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Hickam, Homer The Dinosaur Hunter: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9781250001962

The Dinosaur Hunter: A Novel

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9781250001962: The Dinosaur Hunter: A Novel
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"A fascinating thriller, well crafted and relentless ... A cross between Tony Hillerman and Larry McMurtry, this is one hell of a good read."--Douglas Preston, author of Tyrannosaur Canyon and Blasphemy

The cowboys who work on the ranchlands of Montana expect more than their fair share of trouble. One of them is Mike Wire, a former homicide detective. Mike is about to learn murder and mayhem can happen under Motnana's big skies, too. Beneath the earth lie enough dinosaur fossils to fill several museum collections---and make a fortune for whoever claims them first. Soon he will have to combine everything he learned as a cop with everything he knows as a cowboy to protect the people and the land he could never live without.

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About the Author:

When he's not writing bestsellers such as Rocket Boys/October Sky, Homer Hickam goes dinosaur hunting in Montana. His important finds include two Tyrannosaurus rexes and numerous other creatures of the Cretaceous Period. He lives in Huntsville, Alabama.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
1

Old Bill Coulter used to say a quiet day in Fillmore County is a temptation to God and sure enough, come sundown after a day of blue skies and fair winds, distant pulses of lightning began to play along the horizon, heralding a big storm on its way. Our barn cats, Rage and Fury, came scratching and begging for entrance, and when I answered the door, they flew past me and disappeared inside. Those old cats weren’t scared of much but when a real thunder thumper was bearing down on us, they seemed to prefer the doubtful safety of my dented old trailer to their sturdy barn. Since I was suspicious of mice under my refrigerator, they were welcome. “Just hold it down, boys,” I admonished them. “This old cowboy needs his sleep.” Which, because of the time of the year, was the unvarnished truth.

Since the heifers had started dropping their calves in March, sleep was a precious thing on the Square C and I sure didn’t plan on losing any shut-eye over bad weather, especially since there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. I shooed the cats off my bunk and climbed under the covers, intent on proving that old saw that cowboys could sleep through anything but a stampede.

The storm hit us around midnight with a flash of lightning and a mighty rumble of thunder. Then came the rain with a steady rattle on the skin of my metallic domicile while more heavenly electricity flew through the air. The next boom of thunder shook the trailer so hard, the door on my little micro wave oven flew open. Rage and Fury jumped up on my bed and hissed at me like it was my fault Montana was trying to kill us. I yelled at the cats and they slunk off while I pulled the covers over my head, doing my best to ignore the storm, which kept banging away. I might have succeeded except the vision of a small, black angus heifer formed in my mind. Some bull had nailed her late when we weren’t looking and she was about to drop her calf. My boss lady had advised me to keep a sharp lookout for trouble. “Every two hours on this one, Mike,” Jeanette Coulter had commanded. “She’s got a small pelvis and that looks to be a big calf.”

Lying there beneath the covers, all nice and cozy, I realized I had failed to check on that little heifer even once, mainly because I’d spent the day focused on Jeanette’s pride and joy, a John Deere tractor, which had thrown a cog. I took an entire minute trying to talk myself out of getting up, but I finally gave in. That almost-mama might be out there in awful pain. I had to check on her, storm or no storm.

The cats watched me from atop the refrigerator while I pulled on my rubber boots and slung on my yellow slicker. “Hold down the fort, boys,” I said, then pushed out into the howling rain and wind. My trailer was slanted down a dirt road about a quarter mile from the main house so by the time I got to what we call the turnaround, I was muddy to my knees, soaked to the bone, and generally miserable. Another way of putting that, I was a cowboy ready to go to work.

I headed over to the holding pen with my fingers crossed that all was well. But it wasn’t. In fact, it was a pretty desperate situation. I allowed myself the pleasure of a string of fine curses, then headed to the house, pounding on the door and yelling for Jeanette to get up. Her bedroom window scraped open and I stepped back off the porch. “What the devil do you, want, Mike?” she called.

I only had a moment, in a flash of lightning, to see that she was naked as a jay. Her breasts were a wondrous sight, even as I stood in the mud of the yard, rain flowing off the curl of my hat like water out of a pitcher. The lightning flash died and before the thunder reached us, I collected myself and yelled, “That little heifer in the pen, her calf’s stuck!”

A bolt from above lit everything up again, and I saw her mixed expression of anger and disappointment. I knew what she was thinking. I should have caught this earlier and she was right. “Chains do?” she demanded.

She was referring to the chain-and-pulley system in our barn that we used to pull a stuck calf out. I waited for another rumble of thunder to finish, then yelled up the bad news, “Gotta cut her, I think.”

Jeanette stared at me for a long second, then said, “All right, Mike. Get her in the surgery,” and then slammed shut the window, cutting off the finest view I’d had of her in the ten years I’d worked on the Square C.

I headed for the holding pen. By then, the heifer was down in the mud, breathing hard. My heart went out to her, poor thing. She had always been an outsider to the herd, standing alone most of the time, feeding on the hay left over after the other cows had their fill. Now she was in trouble, big trouble, her calf jammed in her birth canal, a situation, which would kill them both if we didn’t do something about it damn quick.

I heard Ray Coulter calling my name. Ray’s a good kid. Seventeen years old, tall like his daddy with fine features like his mother, smart as paint and a hard worker, too. There aren’t too many places left where they make them like our local boys and girls. By the time they’re eight years old, they can ride a horse and drive a tractor, crack open the block of a truck engine, and shoot a rifle or a handgun and hit what they’re aiming at. They respect their elders, too, even when we don’t deserve it.

“Over here, Ray,” I called back.

Before he could get to me, Ray slipped in the cold wet swamp of the holding pen and went down hard in the mud and manure. If that had happened to me, I’d have turned the air blue with some elaborate cussing, but not Ray. He just picked himself up and made his way on over. Like I said, a good kid. A ranch kid.

By then, it was a wild scene in the corral, the rain roaring and the thunder hammering and the lightning strobing us in stuttering blue-white flashes. “Help me get her up!” I yelled, trying not to sound too hysterical. Together, we grappled with the heifer, both of us going down a couple of times before we finally got her on her feet. She stood there trembling, her mouth foamy with drool, her eyes rolling, and her nose flared. All bad signs. Then she started to moan. “She’s trying to push her calf out,” Ray said.

“Well, she can’t,” I replied. “And I don’t think chains are gonna work, either.”

“A C-section, Mike?” I saw his eyes light up. “I’ve never seen one of those!”

“Well, Ray, I think tonight’s your lucky night. Your mom’s probably already waiting for us.”

Ray and I pushed and pulled the heifer through the double doors that led to the surgery, then clamped her neck in a steel rail catch. This, of course, didn’t make her happy, and she rattled the walls with panicky squalls. I kept talking soothing cow talk to her but she wasn’t much consoled. Cows are smart. She was in trouble, she knew it, and she doubted a couple of idiots like me and Ray were going to get her out of it. Truth was we couldn’t. Only Jeanette could and the operation she was about to perform in that cold, concrete room didn’t allow much error. I didn’t know another rancher in Fillmore County who would attempt what she was about to do. But then, they’re not Jeanette Coulter.

Jeanette was in her green scrubs. She finished washing at the sink and gave me and Ray the once-over. “Well? I can’t do a thing, you two covered in gumbo and cow shit! Get yourself over to the sink and wash up!”

Ray and I slunk past her, stripped off our rain gear and shirts, scrubbed our hands, faces, and upper torsos, then pulled on clean white T-shirts that were kept in a cabinet beside the sink for just that purpose. Jeanette watched us, then said, “Not that I don’t trust you, Mike, but we’re gonna check this little mama before I cut her. Ray, you do it.”

I confess I was grateful that she’d picked Ray over me. Pushing my hand up inside an expectant mama cow isn’t exactly my favorite thing to do. But Ray smiled like his mom had done him a favor, got out the K-Y, and ran his arm up to his shoulder.

When Ray did his duty, I made certain I was a good piece away from that heifer’s head. I saw a cowboy lean in close to a cow’s head one time, just to scratch her ears while the vet was inserting his hand in the other end, and he got his clock cleaned for his trouble. Three cowboy teeth went flying and everybody, including the vet, laughed out loud. Even the cowboy grinned, showing the big, bloody gap in his teeth. “You gonna buy me thum new teeth, bossth?” he asked before spitting blood. The boss rancher provided a long stare at his employee before replying “Nope,” and he didn’t, either.

“Calf’s backward, Mom,” Ray reported. “Its legs are all tangled up, too.”

Jeanette pressed two fingers to her forehead, closed her eyes, then shot me a look like it was all my fault, which I guess it was, me and that damned bull. “All right, looks like we got to do this thing. Mike, you set me up. Ray, you shave. I’ll do the epidural.”

Ray got to work with the electric razor, and I set out the hemostats, scalpels, needles, and sutures our surgeon would need. When Ray was finished, I applied antiseptic over the shaved area. By then, Jeanette was done with the epidural and the little mama’s legs were quivering. I released the catch and Ray and I did our best to let the cow down easy. “You hold her, Ray,” Jeanette ordered. “Mike, you get over here and help me.”

I took up station beside Jeanette. When she glanced at me, I gave her a reassuring smile, which earned me a full-bore, Jeanette Coulter frown. She turned back to the heifer an...

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