A richard l wren mystery.., p.5
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       A Richard L. Wren Mystery-Adventure Sampler, p.5

           Richard Wren
 
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CHAPTER 3

  “No I’m not. I’m planning on a switch on the old adage, ‘you set a thief to catch a thief.’ This guy knows the Wilderness area like the back of his hand. The area is so huge he could be anywhere. A large manhunt would be useless. Helicopters would never see him. He’d elude you for years. The only way to catch him is to beat him at his own game. I’m going to become him, only better. The best woodsmen in the world were the American Indians. That’s what I’m going to do. Live off the land, blend in with the forest, eat, sleep, travel and think like an Indian. The worst thing I could do is take a lot of gadgets with me and rely on them to catch this guy. They’d be a dead giveaway.”

  The chief glanced at Josh’s uniform. “You’ll at least some more rugged clothing and shoes,” he snorted.

  “Buckskins.” Josh tersely replied. “And Moccasins.”

  “That’s it?” the chief questioned.

  Josh paused for a moment. “One thing.”

  “The superintendent said to give you anything you want.”

  “I need permission to kill wild animals. I may need to kill a deer or a bear to survive. I don’t want to but it may become a matter of life or death for me.”

  In his room Josh mentally reviewed how he’d been getting ready for this minute for a long time. Many months before when he first started working at Yosemite, he spent all his off time with the few Yosemite Indians that still remembered and could practice the ancient crafts of their tribes. During the months of tutoring and competition with the Indians he had gradually, because of the abilities he had been born with, become the better of his teachers. He could out-hunt, out-track and out Indian his Indian teachers.

  One of the things he had done was to make a complete buckskin outfit from authentic deer skins that had been tanned in the traditional Indian way using deer brains as a tanning medium. Being in a national park, they were unable to kill their own deer, but quality deerskins were available commercially and the Indians had helped Josh make his own outfit. It was totally authentic, down to being sewn with real back strap sinew. The pants were really leggings and would protect his legs from heavy underbrush. The shirt and jacket were light, supple and warm, just what he would need for days or weeks in the wilderness area. The jacket was hooded and would be of immeasurable value if the weather turned bad. The moccasins were triple soled of heavy deerskin and were almost boots as the leather tops extended up to Josh’s knees and then tied tightly. Josh was a perfectionist when it came to his buckskins. They were never washed with soap, never cleaned with a cleaning solution. They had been stream washed and air dried just as the Indians had always done. They did not smell civilized.

  On Josh they looked like the clothing the trappers and explorers wore when they opened up the West.

  The next morning as he dressed for the wilderness area, he secreted a number of ninja type weapons in the sewn in pockets. Except for a heat reflecting blanket and a tiny flint, they were the only concessions he was making to modern backwoods survival. The weapons consisted of four black colored deadly multi pointed throwing devices called shurikens, a collapsible ninja type cross bow with eight short arrows and a pair of gloves with claws built into them to be used as a tree climbing tool. The last and perhaps the most important item was a hunting knife he carried in a sheath attached to his utility belt. ‘Sharp and heavy, it could double as an axe.

  His plan was to start from the tragic campsite and live off the land as the Indians had for centuries as he tracked and found his quarry.

  Joe was waiting for him in a Jeep and greeted him with raised eyebrows as he saw how he was dressed. “I guess you really meant what you said last night.”

  Josh stared at him for a moment, “I usually do,” he replied. “Let’s go.”

  A little over an hour later they arrived. Josh was anxious to examine the campsite, on his hands and knees if necessary. “Thanks Joe. You can leave now I need to get to work.”

  “Are you sure? I can stick around a while if you want.”

  “I’m sure. Get on your horse and skedaddle, I work better on my own.”

  The first thing Josh did was to remove his knife from his belt and thread a piece of rawhide through a tiny hole in the handle. He then secured the rawhide to his belt. His knife was indispensable and he could not lose it.

  He then located the actual spot where he believed the murders took place. He found signs of various animals at the spot attracted by the spilled blood. Josh wondered if the bodies had been savaged by marauding animals before the rangers had gotten to the spot. He located a tree over a quarter of a mile away that stood almost directly north by north-east, the direction that Josh was sure his quarry had taken. Using the tree as a marker, he began casting about for signs several yards either side of the imaginary north by north east line.

  Josh knew the killer had filled a backpack with canned goods and was carrying a pretty good load. He should leave discernable tracks. He had also been acting irrationally. Josh expected to find food wrappers.

  Finally, almost a mile away from the camp site, he found a piece of plastic near a small clearing, a portion of a label for a package of dehydrated meat. It had to be from the campground, something that the murderer had stopped to eat after he was away from the immediate vicinity of the crime. Now certain of the killer’s direction he could start trying to make up for lost time.

  Josh broke into a lope. Long, distance eating strides at a calculated speed. Fast enough to cover ground but slow enough for him to continue looking for signs. Something Indians can do all day long. Footprints, bent leaves, broken branches, misplaced rocks, scuffed dirt, discarded wrappers, rest spots, human waste spots, all were signs of his quarry’s travel.

  The signs were not easy to find. Days had passed since the murder. The man was an accomplished woodsman but was carrying an enormous and cumbersome load of packaged food. He couldn’t help but brush up against the occasional tree branch leaving it bent in an odd direction or breaking leaves off. Being so heavily loaded his step was heavy and he hadn’t able to trod lightly through the underbrush. He was leaving bent over and crushed underbrush, faint but findable. He was not following an established trail.

  Josh was mentally calculating as he ran. He estimated that his quarry could not maintain a speed much over about four miles per hour with the load he was carrying. He wondered, “Could he maintain that speed for hour after hour?”

  He had originally guessed that the man’s camp had to be within a two or three-day hike from where he had been breaking into homes and now where the murder had taken place. Josh estimated he was traveling at about six miles per hour and knew he could keep that pace up all day. The man’s trail was several days old, no danger of catching up with him unless he reached his hiding place. Josh continued loping at a fast clip thinking about the counsel he had received from the Indians. Nothing can move faster or quieter or faster through heavy woods than a mountain lion. Nothing is deadlier than a stalking mountain lion. Indians tried to think and act like a stalking mountain lion. Totally concentrating on his target yet totally aware of his surroundings at the same time, all senses alert. Joshua did the same.

  Suddenly he was immensely glad he was on full alert, immensely glad his senses had not been dulled by several hours of intense concentration. Looking ahead several yards, eyes peeled for anything out of place, he spotted an anomaly. Head high and to the right of the trail, some leaves looked wilted and not quite normal. He stopped and froze in place. A small bush had fallen over and partially obstructed the trail immediately ahead of him.

  He carefully stepped away from the faint trail he had been following and made a large circle around the suspicious site. From the far side he could see he had been wise to do so. A large log had been precariously balanced several feet off the ground. It had two vines attached to it. One led to a branch on the tree above it and the other led to the small bush on the trail. Josh immediately knew
what it was and was reminded that his quarry might have been in Vietnam. There they were called mace traps based upon the ancient clubs called maces. The Cong used large balls of cement attached to ropes and arranged them so when a wire was tripped the mace would swing down at head level and kill or maim the enemy. Here the objective had been the same, kill or maim anyone following the killer with the heavy log. Josh was wise to the technique as Indians had been using the same trap against large animals such a bears and sometimes other Indians for generations.

  Josh carefully dismantled the trap, impressed by the ingenuity his quarry had shown. If he hadn’t been alerted by the leaves having withered after several days of exposure, it might have succeeded. He decided that discovering the trap called for re-thinking his plan.

  “Does he know someone’s on his trail or is he being ordinarily careful? Or is he paranoid about any trail? Maybe there’re lots of traps like this one he’s set over a period of time. They told me one Ranger had fallen into a trap and severely wounded. Maybe he’s reverted to being in Vietnam and thinks he’s eluding the enemy.” Josh re-examined the leaves closely. “No more than a few days ago at most,” he concluded. “So on the face of it he set this one on the way back from the murder scene and it’s probably just a preventive measure. There’s no way he knows I’m on his trail. But I better be even more attentive.”

  One way to avoid traps such as the last one was to stay off the faint trail he was following. Josh now adopted that technique. He stepped back on the trail, sighted forward as far as he could see in the dense woods, spotted a tree in the line of sight. He then stepped a few feet off and jogged parallel to the trail until he came to the tree. At that point he carefully found the trail again and repeated the process. It slowed him down some but he could lope quickly from tree to tree confident he was avoiding any traps. He was still sure he was moving at least half again as fast as his quarry had.

  He continued to try to outthink his quarry. “If I’m right and his hide-a-way is not more than two or three-day travel from where he murdered the couple then it can’t be more than ninety miles away. Say five miles an hour average with about six hours of daylight here in the deep woods. That’s thirty miles a day, ninety miles in three days, max.”

  The next time he stopped to re-check the trail he noticed it veering gradually east, to his right. He veered east also and soon came to a small stream running south. The stream was shallow and easy to wade. Josh presumed that his quarry had waded upstream in an effort to mislead anyone who might be following him.

  Josh dropped to his hands and knees and carefully and slowly scanned both sides of the stream along with the stream bottom itself. He reminded himself that it had been almost a week since the man had passed through here, if there were still any signs they would be faint. He crawled for yard after yard, even dropping down to his stomach occasionally to look at a depression from a side view. Suddenly he saw what he was looking for.

  The downstream sides of the rocks on the bottom of the stream were covered with moss. On a rock near the opposite side of the stream a large piece of moss had been dislodged and was swinging in the current. Something or someone had dislodged it with a foot and Josh was sure it had been his target. If it had been an animal, there would have been animal tracks and there were none. All he needed to do now was to follow the stream until he came to the spot where the man left the stream. Once again it would be slow and careful, but he was now surer than ever of the direction his quarry was taking.

 
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