Excerpt from Museum of Human Beings by Colin Sargent, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Museum of Human Beings

by Colin Sargent

Museum of Human Beings by Colin Sargent
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  • First Published:
    Dec 2008, 352 pages
    Nov 2009, 352 pages

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"Compliments of the Great Chief of the United States of America." Clark slowly reached into a black bag held open by Gass and produced a piece of "solid water" for the Chinook leader, who, bored with mirrors, waved it away.

"No shit." The Chinook made a hawking sound deep in his throat. "Wake." He spat in Clark's face.

Clark answered with a rusty haw hoo he'd cultivated in the Kentucky militia to impress young ladies in drawing rooms. Reaching back to grasp Lewis by the vest, Clark pulled his partner off balance, drew him close, and spat in his face.

"Was that really necessary?" said Lewis as he pitched back and wiped his cheekbone with his sleeve.

The brave grinned broadly. "Haw hoo!"

Clark wore the spittle like a badge of honor. "We're open for business. Let's see if he'd prefer the tobacco, or the vermilion."

Baptiste twisted around his mother's slender neck for a better view. Gass slowly pulled a pouch of the leaves that burned with a dark redolence. The brave refused it, along with the rich folds of blood-red cloth. He dismissed two silver trading amulets embossed with The Lewis & Clark Voyage of Discovery. He pushed aside Clark's English surveying tools, as he had no desire to calculate their distance to Arcturus. He envied not at all the well-executed, steel-engraved illustration of President Thomas Jefferson, nor even Clark's final resort, their last crumbs of hard tack.

"O'-koke." The Chinook leader made a sign and pointed to Sacagawea. Baptiste felt his mother quickly push his head down with the back of her skull as she retreated a step.

"What the hell?" Lewis blurted.

"Shh," Clark said.

The brave, barely older than Sacagawea, keenly focused on her with his half-drawn wolf eyes.

He stepped toward mother and child, and as they froze he took in Baptiste with a funny glance - are you a raccoon trapped at the top of a burning tree? - before descending to his knees in front of the young mother as if to pay her homage. But instead, his hands circled her waist, tracing the lines of her brilliant blue Lemhi beaded belt that denoted her and her son's rank as members of a royal family. Princess Sacagawea had worn it proudly since she was nine. Even her Hidatsa captors, who'd inflicted all other humiliations, hadn't had the heart to take it away from her.

"O'-koke," he said. For me, this.

Clark, blind to the ornament's significance, forced a laugh, and the other men joined in. Loudest of all was Toussaint. Sacagawea untied the belt and handed her birthright to the young man. She kept her eyes on the horizon.

The Chinook wrapped the prize around his bicep and walked briskly back to his men. He yanked a string of greasy weasel tails out of his saddle bag and marched back to Sacagawea. Tossing the weasel tails at her, he mounted his horse.

"Wake," she said sharply, remembering his word. When the Chinook turned back to her, the princess admonished him sharply in Shoshone. He rolled his eyes but reached back into his pack and accorded her a scrap of dark blue cloth, which she folded over the weasel tails and tucked under her arm. "O'-koke," she said.

Baptiste thought he heard his mother laugh, but with a different tone. No one followed them when she ran into the woods through the branches, slipped across a mossy ledge, and hopped a rocky stream.

Watching the world bounce from his mother's back, Baptiste saw the men grow smaller and disappear as Sacagawea twisted up through some forested undergrowth to emerge atop a granite outcropping so high in the wind they could hear the Pacific roar even more clearly in the distance, though clouds prevented their seeing it. The Columbia River estuary lay like a trade-silver necklace below. Baptiste had never seen his mother cry, so he kept very still until he grew hungry. His mother's eyes were still wet as she wrapped him in the scrap of blue flannel, nursed him, and tucked him into his papoose.

Excerpted from Museum of Human Beings by Colin Sargent. Copyright © 2008 by Colin Sargent. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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