JOSHUA IN YELLOWSTONE:
Copyright 2016 by Richard L. Wren
Poor Richard Publishers
Mr. Wren retired from a successful insurance career at age 70 and started writing mystery novels at age 82. Now 90, he’s publishing his 5th novel, JOSHUA, JUDGE & JURY in December, 2016. His books are available on Amazon, Kindle or bookstores.
To those not familiar with the Joshua Rogan adventures:
Joshua Rogan: World champion Karate, Ninja and Parkour expert and a walking lethal weapon, doubles as a married Yosemite Park Ranger to avoid unwanted publicity. He spends his spare time with the remaining Native American Indians in the valley, absorbing their forest survival, tracking and fighting techniques. He’s continuously confronted with dangerous situation that only he can solve.
“David, are you okay?”
David replied in an eleven-year-old voice tired of being constantly reminded about the right way to do things, “yeah Dad, I found a low branch and dug a deep hole, just like you said.”
David, along with his mom and his dad were on the second day of a long planned, back to nature, camping trip in the wilderness section of Yellowstone National Park. David’s dad was a stickler for protecting the environment. He gave David specific instructions on how to relieve himself in the wilds without leaving a trace for others to find.
“Find a low branch or log low enough to sit on and small enough so that you can extend your ass far enough to clear the log. Then dig a hole deep enough to completely bury your poop and when you’re done, cover it up”
Usually David’s dad would never use the words ass or poop to his son, but on a camping trip this far from civilization, it seemed appropriate.
It took David so long to find an appropriate log he worried about accidently filling his pants. Just in time he found the right log, dug a hole, pulled a comic book out of his hip pocket, dropped his pants and sat down. He was barely able to see his parents through the brush. They were starting a fire for their evening meal.
He planned on dragging this business out long enough so that he could get out of some of the unpacking chores. Deeply engrossed as only a preteen could be in his book, he was only vaguely aware of the sounds his parents were making. A few minutes went by and suddenly the undercurrent of sound from his parents stopped.
He looked up and was startled to see that a ragged and dirty looking, heavily bearded man had silently materialized at the edge of the campground. He was just standing there silently staring at his parents. His Mom and Dad straightened up, his mom holding a frying pan in her hands, and were staring back at the man in astonishment.
After a moment, the man called out to his parents, “any chance of getting some canned food from you guys?”
His parents were obviously unhappy with the intrusion of someone looking so disreputable. They were silent for a moment while the man slowly approached them. When he spoke, his voice was low and gravelly. “I could use some of your food.”
His dad spoke. “Gee, I’m sorry but we just barely have enough to survive ourselves for the next few days.”
The man continued to advance toward them and in a more demanding voice asked again. “I bet you got plenty of food, you just don’t wanna’ share it.”
David’s dad, without taking his eyes off the approaching and menacing man, backed up and reached behind him for an axe leaning against a rock and in a conciliatory voice said, “be reasonable. We deliberately just packed enough food for a few days and we can’t share anything.” As he spoke he took another step backwards while at the same time blindly groping for the axe.
David was riveted to the spot. He was sitting on a log, pants around his ankles, fearful for his parents and feeling absolutely helpless.
Without warning the man sprang forward, grabbed a short log from the fire and smashed it hard across his dad’s head. His dad slowly crumpled to the ground. The man whirled and without pause did the same thing to David’s mom. Both parents were down, out of David’s site, behind the tent.
The man then started loudly ranting and raving about “fucking parasites, won’t share nothin’ with nobody I’ll show them,” as he grabbed the axe and started chopping at the fallen pair.
David couldn’t move. He couldn’t cry out. He was paralyzed by what he was seeing and fearing for his own safety. He could only imagine the horror that was being visited on his parent’s bodies by the axe wielding crazy intruder. He couldn’t stop himself from throwing up even though he was afraid the retching sound would be heard by the killer.
After a few minutes of wielding the axe, the sounds of which would be indelibly etched into David’s ears the rest of his life, the man twirled the axe over his head and threw it into the woods. David scrunched down as low as he could, hoping not to be noticed.
Furiously mumbling to himself, the man emptied one of their backpacks of gear and filled it with canned and dried food. When he came out from behind the tent David saw that his pants, up to his knees, were covered with blood. It was all David could do to keep from vomiting.
Still mumbling and swearing to himself, the man hoisted the heavy knapsack to his shoulders and, without a backward glance, melted into the woods.
David waited for what must have been more than a half hour before he was able to pull himself together and approach the campground, still fearful the madman might return.
It took a tremendous amount of courage to peek behind the tent and David immediately threw up again and wished he hadn’t looked. His worst fears were realized, both his parent’s dead with their heads smashed by the repeated axe blows. He cried out in agony and fell to his knees crying.
Motivated by fear that the madman might return he knew he needed to leave quickly. He didn’t have time to faint. His only safety was to get away from this site and find help. With a maturity he didn’t know he had, he packed his own knapsack with a few candy bars and took off running, trying to see the trail they had taken to this spot through his tears, trying to block the picture of his parent’s bloody bodies from his memory.
Josh glanced around the familiar room while he waited for the Superintendent. He noted the large picture of the Super posed with the President of the United States and, grinning to himself, decided that there was probably a similar presidential picture in each and every park superintendent office in the United States. The Superintendent delighted in pointing out that he was considerably taller than President Obama as he proudly showed off the picture to visitors. And why not, there weren’t that many superintendents of federal parks in the country, and certainly Yosemite ranked right up there with the best and most famous. Josh had no complaints about his boss. He deeply admired Superintendent Browning. Josh’s wife Fern thought the super was handsome in a retired football player kind of way. She thought of him as a large cuddly Teddy Bear, but she had never seen him mad. Josh knew better. He had seen him light into other rangers with a vengeance.
All the Super had told him was that Yellowstone HQ was interested in borrowing him for a special assignment and that he was to report to the Super’s office immediately.
A special assignment. That would have to relate to one of his special talents. Some of which he had been born with such as a superb physique and an ultra-high IQ. The rest he had acquired by himself. Now at age twenty-seven he was a retired world champion in any number of Chinese and Japanese martial arts. Since retiring from that stage to become a Yosemite Park Ranger he had spent more than a year learning Indian tracking and fighting lore to the point that the Indians eventually accepted him at least as an equal, some said their better. Joshua had only one real weakness, his abhorrence of publicity.
He was just back from a dangerous assignment that had started in Yosemite but ended in San Francisco. The superintendent had described his adventure as starting in the backwoods of Yosemite and ending in the back alleys of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Both Josh and his wife Fern had almost been killed in that assignment. Now Josh was looking forward to spending quiet time with his wife and new baby. Fern was expecting him to stay home.
At the same time, he couldn’t deny that the challenge of using his unique talents intrigued him. He decided it wouldn’t do any harm to play along for a while, particularly since the superintendent thought it was so important. It was out of character for him to allow one of his officers to be borrowed.
The door opened behind him and the Super strode in carrying a sheaf of papers. Josh studied his boss’s face in the morning light and for the noticed how his eyes weren’t quite meeting Josh’s. His normally smiling face was unnaturally stiff and serious.
“All right, I’ll bite. What’s the problem in Yellowstone?”
The superintendent replied tersely. “The problem’s a wild man.”
“Sounds like a normal police problem to me.”
“Not this one. The man’s been living in a wilderness section of the park for a few years, but now he’s become a terrible problem.”
“Well it’s quite complicated. It seems that the man’s a real backwoods survivalist kind of person. Nobody really knows who he is even though the rangers have occasionally cut across his trail and knew he was there. He was just a man that had reverted to nature and was living like a wild animal but bothering nobody, until recently.”
“What I’m told is that the man might be a special forces veteran based on the ability he’s shown to survive in the wilderness. They’ve known about him but considered him harmless. The man had very little contact with anyone except once in a while he would break into someone’s cabin and steal some clothes or food. Even then he’d leave a freshly killed rabbit or some freshly chopped wood or something as if he was paying or bartering. The only complaints were from people who thought their privacy had been violated, nothing really serious.”
Josh still couldn’t see why they needed him. “But something changed?”
“You could say that. In the last two month’s the man’s gone berserk. First he ransacked a cabin and then deliberately set fire to the place. He didn’t try to conceal that he’d set fire to it, just built a big bonfire inside the house and let it go. They theorize that he got mad because there wasn’t any food or clothing in the cabin.
After that it escalated. A few days ago he tried to get some food from a family of campers and ended up killing the couple and mutilating their bodies when they wouldn’t cooperate. We got the story from their son who witnessed the whole thing.”
“Good God, is he okay?”
“That’s hard to say. He’s a tough kid but that’s a hell of a lot for an eleven-year-old to go through.”
“Jesus.” Josh was silent for a moment as he visualized the boy’s torment. “So I gather they haven’t been able to find the murderer?”
“That’s it. Yellowstone’s wilderness area is three times the size of Rhode Island and they have no idea where the man holes up. The rangers spent the last few days sitting on the story and trying to track and find him with no luck at all. He’s just too good for them. One of our rangers has a broken leg because the man set out an old bear trap, then led them into it. Another one of their boys has a concussion from a fall into a pit the man had dug. He’s playing with them. That’s where you come in. When Yellowstone read the local Indians remarks about your tracking abilities they thought maybe you could track him before he murders anyone else.”
“But why me? There must be a lot of Indian trackers in the Yellowstone area.”
“All of the Indians that have the ability to track are too old for the job and unfortunately their skills are not being taught to the younger generation. They think the only chance they have of catching him is to have someone at least as savvy as he is in the wilderness area.”
The superintendent stood up, paced back and forth and ended up standing in front of Josh. He loomed over Josh by several inches.
At six feet one, Josh wasn’t overly tall or impressive. He had a thick head of brown hair and blue/grey piercing eyes with heavy dark eyebrows. His complexion was dark although a lot of that could be tan as he spent so much time outside. His face was thin, almost hawkish with an upturned mouth that gave his face a happy look. Piece by piece he looked average but put them all together and there was something commanding about his presence.
“Josh I don’t want you to take this request. I think it’s too dangerous. This fella’s proven he’s a killer. I told them so and that I couldn’t spare you. They said you were their only hope. I don’t believe that. I think they’re just scared that the story will drive the tourists away. Besides I don’t believe all that crap about you being a one-man army.”
“You’re probably right. Did you say he’s been living in the forest for several years and they can’t catch him?” In spite of himself, Josh was intrigued, but there was his and his family’s life to consider.
“They just began to try to catch him in earnest in the last few weeks but he’s eluded them for years.”
The superintendent sat back in his chair, crossed his arms and waited as Joshua mused. It was the supe’s way of saying, “the ball’s in your court.” He knew Joshua was unique. He remembered that Josh had disobeyed his direct orders numerous times when he had judged the situation too dangerous for Joshua to attempt but Joshua had proved him wrong. As a result, he had a growing respect for Josh’s intelligence and abilities. He was also the only person in the valley who knew of Josh’s legendary background.
Josh sat silent for a full minute. Mostly he was concerned for his wife and new baby. Leaving them for even a week would take some explaining. He knew Fern could handle most anything. Before they had met and married she had lived alone in the Alaska wilderness through two winters.
Finally, he spoke, “If I even considered it I’d want to do it on my own terms.”
Unspoken between them was the understanding that the statement was Josh’s way of saying he would do it.
The Superintendent pointed him to a large atlas sitting opened on the corner of his desk. It was open to the Yellowstone page. The wilderness area that the Superintendent had mentioned was in the Northeast corner of the park and looked to be very large. The caption said it extended over 2 million square acres and was heavily forested. It ranged from valleys to peaks, from heavily timbered to no trees at all at higher elevations. Being way north the weather was unpredictable with snow flurries possible any time of the year.
“Terms? What do you mean.”
“Show me where the murder occurred.”
The superintendent pointed to a spot on the left center of the map.
“About thirty miles from West Yellowstone? Josh looked up at the superintendent questioningly.
“That’s my understanding, yes.”
Josh silently studied the map for another minute then spoke.
“By myself. No back-up and or communications. It has to be entirely my way.”
The Superintendent studied him for a minute. He had been superintendent for years and knew Josh’s reputation with the Yosemite Indians. With his innate abilities, he had quickly mastered their lore and soon earned their acceptance as a complete equal in his ability to track and elude in the forest. Some even acknowledged he was their superior.
“You want to go after him Indian style, one on one?”
“Are you sure that’s wise? After all he’s a proven murderer and he must be very much at home in that wilderness.”
“I think it’s the only way to catch him.” Josh succinctly replied.
The superintendent realized that Josh had already made up his mind. With a sigh of reluctance, he asked, “What will you need from us, camping equipment?”
“No sir, that’s the last thing I need. I need several Ninja items from the nearest martial arts store. I think it’s in Fresno.”
“Call them right now, explain what you need and then give me the phone. I’ll get whatever you need by this afternoon.”
“I take it Yellowstone’s expecting me and is in a hurry?”
“You got it. What else do you need?”
“A helicopter flyover of the area before anything else.”
“And what else?”
“Nothing, that’s it.”
“What about equipment like tents, sleeping bags and clothing?”
“None of those. I’m convinced that the only way anyone’s ever going to catch this guy is to beat him at his own game. I’m going to track him as an Indian would. I’ll move like an Indian, camp like an Indian, hunt and eat like an Indian and most importantly, track like an Indian. Otherwise, he’ll elude me the same way he eluded the other rangers. The few other things I’ll need I can pick up in Yellowstone.”
“Okay, you’re the boss. How soon can you leave?”
“How do I get there?”
“They’re going to fly you. We’ll chopper you out to Fresno. They’ll have a department plane waiting for you. We’ll make sure your martial arts stuff will be on the plane.”
“They’re really serious about this, aren’t they?”
“They really are. And they’ve already talked about giving you a chopper flyover, so consider it done. Can you leave this afternoon? How much packing do you have to do?”
“Yes and practically none.” Josh answered.
Within an hour Josh had explained the situation the Fern, received her reluctant backing and was packed, on a helicopter and on his way on route to the Fresno airport. There, he was driven directly across the field and to a waiting small jet. He was handed a wrapped package as he boarded.
He gave a thumbs-up to the pilot and they took off. “About an hour and a half,” the pilot offered. Josh opened the package and described the contents to the curious pilot, who remarked, “That’s gonna’ be real educational. Nobody’s ever put Indian and Ninja warfare together before.”
Josh shook his head. “It’s just part of what I demanded if I accepted the assignment. I told them that I needed to get there as soon as possible if I was going to have any chance of tracking the guy. I also told them I needed a quick fly over to get the lie of the land.”
As the pilot flared for a landing at West Yellowstone he directed Josh’s attention to a far corner of the small landing field. “There’s the chopper. They’re directing me to taxi straight there. Looks like someone’s in a hurry. Rotors are turning and the pilot’s waiting to go.”
When he stepped off the plane a rangy looking, six-footer approached Josh with his hand outstretched.
Josh took his hand and nodded affirmatively.
The man introduced himself. “Larry. Larry Schlader. Chief Ranger.”
He brushed by Josh, grabbed the gear bag from the co-pilot turned and led the way to the chopper calling out, “Time’s a’wastin’ let’s go.”
Josh studied him as he followed to the chopper. He immediately liked what he saw and heard. The man didn’t waste words on needless introductions. He also was a man of action; jumping in him-self and grabbing the bags. No self-aggrandizement there. Josh thought he looked to be in his late forties and extremely fit. Casually dressed in jeans and a denim jacket, he was almost bald with a sharp, deeply tanned intelligent face, he reminded Josh of Yul Brynner.
As the pilot revved up the rotors, Larry introduced him to a second man in the chopper. “Joe. He’s the ranger found the site,” he yelled as he thrust earphones at them.
Joe was short and swarthy, dressed in full ranger clothing. He leaned over and shook hands with Josh but didn’t volunteer any comments.
“If there’s enough time I thought we’d circumnavigate the complete area, give you an idea of what you’re up against.”
“Don’t need it.” Josh abruptly answered.
Larry looked surprised. “I thought you requested it?”
“Flyover yes but not the whole thing. I want to circle the scene of the killing and then fly a zig zag pattern directly north, north-east from there about fifty miles. That’ll do it.”
Josh had studied topographical maps of the entire wilderness area and determined to his own satisfaction, considering mountain ranges, unfordable rivers and areas that were crisscrossed with park trails, the most likely direction their quarry must have taken.
“You’re sure that’s all you want?”
Josh explained his reasoning to Larry. “First of all nobody has any idea where this guy hides out yet his attacks have all been near the south-western corner of the wilderness area, right?” Larry shrugged his shoulders in acceptance.
“So we have to narrow down his location possibilities to have any chance of catching him. The whole wilderness area covers over two point two million acres, about the size of three Rhode Islands, impossibly large to find someone in but also impossibly large for one man to cover. He has to be within one or two days of the south west corner of the park.”
A grudging, stretched out, “Okaaaay,” from Larry. But why specifically north north-east?”
“It’s the heaviest forested and least tracked area and heads away from civilization.”
Joe tapped his arm and pointed down. “There it is. That’s where the family was killed. See that faint track going south west? That’s the road they took into the campground.”
“Close enough. I’ll have to cast around a lot to pick up anything but he has to have gone in that general direction.”
Larry raised his eyebrows. “You’re planning on tracking him? Pardon my French, but that’s the dumbest damn idea I’ve ever heard.”
Josh realized the reasons that he had been called in hadn’t filtered down to the Chief.
“You don’t think I can trail him?”
Larry shrugged his shoulders at the other ranger. “That’s what I’m saying. You’ll never find him. We need a half dozen choppers and a lot of men, that’s the only way he’ll get caught. Why did they send for you, what makes you so special?”
Josh heard the disapproval in his voice and tried to explain. He needed everyone’s cooperation if he was going to succeed.
“I’ve got a plan plus some experience that’s a little unique. I think it’ll give me a fighting chance to find him and bring him in.”
Sarcastically, “Yeah? What’s that?
“Simplistically, it’s this. We know where he was a week ago when he murdered that couple and we can probably track him from there.”
“Track him? In the forest? Like an Indian? Hell, not even our Indians here in the valley could do that anymore.”
Josh finished his sandwich and coffee, leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes, saying. “We’ll see.”
Larry eyed him for a minute. “Okay, it’s your funeral. In the mean-time we’ve arranged to keep the local mountaineering shop open late so you can get any supplies you need like tents, sleeping bags and so on.”
“Don’t need it.” Josh responded.
The chief ranger hesitated for a moment, “Don’t need what?
“I don’t need any supplies. Everything I need is in my bag.”
Both rangers glanced at the bag. “You’re kidding, aren’t you?”
“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.
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 are 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 fly-over he knew about what to expect from the forest ahead.
The next morning Josh quickly policed the area so that there was no indication that he had cooked and slept there then quickly started on his tracking again.
Late in the afternoon Josh spotted the man’s second camp. This time he had covered about the same amount of trail in one day as his quarry had.
He almost missed it. It was located a dozen yards off the trail Josh was following, but the discoloration of some leaves and branches caught his eye. As he examined the camp it became apparent that it wasn’t the first time this spot had been used. He found buried refuse from at least one previous camp. He also had his suspicions confirmed when he found empty food cans and plastic wrappings for dehydrated meat buried. The man was carrying as much stolen food as he could handle. That weight accounted for the trail signs he had left.
Josh pushed on, deciding that he did not want to use the same campsite his quarry had.
In two hours, as dusk approached, he made a cold camp near a stream while the weather was beginning to worsen and threatening clouds were forming. It was still warm enough to get through the night without a fire, uncomfortable but do-able. He had water from the small stream and could do without food for another day or two, something that Indians did as a matter of course. He’d be cold but safer.
His buckskins were almost like a second skin now, having been worn and sweated in for three days. They were very comfortable, quite warm and probably stank to high heaven, but they were correct for what he was doing. He had become part of the wilderness.
Josh hadn’t allowed himself to worry about what he would do when he caught up with the killer but now he did. Tracking was one thing but a face off was something else. He also had no real idea about his prey’s abilities. Could he be doubling back on his trail and laying a trap for Josh? Could he have left more concealed traps along the trail? Josh wished he had learned more from the Indians about how they had actually fought from tree to tree against other tribes.
Josh’s plan was to track first and then stalk. In order to stalk effectively, the prey had to have no knowledge he was being stalked. His concern was that stalking was a two-way street. How many times had the great white hunter been pounced upon by the lion he thought he was stalking? Was Josh actually, at this very moment, being stalked by his quarry?
This would be his third night on his quarry’s trail. He had probably covered almost seventy-five miles. Tomorrow he would have to start being more careful. By his calculations he might be getting close to where he expected his quarry to have his permanent encampment.
The next morning, tracking became much more difficult. He had gotten up at first light, had a cold piece of rabbit and started. Within a hundred yards the trail almost disappeared. The broken branches, overturned rocks and bent grass were almost gone. It took much more time for Josh to find the almost invisible signs that were left. An out of place rock, a smudge, a slightly bent stalk, things that most trackers would never see gradually led Josh Northeast. Hour after hour he made slow progress.
One thought made sense to him. There had to be a reason the killer had become so much more careful. He must be getting close to his main camp. He stopped to check his weapons and realized he had not thought to ask if his quarry had stolen guns or ammunition from the cabins he had raided, a serious oversight?
All around him was Rosewart, a plant almost entirely edible with a high content of ascorbic acid prized by Indians across the entire United States and Canada. The leaves, stems and even the roots could give him energy for the rest of the day. He chewed on them as he carefully moved forward searching for signs, occasionally bending to the ground to search. In mid-afternoon, a gradual sense of anticipation came over him and he redoubled his scanning of the land and trees he was moving through. He started moving in a crouch using bush and tree cover. His sense of danger grew. There was nothing he could lay the feeling to except the absence of signs. No odor, no noise, the forest was abnormally quiet. In itself, that was a sign. He proceeded even more slowly and carefully.
Out of the corner of his eye, his peripheral vision caught a flicker of movement high and to his left. Instinctively and reflexively he threw himself to the right away from the movement. As he landed in a tuck, he heard and saw an arrow thunk into the ground where he had been standing. He continued in a roll, ending up behind a tree. There was no second arrow.
Josh froze and listened. He heard a faint receding sound from the direction of the arrow and decided it was the archer moving away.
He looked at the arrow. It was still quivering in the ground. He was sure that he had heard the unmistakable sounds of the archer fleeing. He walked over and pulled the arrow out of the ground. “Aha, hand-made and a thing of beauty. The shaft’s really well made and the head looks like a piece of obsidian. Could have killed me easy.” Fatalistically he shrugged his shoulders. “But he didn’t, a costly mistake on his part.“ He reflected for a moment. “He must have thought he had a sure shot or he wouldn’t have risked giving away his presence. Now I know he’s here and his primary weapon is a bow and arrow and I know he’s a tree climber.” Another thought struck him. “And he’s a damn scary archer too.”
He reflected on the fact that most trackers would have probably been killed by the arrow, not having the extraordinary eyesight and reflexes that He had been blessed with. His quarry was proving to be formidable.
Relying on his hearing and judgement that the man was moving quickly away from where he had taken his shot, Josh went into action. “Moving that quickly and carelessly he’ll be easy to track.”
Josh started after the killer. The track at first led directly west, away from the northerly course his trail had been taking. Gradually it curved back to a north-easterly course as before. It was easy to follow at first as the man had been anxious to get away. Gradually however there were signs that he was slowing down and being more careful about leaving signs. It didn’t stop Josh. Eventually the trail led back to the stream, more than a mile above where the attack had occurred. Here the trail ended at the stream. He was relying on the stream to cover his tracks again. Josh tried to put himself into his quarry’s mind. He had retreated immediately after missing with the arrow, but he had retreated in a planned direction. He had made a large circle back to the stream in order to hide his trail. The man was good but his abilities hadn’t been sharpened by centuries of Indian history. Josh wasn’t fooled. He spent some time looking for signs that he had either gone downstream or upstream. Once again he found almost invisible but un-mistakable signs going upstream. Josh moved slowly upstream, searching for signs where the killer might have left the water.
Instead he found a small, obviously man-made rock dam in the stream. “gotcha!” He thought. He crouched in the pool, carefully scanning the surroundings for any sign of his quarry. Gradually he climbed out of the stream and carefully started looking for signs of habitation. No hut, no cabin, no lean to, no tent. Nothing except the dam.
“Where the hell are you, you son of a bitch,” he muttered.
He started scanning the treetops. “There!” He thought. A dark spot among several treetops. With his keen eye-sight he was gradually able to make out a small treehouse almost totally hidden by leafy growth high up in the trees. There was no discernable movement.
“Where is he and how in hell does he get up there?” Josh wondered as he moved from tree to tree searching. “He has to be out there somewhere watching me, he has to.” Josh reasoned. “Somehow I have to draw him in.”
He made an elaborate show of searching the clearing, then re-entered the stream and started searching upstream for signs where his quarry might have left it. Soon he found it, an almost invisible, elaborately planned and executed swinging vine that allowed a person to land ashore several feet away from the bank, leaving no trail. Assuming he was still being watched, Josh ignored it and continued slowly upstream for more than a mile before exiting the stream and heading circuitously back south.
This time he knew where he was going and how far. He had to be extremely careful not to be spotted. His plan was to get within sight of the treehouse and simply wait. A hunting style Indians had used for hundreds of years, it required patience and more patience. Once again he blessed his buckskins. He could be almost invisible huddled up against a tree trunk or a fallen log, as long as he didn’t move. He emulated the mountain lion and with extreme care and total silence went west for what he reckoned was about a quarter of a mile, then circled back. As he had planned he arrived back at the stream almost directly opposite the clearing. he used the thickness of the forest to conceal his presence.
He found a large tree and using his Ninja clawed gloves was able to climb the back side of the tree to a crotch some thirty feet off the ground. He took a half hour to ever so slowly inch into the crotch to avoid being noticed. It gave him a commanding view of the clearing. He quietly set up his cross bow and made sure he could accurately fire the steel tipped arrows anywhere in the clearing. He began to feel sorry for his quarry, once he entered the clearing, he would be an easy target. He settled in to wait. It was just a matter of time.
Hours went by. Josh didn’t move. He ignored crawling insects and one tree snake that slithered over his right leg. He began to feel hunger and thirst but ignored them.
Just as dusk was arriving, Josh’s patience was rewarded. A thick growth of ivy like vines surrounding a couple of trees moved. Josh focused upon it. Gradually an opening appeared. A hand thrust through followed slowly by a face. It was the first glimpse Josh had of his quarry. A darkly tanned face, heavily seamed with creases, a long dark beard and almost bald.
Josh held his breath. Shortly a leg was thrust out followed by the man’s body as he slid out sideways from his hiding place. He was clothed in ragged jeans and shirt and a pair of old high topped canvas shoes. He slowly stood up and did nothing. Josh felt sorry for him. He didn’t know that he was a dead man standing. Josh could have easily killed him then as he stood motionless. His steel tipped arrows would have reached him before he could possibly move.
Josh waited. He was curious about the tree house. Did he actually use it? How did he get to it? He waited some more, sure he couldn’t be seen.
The man was extremely patient. He didn’t move for several minutes until he darted to another tree, reached up and freed a natural looking vine from a low limb. He leaned back, put his feet against the trunk of the tree and using the vine as a rope slowly walked his way up the trunk to a branch some twenty feet off the ground. Something Josh could do but few could. Again Josh was impressed by the man’s woods-man-ship and agility.
He watched as the man reached behind the tree and pulled a hanging rope out, a man-made rope that Josh had missed when he explored the clearing earlier. The rope led up to another branch high above him. He took a twist of the rope around his wrist, stepped off his branch and slowly swung to the tree where the treehouse was lodged, landing on a large branch. From there Josh watched him climb from to limb to limb to reach the tree house. No wonder no one had been able to find him.
His curiosity satisfied, Josh steeled himself to end his assignment the only way acceptable to him. He couldn’t capture the man and march him out for three days. He had deliberately eschewed any back up cell phone or radio to call for help. Nobody knew where he was. The man had deliberately and viciously murdered an innocent family. Josh had no compunction about pulling the trigger, which is exactly what he did. He carefully aimed the crossbow, allowed for a slight wind and pulled the trigger, quickly re-arming just in case. He needn’t have. The arrow punctured the center of the man’s chest and he toppled forward off the branch falling in a heap on the forest floor.
Josh dropped off his tree, dashed across the creek and checked that he was really dead. He was. Josh left him and using the same technique he had witnessed, made his way up to the tree house. Inside there was nothing of interest except some canned food, a few articles of clothing and a few tools. This could not have been the year around hiding place he must have had. It was more of a hidey hole. Josh thought it was probably meant to be an unfindable retreat.
“Curious,” Josh thought. “I found his hidey-hole but didn’t find his camp. Doesn’t matter. He’s finished.“
He already knew what was going to happen next. He had been told that no-one had ever claimed to know the man or know who he was. The only interest in him was removing him as a threat to others. That was done. He was a vicious and unrepentant murderer with no connections to anyone that was known about. Josh decided to bury him where he had fallen. He started digging a deep grave and cut some branches to make a simple cross. The next to last thing he did was to check if was wearing a set of dog tags, he wasn’t.
After much thought and some soul searching and as proof that he had successfully completed his assignment.
He scalped him.
A short ebook featuring Joshua Rogan: World champion Karate, Ninja and Parkour expert and a walking lethal weapon, doubles as a married Yosemite Park Ranger to avoid unwanted publicity. He spends his spare time with the remaining Native American Indians in the valley, absorbing their forest survival, tracking and fighting techniques. He’s continuously confronted with dangerous situation that only he can solve. In this story, Joshua Rogan has to use all of his abilities to catch a murderer who's been evading capture for two years, a man who is the ultimate woodsman and jungle fighter.