Read Along: Paradise Palms: Chapter 12
“What to pack? What to pack!”
Myra Tolie didn’t freak out easily. The fact that she’d woken up twenty minutes before her alarm went off at five in the morning was a good sign that she was freaking out. She’d snapped awake and showered at record pace. She planned on wearing pants the entire time she was at the Aitkin County Police Department, so she hadn’t bothered to shave her legs. The only trouble was that she didn’t know what to bring with her. She’d been shown pictures of something that wasn’t a fossil, but also couldn’t be anything living in today’s world. Regardless, she packed her tool case with all her digging tools. Perhaps there’d be a dig site or somewhere that they’d be looking for actual fossils.
Minnesota was famously rich with hadrosaur fossils, the occasional brachiosaurus, and a few of the carnivorous dinosaurs, so maybe they’d be looking to dig something up.
“You’re an idiot.”
She wasn’t going there to dig up fossils, she was going there to look at a recent specimen. A troodon, nonetheless. Possibly one of the smartest dinosaurs ever to have walked the planet. Not just some mindless beast that wandered around using its size to get a meal, but a crafty creature much like the velociraptor, except much larger. Both were extremely smart, but neither was nearly as large as movie depictions.
The detective had mentioned finding a body, something that she’d not gone into depth with him about, and now wished she’d had. She really wanted to inspect the body and see if she could identify bite patterns or see how the little dinosaurs would have eaten. Though it was a morbid thought, this would be the first chance anyone would have at ever seeing how a living dinosaur would eat.
For the dozenth time that morning she shook her head at herself. She had to quit thinking that until she actually got her hands on the specimen. Perhaps this was all some elaborate joke being played on her. She had validated the e-mail address though. Why would a police officer, a detective, play this kind of a joke?
She sent an e-mail to her supervisor, Randy Stokes, at the Science Museum of Minnesota, so he wouldn’t worry when she didn’t show up. He usually didn’t check his e-mail until ten or later, so she might get a phone call. She turned on her cell phone, something she only did when she actually expected to get a call, and put it in her coat pocket. The laptop was powered down and packed in her backpack.
“Camera! I can’t forget that.”
Myra hated packing at the last minute. She’d packed a small bag to take some clothes just in case she had to spend more than a day there, but didn’t think she’d need that. She had more gear than anything, everything from plaster for making footprint casts to her small spade to excavate any bones. She felt as nervous as she had during her prom. She just hoped that this boy wasn’t going to stand her up.
After loading her Toyota Celica’s trunk, she made one quick sweep to make sure she had all she needed. She grabbed a Twins cap from the top of her dresser. It was, after all, August and she didn’t need to get too much sun. Her first field assignment, and it was all her. This could really make her career take off. She’d waited all her life for something like this.
Well, what kid didn’t? What kid didn’t think about finding a living dinosaur? She had dreamt about it for longer than she could remember. Even when sitting and cleaning bones she thought, “What if this were alive today?” When assembling a display of model bones, she wished she could see them walk and make their sounds.
But who was she kidding? That wasn’t likely to happen. She just had to get up there and see this head and determine if it was the real thing, or a fake. That would help Detective Schneider and she’d most likely be on her way. It was just the thought that provoked her onward.
A glance at her watch: 5:40 a.m. She had to go before traffic piled up. By 6:00 o’clock everyone would be on their way to work and she needed to avoid all that if she was going to make it to Aitkin in a couple of hours. She’d have gotten an earlier start if she wasn’t afraid of driving in the dark. She’d nearly gotten into a bad accident on a snowy day in early December her first year at St. Cloud State University. She was certain it was just another drunk college kid, but it had scared her out of her wits. Since then, for nighttime driving, she only drove in well-lit areas. Going to Aitkin, though straight up Highway 65, wasn’t exactly all well lit, but the sun would be up long before she got to the dark parts.
The drive, after a stop for gas and a drive-through breakfast, took just over two hours. She had trouble containing her excitement, but listening to a podiobook, Tee Morris’s Morevi, had kept her mind off it. When her GPS navigator guided her into the parking lot of the police department she turned off her the mp3 player on her iPhone and opened a voice recording app and stuffed it into her pocket. She grabbed her digital camera from the seat and headed to the door. A follically-challenged man, trying to disguise the fact, held the door open for her as she approached. He wore a drab-brown jacket and jeans.
“Good morning, you must be Ms. Tolie. I’m Detective Andrew Schneider.”
She was surprised that this slender man had been the one she’d talked on the phone with the night before. He looked nothing like his picture. Indeed he must’ve been tired as his voice sounded so much more pleasant.
“I am. Pleasure to meet you.” She shook his hand.
“I had thought, based on our conversation last night, that you’d be sitting in the parking lot waiting for me.”
She thought about explaining her fear of driving in the dark, but decided not to. “I had to do some research before I came. I wanted to make sure I can give you the most objective opinion I can.”
He closed the door behind her. “Well, can I get you a coffee or anything?”
“I’m good. I’d like to see it. Should I bring any tools? I brought along a kit with me.”
“I don’t see that it’d be necessary. I’d actually prefer that you didn’t do anything to it, as it is evidence.”
“Oh, ok. Well, let’s go see it.” Myra took off her jacket and followed Detective Schneider down the hall. He led her to the morgue. She winced at seeing the word. She hadn’t thought about going into a room where so many dead might have gone before her. Andrew must have noticed.
“Don’t worry, this is the first body that’s been in here for years. I really don’t know why we have a morgue, as most of the bodies go straight to the funeral home. I had been starting to think I was going to spend the rest of my years looking for stolen bikes and lost cats. This is quite a change from the cities.”
“Oh, I’m sure.” It did nothing to remove the stigma of the word morgue. She still knew that a dead person was in the room, along with the troodon head. She just had to get over her squeamishness and get it over with. Perhaps then he’d take her to where it’d been found.
Inside the room sat a bank of lockers that surely could contain bodies if needed; one of them held the head she so desperately wanted to see and another had a body. She hoped the two weren’t in any way connected.
In front of the lockers lay a stainless-steel table. Myra didn’t want to look at the head on it, but would if she must. She was glad when Andrew opened a locker and slid out a long slab covered with a sheet. He pulled back the sheet to expose the head.
The large eyes were clouded over, showing her it was quite dead, but the mouth sat slightly agape, giving her a clear view of the teeth.
“What’s that, Miss?”
She pulled back the lip to better expose the teeth. “Just as I had suspected, but dared not guess by just looking at a picture.”
“Look closely at the teeth. See how the back are serrated and the front not so much? The teeth have a backward slant to them?”
“These teeth are for gripping prey. For holding on while it swallows or for tearing off chunks. This animal is a meat eater that swallows its food whole, much like a snake would, only with a lot more force. And of course this would be bigger than a normal snake.”
“How big would you say?”
“Oh, it would stand about three or three-and-a-half feet tall and be maybe six or seven feet long. See, this animal would run with its head extended and a very long tail out for support and balance while it ran. This one, it’s been assumed, would get up to speeds of fifty to sixty miles per hour.”
“So, Ms. Tolie, are you telling me you know what this is?”
Myra looked at the head from every possible angle. “I do. I most certainly do. The large brain case. The big eyes. The teeth. All exactly as I had always imagined they would look.”
“So, what is this?”
“It’s a troodon.”
“A what? I never heard of anything around here called a, what did you call it?”
“A troodon, and Detective Schneider, the question isn’t ‘have you heard of one’, but ‘where did this one come from?'”
“I don’t understand. Why would I ask that?”
“Look at it. Think really hard. This isn’t anything that’s lived in the Minnesota woods for a very long time.”
“Are you saying it’s a throwback of some kind?”
“This isn’t a throwback. This is bigger than finding a coelacanth.”
“You mean that prehistoric fish?”
“Are you saying this is a dinosaur?”
“Yes. Not just any dinosaur. This is a troodon. You remember Jurassic Park? Well, the raptors in that film are actually very small when we look at the fossil record. The troodon is a relative of the velociraptor, only larger and very likely smarter. A faster, more dangerous beast. But regardless, it would still only be eating small animals.”
Detective Schneider opened another case and pulled back the sheet to expose the lower portion. Myra let out a shrill scream.
“I’m sorry, but I need to know, could that do this?” The detective pointed from the head to the body.
It took a moment for Myra to regain her composure. She’d spent so many years around bones, that seeing an actual dead body took her by surprise. Taking several shallow breaths she approached the body of the man, a strong man by the look of it. He’d been severed just below his waist, but upon closer inspection she could find no indication of teeth marks or tearing of any kind.
“Are you certain?”
“Well, this cut clearly severed him in one clean blow. Nothing bit him, at least not above his waist. It’s possible that the troodon bit him below the waist, but whatever killed this man cut him cleanly and quickly.”
Myra put her hand over her mouth at the thought of being so close to the dead man.
“Could anything, in your opinion, have killed him? I mean an animal of any kind?”
She moved her hand aside. “Like I said, there’s no bite marks. This man, as best as I can tell, hasn’t been bitten. He was cut.”
“That’s very frustrating. I thought we had the culprit. So tell me more about this troodon. What’s it doing here?”
“I was actually hoping you could tell me.”
“Well, you said it’s what, a dinosaur? Aren’t they all pretty much extinct?”
“I think we need to visit the site. These were normally found in packs when discovered. Egg clutches, groups of nests. Much like modern birds. Protection in numbers. If this one was there, it’s possible that wherever it was found, those people could be in danger.”
“Let me grab a radio and I’ll have a sheriff meet us out there. I hope you had planned on staying the day here in Aitkin.”
Myra was happy when Detective Schneider covered the dead body, but she wanted to spend more time looking at the head; taking notes and pictures. She could spend weeks looking at the brain alone. That would have to wait. At least it was in a cool area where it wouldn’t decompose too quickly. She looked at the camera in her hand as the head was covered and thought about asking if she could take one quick picture, but refrained. There would be time for that later.