with a hot meal, and a home-made pie from Ian’s mother for the boys. He did not act surprised or excited at the news of possible tiger sightings. He smiled and explained to the boys that he knew there was a tiny population of surviving tigers in the wild and he and the park service had trapped several and were setting up a breeding research facility deep in the mountains. “I hope you boys will assist our efforts.” Ian and Roy assured Ian’s dad they would love to assist. Mr. Townsly swore the boys to secrecy. “No one must know, because poachers and the Press would interfere with the breeding effort.” The boys kept their word and were thrilled to be part of the worthy endeavor. From the Australian International Airport, the boys flew to the Hobart airport in Tasmania. They easily found the familiar way across the tarmac to a private hanger. A small corporate jet awaited them, and soon they were on their way to the Townsly Sheep Ranch in the southern border lands.
Chapter Three – Assignment
As in past years, Ian’s dad had planned the boys’ itinerary carefully. Since their first visit years ago as high-school freshmen, much had changed at Townsly Limited. The Thylacine breeding program was successful. A breeding station had been set up in a remote mountain valley, and patrolled by The Tasmanian Park Authorities. The Townsly Ranch had become an integral part of the research and breeding due to its extensive private grazing lands on the northern border of the “off limits” park area. Ian’s dad had willingly and generously devoted much effort and resources to the project. It was gratifying to him that his son Ian shared his enthusiasm in bringing back a ghost from the past. Now Ian had a friend who shared his enthusiasm for the breeding program.
The next week was busy. The boys packed their four-wheel drive vehicle with extra gas cans, and food and water. Driving would be easy through the grazing lands, but once on the wild side of the boundary fence it would be rough going. The dirt road was minimally maintained and purposely disguised as much as possible from prying eyes above. Much of the construction and maintenance material was initially transported via this dirt road, but now it had become overgrown and was in disrepair. A small airfield on the research grounds was mostly hidden by camouflaged netting and fake boulders. Currently, the road was just a supplementary supply route now that the research facility had been completed. The main entrances to the park were on its southern border where there were several small towns. Ian and Roy were fascinated with the efforts to keep the facility invisible to prying eyes. The facility was not only a breeding center for the Thylacine, but it was also a research center for the preservation of many other marsupials that were becoming threatened. The Tasmanian devil was currently battling for survival after a deadly virus swept through their populations. Marsupials were slow in adapting to changing environments. Their genetic similarity made them prime targets for stress related disease caused by climate change and pollution.
“Hey Roy, Take a look at this report about trespassers into the grazing areas and the restricted park.”
“Each year there are more. Who the hell are they? What do they want?” muttered Roy.
“My dad tells me they are mostly wealthy hunters who want to brag they have bagged the rarest animal in the world.”
“Look here Ian, there are several pages reporting that the press is anxious to shoot the first photos of the tigers. There are rumors of the existence of a research center, and the world press demands the Park Service give them the story.”
“No doubt that time will come, but for now the research center must be kept a secret from everyone. Incursions into park land are attempted more often now than ever before. Dad wants us to check the northern access and keep an eye out for hunters and photographers.”
“Was it your dad’s idea that we should take along these scoped rifles and high optic binoculars?”
“Yeah, why do you think he insisted on us doing target shooting all these years?”
“And all the camping trips we took.” Roy added.
Ian continued, “It says here that we will be relieving two rangers, who have been scouting the area for the past month. They will drive our four-wheeler back to the ranch and we will take their mules to scout through the rough county around the research center.”
Roy said, “It all sounds like fun to me. Our training will come in handy. I wonder if we’ll meet any trespassers.”
The boys studied their maps of the valley, where the Research Center was hidden, and the surrounding low mountain ridges. They already were completely familiar with the Center’s layout having spent many summers helping with its design and construction. All the buildings were either draped with camouflaged netting or built underground. Wooded areas hid the outdoor habitat areas from the air.
Ian and Roy completed the first leg of their journey successfully and met with the two rangers and their mules. The rangers reported they had observed at least two parachutes, but were unable to find them in the dense primordial mountain forest.
Ian told them, he and Roy would keep their eyes on the sky over the valley.
The four-wheeled drive disappeared into the distance and left the boys to themselves and the four pack mules, two for riding and two for supplies. That night they made a small campfire and hoped their presence had not been discovered. There was a light frost on the ground and trees the next morning but it was gone by noon and the rest of the day was cool and pleasant. Roy had to remind himself that the seasons were reversed in the Southern Hemisphere. Summer in the USA was Winter in Tasmania. They saw marsupial wildlife as they rode around the lip of the valley. This was good news for the predator tigers and would surely help them become established in greater numbers, as they were one hundred years ago. The boys could barely identify the research facilities even with their most powerful binoculars, because they were so well camouflaged. One evening they smelled a campfire before they had built their own. They were getting closer to the intruders.
Ian wondered who the intruders are. “Hope we don’t have any trouble with them.”
Roy replied, “We have to find them first. We have the legal right to detain them and call for help on the short-wave radio, that is if we can get the call through the mountains. Right now, we have no contact, but at a higher elevation we’re bound to have better reception.”
Chapter Four – Confrontation
The mornings were spent eating breakfast, packing up the mules and moving to a new location. The afternoons were spent with the high-powered binoculars scanning the mountainside for movement. The boys kept their viewing stations and the mules well hidden in the trees and boulders. It was mid-noon when Ian called to Roy, “I got something.”
Roy zoomed in on an area about a mile away on the forested slope. There, leaning against a tree, was a man in camouflaged clothes sipping a beer. The shiny beer can gave his position away. Not far away another man was relaxing I front of a campfire. Next to him was a woman. She was easy to spot because she was very blond. The beer can and a blond was the only way Ian could have spotted the group. The woman was busy typing. Occasionally she would look up and out into the valley, and then continue her typing. Eventually, she stopped typing and crawled out onto a rocky ledge where she had set up a tripod and camera with a large telophoto lens. She seemed particular interested in the area of the valley where the research center was located. It appeared that she had not yet located it because she soon turned her camera to another area of the valley.
Roy ventured, “She might be a reporter and the men are her guides. So far no rifles, just one hell of a fancy camera.”
Ian and Roy tracked the three intruders for two days, each day creeping closer to them.
Ian observed, “They’re getting close to the research center. That woman looked right at it several times but apparently did not see it.”
“But, they soon will.” Roy added, “She took pictures of the area, which after enlargement and close inspection, may show the research center.”
“I think it’s time we made our presence known to them.” suggested Ian. “We need to ask them… rather, tell them they must leave the valley. We have the authority and the ranger badges. We can escort them out of the valley and back to the grazing lands. As soon as we can, we’ll let the ranch know we have visitors and the park rangers can take over.”
Roy was worried. “I sure hope we don’t have any trouble.”
Chapter Five – Bad News
Meanwhile, back at the sheep ranch, Ian’s dad had been in touch with Park authorities. There was bad news. The park authorities had uncovered a hunting consortium designed especially for wealthy clients. For $100,000 professional professional guides would covertly escort hunters into the park from its southern border. The price was steep but there were many wealthy clients eager to hunt thylacines.
Ian’s dad was perplexed. “I can’t believe it! Hunting in Park lands is not legal, is it?”
Jeffry Richardson, Director of Park Services, assured Mr. Townsly that is was not, but there were no restrictions on photography, and the hunting expeditions were advertised as photography expeditions. The park rules were being challenged in the courts and the outcome was unsure.
Mr. Richardson explained to Mr. Townsly, “The legal argument is, photography does no harm, in fact, that is what parks are for; for the enjoyment of the public.”
Mr. Townsly fumed, “That’s a bogus argument and you know it. It’s a very sensitive area because the research center is just getting established. If you permitted park visitors with cameras into all areas of the park, how could we be sure the visitors would not carry guns as well? We can’t control all the accesses. The park is just too large.”
Richardson nodded his head. “Of course you’re right. But for now, the issue is in the courts.”
“I suppose we can attempt to keep visitors away from the research center by posting no trespassing signs but that would take thousands of signs and hundreds of park rangers. And, even that would not assure that our thylacine repopulation effort would not be put in jeopardy.” So argued Ian’s dad.
Richardson explained, “Big money, clever lawyers, ambiguous laws and political indifference makes our job difficult.”
Townsly worried about the boys, “My son and his friend are patrolling the northern access road to the research center and the northern valley rim at this moment. They are under the impression they have the authority to prevent visitors from entering the valley where the research center is located.” Ian’s dad added. “Some of these hard-core hunting consortiums may not comply with the park rules, as my son thinks they must. There could be some problems if they meet up with some of these unsavory characters. I’ll try again to reach them by short wave.”
On the northern slope overlooking the valley, Roy and Ian were about to confront the park intruders. Little did they know the legality of their actions was still unsettled.
Fresh out of college, blond Ashly Parker hoped to become a wildlife photographer and writer. She had heard the rumors of surviving thylacines and hoped to find them. For months she had been frustrated in attempts to get park rangers to guide her or even get official permission to enter park grounds. Ashly finally discovered the newly created Nature Consortium which claimed to be a guide service to world parks. Tourists, photographers, and eventually hunters were to be its clients. For Ashly, this was her way into the Great Tasmanian park system and her opportunity to discover and document the existence of the extinct ghost, the fabled thylacine. Little did she know she was being used. Ashly unknowingly had become the cover for this so-called “Nature Consortium”, in reality the “Hunting Consortium.”
Ashly’s had no idea her two guides were notorious criminals who had been arrested many times for poaching and trespassing. Their assignment by the Consortium was to find and scout out potential hunting sites.
Thus far, no thylacines had been seen but these men were excellent hunter/trackers. They discovered tracks and collected spore which definitely proved thylacines currently prowled the park. The potential profits were huge. The, so called, Nature Consortium offered a week’s guided camping trip in the park, guarantying rare wildlife photo opportunities for $10,000. To special clients, a confidential second contract offered a hunting experience of a lifetime, a chance to hunt an extinct marsupial for $100,000. Wealthy hunters were lined up hoping for the opportunity. A successful hunt with trophy was valued at one million dollars, a cheap price for multi millionaires. Illegal trespassing and hunting was currently only punishable by a five thousand-dollar fine, so the illegal hunters had little appreciable financial risk. Ian and Roy had no idea they were up against a “no holds barred” well organized hunting consortium that would stop at nothing to begin this lucrative business.
The evening before their planned confrontation with the trespassers, Ian and Roy tried again to use their short wave to talk to Ian’s dad. They gave up after several tries. They were on their own.
“Let’s go ahead and confront them.” Ian urged. “I’ll enter their camp and invite them to leave the park. Just in case there is a problem and they resist, you can cover me from the brush. If need be, you can use your rifle laser to impress them. I don’t think it will come to that but if they have weapons we may need to temporarily confiscate them.”
Roy looked troubled and added, “They may not like that. They probably have hunting rifles, and I have no doubt they have side-arms. Those guides look tough to me. I’m worried.”
“But, if we take the right precautions we should be O.K.” Ian argued. “You will be hiding with your laser scoped rifle. I’ll have my rifle and I’ll take the magnum. I’ll be firm but polite.
Roy added, “Make sure you smile…and avoid arguments.”
Ian excitedly replied, “O.K. Let’s do it in the morning right after they break camp.”
Ian’s dad tried to contact the boys several times that evening and the next morning with no luck.
The boys were up early, crunched on some energy bars and packed their gear. They tied the mules fifty yards away and quietly approached the trespasser’s camp. Roy positioned himself with a clear view of the camp while Ian quietly walked up through the trees behind the blond woman while she busied herself with her cameras. The two men had already packed up their gear and were patiently waiting for the woman to finish her packing. They were all surprised as Ian stepped from behind a tree and greeted them.
Chapter Six – The Confrontation
“Good morning campers. I hope I didn’t startle you. I’m Park Ranger, Ian Townsly.”
Ian showed the badge on his belt. “Can I be of any service to you?
No one replied. They needed time to come up with a reply.
Ian continued, “You are not lost, are you? If so, I will be glad to guide you out of the park.”
Initially, the woman was absolutely startled, but eventually regained her composure and replied. “Oh no, we’re not lost. I’m a professional photographer and just shooting wildlife. I hope to see and photograph a Tasmanian tiger if there still are some in this park.”
One of the men interrupted and introduced himself and the other man. “No, we are not lost. We are guides for Ms. Ashly. We are not breaking any laws, are we?”
Ian replied, “Actually you are. The park is not open to tourists or hunters at this time without a permit. Do you have a permit?”
The guides admitted they did not have a permit.
There was an awkward silence.
Ian replied, “In that case, I will be pleased to escort you out of the park. Where would you prefer exiting the park grounds?”
The men looked at each other nervously until the girl spoke up. “I’m on a photo assignment and I’m not finished. I need a few more days. Surely a few more days won’t matter. We promise to leave as soon as I’m finished.”
Ian smiled. “I’m sorry Mam, I have my orders. I have to escort you out of the park. As soon as you pack up your gear we’ll get started. Do you have a vehicle parked somewhere or did you hike in?” He got no answer.
The two men whispered to each other while Ian spoke to the blond woman. They backed away and one looked at his rifle leaning against a near-by tree.
One of the men interrupted Ian’s conversation with the woman. “We appreciate your offer officer, but we have been contracted to guide this good lady for one week and if we don’t, we stand to lose what’s coming to us. You are welcome to keep tabs on us, and in two days, guide us out. We appreciate your help but we are not leaving until we finish our job.”
Ian was clam but firm. “Sorry friend, I can’t let you do that. You are trespassing. I have no authority to let you stay. You must let me guide you out of the park. I’m afraid you have no choice.”
Roy was close enough to hear the conversation. He wished Ian wasn’t so hard-nosed and let the intruders stay a few more days. But now, he and Ian were committed.
Roy noticed both men slowly retreat to where their rifles leaned against a tree. He aimed his rifle and clicked on the laser sight. Ian noticed the movement of the men also, and warned them, “Gentlemen, please don’t make this difficult for us. You gentlemen are in the sights of my partner. Please take a look at your chest.”
A laser red dot quivered on the jacket of one of the men and then the other.
Ian continued, “Further moves toward your rifles will be reason for him to take further action.” The warning unnerved both men and they remained still and said nothing more. They must have realized that even successful resistance would be complicated with the photographer as a witness. Besides, they were not fools. They cussed as they finished packing their gear.
The blond girl was unaware of the dangerous situation and interrupted. “Well, if you rangers insist, I’ll compensate my guides for the extra two days. But, I definitely will file a complaint with the park administration.”
Roy stepped from his hiding place and collected the two rifles leaning against a tree. He did not see any handguns. He held his rifle in a ready position to discourage resistance, but there was none from the sullen guides.
As Roy introduced himself, he figured the blond was about his age and was attractive, very attractive. Her name was Ashly McGuire.
The boys led the men and Ashly back to their camp and the mules. Roy loaded the confiscated rifles onto one mule and then turned to Ashly.
“How ‘bout I load some of your gear on our mules?”
“Thanks” she replied. He and Ian turned to her guides to make the same offer but they had disappeared into the woods, leaving their gear behind. The boys guessed that the guides had an all-terrain vehicle hidden not far away.
Ashly noticed her guides had disappeared and asked Ian, “What happened? Where are my guides?”
“I’m afraid you’ve been deserted. I suspect your guides were up to no good. We were warned that parachutes were seen several days ago. Supplies apparently have been dropped into this area for some reason. They may have been using you as a cover for them being in a restricted area of the park. The fact that they left their rifles and gear with us means they have no intention of being turned over to park authorities. We need to clear out of this area. There may be other intruders nearby.”
Ashly was incredulous. “Why did those men posed as guides? Why are they so interested in the park? Is it because of the tigers?”
Ian was convinced Ashly had no connection with the Consortium, except as a client, but he was reluctant to tell her about the Thylacine Research Project. Roy laughed to himself as she pestered Ian about why the Park was closed and why the consortium was involved. She had a hunch there was a big news story hidden somewhere.
The boys resisted Ashly’s insistent questions for a day as they traveled out the park, and then, reluctantly, Ian gave in. With Roy’s permission, he told her about the Thylacine Research Project. Both boys were suckers for Ashly’s charm.
When the three reached the grazing lands they finally were able to contact Ian’s father on the short wave. Two rangers were on the way. They would take the mules back into the mountains and Ian, Roy, and their new-found friend planned to drive back to the Townsly ranch. They anticipated the worse from Ian’s dad for having told Ashly about the research center.
Ian warned Ashly, “Ashly, we should not have told you about the Thylacine Research Center and the breeding program. My dad will be annoyed and may give us hell.”
Ashly advised the boys, “Let me explain it to him first before you both try. I may be able to smooth things out a bit.”
Chapter Seven – New Friend
Back at the Townsly Ranch, Ian introduced Ashly to his parents and several park officials. Ashly charmed Ian’s father and mother. To the boy’s surprise they took such a liking to Ashly that Ian’s dad eventually invited her to become the official Thylacine Research Project Photographer. She was thrilled and told the boys later that she believed this job was going to be her big break. The park authorities had neglected to adequately document the project’s progress so everyone was pleased. That night the boys had a good laugh about how things turned out. Ashly would be become an important part of their team, and would be good company.
A week passed and there were still no signs of the two men posing as Ashly’s guides. Finally, it was decided that the boys and their new-found colleague could return to the research center withthemsafely. Ashly was eager to start her photographic documentation of the research facility. Rather than take the two-day over-land trip to the research center, Ian’s dad chartered the single engine company plane. The hidden runway was cleared just prior to their arrival and the little plane landed safely and cruised into it’s hanger. The boys gave Ashly a tour of the center. Needless to say, she was impressed.
She was also puzzled. “Why on earth couldn’t I see this complex of buildings and enclosures before? I had my camera focused on this very area.”
Roy answered her question. “That’s because Ian and I purposely designed this place to be invisible to the eyes of unscrupulous guides. I guess we did O.K.”
The fenced boundaries of the Research Center encompassed over a square mile. From the air and surrounding mountain slopes, the center could not be detected. The landing strip and plane essentially disappeared shortly after being used. Phony rocks and brush were rolled into the actual runway.
Research labs included genetic research and embryo implantation. The actual indoor denning areas and outdoor habitats had generous space for the thylacines. Every animal had open access to large natural habitat areas. When females came into heat, suitable males were selected for breeding. Some females were selected for artificial fertilization from the Sperm Bank. The program was a great success considering it started with one captive female and one captive male. Gradually, more wild thylacines were trapped and added to the genetic pool. Occasionally, no matter how careful the center was, a captive animal escaped back into the surrounding mountains. Immature thylacine were occasionally reported by park rangers, so the researchers knew populations were managing to survive and reproduce in the protected environment of the park.
The Nature (Hunting) Consortium was expecting to cash in on, what they covertly advertised to their clients as, the “The Hunt of a Lifetime.” Once the Consortium pressured and bribed Tasmanian politicians into allowing wildlife photographers into the park, hunting was bound to follow. The Consortium already was funding new roads and camp sites. Soon, there were multiple back roads crisscrossing the wild park lands. All photo safaris groups were searched for guns before they could enter the park, but nevertheless rangers occasionally heard shots echo through the mountains. The origin of the shots could never be determined but the remains of one thylacine had already been found. It had been blasted with heavy caliber ammo so the skin was unusable, but the head, skin and paws had been removed for trophies.
Ian’s dad and the boys knew the research project had been compromised and its very existence threatened by a recent legislative decision allowing public photo safaris. Politicians, who had approved the research project years ago, now were threatening to cut back on its funding if the Research Facility resisted opening the park to campers and photographers. Some critics wanted to close down the whole research operation. They had generous financial support by the Consortium lobbyists.
Roy, Ian and Ashly sat down with Mr. Townsly and the research scientists. They tried to figure out how a released thylacine had been located and killed in the wild. Every animal at the center was tagged before it was released into the wild. An electronic tracking device was attached, so at any given time the researchers could find its approximate location in the park and when it was moving or denning up. The light research plane made numerous flights crisscrossing the park to gather this vital information. The next month a second animal disappeared mysteriously. Everyone suspected the so-called Photography and Nature Consortium was to blame, but it remained a mystery how they found the illusive marsupials without aerial tracking?
Chapter Eight – Traitor
A month passed without a solution while Roy pondered the situation. In the meantime, Ian and Ashly were hitting it off and were usually found in each other’s company. This left Roy alone to his thoughts. He often roamed the grounds of the facility checking on fences and the thylacines. Everything always seemed normal. One night, while Roy sat outside near the research lab recording thylacine activity, a light went on in one of the lab windows. He thought nothing of it until the blinds were pulled. Why pull the blinds, he thought, and who was working this late? Roy got up and wandered over to the ground floor window. He could see a figure inside through a crack in the blinds. It was Ashly! She was standing at the wall map where push pins indicated the latest locations of all the released thylacines. He watched as she marked the location of an animal, on a park map she had in her hand. She quickly turned off the lights and left the building. Roy was furious. It was obvious now, she was the one who had passed on the location of the thylacine to the Hunting Consortium even while she and Ian was enjoying a growing personal relationship. Ian’s dad, the research staff and both Roy and Ian had trusted her.
Roy wondered, “How will I break the news to Ian and his dad that she was passing on the locations of the thylacines so hunters could be guaranteed to get a trophy for their million-dollar safari? She sure had them fooled.”
Ian was devastated when he found out, and his dad was furious that he had misjudged this woman.
Roy offered a plan, “Let’s enter a false location for a released thylacine on the map, and let Ashly give the false information to the Nature Consortium. If plans went, as they hoped, Hunting Consortium safaris would flounder. Clients who paid a million dollars for a thylacine trophy, and received nothing in return, would be pissed and demand their money back.”
Two months passed and that was exactly what happened. The Consortium soon floundered and closed up shop, at least temporarily. With the help of the local police, the Consortium was charged by Tasmanian federal agents for their destruction of protected wildlife, and a slew of other charges A hidden video camera caught Ashly in the act of recording thylacine locations. She seemed hardly surprised when two agents approached her in the research building’s dining area, announced the charges against her and led her away. Strangely, she took her arrest stoically.
Roy knew Ian and Ashly had developed a serious personal relationship, but there was nothing Ian could do, even if he wanted to. It would take a while for Ian to get over her but he said nothing as they led her away. Roy was sure his friend would survive just fine. He was tough.
There was still one lingering problem. Park Rangers periodically reported the sound of gunfire in the park. Apparently, thylacines were still in danger by another safari that had sneaked into the park.
Roy and Ian decided to accompany the rangers as they set out to find that last illegal safari. Ian and Roy knew approximately where the hunters were going due to the last false location Ashly had passed on to them. The rangers and the boys beat the safari to that location and waited in ambush. They did not have long to wait. Two guides and a hunter showed up rifles ready and began searching for the Thylacine den and hopefully a nursing mother and several pups.
Roy and Ian immediately recognized the two guides they encountered when they first met Ashly. They were the same guides who disappeared into the mountains rather than be escorted out of the park and be arrested by the authorities.
The rangers called out to the hunting party to lay down their guns, but they refused. When the rangers identified themselves and stepped into the open, the lone hunter/client complied. He put his rifle down, but the two guides did not. All they could see were two rangers because the boys remained behind, in hiding. Both boys knew exactly what to do. They turned on their rifles laser scopes and targeted the guides. A red dot rested on the chests of both guides. When the guides saw the laser dots they froze, and then slowly and reluctantly lay down their rifles. The rangers hand cuffed the guides and escorted the little hunting party back the park gate and the awaiting police.
Chapter Nine – Justice
The mystery of the missing thylacine had been solved. The Tasmanian court system charged the defunct Hunting Consortium with high crimes against the state, and its owners and a handful of hunter-guides were arrested and charged. The boys were told Ashly admitted her part and exposed the whole operation. All involved were giving stiff sentences and the Consortium backers were heavily fined due to Ashly’s testimony.
The Townslys and Roy did not attend any of the court sessions. They did not have the heart to see Ashly sitting in court with the defendants and testifying under those circumstances. Ian had a difficult time giving Ashly up, but it was hard on everyone; they all liked the charming and intelligent girl.
For the next few weeks, all was well back at the Research Center but everyone was depressed. It just did not seem the same without the effervescent girl, always cheerful and helpful. In the midst of their gloom Ian’s dad got a letter from the Federal Court. The court requested the presence of Mr. Townsly, Ian and Roy in court. They flew into town and showed up at the time requested. A bailiff showed them to an empty court room. Ten minutes later a judge appeared and asked the three to stand. He proceeded to read a proclamation recognizing the outstanding service the three had provided in capturing the poachers and terminating the existence of the Consortium. The boys smiled and congratulated each other and shook hands with Mr. Townsly. The judge motioned to the bailiff who left the court room, soon to return with Ashly. She smiled at the boys shyly and had a twinkle in her eyes. She sat down on the bench in front of them.
The judge continued, “Ms. Ashly Wilson is to be likewise commended for her part in the successful conclusion of this case. Her bravery in pretending to be in the Consortium’s employment, and in recording and reporting all the Consortium’s plans and moves in the park enabled the State to prosecute this case successfully. Therefore, the court wishes to present Ms. Ashly Wilson with this official framed document, listing her contributions to the case and her bravery.”
The boys were dumbfounded at first, but their shock quickly turned to joy. They rushed from their seats and embraced Ashly. Mr. Townsly just stood there and smiled as if he had known about the intrigue from the start. It was quite a turn of events.
The next day, the Research Center staff threw a party for Ashly. Ian, especially, was delighted. Everyone’s attitude immediately changed from gloomy to happy.
Mr. Townsly and the kids returned to the sheep ranch and relaxed. All was well for a while. Mr. Townsly now had time to attend to company business and Ian and Ashly were together all the time renewing their growing relationship.
But, Roy was restless without the company of his best friend. He took this time to return to the Research Center and do something he always wanted to do. It was something he was admirably suited to do judging by his past history concerning animal behavior. Roy’s father was convinced that his son had a unique ability to understand and communicate with animals. He encouraged Roy to test this ability with thylacines. Roy agreed to conduct some experiments. This would be a new adventure and a challenge for him.
Since he was two years old, Roy’s father meticulously recorded his son’s interaction with animals in his diary. Roy loved animals and they seemed to take an unusual interest in him. Though his childhood he had a series of unusual interactions with both wild and domesticated animals. When the Dimwitty family vacationed in the country or on a farm Roy’s dad recorded his son’s unusual encounters with farm and wild animals. As a zoo-keeper and as a ranch hand, there were many other encounters with animals that were out of the ordinary, and suggested that Roy had an unusual ability to understand and communicate with animals.
Roy always keep his parents aware of the progress of the Thylacine Research Center and of the uniqueness of the thylacines. His dad was often concerned about Roy’s safety. But, now that things settled down, he had many questions about the nature of thylacines. Roy could not answer most of his dad’s questions. For example: Were thylacines aggressive to humans in captivity and in the wild? Did they have the potential to be domesticated like dogs have been through evolution? Was their thinking process and intelligence similar to other marsupials or to other mammals? Did they react to human kindness? In the past, Roy could only guess. Now that the Research Center was back to its normal activities, Mr. Townsly returned to raising sheep and marketing wool. Ian was totally occupied with Ashly and his research, which left Roy with time to do some of his own research.
Chapter Ten – Father of Thylacines
Soon after Roy returned to the Research Center, he had an opportunity to adopt four thylacine pups. Their mother died during their birth and the pups needed constant care, or they would have died as well. In as much as Roy was looking for a project, the research staff suggested he rear the pups. This meant bottle feeding at least six times per day with an experimental milk mixture designed by the center’s marsupial husbandry scientists. In addition, Roy was expected to hand wash the pups several times per day duplicating the normal tongue washing their mother would have given them. Roy insured they were kept warm during chilly nights and cool during hot days. One of his main jobs, as they matured, was to provide them with everyday learning experiences such as prey acquisition and killing techniques.
Roy searched, but there was no scientific literature on the subject of rearing thylacine pups. His experience was to be the first. Roy relished the challenge and hoped he was up to the task. He faithfully and accurately recorded his research with the help of the resident researchers and shared everything with his dad in NYC. Mr. Dimwitty told Roy he would use the information in the new book he was working on.
At birth, thylacine pups are tiny, much smaller than the newborns of similar sized mammals. The vestigial pouches of adult thylacines were hardly suited for one pup much less four. During millions of years of evolution, nature had determined that the species had a better chance for survival with multiple births rather than the single births of most other marsupials. Marsupials, such as the kangaroo family, had single births. The embryo like babies, called joeys, are barely able to squirm from their mother’s birth canal upward through a forest of belly fur to the sphincter pouch opening. Therein, the babies attached to a single nipple. Appropriate amounts of maternal milk are secreted according to the babies growing needs until the joeys were able to suckle on their own.
Sometime in the past the maternal pouch and single nipple of kangaroos became obsolete in thylacines and other predator marsupials. The predator marsupial lifestyle gradually diverged from the typical non-predator marsupial lifestyle.
The change had worked exceedingly well… that is until recently, when humans and sheep farms appeared. The thylacine slaughter began when it was rumored that they were sheep killers. Over reaction to the rumor and a generous government bounty on thylacines decimated them and soon they were thought to be extinct. Fortunately, the wild regions of Tasmania, where humans have never set foot, provided a few potential opportunities for the species to survive. Thus far, the only confirmed sightings were in Tasmania.
Roy recalled the time in college when he was working as a substitute zoo keeper at the Bronx Zoo. One afternoon, at closing time after he closed the Kangaroo and Wild Swine building, he witnessed an event few people had ever seen before, the birth of a baby Grey Kangaroo. Roy was in the process of checking each animal as he walked by the row of indoor cages. He noticed what he first thought was a drop of blood on a female kangaroo’s belly. It wasn’t blood, as he had feared. It was a newly born joey which moving like a little inch worm. He watched the tiny joey crawl up its mother’s belly fur toward the pouch. It soon became evident that the joey missed the pouch opening and squirmed past it. Once the mother’s instinctive behavior was disrupted, she scratched the embryo like joey out of her fur and it fell to the cage floor. Roy, reached through the bars and picked up the joey, which was the size of a newborn mouse. He wrapped it in his handkerchief and called the zoo vet. In spite of immobilizing the mother and placing the joey next to her nipple in the pouch, the procedure was unsuccessful. Roy watched the mother closely for the rest of the Christmas vacation and afterward called the zoo for updates. It was an experience Roy never forgot and it increased his love and interest in animals.
Back at the research center, Roy was experiencing other unique events. The pups were growing rapidly and thriving. It was not until four weeks that they first opened their eyes. Subsequently, they became more active and it was a constant chore to keep track of them. In two month’s Roy placed them in a large cardboard box with bedding. The pups wined when they were hungry and made yelping noises when they were frustrated or were fighting with each other. During the forth month Roy took the pups outside for their first exploration of a habitat area. They were extremely stimulated with every new object and experience. At their fifth month, the pups had enough strength and coordination to run awkwardly. Roy noticed that they seldom tired and he had to forcibly retrieve them from the habitat area for the night. In fact, he soon realized that they preferred the nighttime to the daytime. They began sleeping through the day and running around their enclosure at night as if they were hunting.
Roy eventually put several small live lizards in the habitat and was amazed how quickly they found and killed them. Next, he hid several snakes in the habitat. They quickly found and dispatched them. They fought over the remains and ate every bit. Next experiment was with small marsupial rodent like animals. These animals immediately became their favorite prey and food.
At six months, the pups looked like adults only smaller. They had the beginnings of adult dorsal stripes and the characteristic long heavy tail. Most strikingly, was their mouth gape. Thylacines were traditionally known for their wide gapping mouths. Roy measured the gape of all the pups. It averaged at 170 degrees, at least 20 degrees larger than any other animal on record. Roy surmised why thylacine mouth gape was so large. Could it be that their preferred prey were large marsupials such as grey and red kangaroos? The wide gape might enable them to grab and hang onto a fleeing roo. On the other hand, when cornered, roos normally stood erect and fought. Nevertheless, a large gape and bite would certainly be critical in killing any marsupial, including the large roos. It was just a guess and Roy had no way of proving his theory.
Another interesting fact was that thylacines had more teeth that other non-marsupial predators. They had two extra pre-molars. And, thylacine teeth were serated and sharper than any other mammal predator their size.
Now that they had almost reached adult size, except in weight, Roy noticed how active they became at sunset. They loved to run. Except for a few stops to smell, and poop they seldom stopped until they found prey. When the sky lightened in the morning they returned to their sleeping dens. For the rest of the day the four slept. Roy found that he had to add three more den sleeping boxes so they could sleep alone and not squabble.
Although the thylacines now preferred to spend more time by themselves in separate habitat areas, they remained bonded to Roy and came when Roy called to them. He named the two males, Tiger and Wolf. He named the females Mars and Soo. Soon the thylacines would be mature and be thinking of mating. Roy and the research staff had to separate them so brother would not mate with sister. The siblings were not bothered when the separation came and accepted it without complaint.
Roy spent time alone with each animal. They always stopped their activity and responded to Roy’s voice when he called. If they were out of hearing of Roy’s voice he used a silver dog whistle which was a present from his dad when he was a child. It had a high decibel range beyond human hearing. Whenever he blew it, they came running at full speed and would almost bowl Roy over in their enthusiasm. He greeted them in a knelling position and stroked their faces and heads. They enjoyed Roy’s touch and often laid themselves against Roy’s body. They never tired of licking Roy’s hands and always attempted to lick his face. Generally, they acted very much like canines except for their constant activity at night and of course they never wagged their long heavy tails. Roy guessed nocturnal hunting was instinctive.
Roy walked daily through each habitat area and seeded it with small game both alive and dead. He supplemented the wild game with a special mixture of marsupial chow the researchers had mixed up. Roy knew that the time would come when his “kids” would be set free to roam the park alone. He wondered if they would remember him and respond to his call a year from their release. The release day eventually came and the whole research staff, including Mr. Townsly, Ian and Ashly attended. This release represented the largest single release the Center had made. It was a milestone in its nine-year effort.
The two female and two male thylacines wasted no time once they realized they were not confined. Their cages were opened outside the perimeter fence and without a look back they ran in separate directions and disappeared into the darkness. The staff cheered. Roy fought back swelling tears and turned back to the Research center. There was a party but it pooped out early because everyone was emotionally and physically drained.
Roy spent the next month at home in the Bronx visiting his parents and sister Millie, who was now in college. But, he soon became restless because he knew there was much work waiting him at the research facility. One month was enough, so he returned to the isolated island south of Australia.
Chapter Eleven – Murder
Since his departure Roy thought things would finally settle down, but they did not. Rangers found evidence of more hunting in the park and another missing thylacine. The “Nature Consortium” was no longer in existence, but individual hunters were apparently taking advantage of the parks huge size and unpatrolled borders to slip in and out to hunt at will. Now, more dirt roads crisscrossed the park and there were not enough rangers to patrol deep within the rugged terrain. Park rangers had better radios now for communications now, but so did the illegal hunters.
Roy was angry and thought he would try to intercept and arrest some hunters himself. Hopefully, his efforts might give the impression that hunters were being caught and prosecuted. Mules, once used by park rangers, were replaced by all-terrain vehicles. With the new dirt roads, the rangers could more rapidly reach distant parts of the park to check on shootings. Ranger stations were set up to report forest fires. These stations were useful in reporting the sound of gun fire as well.
Hunters were careless and forest fires were often their fault. The small force of park rangers was thinly spread out across several of the huge parks in South western Tasmanian. Their task was immense but their presence was vitally important. Roy’s first penetration into the park’s interior had some initial success. A ranger station reported sighting a vehicle and sounds of shooting on the slope of a nearby mountain. In addition, campfire smoke was reported.
Roy and two rangers decided to investigate. They located the campfire smoke and snuck up on the campers, or were they hunters? Roy would soon find out.
Roy wore the silver canine whistle his dad gave him around his neck. He wondered if it still worked with the thylacines after six months separation. He blew the whistle periodically while in the park, but so far, there were no results.
Roy and the rangers located a campfire several miles off the dirt road. They left their all- terrain wheelers behind and approached the campfire quietly. Three men sat around a small fire and three rifles leaned against a nearby tree. When the rangers and Roy stepped out into the firelight and announced their presence, the men seemed surprised but not alarmed. It was a friendly greeting. They swore they were not hunters and showed Roy their camera equipment. They were just photographers having a good time shooting pictures of the wildlife and drinking beer. Roy and the rangers searched the camp site, but in the dark they could not see anything incriminating. They accepted the camper’s invitation to share their meal and spend the rest of the night with them.
In the morning Roy woke up to find the three men standing over them with rifles leveled. They tied the rangers and Roy to trees and took their rifles, hand radios and supplies. Roy overheard the three men trying to decide what to do with them. In the daylight, Roy could see thylacine remains at the edge of the clearing. Flies buzzed around the carcass. Its skin including attached paws and head were nearby, drying out.
When the men were occupied elsewhere, Roy tried to move his canine whistle up from around his neck, over his chin and into his mouth. Finally, by lying on his side, he was successful. He bit off its thin leather strap, spit it out and hid the small whistle in his mouth. Whenever the men were occupied Roy blew the whistle. He was helpless to do anything else.
The three hunters left Roy and the rangers alone for several hours as they separated and went out to check their trap lines. While they were gone Roy and the rangers tried unsuccessfully to wiggle free of the ropes that bound them. Roy continued blowing his silver dog whistle without any seeming results. That evening the hunters returned and decided to abandon their campsite and establish a new one miles away on the next mountain slope. Hopefully they could trap another thylacine. Their skins were worth their weight in gold. Collectors were lined up to hunt, trap or buy thylacines, dead or alive. Capturing one alive would be the biggest and most valuable catch. The hunters had several live traps set and two collapsible cages ready in the event they were successful. They already had a buyer waiting who was hoping to sell a thylacine to a zoo in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis still had a standing offer of a million dollars for a live and healthy specimen.
The hunters left the rangers and Roy tied up at their first campsite while they packed up and moved into a new area yet to be hunted. In desperation, while they were away, Roy continued to blow his dog whistle. That evening two of the hunters returned to the campsite and their captives. They discussed what to do with them. The options were shoot them or just leave them tied up. A million dollars was too much to jeopardize by letting them go. Roy and the rangers were well aware of their dilemma and tried to convince their captives to leave them tied up rather than shoot them. It was the best of two bad options.
While the hunters built a fire and were having a cup of coffee, Roy felt a nudge on his left arm. He turned to see a broad tan head with big black eyes sniffing his arm. Another dark shape was on his right side nudging Roy with a large wet nose. Roy immediately recognized them as Tiger and Wolf, the two male thylacines he hand-raised. Both animals licked Roy’s hands, now bloodied by the tight plastic ties that bound his hands behind the tree. Somehow, a little nibble from sharp marsupial teeth snapped the bindings from Roy’s hands and he slumped forward. the hunters noticed Roy’s movement, got up and walked over toward him. The thylacines crouched down and backed into the shadows out of sight. Somehow they must have sensed the danger. The human they knew as friend was bloodied and threatened by the two men approaching. The thylacines were always protective of Roy when they were in captivity. Roy hoped they still would be even after being free for so long. Would they remember? Would they attack the hunters? Roy did not have to wait long to find that out.
As the hunters approached, Roy lunged forward and tried to stand up. He staggered and fell to his knees.
“He’s free one hunter yelled. Grab him, or better yet let’s just shoot them. No one will ever find out what happened to them.”
The aggressiveness of the approaching hunters triggered the attack response in the thylacines that Roy hoped for. The hunters could not have imagined that two thylacines lurked in the shadows not more than three feet behind Roy. As Roy struggled to his knees one hunter kicked Roy in the chest and sent him toppling backward. In unison, both thylacines attacked. They landed on the hunter’s chests knocking them both flat on their backs. Roy heard a low guttural growl from both animals. The thylacines wasted no time in going for the instinctive kill at the throats of their prey. One hunter managed to raise a hand to protect his throat. It seemed to disappear in Tiger’s gaping mouth. The hunter screamed as his hand was mauled. Bones, blood vessels tendons were crushed and sliced by a mouthful of sharp teeth and powerful jaw muscles.
Not being fast enough to protect his throat, the other hunter met a more serious fate. Wolf’s canines chomped into his throat and sliced a major artery. His garbled scream was sickening. As blood spurted, Wolf chewed on his neck. Roy staggered to his feet and tried his best to pull the thylacines off the hunters. Finally, he was successful, but by then both hunters were in critical condition. Roy tried to stop the bleeding from the neck wound, but the hunter soon lost consciousness and lay still in a pool of blood. The other hunter screamed while holding a mangled and bleeding hand. Roy did his best to keep his body between the hunters and the thylacines while he quickly fastened a tourniquet around the hunter’s arm. It stopped the bleeding, but not his screaming. Roy freed the rangers. The rangers got the hunter’s guns in expectation that the third hunter would soon appear. In a few minutes, he dashed into the clearing, gun in hand. The rangers knocked him to the ground while Roy struggled to keep the agitated thylacines from attacking again. He knelt down and put an arm around each animal holding them next to him. Finally, he was able to grab the loose skin on the back of their necks and pull them away from the hunters. They tried to pull away and attack again. Roy feared they’d become confused and attack the rangers by mistake. He held on with all his strength to keep them next to him.
The rangers cuffed the surviving two hunters and led them back to their off-road vehicle. They called in for assistance and medical aid. The Tiger and Wolf were attracted to the dead human lying in a pool of blood and Roy could hardly keep them away from the corpse. He believed they would have fed on it if he had let them.
A thought flashed through Roy’s mind. “What if the thylacines enjoyed the easy killing of humans? What if they had lost their fear of humans? What if they started hunting innocent park visitors? He shuddered at the thought.
About an hour later, the sound of the ambulance siren and the flashing lights were more than the marsupials could take. Roy walked them off into the trees and hugged each animal. They licked his face, their bloody muzzles streaking his face red. Then he shooed them away as best he could. They loped away together. Both stopped momentarily to look back at Roy. Roy stood thoughtfully. He wondered if he would ever see them again. He wondered if he should tell authorities exactly what had happened. He thought it best that he did not, and hoped the rangers would agree. They agreed, so as to keep the newspapers from sensationalizing the confrontation and discouraging campers from using the park.
The two live hunters were taken into custody and the injured hunter was taken to the hospital, with what the rangers said was a hunting accident. Both hunters were eventually tried and convicted on attempted murder charges. The deceased hunter was taken to the morgue. The next morning’s paper had a lead article about a hunter being killed in a hunting accident. It was assumed that he accidentally shot himself in his hand and his companion in the neck while loading his rifle. Park visitors were told the park continued to be totally safe as long as they did not violate park rules.
That night Roy called his dad and mom in N.Y.C. to tell them of his dangerous adventure. His mother was Dad were upset that he had taken such risks, but Roy’s dad was fascinated about the story and said he would definitely use it in his next book. He asked Roy if he and Millie, could visit the research center in the near future. Mom did not wish to make the long trip and hike through a park, but they did. Arrangements were made and a month later they arrived on the Center’s research plane.
Roy was kept busy keeping track of Millie. She planned to follow her brother’s career and was gathering information for a college thesis paper. By now, Millie was in her twenties and had been accepted to graduate school. The young PhD.s at the Research Center were interested in her because she had grown up to be a very attractive and intelligent young woman. Needless to say, she was popular, cheerful and interested in every one’s research specialty.
Chapter Twelve – Switch Partners
Now that the excitement had died down Roy needed to complete writing papers on his experiences with thylacines. He intended to submit papers to several prestigious journals and several popular magazines such as National Geographic, Nature, National Wildlife and others. Ashly asked if she could collaborate with Roy, supply the graphics and help with the writing. Being a co-author of articles in these prestigious publications would help advance her career.
Ashly threw herself into working on Roy’s project and spent less time working with Ian. In Ashley’s absence, Millie latched onto her brother’s best friend. They hit things off splendidly and she helped him with the administration of the research center, which was her main interest. Ashly, also, was pleased with her involvement with the more scientific aspects of the Thylacine Research Center. Everything was on track for a while. Roy’s dad had a visit of a lifetime and after a month went home with enough material to keep him busy on another book about his son, Roy the Animal Boy 2, The Thylacines.
It was not long after when The Research Center was asked by both New Zealand and Australia to help them establish thylacine preserves on both islands. Extensive national parks were planned, with specific borders, fences, entry gates and staff. Eventually, fire towers, visitor centers, and restaurants were to be added. Thylacines were expected to be a great tourist attraction. Where else on the earth could visitors see an extinct animal in its natural habitat? Of course, being the only source of thylacines, the Research Center was asked to supply all the thylacines and expertise. Research fellows, intern administrators and animal handlers came to the Center to get their training. Other marsupials were to be included in the mix. Thylacines needed something to prey upon…and prey animals needed predators, such is evolution. This policy was controversial, and not totally adopted in all the parks, even though the killing process and the fresh meat was vital to the well-being of the thylacines.
These were busy times for Ian, Roy, Millie and Ashly. The responsibilities were huge and they all had to mature quickly and raise their administrative and research skill levels. They had become the only experts in the natural and artificial breeding of rare marsupials. The Thylacine Research Facility became world famous. Other Centers were doing the similar research with endangered species but, so far, no lab had been successful in bringing back a major thought to be extinct quadruped species. Ian’s father was fortunate to have discovered and rescued the last few remaining thylacines before they actually became extinct. But, to bring back and sustain a truly extinct species in the wild was an immensely greater task.
Chapter Thirteen – Platypus
The Tasmanian thylacine success was big news around the world. Letters of congratulations poured in. Big shot visitors flew in; newspapers and magazines sent photographers and feature writers. Scientists visited to tour the Center. The towns surrounding the park were flooded with tourists. A small airport was under construction. The park service sponsored tours through the park and conducted visits to the research center. Roy, Ian and Ashly gave interviews every day in person and on the phone. The Tasmanian politicians who once threatened to cut funds to the Center now bragged about their foresight and support.
Within two years the Research Center had bred and released ten thylacines into the wild. Zoos in New Zealand and Australia constructed state of the art animal parks with no cages or fences that could be seen. All animals lived comfortably in natural habitats. Breeding programs insured the survival of numerous marsupials now endangered. They included thylacines, devils, red and grey kangaroos, wallaroos, wallabies, tree kangaroos, wombats, bandicoots, bilbies, koalas, tree possums, quolls, and sugar gliders. The administrators of the park systems decided to include one native non-marsupial, the platypus, in the animal parks. Wild platypuses, once common in the three islands were re-established in fenced in wild isolated areas of the parks and were protected by park rangers. Platypus and marsupial safaris were popular on the islands.
Wild population of platypuses in Tasmania were discovered by an unfortunate emergency. How this discovery came about was directly related to Roy’s hand raised thylacines. It was an early June morning and a winter wind chilled the park. Roy and Ashly were sleeping soundly when the phone rang. Roy picked up the phone and sleepily whispered, “This is Roy, what’s up?”
“This is Gordon, night security. Sorry to wake you Roy but we got a problem here, out behind the section three perimeter fence gate.
“It’s 6:00 AM. “So, what’s so important?” Roy asked.
Gordon replied, “We got a sick thylacine, it looks likeTiger…wait a minute, another one is straggling in, now we got two sick thylacines. I’m pretty sure it’s Tiger alright, but now I think Wolf is at the gate as well…They both look exhausted and are barely able to move. They’re making strange noises I have never heard before. Better come quick.”
Roy bolted out of bed wide awake. He threw on some clothes as he told Ashly the news. Roy was out the door of his bungalow before Ashly even rolled out of bed. He jumped in a golf cart and sped down the path that led to the perimeter fence gate. Gordon had the gate opened and was squatting down next to the sick thylacines. Both animals were barely breathing.
“Gordon, load one into my cart and one into your cart and we’ll take them to the hospital. Don’t forget to follow contamination procedures. They might have a contagious disease.
Ashly and Millie joined them at the hospital as they carried both animals inside. On the way over Roy called Frank, the head vet. He burst in shortly after the thylacines were laid on the examination tables.
Roy waited patiently as the Frank took vital signs. “Looks bad. I don’t know what’s wrong with them.”
Millie noticed something unusual about Tiger’s left front foot. “What’s this Roy?”
Roy and Frank shifted their attention to Tiger’s foot. There were several small swollen cut marks on his lower legs and one on his face. Similar wounds were found on the front legs and face of Wolf. The injuries were hardly noticeable through the fur except for a slight swelling and redness.
Roy looked up at the vet who was examining the injured areas of both animals. He shook his head, “I have no idea what caused these wounds or how to treat them.”
Ashly asked Frank, “Were they bitten by something?”
“No, I don’t think so. It doesn’t look like a bite.” He replied.
Roy was concerned, “The swelling is spreading. We have to do something.”
Frank interrupted, “Of course, of course! I know what’s happened! I saw photos of this years ago. It’s extremely rare. A zoo keeper had the same kind of wound and swelling. It was written up in a journal, I forget which one. He was feeding Platypuses when he carelessly picked one up and was stabbed.”
Ashly did not undertand. “Stabbed?”
Roy explained, “Yes, stabbed. I should have guessed. Both Tiger and Wolf were hunting together and were stabbed by, what I would guess, is a male platypus.”
Frank explained further to Ashly, “Male platypuses have sharp spurs on their rear legs. When agitated, or in this case, attacked by hungry thylacines, they protect themselves by striking out with these poison spurs. The wounds can become painful and even deadly deterrents. We need to put both animals on IVs with a special detox medication. If we are in time, I think we can save them.”
With a grin on his face, Frank turned to Roy, “Roy, it turns out you were a poor thylacine father. You never taught your pups to stay away from duckbills.”
Roy grimaced and replied, “Never even crossed my mind, but now I know.”
Frank, wrapped the thylacines in ice blankets to keep their soaring temperature down, strapped the animals down to the surgical tables and hooked up the IVs. There was nothing else to do but wait and hope the treatment was given in time to save them.
While they waited, Roy was deep in thought, and then said, “If our thylacines were not raised here at the Center, they would have just curled up someplace and died alone. Instead, they came back to the place they were born and raised. I wonder how many other wild thylacines have attacked platypuses and been fatally stabbed.”
Ashly guessed, “There is no way of knowing.”
Frank had an idea, “Let me make some calls and see if I can find any other recent cases.”
While he searched, Roy and Ashly checked the vital signs of their patients.
Roy announced, “Finally, pulse rate, blood pressure and breathing are normal. And, the swelling is going down.”
“We saved them! We saved them!” Ashly shouted out with glee.
Frank interrupted. He had a colleague on the phone who had a suggestion He said there is very little published about treating Platypus stabs, but judging by the few successful treatments, a vaccination against vascular swelling might be effective.
Roy suggested, “I suppose we could vaccinate all thylacines before we release them into the wild.”
“That might work.” Frank said. “Another approach might be to introduce our captive thylacines to the dangers of platypuses before we release them or ship them to other parks. It would be a hassle, but it’s better than having dead thylacines.”
By now both patients were stirring.
“We better get them off the tables and into cages for observation,” suggested Frank.
An hour later, Frank was convinced the thylacines were totally recovered.
The cages were transported back to the side gate and the thylacines were released. They hesitated just long enough to lick Roy’s hand before he slapped them on their butts, and sent them on their way. They loped off into the tree line and disappeared.
Ashly commented, “A lesson learned. We never would have suspected this was happening in the wild except that Tiger and Wolf apparently thought it best they return to Roy and the security of the Center.”
Frank was pleased. “We were fortunate.”
Thereafter, all thylacines transported to other parks, that had wild populations of platypuses in Tasmania, New Zealand and Australia, were vaccinated before they were introduced into the wild.
The research staff found and studied the park platypuses. Eventually several were captured and placed on exhibit in glass front exhibits which allowed visitors to see them swim, burrow and raise young. It was a popular exhibit. As Roy discovered, platypuses are primitive mammals. They have a soft sensitive duck-like bill for searching out crustaceans in streams. Their webbed feet are like a duck’s but they have sharp claws. They have the fur of a mammal or marsupial. Another unusual feature is that they lay eggs with leather like shells. Female platypuses don’t have pouches or nipples. Milk glands secrete milk through their belly skin. The milk concentrates in abdominal grooves which the babies are able to lap and suck up. Some experts claim the babies sucked milk from clumps of belly fur the same way other species suck from nipples. There was still much to be learned and the Research Center was the perfect place for the research.
They next thing the Thylacine Research Center decided to do was change its name to The Marsupial Research Center. Increased funding enabled Roy and Ian to increase the Center’s staff. Twelve, scientists and animal specialists prepared to move into a new research building. Living quarters were under construction for the staff that needed them. Ian and Roy were appointed as Co-Directors of The Marsupial Research Center. Not bad for two guys still under thirty.
Chapter Fourteen – Up in Flames
The following year several mysterious events occurred that baffled the Center staff and threatened the very survival of the Center. One night in May the fire alarms sounded, waking Roy, Ian and their ladies. Both men smelled smoke as they stepped out onto their bungalows’ front porches. They looked to the south side of the Center and saw flames. It appeared that the old wing of new research building was on fire. They raced to the fire site. There was no doubt that the building was going to be a total loss. Ashly and Millie soon joined them and the night crew. They connected water hoses to the Center’s lake and started the pump. Their main objective was to keep the fire from spreading to the new wing. The park and the town fire-fighting crews eventually arrived with their water trucks and hoses, and the fire gradually was brought under control and finally extinguished. The new wing was saved, to everyone’s relief.
Roy, Ian and the officials from the park’s and town’s fire departments picked their way through the smoldering ruins and discovered a startling fact. Fire Chief Sims called Roy and Ian over to announce, “I’m afraid I have some bad news. Take a look at this.” He reached down into a pile of charred pipes. “This is what’s left of your ceiling fire extinguishers. And, here is evidence that they never became active.”
Ian and Roy were astonished.
“Can you tell why they didn’t work?”
Simes replied, “Can’t be sure why they did not work Roy, but I am sure they did not function.”
Ian muttered, “Damn!”
Roy asked, “Chief, was this an accident or intentional?”
Chief Sims replied, “Sorry Roy, I really can’t be sure. It could have been either.”
The Research Center was insured for fire damage, but had to hire a team of lawyers to make their case in court. It took months before the court determined the fire was an accident. To every one’s relief, the Center finally won full compensation from the insurance company and started to rebuild the destroyed wing.
Chapter Fifteen – Imported Killers
Just when everything appeared to be under control, Roy received a call from an excited park ranger. He had just sighted a dingo in the park. This was surprising and disturbing news. The presence of dingos might spell disaster for the park. Dingos were smart and resourceful pack predators. Unless eliminated from the park, they would out compete the thylacines and upset the balance of nature in the marsupial world.
At a hastily called staff meeting, Roy and Ian reviewed the potential dingo threat and how it might impact on the Research Center and the park system.
Roy explained, “Wild canines were introduced to Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania by the first humans to settle the islands one hundred thousand years ago. Some dogs abandoned the settlers and discovered a land of marsupials ill equipped to defend themselves from the new mammal predators. Certain marsupial populations plummeted in Australia. New Zealand was less affected and Tasmania, the least effected. These wild dogs evolved into the modern dingos. The dingo is a medium sized tan dog with a curled tail, a large head with strong jaws. Most people would not recognize them as dingos and think they were just mutts. They are extraordinarily intelligent, and hunt together in packs. Together they are able to bring down the largest toughest grey kangaroo bucks.”
“So how did a dingo, or possibly several dingos, find their way into the Tasmanian Park system?” asked Roy.
“No doubt about it,” replied Ian, “they were intentionally introduced by someone with a bone to pick with the park system, or us. Possibly, it might have been past owners of the Hunting Consortium. Introducing dingos, or any animal is, of course, against the law but still quite easy to accomplish. All it would take was a private plane with a load of captured dingos. Trucks could easily transport them to the parks where they would be released.”
Someone suggested, “Couldn’t we trap them?”
Roy replied, “Yes we could but I’m afraid we would end up trapping our own thylacines.”
Another suggestion from the staff was, “Why not send hunting parties out and hunt them?”Roy replied, “We may have to resort to that, but it would be our last resort. It just wouldn’t look good, for us shooting native dingos on the very territory they once hunted.”
The heated discussion went on for several hours. Everyone had a chance to say their piece. Roy and Ian thanked them all and then retired back to Roy’s bungalow with Ashly and Mille in tow. The four discussed the problem deep into the night. The next morning, they met again over breakfast.
Roy suggested, “I think we have to tranquilize them. That will take some close up shooting. Do you think we are up to it?”
“We sure are.” Said Ian. “You and I are the two best shots here, and the girls have been practicing every day. Ladies, you are invited to join us in the hunt.”
“OK”, Ashly said, “We are willing to go out hunting every day until we get them all. We can do it. I know we can.”
“Then it’s settled” Ian said… “we have to shoot them with tranquillizing darts, if we can get close enough.”
Roy added, “I love Dingos and admire their tenacity to survive, so we must not hurt them. We need to get within 100 feet to have any chance for a good hit, and within 200 feet for a lucky hit.”
Ashly asked, “Do we hunt at night or day?”
Ian answered, “How about we try both?”
The next afternoon about twenty volunteer hunters assembled with their tranquillizing guns, each in a all-terrain vehicle They packed food and water and sleeping bags. It was a thrilling sight to see such resolve. Off they went with a roar in all directions.
A week later, some of the hunting parties had returned. They tranquilized and caged four dingos that were transferred into habitat enclosures designed for them. Eventually the rest of the hunting parties returned. No other dingos were seen in the park so Roy figured they got them all. The captured dingos were eventually put on exhibit in their own large habitat areas with educational visuals explaining their relationship to Australia and Tasmania.
Whoever seeded the park with dingos, hoping to destroy the parks natural balance, had failed. They had in fact helped create a new educational exhibit that visitors loved. Dingos were an integral element in the settling of Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania, and needed to be included in the park systems.
Chapter Sixteen – Sabotage
The Marsupial Research Center grew and prospered. Funding from the Parliament stayed proportional to the Center’s needs. Each time a crisis occurred the boys and the Center’s staff managed to solve the problem. But, the boys began to have suspicions. Could it be they still had an enemy? Little did they know that an enemy would soon threaten the very existence of the whole Research Center.
The first problems were with hunters from the Hunting Consortium; then there was the fire in the old research wing. Everything was lost including some valuable equipment. The exact cause of the fire was not determined, but the ceiling fire extinguishers had unexplainably malfunctioned.
The next problem was even more puzzling. Dingos, long absent from Tasmainia, mysteriously appeared in the park and had to be dealt with. There was no explanation how dingos got into the park. Roy and the Research staff were at a loss how to explain their appearance.
Roy and Ian had a theory and called a meeting of all the staff and the newly appointed Board of Directors into the Center’s lecture hall.
Roy began, “As you all know we have had several setbacks here at the Center. Usually, when an accident happens, the cause of the accident can be determined and actions taken so it never happens again.”
Ian added, “But in the case of our recent fire, no cause can be found. It was not carelessness or equipment malfunction. So, what was it?” None of the staff had an answer.
Roy continued, “We have a hunch which will shock many of you. We believe that the Center has an unknown enemy and the problems we have encountered were intentional. We have at least one traitor on our staff.”
The staff crowding the lecture hall gasped at the idea. They could not imagine one of their fellow workers would intentionally do such a thing as killing animals and burning buildings.
Roy continued, “Please stay alert and double check everything. We insist that each of you ask a co-worker to review every major decision you make. I know this will be a hassle, but it has to be done. If you see a violation of this rule you must report it. Any questions?
There were no questions, only silence. The Center staff filed out of the hall leaving Roy, Ian, Ashly, Millie and the newly appointed Board of Directors, (BOD) sitting on the little stage.Roy told the BOD what he and Ian were planning to do. “We need to do a thorough search through all the Center’s personnel records, and check all employee backgrounds again. Maybe we will get lucky and find the person or persons who are sabotaging our work.
Ian added, “In the past we had several serious problems with a now defunct group called The Nature Consortium, better known as the Hunting Consortium. They were convicted of illegally interfering with the Park Service and The Center’s work. Several of their guides were convicted of attempted murder and the Consortium was fined and forced out of business. We thought they were long gone, but thylacines are still extremely rare and there still are unscrupulous hunters who want to bag them for trophies. In addition, we know for a fact that the Princes of two Middle Eastern nations are offering over a million dollars each for live healthy thylacines for their personal animal collections.”
Roy paused to let his theory sink in. “We believe the Hunting Consortium is still active. They are doing their best to destroy what we have created and discredit the Park Systems. They would like easy access to all Tasmanian parks so they can hunt thylacines. Again, as you know, there is a world-wide demand for these rare animals.”
Ian added, “Please stay alert and report all progress. Thank you for your cooperation.”
For the next week Ashly and Millie reviewed all employee’s records hoping to find a hint of a corrupted employee, but had no luck.
Chapter Seventeen – Poison In the Darkness
Everything went well for the next few months until another unexpected disaster struck.
The morning animal staff called Roy. A staff member announced, “More bad news boss. All the thylacines are down. I don’t know why.”
Roy asked “Down? What do you mean down?”
The staff member relied, “They’re all lethargic, won’t eat and they’re all drinking a lot of water.” They should be anxious for breakfast but they are not eating. They are not even interested in live food.”
Roy replied, “I’ll be right there.”
Roy and Ashly dashed over to the habitat area. True enough, something major was wrong. Roy had never seen the thylacines act like this. He scooped up some fresh stool samples from several of the animals and ran to the animal hospital. Veterinary Frank was on duty and he hurriedly checked the samples.
Frank stepped back from the microscope and said, “Nothing here to see. These samples are normal. It’s got to be something they ate last night out in their habitats.”
Roy shook his head, “But that’s crazy. How could all the animals eat the same thing that got them sick…unless it was something we fed them. We are their only source of food and the keeper swears he has feed them only our standard approved food pellets.”
Frank asked, “Maybe one of yesterday’s visitors threw something over the fence into the habitat areas.”
Roy answered, “I suppose that’s possible but it’s so unlikely. If it was a visitor, he or she would have had to throw the same amount of poisoned food over the fence into every habitat without being seen. There are “no feeding” signs on every habitat fence. Yesterday we had many visitors and if someone threw food it would have been seen and reported.”
Frank suggested, “Let’s go back to the habitats and see what’s happening.”
The time they got back to the habitats, the thylacines were no worse. Roy and Frank observed them all day and tempted them with their favorite live food. Roy closed down the area so no visitors could enter. Finally, in the late afternoon the thylacines started showing interest in the live food.
Frank exclaimed, “I believe we’ve seen the worst. They look better.”
Roy agreed, “You’re right Frank. I wonder what got them so sick.”
Roy had one of his hunches and personally checked the outer perimeter fence. In a place overgrown with bushes he finally found a small opening, plenty large enough for a person to crawl through. There was evidence that only a single person had used that opening. But the fact that the opening was purposely hidden from view indicated that it might be used again.
Roy had a rushed meeting with the center’s security guards because shadows were already lengthening in the valley. By the time Roy and Ian and four security guards started out to the breached fence area it was already dark. Lights on the inner security fence were seldom left on because the thylacines preferred the darkness as they roamed their habitats. The lack of light made it easy for intruders to approach the thylacine habitats without being detected. That is exactly what Roy wanted them to do. Roy and Ian carried heat sensing equipment so they could see thermal images in the dark. They showed the heat given off by a live body.
Roy had a plan. “Two of you go to where the fence was breached and remain hidden. If intruders attempt to come through the fence stay hidden and let them come. Ian, you take one guard to the right of the thylacine habitat and I’ll take one to the left. Stay hidden and don’t make a move until you hear me blow my whistle. The lights will be switched on at that moment.”
Everyone moved rapidly into position and waited. About 2:00 AM Roy saw some movement at the breached fence. Three figures squeezed through the opening and stealthily moved down the slope toward the habitats. They were carrying bags of something and had rifles slung on their backs. Roy and his guard stayed motionless as the three approached their hiding place. It was so dark that one intruder passed Roy within an arm’s length without knowing it. The intruders continued on and finally stopped about fifty yards from the habitat fence. They opened their bags and took something out. It was hard for Roy to see, but it appeared they were preparing to use sling shots to shoot food pellets over the Habitat fences into the thylacine enclosures.
Roy thought to himself, “Damn! That’s how the thylacines got sick. They ate poisoned pellets that were shot into their habitats from a distance. Apparently, the intruders did not have enough poison pellets last night, or the poison was not strong enough to kill, so they returned tonight, just as I guessed.” Roy had to control his temper. He thought to himself, “They deserve to be shot.”
Instead of reaching for his rifle, he reached for his whistle. Its shrill sound shattered the silence and immediately the interior fence flood lights turned the night into day. The instant light was blinding and froze the intruders in their tracks. Roy, Ian and the security guards shouted out to the intruders “Raise your hands and don’t move!”
None of the intruders obeyed the commands. They dropped their sling shots and readied their rifles. One made a run up the slope for the hole in the fence and the other two attempted to run back into the research complex. Roy yelled again for them to stop. When they did not Roy and the guards fired warning shots into the air.
The intruders stopped momentarily and fired back at their pursuers. Roy had instructed Ian and the guards what to do in this situation. A volley of shots quickly brought all three intruders down, each one holding a bleeding leg or foot.
An ambulance waiting at the Administration building was soon on the scene along with a police van. The intruders were headed for the hospital and then faced police interrogation.
The saga of the poisoned thylacines was not over for Roy. As he and Ian walked back through the crime scene he noticed the bags of food pellets the intruders had dropped. He picked them up and examined the poisoned food pellets.
“Take a look at these pellets.” Roy said, as he showed several samples he had picked up. “Aren’t they exactly the same as the thylacine pellets we use?”Ian agreed, “They’re exactly the same.”
“How do you suppose they got three bags of our special food pellets?” asked Roy.
Ian shook his head, “Bets me, unless…”
Roy interrupted, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
Ian nodded his head and exclaimed, “It’s got to be one of our animal handlers, or someone with access to food storage areas.”
Roy beckoned Ian to follow him, “Follow me, I think we can easily find out.”
Roy and Ian checked the files to see if an unusually large amount of food pellets were ordered from central food supply. Sure enough, this week’s orders were up from last week’s. The increased orders were signed for by a new animal handler, a Mr. Pesci. Roy Ian and two guards surprised Mr. Pesci as he was cleaning out his desk, getting ready to sneak out of the park.
Pesci admitted to his part in the plot to poison the thylacines. Each day he smuggled bags of food pellets out of central stores. He gave names and the location where he delivered the pellets.
Roy and Ian decided to observe as the police raided the address they were given. Three persons were arrested. And, a file cabinet of incriminating evidence was confiscated.
The next week Roy got a call from the court prosecutor that there was a direct connection to the defunct Hunting Consortium. In fact, according to the discovered files, the same directors of the Consortium were behind all the attempts to sabotage and discredit the Marsupial Research Center. They were still free on bail, pending the termination of the court proceedings.
Court proceedings eventually convicted eleven individuals and their financial backers of a conspiracy to destroy the Center and open up the vast Tasmanian parks systems to hunting. There actually was a bill currently being argued in parliament that asked that all park systems be open to hunting two days per week. There was evidence that the parliamentarian who promoted this bill had been bribed by the past owners of the Hunting Consortium. It was revealed that there were still many potential wealthy buyers. As hunting and trapping lessened the number of thylacines, the price would inevitably increase. Had the plan worked, the Center would have been doomed. Thanks to the alert Center staff and Roy’s foresight and good hunches, the future looked good for endangered marsupials.
Chapter Eighteen – Kidnapping
The four friends plus Ian’s mother and father drove into the town nearest the Center. It had prospered since the marsupial Research Center became famous and tourists streamed in from all over the world. They picked a quiet restaurant to celebrate the successful prosecution of those who threatened the Center. The restaurant, as did many other restaurants in the area, featured a special dish, grilled choice kangaroo steak with eucalyptus sweet sauce. It was surprising how many tourists ordered it. After placing their orders Millie excused herself and went off to the ladies’ room. Ten minutes later she had not returned so Ashly went to look for her. Ashly returned with a puzzled and frightened look on her face. Millie was not in the ladies’ room or any place in the restaurant. Roy and Ian raced outside while the rest of the party questioned the waiters and receptionist.
The receptionist said the husband of a sick lady just helped her out to their car not more than ten minutes ago. The receptionist said her husband and another couple almost had to carry her out because she could not walk.
Ian’s dad was on the phone immediately to alert the local police. Unfortunately, no one knew the description of the car. Roy was deep in thought. He remembered when he drove into the restaurant’s parking lot a party of three lingered at the front door as if waiting for someone. At the time, he thought nothing of it. He also recalled that a tan SUV was parked illegally at the front door and had made it difficult for Roy to drive by. Again, he thought nothing of it at the time.
When the police pulled into the parking lot, they immediately recognized Roy and Ian. Roy gave them the description of the SUV and that two men and one women were waiting out in front of the restaurant. The description of the vehicle went out to police in town and to neighboring towns. There was nothing else Roy could do except worry.
Roy listened to the police radio reports. Roadblocks were erected on all roads out of town and on roads into the two nearest towns.
Roy asked, “So where else could the kidnappers go? They can’t go East, West or South because roads are blocked. To the north we have the park and …”
Roy stopped and looked over at Ian. They both were thinking the same thing.
Ian stated, “The park would be an ideal hiding place. There are many camping sites and motels in the park and more motels around the park at its many entrances.”
Roy agreed, “In fact, they could drive north through the park and come out on the other side east of Townsly property.”
Mr. Townsly interrupted, “I’ll tell the police to alert local police departments north and east of the park.”
Roy said, “Well, now that we have everything covered outside the park by the Police, what about within the park? It’s a huge park, as you all know. It has more roads, trails and small camp sites than ever before. It would take an army of park rangers to check everywhere.”
“It’s discouraging.” Ian added, “but we can’t just sit by the phone and wait for the kidnappers to call.” But, that’s what they did, hoping for a phone call from the kidnappers. Finally, it came. It was brief, demanding one thing.
“If you want her back unharmed, you must wire two million dollars to account Vc-#3862996640, in the Capara, Venezuela bank. You have one week to make arrangements.”
Roy asked “How are we going to raise that kind of money?”
Mr. Townsly interrupted, “Don’t worry about it, Townsly Enterprises will have the total amount at your disposal by tomorrow.”
Ashly cried out in joy and hugged Mr. Townsly while Ian hugged his mom.
Ian was fuming. “Damn! If they hurt Millie we should string ’em up ourselves.”
Roy, tried to calm Ian. “I feel the same way, but it’s not going to come to that. There has to be some way we can rescue her. She can’t be far from here.”
Everyone went back to the hotel, where the Townslys were staying, and booked rooms there. No one got any sleep.
The morning papers and the radio and TV news reports were filled with news about the kidnapping. Not surprisingly, the community was outraged.
About noon, Police Chief Ryan called and said there was a development. He wanted to come right over. The whole family was present when there was a knock on the door. It was the Chief and two children, a boy bout 10 years old and a girl about 12. Both were obviously aboriginal islanders, and both spoke excellent English.
“These kids have a story to tell which may be of great help.” The chief excitedly explained. “This is Maria and this is her brother Joseph. Maria tell them about your Great Grandfather.”
Joseph interrupted before Maria could utter a word. “Great Grand Father showed me the fishing shack he and his son built on Flat Mountain Lake many years ago…”
Sheriff Ryan interrupted, “Hold on Joseph, let your sister tell the story.”
Maria continued the story, “That’s true, Before there was a park, for many, many years, the ‘old ones’ had a fishing shack on the lake.
Originally they just pitched a tent, but later built a one room shack. Each year they improved it through many generations”
Joseph added, “No one has been up there for at least forty years until Great Grand Father showed it to me this summer. It’s really a neat hide away. I was telling my boss at the food stand, where I work, about it and he seemed real interested. He said he might like to use it someday. He asked if I could show it to him. So, we drove up there that afternoon, took over an hour to get there and an hour back, so. I was late for dinner. That was two weeks ago.”
Maria scolded Joseph, “The shack was a family secret and you should not have told your boss.”
Joseph answered, “I know I shouldn’t have showed him where it was. I wish I hadn’t”.
Maria continued, “When Great Grand Dad heard about the kidnapping, he said his shack would be a great place to hid out for a while. He was just kidding, of course.”
Joseph added, “That’s when I said maybe my boss was one of the kidnappers. Everyone laughed at me for saying that.”
Maria continued, “But later that evening, Great Grand Father spoke up after thinking about what Joseph had said in humor. Great Grand Father said, “That is where they took the kidnapped lady.”
Joseph butted in again, “We laughed at Great Grandfather ‘cause we thought he was trying to make a joke. But, He repeated it again. He was not joking. He said he had a vision, like the “first people” had so many years ago.”
Maria said, “Mom and Dad said I should call the police and tell them what Great Grand Dad said.”
The room was silent for a while, until Ashly spoke up. “We should respect the ways of the ‘old folk’ and what Great Grandfather said.”
Joseph volunteered, “I can show you how to get to the fishing shack. No one knows where it is except me and Great Grandfather, not even Maria or Dad or Mom. They’ve never been there. And the lake isn’t even on the park map.” Again, the room was silent.
Chief Ryan spoke up. “It will do no harm for us to check it out.”
Roy immediately said, “I’m with you Chief.” Let’s do it right now, It’s just an hour away.”
“But what if Great Grand Father was right and the kidnappers are there?” Asked the Chief. “We really need to take some backup with us.
Ian immediately volunteered, “I’ll go.”
“That’s fine, but I mean real backup, the Chief said. We’ll take some of my officers and some armed park rangers.”
Mr. Townsly volunteered, “I’ll go too.”
“No, Mr. Townsly, you’ll need to stay here to arrange the money transfer in case it’s needed, and to take possible calls from the kidnappers.”
Mr. Townsly agreed. He did not want the kidnappers to suspect they were going after them.
Roy, Chief Ryan, Great grandfather and Joseph led the police cars to Flat Head Lake turn off. No one had ever been there for many years. The old road had been closed since 1954 due to a rock slide.
The raiding party had to hike in the last quarter mile and passed a tan SUV well hidden in the woods as they hiked by. They arrived at the shack in early morning just as the sky was brightening. One policeman hid in the nearby-out house and one policeman behind it. Ian and Roy snuck up to the house on the windowless side. They rest positioned themselves in the woods near the house, but stayed well hidden.
Suddenly, the creaking shack door swung open and a woman appeared in a night dress. She stretched and looked around. Then, she went back inside the cabin and returned, pulling Millie out onto the porch. Millie was reluctant to do anything they wanted her to do. The woman slapped her and then dragged her toward the out-house. When Millie refused to open its door, the woman did. To her surprise, two arms reached out and grabbed her; her mouth was quickly taped shut and she was warned not to make any noise. One policemen escorted her away into the woods, and one helped Millie hurry to cover in the woods.
A few minutes later a man’s voice called from within the shack. Apparently, he wondered where the women was. He stepped out onto the porch and called again. Ian could see he had a pistol tucked into his belt. He called the woman again and then stepped off the porch and walked over to the outhouse. He knocked on the door and called the woman’s name again. When he received no reply, he opened the door. He was met with the barrel of a 44 magnum revolver inches from his nose. He, also, was escorted into the nearby woods. Immediately Roy, Ian and the police chief advanced to the house and stepped onto the creaky porch, holding their rifles ready. They were met with a volley of shots from within through the thin shack walls. The Chief fell back off the porch, grazed in his arm. Roy and Ian raised their semi-automatic hunting rifles and emptied both magazines through the door and walls of the shack while a medic policeman dragged the Chief off the porch and tried to stop the bleeding. Another policeman called for an emergency helicopter. No sounds came from the shack. Policemen cautiously open the door and, with guns ready, went inside. “All clear!” they shouted. “We got him. This guy in here is dead.”
Everyone was relieved and congratulated each other. Great Grandfather smiled broadly showing his yellow teeth, which he seldom did. He would have another good story to tell his other great grand-children.
Millie was in great shape and did not seem any the worse for wear. She was pumped with excitement and was on Roy’s cell phone telling her mom and Dad she was alright.
When they finally returned home, Ian corralled her and ushered her back to their bungalow. Likewise, Roy and Ashly retired to theirs. They were exhausted. The Chief’s wound was not serious enough to prevent him from talking to reporters at the hospital.
The next day everyone slept in and then met for a late breakfast about noon. It was announced that there would soon be a double wedding. It would take place in the park next to a small scenic lake. Only family and close friends were invited. That included Great Grandfather and family, and the police, and park rangers who rescued Millie.
Chapter Nineteen – The Wedding Vision
After the wedding, everyone was invited to a big bash at the ballroom of the largest hotels in town. It sounded like it would be fun, and it would have been except for an unforeseen event.
The morning of the wedding was beautiful. A small tent was set up with cold champagne for the two dozen special guests. A guitarist strummed a few tunes before the ceremony. The brides and grooms stood on a boat dock with a secular official who gave the vows to both couples. It was a beautiful ceremony.
As the ceremony concluded, what sounded like a distant shot was heard, and Ashly screamed and fell into Roy’s arms. As he laid her down on the grass he could see her white wedding dress had turned red. One of The Research Center’s vet rushed to her, assessed her wound and worked to stop the bleeding. A woman screamed into her telephone to send emergency services while Chief Ryan and his deputies visually searched the surrounding woods for the shooter.
No one noticed Great Grandfather standing alone at the edge of the lake. He was standing looking out over the placid lake fondly remembering his past six wives, when the shot rang out. He did not turn to see Ashly fall, but heard the screams. Maria was the first to see his arm go up and his finger point. She tugged at her mother’s arm and said, “Great Grandfather has seen something, maybe a vision Look at him. He’s pointing across the lake.”
As Roy leaned over Ashly, Maria’s mother pulled on his arm. She pointed to Great Grandfather, still standing quietly pointing out across the lake. “Great Grandfather had a vision. You need to share it with him.”
Roy followed Great Grandfather’s pointed finger. After a moment of searching the opposite shore line he spotted the place where Great Grandfather was pointing. Roy called out to Chief Ryan. “Quick, come with me!”
Chief Ryan took Roy’s advice immediately. They ran to the Sheriff’s police car. “Don’t turn on your lights or sirens,” Roy told Chief Ryan as they pulled out on the main road. The park rangers followed in their car.
It did not take the little posse more than five minutes to reach the spot where they thought the shot came from. During that five minutes, Great Grandfather whispered something to Joseph, who immediately ran to his father’s pickup. He opened the door and grabbed the old hunting rifle hanging across the back window. He ran to Great grandfather and gave him the gun and a handful of dusty shells. Great Grandfather dropped all the shells to the grass, except one. He slipped the shell into the rifle’s chamber and then motioned to Joseph to stand back. The old man positioned the rifle barrel on a tree limb near the shoreline and then stopped for a moment. He pulled old wire framed spectacles from a breast pocket and put them on. Then, without hesitation, he took careful aim, looked up once to check for wind on the lake, and fired.
Police Chief Ryan and Roy silently rolled into the entrance ramp of a small picnic area next to the lake. The lot was empty except for one empty dark sedan near the exit ramp. There were several picnic tables, but one had been moved to the water’s edge. Roy was the first to reach the table. On the table was a shooter’s tripod with a scoped rifle mounted on it.
“Are we too late?” asked Chief Ryan. “Is the shooter gone?”
“Apparently not.” Answered Roy, “Take a look.” As the Chief reached the table he saw a man lying on his back with blood trickling from a hole in his forehead.
Five minutes later, while they were still examining the body, an old red pick-up truck rolled into the parking lot. In it was Joseph’s dad, Great Grandfather and Joseph.
Great, Grandfather’s shot from the wedding party location across the lake to the shooter was about two hundred yards. Later, Joseph told Roy that Great Grandfather never missed at that close distance. But now, something was on Great, Grandfather’s mind as he walked around the crime scene. He whispered to Joseph and pointed down the path along the shore to Magic Falls. Joseph immediately took Roy’s hand and pulled him in that direction. Joseph was so insistent that Roy and Chief Ryan and several officers followed. The path led to what had come to be a favorite tourist attraction. Magic Falls was the main source of water for the lake. It was a forty-foot cascade of water that thundered into a churning basin, and then flowed out to the lake. The mist was thick and the thunder of the water fall was deafening. Joseph became more insistent as they neared the falls.
“Another bad man is hiding in the falls.” Joseph excitingly blurted out. “Great, Grandfather says there were two shooters.” Joseph pulled out the little knife he always carried in a leather sheath at his waist and away he ran, down the trail to the falls. Roy followed as fast as he could on the winding trail. Joseph reached the falls and immediately turned and waved for Roy to follow him. He disappeared behind the sheet of falling water. Roy followed Joseph behind the falls
A slippery and stony path behind the falls led them upward about forty feet toward the top of the falls. Joseph stopped and pulled Roy up next to him. He pointed through the mist. There, crouched down on a rock where the path abruptly ended, was a dark and wet figure. Joseph waved his knife and yelled at the figure before Roy could stop him. The figure turned to face them, hesitated just a moment and then hurled himself into the falling sheet of water in and disappeared. Joseph followed right after him. “Jump hard and out!” he yelled back to Roy as he disappeared into the falling water.
Roy had no idea why he followed the little aboriginal boy but he did. He had come to trust the kid. He leaped out into the plunging water and immediately found himself falling into a powerful up-draft. It threw him off balance as he fell the forty feet into the basin below. Roy landed on his back with a huge splash, but totally unhurt. The up-draft had been strong enough to slow his fall.
A yell from Joseph brought him to his senses. Joseph was chasing the dark figure back to the parking lot. Roy followed. The figure scrambled into the dark sedan and gunned the engine. As he did, Chief Ryan’s police car rolled in front of him blocking his escape. Joseph danced around the car, knife in hand while Chief Ryan pulled the man out of the car and put handcuffs on him. The suspect was not the shooter but turned out to be an ex-guide for the defunct Hunting Consortium.
Still soaking, Roy hurried back to the wedding party and his wounded bride. Ashly’s bleeding was stopped by the attending vet and an ambulance rushed her and Roy off to the hospital.
The next day she joked about where she had been shot. It was a superficial wound in and through the flesh of her left buttock. Later, at the hospital her doctor told Roy there would be no lasting damage…except for a scar. When Ashly heard that, she made Roy promise they would consult a plastic surgeon in Hobart as soon as possible. Everyone had a good laugh.
As for the dead shooter, he was eventually identified as the ex-President of the Hunting Consortium who was out on bail. He was deeply in debt from his failed business. Initially, he had unsuccessfully tried to sabotage the Research Center so he could trap or shoot thylacines for Middle East Buyers. Even one thylacine would have saved his business and paid off his mounting debts. He was bitter and the shooting was simply an act of revenge. Now, he no longer had to worry about those debts.
Great, Grandfather became a local hero. It was difficult to tell if he enjoyed his fame and all the interviews, but Joseph and Maria did. They acted as translators and PR agents. They became the most popular kids in town and frequent visitors to the Marsupial Research Center. To their delight, Roy found after school jobs for both of them at the Center.
The Marsupial Research Center directed by Roy and Ian continued to prosper and insure that Marsupials would not soon fall victim to civilization.
Ian, Millie, Roy and Ashly lived happy and productive lives at the Center… until an unforeseen event occurred that threatened the Center and their lives.
Chapter Twenty – Forest Fire (to be continued)