Read Along: Paradise Palms: Chapter 23
The thick underbrush only caused Myra to work harder to get to the body. The closer she got to it, the larger its size seemed to be. She’d seen the form from their path and knew instantly what it was. The crest protruding from the back of its head was a dead giveaway. Only a hadrosaur could live in a marsh area with a crest like that. She hadn’t expected to see one, but that wasn’t what surprised her the most. It was the natural camouflage of the skin. The combination of browns and deep greens and yellows with the bumpy skin made it almost fade completely into the background. If it hadn’t been for the fact that the body’s shadow looked so out of place, she would have passed it by without much thought.
“Sam!” Where was he? She needed to get that body out of there so she could look it over better. Didn’t he understand that? They needed to act quickly. “Sam!”
She pulled her cell phone from her pocket thinking of calling Randy and telling him what she’d found, but stuffed it back in her pocket and got out her camera. She’d need pictures from every possible angle and get as much detail as she could. She would earn a sizeable sum for these pictures, but that wasn’t what drove her onward to get as close as she could. No. She’d dreamed about standing next to a dinosaur. Seeing the head of the troodon was great and she’d never forget that first experience, but this was far different. This was a nearly full specimen. The hadrosaur could grow to five tons or more and this one was missing a large portion of its lower body. But the head! The crest was so distinct and perfect.
Myra stopped just a few feet from it. She didn’t do this of her own free will. She just had no other choice. Her feet had gotten mired down in the muck and she could barely pull her feet up. She couldn’t be denied. It was just a few feet from her. She needed to touch it. To know it was real. She wanted to throw the camera at it out of frustration, for just sitting there and taunting her. Mocking her.
It took all the willpower she could muster not to throw the camera, and instead move as many of the branches in her way to give her the best possible picture as possible. It pained her to wait for the digital camera’s flash to recharge so she could snap another picture in the dim afternoon light. Why hadn’t she been better prepared? Why hadn’t she brought a better camera? But how could she have known she’d see something like this?
“Sam?” Myra turned around. Sam stood next to his quad winding the cable back onto the winch. “Sam, what are you doing?”
Sam cupped his hands over his mouth. “Come back up here.”
Was he crazy? She needed to pull the hadrosaur back up to the dry area so she could better look at it. Didn’t he know that? Didn’t he get it?
“Bring the cable down here!”
Sam shook his head and yelled “It’s not long enough or strong enough.”
Myra looked at the quad and blinked her eyes. She looked back at the hadrosaur and started to laugh. The carcass had to be at least three or four tons. She laughed so hard she nearly dropped her camera. How could she even think that Sam’s little winch would be able to pull the body out. They’d need a massive vehicle or a helicopter to get it out. That didn’t change the fact that she needed to touch it, if for nothing else to prove to her it was real.
“Ms. Tolie! Get out of there. You’ll get stuck if you go any further!” Sam yelled.
Myra looked at her legs. The muck was half-way up her shins and slowly sinking. Her fascination turned to panic. She had to get out of there. The body was massive enough that it wouldn’t sink further than it already had, but she could easily get mired down to the point they’d never get her out.
She grabbed onto a nearby tree and started pulling her legs free of the muck, but she had to get one last look. Just like the troodon head, this had been severed cleanly. The skin looked exactly like she’d imagined it would; the texture, not the color. She’d seen many impressions of hadrosaur skin next to fossilized bones. It was amazing to see the actual skin. In her mind she could see the chest of the beast rise and fall with life. To see one alive. That was a dream.
Myra tore herself away from the body and trudged through the mud back up to Girlfriend and Sam. Girlfriend sat on the quad’s seat studying the map while Sam went to help Myra out of the muck.
Once she was on dry ground, and still out of earshot of Girlfriend, she told him, “Sam, I’m sorry for earlier. I really had no right to shoot down your ideas like I did. None of us can possibly have any idea what’s really going on here and I didn’t mean to shoot you down as I did. I guess I came here with a lot of preconceived notions of what I’d find and you certainly looked the part.”
“Of a trailer park hick?”
“Well, yes. And a backwoods hick. But that’s not my point. My point is I was wrong and I’m sorry.” She stuck out her hand. “I want us to be able to work on this together without any animosity and I feel it’s my place to say I was wrong.”
She waited as Sam studied her hand. He pursed his lips in a sort of frown before he took her hand and said. “That’s fine. But you’re going to answer some of my questions.”
“What the hell is that? I mean, that head the detective and his men found, I can sort of accept. But that thing?” Sam pointed at the hadrosaur. “That’s beyond what I can currently get a firm grasp on and need you to explain it to me.”
“Well, that’s pretty easy. It’s a hadrosaur. They were the most populous and diverse dinosaurs in North America during the…”
“Right, it’s a dinosaur that’s been cut in half like the other one and my friend. Did you get a close enough look at it?”
“Oh, yes. I would have liked to touch it, but couldn’t get that close.”
“How old is it?”
“Oh. Millions and millions of years old.”
“That’s not what I meant. I mean how long has it been dead?”
Myra thought about that for a moment. She’d been so obsessed with just looking at it and touching it, she didn’t think to look for any signs for how long it may have been dead. It was the middle of August and hot as it could get, but she hadn’t seen or heard any flies around it. Even if it was a prehistoric creature, it was meat just like any other meat she presumed. If the flies hadn’t moved in and the smell wasn’t too bad, it couldn’t have been there for more than, “Two or three days I’d say. Couldn’t be much more than that.”
“So probably the same time or before Casper died?”
“Possibly. Or even a day before.”
Sam took off his grimy, green hat and scratched his stubbly hair and shook his head. “Whoever is doing this has done this at least three times then. If he did this three days in a row, then it’s even more likely he’ll do it again tonight.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean there’s a pattern here. I know he did this last night, he did it the night Casper, and he did it the day this thing died. If he does this tonight, we’ll get him.”
“The person responsible. Aren’t you even listening?”
Myra shook her head. “How will you know who’s doing this?”
Girlfriend appeared at Sam’s side with a big smile. Myra liked Girlfriend. She was the soft side that Sam’s hard exterior needed. “Sam, I think I figured it out.”
“Figured what out?” Sam asked.
Girlfriend held out the cartoon map for them all to see. She had been lightly sketching the final outline of the circle and showed how it did indeed encompass the entirety of the trailer park and a goodly amount of the woods behind it. Sam looked confused.
“But, shouldn’t the center of the circle be in the middle of the park?” Sam put his finger on one of the trailers in the middle of the park.”
“No,” Girlfriend said, “that’s not the center of the circle. This is.” She pointed to a section of the woods just at the tail end of the park.”
Myra said, “There’s nothing there.”
Sam’s head snapped up and he looked back to the trailer park. “I cleared those trees. I dug the basement. It’s a new trailer that wasn’t built when that map was drawn and I know who lives there in that double-wide. We need to go and have a talk with him and I think we need to have that talk right now.”
“With who?” Girlfriend asked, folding the map up.
“With the Doc,” Sam said through gritted teeth.
Myra shook her head in confusion, but Sam was already taking long strides back to the quad. Girlfriend tried to stop him.
“Sam! It can’t be Doc Brenner. It just can’t be.”
Sam turned around, his eyes full of anger. “Let him tell me that.” Sam unhitched the trailer and let it fall to the ground. “I’ll come back and get you in a little while. After I’ve had my talk with Doc.”
Sam started the quad and was off before either Girlfriend or Myra could do or say anything. Girlfriend threw the map to the ground. “Come on, we’ve got to see if we can cut him off. He’ll have to go around; we can cut straight through the woods.”
Girlfriend took off at a sprint though the barrage of small branches. Myra couldn’t keep up due to the amount of mud still stuck to her boots, weighing them down. She did her best, but fell quickly behind. She had to get out of the office more and do some more field work. Perhaps this was just the thing she needed to help her move on instead of spending her days polishing and classifying fossils.
Myra stopped, put her hands on her knees, and rested. They could find this Doc person without her. At least she could see the trailer park. She put her back against a tree and sat on the ground. She really needed to get into shape.