Dave P. Fisher                        
Author & Western Humorist

Double Diamond Books                      
  
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Monthly Feature
    
    Mark of the Killer

  In this scene, Le Tueur has turned man killer.
  
 

 
 

Janson had arrived at the Kavanagh house within minutes of Ty calling him. Cort Wells arrived a few minutes after him. They had to wait while the Idaho Conservation Officer charged with their area drove up from Kooskia before setting off. In the interim Ty had called Clint who showed up with Ross and a trailer load of horses for the officers to ride on to the scene.

It was late afternoon when they arrived at the dead man’s camp where Ben waited. The state police helicopter out of Coeur d’Alene carrying a State Police detective, and two agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, landed in a nearby clearing and joined the group. A thorough investigation was performed, and then Del Roberts’ remains were placed in a body bag and flown out with the helicopter.

The first the local residents, in particular those who had been in Ralph’s store, had heard of Tueur’s victim was when U.S. Fish and Wildlife Officers began asking questions about the cougar responsible. They got an earful of the atrocities perpetrated by Le Tueur over the past eight years. It was hoped, since local efforts had failed to kill Tueur, the government would put some of its resources into his elimination.

Several of the Cougar Bend residents were gathered along the road watching as the various government vehicles crossed the bridge and headed back down the mountain. A State Police helicopter had been seen flying in, and then out again. They had no idea who was in it, but suspected it carried state investigators in and the remains of Tueur’s victim out.

For the present conversation over the subject was light; however, the talk would flow freely once the locals had gathered to discuss the matter. The common thought was something had to be done about Tueur. Deer and elk were one thing. When he went to killing horses that moved The Killer up a few notches on the wanted list. Now, that he had turned man killer he had made the top of the list.

 

Ben and Ty were exhausted as they dismounted by the tack shed and stripped the saddles from the horses. Leading the horses into the corral, Ty broke open a bale of hay for them. With dragging feet he followed his father into the house.

Joanne had dinner ready. She looked at the drawn and dust covered faces of her husband and son reading the tale of their gruesome experience in them. Val was silent as well, realizing this was not a time to tease her brother. The family ate in silence.

Once filled with hot food and coffee Ben began to feel better. He related the story to Joanne and Val leaving out the more-grisly details. They listened in silence with their varied facial expressions being the only indication of how the story struck them with horror.

Ben looked across the table at Ty, “The boys will be gathered at Ralph’s talking this around. We should go down there and give them the real story.”

Ty nodded his agreement, “Before a bunch of wild tales become the story.”

   It was dark when Ben and Ty pulled the Blazer into Ralph’s parking lot where a dozen vehicles were parked. The store’s windows shown with light telling Ben that the men of the community were discussing the situation in their favorite meeting place. Ben parked next to a pickup and shut off the engine.

Walking into the store the dozen men stopped talking and looked at Ben and Ty. They were immediately pummeled with questions. They knew Tueur had killed a man, but there were no details.

Ralph had called the Kavanagh house to tell Ben, only to get Joanne on the line. She had told him that Ben and Ty were the ones who found the man and were up in the mountains with the officials. With Ben now in the room they were anxious for the full story.

Ben patiently told the entire story detail for detail leaving nothing out.

The men all listened in rapt silence. Head shakes were the only indication of their emotions as no one wanted to miss something by talking out of turn.

“We need to do something about that mountain lion!” an old man dressed in slacks and a white dress shirt shouted out. He looked at Ben, “What do you intend to do about him?”

“Just what we’ve been doing,” Ben replied.

The old man stiffened as if offended. “Obviously that has not worked! No one is safe up in this country anymore,” the man argued with a raised, angry voice. “Any of us could be killed in our very own yards!”

Ben stared at the man, not recognizing him. “What do you propose?” Ben asked him directly.

“Why, hunt him down and kill him, of course.”

The room erupted in comments questioning where the man had been the past eight years.

Ben held up his hand for silence and got it. “Tueur out runs dogs, the best dogs. He ground fights and kills the dogs that don’t drop in their tracks. He never shows himself. He avoids trap sets like he was the one who set them. A lot of men have tried to kill him over the years. Score: Tueur undefeated, men zero. It’s a lot more complicated than hunting him down.”

“That’s simply an excuse to avoid doing what must be done,” the old man snapped.

Ben’s nerves were on the frayed edge of nothing left and the comment took them over the edge. “Then, you go out and kill him, if you’re such an expert! Talk is cheap and you obviously don’t have a clue about it, so shut your stupid mouth!”

“It’s Tueur, not a snowshoe rabbit yah darn fool!” Ralph snapped at the man.

“No one knows Tueur like Ross Dubois,” Ty broke in angrily, “and he can’t even get on that cat. What do you think anyone else can do?”

Several men ridiculed the old man’s comments and made remarks in agreement with Ty.

The old man scowled at the rebuffs directed at him and stomped out of the store in a huff.

Ben looked at Ralph, “Who is that? I don’t believe I know him.”

Ralph snorted with a look of aversion, “He’s a retired college professor from California. Moved up on the highway a couple months ago. He comes in once in a while telling me about how we need to change everything. Improve this, establish that.”

Ben frowned, “One of those city slickers who moves up in the mountains to get away from the city, and then tries to change everything to the city he left.”

“That’s him to a T,” Ralph replied.

“Glad I don’t know him.”

“Wish I didn’t.” Ralph sighed, “We could discuss Tueur until the cows come home, but that’s not going to change anything. It isn’t like no one has ever went after him. Those signs Clint Harding hung up around town about Tueur were none too soon. The best thing we can do, until Tueur is killed, is keep people out of his range.”

“It’s a big range,” Ben said, “and growing bigger by the day.”

“Somebody will get him though, and do you know what? When that happens, I intend to have him mounted full body and put up on the wall right there.” Ralph pointed at an open space on the wall above and behind the counter.

“Make for quite a conversation piece alright,” Ben remarked.

“Bring people into the store like bees to clover to see the man-eating cougar.”

“For all of our sakes I hope it’s soon,” Ben said. He turned to Ty, “We need to get home we’ve got a hunt going out in the morning.”

Everyone in the store called good byes to the pair as they walked out.

 

The following afternoon a pickup with a dog box in the back and hitched to a double horse trailer pulled off the highway parking parallel to it in Ralph’s lot. A fortyish man in a well-worn cowboy hat, long sleeve shirt, faded jeans, and cowboy boots run down at the heels got out and walked across the lot to the store. A Bluetick hound stuck its head out one of the dog box holes and watched him.

Ralph looked up as the man entered. Taking in the man’s style of dress he pegged the stranger as a native to the state, or at least the west. “Afternoon, what can I do you for?”

The man walked up to the counter, fished a business card out of his shirt pocket and laid it on the counter.  “Pete Alden, government trapper,” he said simply.

Ralph read the card lying on the counter that confirmed the man worked for the U.S. Wildlife Service as a predator controller. Ralph looked back up at him, “That’s what it says alright.”

Alden’s expression indicated he didn’t like Ralph’s response to the card he felt would impress the old man. “I’ve been sent to take care of your killer cougar.”

Ralph smiled in a friendly fashion. “Where are you from?”

“I’m based out of Lewiston.”

“Then, I take it you’re not familiar with our neck of the woods.”

“Doesn’t take me long to learn a country.”

Ralph held the smile. “I wasn’t referring to the country, I was referring to Tueur.”

Alden’s brow furrowed, “Tueur? What’s that?”

“Not what – he. Tueur is our resident killer cougar.”

“So? It’s a cougar like any other cougar. My dogs will tree him, I’ll shoot him, and go home.” Alden smirked, “It’s not like it’s my first cougar.”

Ralph stopped smiling as annoyance at the man’s cocky manner drove the friendliness out of him. “How many dogs do you have with you?”

“Three. My Bluetick strike dog and a pair of Walkers.  It’s all I need. They’re all I’ve ever needed.”

“Do you know Monty Payton?”

“No.”

“He brought his Plotts up here, six of them. Best cougar dogs on the Salmon. He jumped Tueur.” Ralph paused for effect as he held Alden’s eyes. “He took three dogs home.”

Alden snorted, “Guess they weren’t such great dogs after all.”

“Tueur doesn’t tree,” Ralph said coolly. “He runs dogs ragged and then ground fights. He’s killed at least six dogs that I’m aware of. He’s been killing deer, elk, and horses up here for the past eight years. You think no one has tried to get him?”

Alden’s eyes smoldered with growing anger as he glared at Ralph. He was touchy about anyone questioning the adeptness of him or his dogs. “You’re a bunch of amateurs – I’m not.”

Ralph barked out a humorless laugh. “There’s men up here that can hunt circles around you and they’ve failed to even get close to killing Tueur. What makes you so special?”

“I’m a professional. That’s what makes me so special.”

“Those men are professional hunting guides.”

“Not the same thing.”

“They’re on a hunt right now, you should at least wait a couple of days and talk to them. I’m sure they can give you some advice on how to hunt Tueur.”

Alden snorted with distain at Ralph’s suggestion. “I don’t need advice, just the direction of the kill site.”

Ralph met the man’s eyes with a flash of anger. “Then do it for your dogs.”

Alden snorted again, “My dogs don’t need advice either.”

 Ralph shook his head and shrugged. “Fine by me. Go have at him.”

“I will. Who can point me to the kill?”

“You might try Matt Shuler.”

“Where do I find him?”

“About ten miles up River Road. He’s got a horse rental business, you’ll see the sign.”

Alden stepped back from the counter. “I’ll be back tonight with your invincible cougar. You can take a picture of me and my dogs with it and hang it in your store here.”

Ralph simply looked at Alden. He had deliberately sent him to Shuler feeling they deserved each other. “Do you know what Tueur means, Mr. Professional?”

“What do I care what it means?”

“It’s French for Killer. He’s carried that name for eight years. That tell you anything?”

Alden huffed a cynical laugh, turned on his run-down boot heels and headed for the door.

Ralph called out after Alden, “I’ll take a picture of you without your dogs, or Tueur, and hang it up. I’ll caption it, I don’t take advice.”

The door slammed as Alden stormed out.

Ralph huffed a disgusted laugh, “So, that’s the best the government can do for the situation. Send us a pompous jackass.”

 

Jep was lying back on his bunk in the bunkhouse resting when he heard a truck coming up the road toward the yard. He got up and went out the door to see who it was. The business was closed, the sign down on the road so it wasn’t a customer. He watched to see who appeared.

As he stood waiting, the sound of the house door opening drew his attention to his father coming out to see as well. The two had not spoken a civil word to the other since the fight. That suited Jep as he had severed his family tie to the man. The old man had made the most of his injuries limping around the yard and porch moaning. A lot of antics trying to make him feel guilty, or give in to him. It hadn’t worked.

He knew the old man was healed from his injuries. The facial bruises were just yellow splotches now, but still he played it up. He snarled with disgust as the old man hobbled down the steps to see who was coming. “What a faker,” he grumbled.

He had not been to Cougar Bend since his encounter with Ty Kavanagh. No one in town wanted to see him and there was no one to visit. He hadn’t needed to buy any additional food at the store so there was no reason to go in. A deer hung in the shade of the trees behind the bunkhouse that he had shot for meat. The old man had demanded half of it, which he refused telling him to hobble on out and shoot his own deer. That had set off another brief fight.

The truck came into view and stopped in front of the house. Jep shook his head as he took in the dog box and horse trailer. “Another idiot that thinks he can run down Tueur,” he said in a low voice.

Matt met Pete Alden as he stepped out of the truck. “Bet you’ve come to hunt a cougar,” Matt said with a smile.

Alden looked at the mess of a man Matt Shuler was. Physically dirty, disheveled clothes, snarly hair, unshaven, and he smelled bad. Obviously lazy. He then cast an eye around the property with its freshly repaired corrals and lack of trash, and disassociated the place with the man standing in front of him.

His wandering gaze stopped on the young man walking toward him. He looked like the hired hand who was probably responsible for the order of the place.

Alden shifted his eyes from Jep back to Matt. “I’m looking for Matt Shuler. There’s supposed to be a horse rental sign on the road, but I didn’t see one.”

Matt held the smile and jabbed his thumb against his chest. “That would be me. Guess the sign fell down.”

“Figures,” Alden remarked. “I was told you could point me to the killer cougar and the site where he killed the man.”

Matt’s jaw momentarily dropped open. “Killed a man? When did that happen?”

“Yesterday. I was told you knew all about it.”

Matt’s eyes flicked back-and-forth as he thought about the helicopter flying around yesterday. It must have been for that. “Oh, yeah,” he suddenly burst out. “I thought you were talking about something else. Sure, I know all about that cat and the man he killed. Big going’s on yesterday.”

Alden looked at Matt with growing impatience. He knew Shuler was lying. “Well, can you point me to it or not?”

Matt’s conniving nature suddenly struck on an idea. His smile broadened, “I can do you one better I can take you right to it . . . for say a hundred dollar guide fee.”

Alden locked an icy glare on Matt. He knew a con job when he heard it. “I thought you said you didn’t know anything about the dead man, how can you guide me to the spot?”

“I said I did know about it. I was just confused at first. I can put you right on the spot.”

Alden had taken an instant dislike to Matt and let it show. “I don’t think you know a post hole from a city manhole. Besides, you’re limping around like a three legged horse what good are you?”

“Ah, this is nothing. I was busting my broncs up here and got stepped on. I’m plenty fit to ride.”

“Right,” Alden remarked with thick skepticism. “Must have stepped on your face, too. Looks more like fight marks to me.”

“Well, yeah. I got in a fight with three Indians what was trying to steal my horses. I whupped ‘em, but caught a couple myself.”

Alden stared at Matt, “You’re so full of B.S. it’s oozing out your ears. You’re useless to me.”

Matt’s face fell into a pout. He scowled at Alden, “Then, find the cat yourself.”

“I can take you there,” Jep said from where he stood back listening.

Alden turned his attention back to Jep which increased Matt’s fury at being rebuffed.

“You know where the dead man was?” Alden asked Jep.

“I don’t know anything about a dead man, but I know Tueur’s territory. Where was the man killed?”

“Nineteen Mile Creek. Up where it crosses the Centennial Trail.”

“I know the spot,” Jep replied.

Alden studied the young man and found him acceptable to talk to. “You want a hundred dollars too I suppose?”

“Fifty,” Jep said simply.

“I work for the United States government. I don’t pay guide fees.”

Jep shrugged, “Fine. I’m sure you have a map.” He turned and began walking back to the bunkhouse. He called out as he walked, “If you value your dogs you’ll forget about running Tueur.”

That was the second time he had been given that warning. A hint of caution was elbowing its way into his ego-centered thoughts. “What’s so special about this Tueur of yours that dogs can’t be put on him?” he shouted back.

Jep stopped walking, turned, and looked at Alden. “Tueur doesn’t tree. He runs dogs until they’re too tired to fight, and then kills them.” He glared at Matt when he said the last.

“Not my dogs,” Alden protested.

Jep looked up at the sun sinking steadily to the west. “Too late to start up there today. You’d best start in the morning, that way you’ll have enough daylight left to bury your dogs.” He turned and continued walking to the bunkhouse.

Alden stared after Jep. There was something in the knowing manner of the kid’s warning that gave him pause. He knew more than he was saying. It might be worth fifty bucks to find out what it was. He had a dozen stock-killing cougars to his credit, but this was the first man killer he had been assigned to. Maybe there was something he needed to know before he put his dogs on this cat.

“Don’t listen to that stupid kid,” Matt snarled. “He doesn’t know jack about what he’s talking about.”

Alden didn’t look at Matt as he replied, “I think he does.”

“I’ll guide you for fifty,” Matt said. “I’ll get your dogs on that cat.”

Alden glanced at Matt, an expression of disgust on his face. “I wouldn’t give you ten cents to guide me across the road.” He then left Matt standing as he walked toward the bunkhouse. 

 

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