Authors: Gloria Skurzynski
A MYSTERY IN ACADIA NATIONAL PARK
Text copyright Â© 2002 Gloria Skurzynski and Alane Ferguson
Cover illustration copyright Â© 2008 Jeffrey Mangiat
All rights reserved.
Reproduction of the whole or any part of the contents is prohibited without written permission from the National Geographic Society, 1145 17th Street N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036.
Map by Carl Mehler, Director of Maps. Map research and production by Joseph F. Ochlak and Martin S. Walz Humpback whale art by Joan Wolbier
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to living persons or events other than descriptions of natural phenomena is purely coincidental.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Out of the deep / by Gloria Skurzynski and Alane Ferguson.
p. cm.â(Mysteries in our national parks; #10)
Summary: Jack, Ashley, and their unreliable new foster sister set out to solve the mystery of why whales are beaching themselves at Acadia National Park.
[1. WhalesâFiction. 2. Acadia National Park (Me.)âFiction. 3. Foster home careâFiction. 4. National parks and reservesâFiction. 5. Mystery and detective stories.] I. Ferguson, Alane. II. Title. III. Series.
PZ7.S6287 Â Ou 2002
For Stephanie Alm,
a rising star
The authors want to thank the following people for their wonderful help. At Acadia National Park: David A. Manski, Biologist and Chief of Resources Management; David Buccello, Chief Park Ranger; Deborah Wade, Interpretive Ranger. At Allied Whale, we're extremely grateful to Sean Todd, Senior Researcher. Sean is also Professor of Science Resource at College of the Atlantic. Many thanks also to Rosemary Seton, Whale Biologist, Director of Stranding Response Program. We're grateful to District Court Judge Kevin Sidel for his suggestions and to GenAnn Keller, Librarian. Very special appreciation goes to Vicki Lockard, editor of
Canku Ota (Many Paths),
an online newsletter celebrating Native America, for granting us permission to use the legend about the Great Spirit and the bowhead whale. Visit
f course I know what's at stake,” the man said gruffly, pressing the receiver against his ear. “Millions. A huge international deal. Don't worry, I won't screw up. I'll do whatever it takes. You know that.”
He took a drag from his cigarette and looked around to make sure his conversation had gone unnoticed. Through the haze, he saw a couple huddled over a small table, while a grizzled man stared vacantly into his glass.
It was then that he noticed the top of a head rising from a nearby booth and two round eyes staring at him. Anger surged through him. What was a kid doing in a place like this? How much had she heard?
“Something just came up. I'll call you back,” he said, slamming the pay phone into its cradle. He couldn't let some kid ruin his plan. Not nowânot when they were about to cash in!
He turned quickly to make his way toward the girl. Whatever it takes, he told himself. Whatever it takesâ¦.
hen Jack saw his mother's face, he knew the news on the other end of the phone was bad.
“Two more are
Olivia cried into the receiver. Squeezing her eyes shut, she let out a long sigh. “This is nothing short of bizarre. I truly don't understand why they're dying this way. Where did you find the bodies? Uh-huh,” she nodded, peering at a map she'd laid out on her desk, tracing it lightly with her fingertip. “Yes, I can see where that isâright at the edge of the peninsula. How badly decomposed?” Another pause, and then, “I'm sure that will make your job harder. The stench can be overpowering.”
“What's up?” Jack's 11-year-old sister, Ashley, asked as she walked into the Landons' study. Their newest temporary foster child, Bindy Callister, trailed behind, a bowl of popcorn perched on her round hip. Munching noisily, she shoveled another fistful into her mouth, her cheeks bulging out like a chipmunk's. Although Bindy had been at the Landons' home for only three days, she already knew where all the food was kept and didn't seem the least bit shy about foraging through the cupboards, helping herself to whatever she found. The strangest foster kid we've ever taken in, Jack decided the day Bindy arrived.
It wasn't about the way she looked, although that had been odd enough. Bindy's tie-dyed T-shirt was wildly bright, with fluorescent swirls that splashed across her in neon constellations. Mousy brown hair had been pulled into a limp ponytail, and her too-tight jeans looked as though they'd fused onto her skin. Loud and boisterous, Bindy seemed to think she knew something about absolutely everything. When Ms. Lopez, the social worker, tried to speak, Bindy talked right over her, waving her arms as though she were on stage.
“Be patient with her,” Jack's father, Steven, had told him later. “I know she can be a bitâoverpoweringâbut she's been through a lot.”
“'Cause her own parents don't want her,” Ashley told Jack. “I heard Ms. Lopez tell Mom about it.”
“Please don't say anything about that to Bindy!” Steven urged.
“Oh, I won't. It's just really sad. I don't know what I'd do if you and Mom didn't want
Now, as Bindy settled into a chair next to Jack, he tried to imagine what it would be like to be 14 years old and dumped into a foster home, waiting to hear what the judge ruled about your life. How would it be to have your family reject you? How would it be to have your whole future decided by someone you'd never even met before? No matter how annoying she was, Jack knew he'd have to give Bindy some space. It was the least he could do.
“Ashley, sit there,” Bindy directed, pointing to a spot on the floor. “I get the chair because I'm older than you. Age before beauty!”
Ashley shot Jack a look, shrugged her shoulders, then dropped onto the carpet.
“OK. But we have to be quiet, Bindy,” Ashley whispered. “Mom's on the phone.”
Though Olivia Landon normally worked at the Elk Refuge at Jackson Hole, she'd converted a corner room into a home office. The large oak desk was piled high with papers stacked into a double helix. A tall coffee mug and a glass of water sat next to the computer keyboard, something their father said was dangerous, but Olivia insisted she was careful enough to handle things in her own space. Books wrapped in every color of the rainbow filled an oversize bookshelf, all of them bearing scientific titles that twisted Jack's tongue when he tried to read them out loud. The pale blue walls had been peppered with pictures of every kind of wildlife, from soaring eagles to bright-eyed foxes to coiled snakes, all photographed by their father, who dreamed of becoming a full-time photographer. Jack loved the clutter of it all. “Ideas ferment in here,” Olivia always told them.
“So there's no sign of disease?” she was asking into the phone. She twisted her chair from side to side, paused, then asked, “When will the results be in?”
As Bindy noisily sucked the butter off each finger, Jack felt his teeth clench, but he willed himself to be patient. It sounded as though there might be bigger problems than an annoying foster kid.
“Hey, Jack-o, you want some popcorn?” Bindy asked, extending the bowl in his direction. “I made it the real way, with a pan and oil and real butter instead of that imitation-powder-microwave junkâ”
He shook his head.
Mom's talking to a biologist at Acadia National Park. They found more bodies on the beach, which brings the total to 12.”
No way!” Bindy bellowed, slapping a thick thigh.
“Don't be stupid,” Jack hissed. “A whale and some seals and stuff from the ocean. They've washed up dead, and the park people can't figure out why. Nothing quite like this has ever happened before. Try to be quiet, Bindy. My mom's talking, and I want to listen.”
“Can you cut off the heads and put them on ice?” he heard his mother ask. Nodding tersely, she scratched notes on a yellow pad. Her reading glasses rested on her thin nose like half-moons, while her hair swirled to her shoulders in dark, smoky curls. Olivia, a wildlife veterinarian, was frequently called in by the parks to solve animal mysteries. There was a good possibility that she'd now be asked to Acadia National Park in Maine, about as far as you could go from their home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and still be in the continental United States. And maybe, Jack hoped, the rest of them would get to go, too. He'd never been to Maine.
Sighing, Olivia said, “It's a big job, but you'll need to cut off the whale's head and cool it down fast. Decomposition hides details. Heads can yield valuable clues.”
Wrinkling her nose, Bindy cried, “Cutting off heads? That's so gross.”
Ashley placed her finger to her lips.
“So, who's Acadia?” Bindy asked Jack, not bothering to keep her voice low.
“Acadia is a park,” he answered softly.
Olivia gave the three of them a look and extended her hand in a signal that meant “be quiet or get out.” Flipping the page, she scrawled more notes.
“I still don't get it,” Bindy pressed. “Why are the people in Acadia calling your mom? She's a vet in Jackson Hole. Doesn't she just deal with elk and other four-footed creatures?”
“Mom knows all about whales. She did a whole seminar on them when she was at College of the Atlantic,” Ashley whispered. “Now hushâ”
It was too late. “Excuse me, Sean. I'm sorry to interrupt, but my kids are chattering and I can't hear a word you're saying.” Olivia covered the mouthpiece of the phone and waved them away. “You kids go outside for awhile. Better yet, start packing. Something's really wrong in Maine, and I need to get out there fast. We'll all go.”
“Me too?” Bindy asked, wide-eyed.
“You too. We're going to Acadia!”
To Jack, it seemed that Bindy never stopped blabbing the whole trip. Luckily, the airlines provided earphones that could be plugged in to recorded music. Jack turned the volume as loud as he could, trying to drown out Bindy. The only time she kept silent was when she munched on the pretzels the flight attendants brought. Bindy never settled for one bag of pretzels; she always demanded three or four.
For just a little while, when they reached their motel, Bindy stayed silent. She stood on the little deck outside the room she was to share with Ashley, awestruck at the beautiful Atlantic Ocean. Gulls swooped down into the waves, picking up shellfish and dropping them onto the rocks on the beachâwhen the shells broke open, the gulls feasted on the critters inside.
A long wooden pier stretched from the shore, reaching like a bony finger about 60 feet into the ocean. It looked rickety, as though its support pilings had been eroded by decades of salt water. Halfway along its length there was a No Trespassing sign hanging from a chain that stretched between two posts. Except for one small rowboat near the shore, no other boats were tied to the pier.
“This is my first look at the Atlantic,” Bindy murmured. “It looks greener than the Pacific.”
“You've seen the Pacific?” Ashley asked.
“I used to live in California,” she answered. “In Hollywood, actually.”
Yeah, sure, Jack thought. In Hollywood, with movie stars, no doubt. He'd had enough of Bindy. The deck outside the girls' room was connected to the deck outside his parents' room, where Jack would be sleeping on a cot. With one hand on the banister, Jack vaulted over the railing onto his parents' deck. Then he felt like a fool, because the sliding door to his parents' room was locked. He was stuck out there, while the girls laughed at him.
Even though he'd been trying to avoid Bindy, later that evening Jack found himself knocking on the girls' door. He'd had enough of watching waves lap the shore, and his parents weren't being much company right then.
“Mom's reading a bunch of research papers about whales and Dad's going through his camera stuff, so I came to see what you guys are doing,” he told Ashley when she opened the door.
“Not much. We're just flipping around the different channels.” With her arm straight out, Ashley clicked the channel changer button on the remote control again and again. Bindy had spread herself on one of the queen-size beds with a book propped under her chin. She didn't bother to look up.
Suddenly Ashley yelled, “Hey wait! Look thereâit's one of my favorite movies.
“You've already seen that about ten times,” Jack told her, wrestling her for the remote. “You don't need to watch it again.”
Ashley struggled to keep the channel changer out of Jack's reach, but his arms were longer than hers. “Jack! The movie's almost over anywayâjust let me finish watching it 'cause the end's the best part.”
Lifting the changer so high that Ashley couldn't reach itâconsidering that Jack was a good head taller than his puny little sisterâhe said, “OK, we'll let Bindy decide. Bindy, do you want to watch the end of this dumb movie orâ¦.”
“It's not dumb,” Bindy answered. “I was in that movie.”
There she goes again, Jack thought. “You mean you were
the movie,” he said sarcastically. “Like if you go, âI'm really into stock-car racing.' Or âI'm really into extreme sports.' Or âI'm really into potato chips.'”
Bindy shook her head. “I mean I was
the movie. I acted in it. I didn't have the leading role, but I was the cute little girl next door.”
Staring at the screen, Ashley asked, “You mean
“Amanda's a redhead,” Jack protested.
Scornfully, Bindy slapped her book onto her bed. “Well, duh! You've heard of hair dye, haven't you? I told the set's hairdresser not to make me so red, but she wouldn't listen because she said red was what the script called for, so red I would be. I told her it made me look like a pumpkin head. She got all mad when I said that, and then told me I didn't know anything about the business, and the only words I should speak in her presence were the lines from my script. What a grouch!” Pointing a ring-clad finger, Bindy said, “See, there I amâright there. I just walked into Melissa's kitchen. That's me.”
Jack studied the girl on the small screen. If he squinted, maybe that girl did look a little bit like Bindy, but she was a lot younger and she wasâthin!
“Oh, come on. You're just teasingâ¦,” Ashley began.
“No. It's me. I swear!” Flopping onto her stomach, Bindy crossed her ankles and propped her chin in her hand. Then, amazingly, she began to recite the lines at the same time the girl in the movie was saying them. Word for word, without hesitation, her lips moved in perfect sync with the dialogue on the screen. Even if she was faking it, Jack had to give her credit for a good memory.
When Bindy finished, she shot them a triumphant look. Ashley stared at her. “So that really
“Of course,” Bindy said matter-of-factly. “I don't lie. OK, now it's over. Here come the credits. There's my nameâBelinda Taylorâthat's me.”
“But your name's Bindy Callister,” Jack broke in.
Rolling her eyes, Bindy sighed loudly. “Bindy is short for Belinda. And my name used to be Taylor until I was adopted. Before my real mother died.”
“Oh,” Ashley murmured. “I'm sorryâ¦.”
“Yeah, well, it was a long time ago, and I don't like to talk about it.” Jerking her fingers through her thin hair, Bindy seemed to shift gears. “So anyway, I acted in seven TV commercials and one sitcom, and I had parts in two movies. The first movie was just a small part, but in
my role was a lot bigger.”
“Wow!” Ashley blurted. “That is way cool. Tell us about it. Tell us everything. Did you meet famous stars? What were theyâ”
Throwing up her hand like a traffic cop, Bindy demanded, “Wait! First things first. Is there anything to eat in this room? 'Cause I'm starved. If I'm going to do any talking, I need something to eat. And a can of something to drinkâanything but diet. I hate diet soda.”
“There's a candy machine at the end of the hall,” Jack told her. “I have some change.”
“So get me two Butterfingers and a can of orange soda,” Bindy ordered. “Thanks, Jack-o. You're a real pal.”