A richard l wren mystery.., p.6
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       A Richard L. Wren Mystery-Adventure Sampler, p.6

           Richard Wren
 
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CHAPTER 4

  Slowly but surely he was being led in an approximately northeast direction. Josh estimated that it was directly toward the most unpopulated and unusable parts of the Wilderness Area and toward the Montana and Wyoming border. It was an area Josh had suspected the fugitive might consider his home. It was remote and seldom visited. When he found where the man left the stream it would be time to change his tactics now that he was sure he was on the right track.

  He was able to follow the tracks in the stream rather easily. He also found broken and bent branches at what would be shoulder height of his quarry. The man had disturbed the bushes on either side of the stream by using them to keep his balance as he walked on the slippery stones. Judging by the height of the bent branches and the height at which they had been grabbed, he calculated that the man’s height was no more the five foot eight inches.

  Josh was beginning to move a little faster as he became increasingly sure that he not only was on the trail, but that his quarry was only taking normal precautions. Either the man was confident that he would not be tracked, or he had no real experience in hiding his tracks. Either way Josh was taking no chances, constantly looking for signs of either animal or human traps. He continued to scan the stream bed and its surrounding foliage. He also started scanning about one hundred yards ahead, as much as he could. He was looking for any discrepancy such as discoloration or wilting of leaves. He had no idea of the backwoods sophistication of the man. Josh intended to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was dangerous to trail. After several days since his passage along this route, any changes he had made to disguise a trap would start to show. Leaves on broken branches would have started to yellow. Pine needles would have started to turn brown. Trip wires would have become exposed. Josh was extremely alert to anything that seemed out of place.

  In a matter of moments his alertness was rewarded. A short distance ahead there was a jumble of dried leaves and broken bushes on the trail. Something had happened there. Josh again skirted the trail in order to come at the site from the side. Once there he recognized what he was seeing. Another man killer, but this one had already been sprung. It was a simple but very effective trap often used by Indians.

  It depended on finding a green and bendable branch that was located on a tree next to the trail and that was at a height of about five feet. The branch would be bent back as far as possible and carefully propped in place so that a trip wire on the path would release it. It would then whip around and easily kill or at least maim anything it hit on the trail. Like the previous one he had disarmed, this one could be used on humans or animals. As Josh looked at this one closely it became obvious that a small animal, perhaps even something as small as a skunk, had hit the trip wire at least a day or so earlier.

  He examined the trap closely and realized that his quarry wasn’t as good as he evidently thought he was. There was a glaring mistake in the trap he had set. That was why the trap had been sprung by a small animal. The trip wire had been set too close to the ground.

  The Indians he had lived with in Yosemite had been experts in trailing and also in setting traps for anyone crazy enough to trail them. No one could set a more dangerous backwoods mantrap than one Indian being trailed by another Indian. In one instance in Yosemite Josh had used a cunning Indian trick of invisibly sabotaging a well-used trail so that it collapsed under weight and trapped three Yosemite bear killers.

  The stream gradually started bending toward the northwest, the opposite direction that Josh assumed the man was really heading. He expected him to abandon the stream pretty soon and continue heading northeast.

  Coming up ahead of him he noticed a fairly large tree growing on his side of the stream but leaning heavily across the stream with most of its branches and foliage on the other side. For Josh it seemed the perfect place to exit the stream without leaving any tracks. As he approached it he looked for any unusual usage signs. There were signs galore, but most were not human. He saw claw marks that could have come from a large member of the cat family or many other clawed animals, perhaps even a bear. He saw where some of the tender young leaves had been stripped by some small herbivores. The tree had evidently been a convenient bridge for years, but had his quarry used it?

  First he looked to see if there were prints on the ground where he might have climbed out of the stream bed to reach the tree trunk and he found nothing conclusive. Next he examined each protruding rock to see if there were signs that the man had used them as a jumping off spot to reach a lower limb. Sure enough he found several spots where the moss had been lightly disturbed and looking up, saw a small branch that was partially broken off a larger branch. Josh assumed that the man had jumped a few times until he could reach the smaller branch and then used the smaller branch to pull the larger branch to him, almost breaking it off as he did so.

  Josh returned to the trunk of the tree and using his Ninja claws, easily climbed to the lower branch then tight roped his way to the spot where his quarry had joined the tree. He immediately found unmistakable signs of his passing. Small limbs that had been stepped on and squashed, no animal would do that. Broken and bent branches at shoulder height that had been used for balance.

  On the far side of the stream, some three yards away, he found a fairly deep set of footprints where his quarry had jumped from the tree onto moist ground. There had been what looked like an attempt to cover them with leaves but after several days of exposure the leaves were scattered.

  Now Josh was certain that the man was not even thinking about anyone following him. The half-hearted attempts at hiding his trail were probably just the result of having lived in the wilds so long. Josh felt he could speed up his trailing effort. He could start trotting along an assumed direction and follow the signs that his quarry was inadvertently leaving. It was still slow going because of the heavy underbrush and log-jams.

  The trail became easier to follow as his quarry plunged in a straight line through the forest. Bent bushes, occasional footprints, bent or broken branches, squashed or discolored grass, even disarranged cobwebs could be signs. ‘Particularly since Josh had figured out his quarry’s height, he knew that any disturbance above five feet would probably have been made by the man and not by any animal.

  Josh trotted along the trail his quarry was leaving until just before dusk. The weather was good the forest was friendly. He could easily make camp at the last minute after making up as much ground as possible. He was sure that he was far enough behind that he could make a small fire and with a little luck have rabbit for dinner. There had been signs of rabbits all day. Droppings, burrows through the underbrush, fur scraped off on low branches, he was sure they were plentiful. He had even sighted several of them scampering away from him.

  All day long he had been passing and nibbling on wild huckleberry bushes tall enough to hide behind while at the same time keeping an eye out for bears as the huckleberry’s were a favorite of theirs. He had stopped for a moment to feed his appetite when he suddenly found he was sharing the bush with a black bear he estimated to be over two hundred pounds. Josh was on one side of the large bush and the bear was on the other. The bear was on his hind legs and had been totally engrossed in eating the berries. He was as surprised as Josh was.

  It was one of those moments. They both stared at each other, not moving for a few seconds. The bear growled, shook his head, dropped to four legs and lazily shuffled away. Josh was relieved. His hand was on his knife, ready to defend himself but trying to out-stare the bear as the preferred outcome. It wasn’t the first time he had encountered a bear at a berry bush. In his experience, unless there were cubs around, bears preferred retreating to attacking. Particularly if they were sated on berries.

  The sudden and unexpected encounter reminded Josh of how easy it was to conceal oneself in heavy wooded areas.

  Fire and smoke can be seen or smelled at a great distance when they a
re both so alien to the wilderness area. Josh decided to be ultra-careful even though he was sure that he was far behind the man he was hunting.

  He found a small depression that was on the south side of a huge rock. Any fire he built would be small and practically invisible from the north. If he kept the smoke to a minimum, there was very little chance anything would be noticed. First he had to catch a rabbit. He didn’t have time to set a trap and wait for a cooperative rabbit to spring it. He had to actively hunt one down and kill it with his crossbow, efficiently and silently.

  Now, suddenly, where there had been sightings of jackrabbits all day, there were none, maybe because he found fresh wolf tracks around. Distinctive because of the imprint of claws and therefore easily distinguishable from dog or cougars, they had driven the rabbits into hiding. Josh decided he had to flush them out. He gathered a handful of rocks and started tossing them into the brush around him. There were plenty of rabbit trails through the underbrush. Josh just had to get the critters moving again. On the fourth toss he must have landed a rock directly on a huddled group of the jackrabbits, suddenly they flying in all directions directly in front of Josh.

  Taking quick aim with his crossbow, leading it a little as it bounded across the clearing in front of him, he was able to kill one with his first arrow. He quickly pulled the steel arrow out of his kill and with one quick blow from the handle of his knife, crushed the animal’s skull and killed it.

  Back at the camp he cleared a spot for a small fire next to the boulder and set out to gather firewood. He wanted extra dry wood, nothing green or wet that might cause smoke. There were plenty of dried dead branches within reach on the trees and Josh gathered a large armful of them. He also spotted a fairly large bird’s nest in a tree and was able to reach it using his ninja climbing gloves. The nest was old and extremely dry and would make excellent tinder for starting a fire.

  He built a rock container for the fire and using his flint and the dried bird nest he was able to get a fire going quickly. Then he skinned and cleaned the rabbit leaving the stomach and its contents untouched. In order to roast the rabbit over the fire he skewered it with a green stick from end to end and to keep it from revolving on the skewer he also skewered it from side to side. The Indians had taught him that most-small creatures like rabbits or even field mice were not only good to eat, but they were herbivores and their stomach content was partially digested edible greens which would go a long way to produce a more balanced diet when eaten along with the flesh. Josh would roast and eat the rabbit and its stomach contents.

  He then erected the reflective blanket in front of the fire so that it would reflect heat toward the boulder and provide warmth during the night.

  He thought to himself that this was pretty luxurious for primitive style camping. He had food, heat and shelter. He wondered what his quarry was doing and what type of a person he was.

  One thing he was sure of, regardless of his training or lack of it, the fact remained that after two years of survival in the Wilderness area, his quarry was now a super accomplished backwoodsman, perhaps as good as the Indians that Josh had trained with. Josh needed to treat his quarry as an equal. He could not underestimate him or his abilities. For example, he would be able to smell campfire smoke at a long distance. He would be tuned in to the forest. Animal behaviors would be clues to him. Working in Josh’s favor was the probability that he had no clue that Josh was on his trail. Josh would have to keep it that way.

  Another factor was weather. Josh had been warned the weather changes in Yellowstone could be sudden and volatile. It was now September and the weather was beautiful and favorable to Josh at present. He couldn’t and shouldn’t expect that to continue.

  The weather man at park headquarters had advised him. “Expect sunshine, rain, sleet, snow and thunderstorms to happen without warning anytime in the next few weeks. From the flyover he knew about what to expect from the forest ahead.

 
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