Authors: Shari Barr
“I'll tell you what. I'll go ahead and call the resort office to see if they keep a record of times their staff makes calls.” Mr. Carney picked up his phone on the end table and punched in a few numbers.
He spoke to someone on the other end of the line for a few minutes and then hung up. “They don't keep track of the time service calls are made. All they know is a young female staff member got the Internet running last evening sometime.”
McKenzie was beginning to wish she had never seen the woman. She felt there was something suspicious, but she couldn't prove it.
Why were there no lights on in the cabin when I saw her, not even on the sun porch? Because she didn't want to be seen, that's why!
“I'm sorry we bothered you, Mr. C. Maybe I was mistaken,” McKenzie said. “She just acted soâ¦funny, you know?”
Mr. Carney put his arms around McKenzie's and Alex's shoulders. “Don't worry about it, girls. Like I said earlier, I'm glad you're looking out for me.” He paused. “Hey, I was going to loan you that book about caves before you leave. I haven't finished it, but I'll let you read about the local caves. Let me get it.”
The girls waited as Mr. Carney headed to his bedroom. After a few minutes, he returned. “I can't seem to find it. I thought I left it on the nightstand, but I'll have to look around for it and bring it over later.”
As the girls headed to the back door, McKenzie turned to her neighbor. “I've been wondering. If Mr. and Mrs. Franks are so rich, why are they staying at this resort? There are a lot fancier resorts than this one.”
“They come to this cabin every summer while they do work with the Sea Park and other sea lion projects. It's isolated and quieter than any other resort,” Mr. Carney answered.
The girls told their neighbor good-bye and headed back to their own yard. They plunked down into the hammock, swinging it back and forth.
“Do you think we'll find out what happened to Mario and Bianca?” Alex asked as she pulled on a hangnail and made it bleed. “Or do you think it's too lateâ¦if you know what I mean.”
McKenzie cringed at the thought. “I can't believe Mario and Bianca are dead. Surely God wouldn't let that happen to them, would He?”
“I sure hope not,” Alex said glumly. “But it seems that some people are just born nasty.”
“I know. But I don't think it's a coincidence that Mario and Bianca disappeared while we were out here doing a video report on sea lions. I think God allowed all this to happen so we can figure out what happened to them.”
“Maybe,” Alex said as she wrapped the hem of her blue T-shirt around her bleeding finger. “Maybe we could go look around the resort lobby sometime and see if there's an employee who looks like the woman you saw on the sun porch. At least then we'd know if it was Mrs. Franks or not.”
“That's a good idea. And I've also been thinking,” McKenzie said, chewing her bottom lip. “Maybe Mrs. Franks, or whoever that lady was, stole Mr. C.'s book on caves. He said he couldn't find it, and he was sure he left it on his nightstand.”
“But he also said the Frankses were experts on sea lions and caves. Why wouldn't they buy their own copy? Mr. C. said they're rich.” Alex tucked her legs beneath her.
McKenzie folded her arms behind her head and sighed. “I don't know why anyone would steal the book and leave Mr. C.'s valuables, but I'll do everything I can to find out!”
“The tour doesn't start for twenty minutes,” Alex said while the girls waited outside the Sea Lion Harbor lobby the next morning. “Why don't you stand by the sign, and I'll tape you. When I tell you to begin, start saying what we rehearsed.”
McKenzie stood by the sign, trying to act like a professional news reporter. When Alex motioned for her to begin, she smiled at the camera and spoke. “Hi, I'm McKenzie Phillips, and I'm standing outside the Sea Lion Harbor observation area on the gorgeous Oregon coast. In just a few minutes, we'll go inside the cave and take a close-up look at the amazing Steller sea lions.
“The Steller sea lion is in the same family as the seal,” McKenzie continued. “But the sea lion has an external ear flap while a seal only has a tiny opening for an ear. To move through the water, sea lions move their front flippers up and down. They walk on all four flippers on the ground, while seals scoot around. Let's go inside and take a look at the fascinating Sea Lion Harbor.”
“Great!” Alex said, lowering the recorder. “I'll record more after we get inside.”
A steady stream of people of all ages hurried past them, forming lines at the ticket booth. Others stopped to pose in front of the large brass sea lion statue out front and have their picture taken.
“Let's go.” Alex grabbed McKenzie's arm. “People are lining up for tickets already.”
After paying their admission, the girls stepped inside the lobby and waited for the tour to begin. A young man wearing a red polo shirt and matching cap approached their group of about fifteen people. He had long blond hair and looked about twenty years old.
“Hi. I'm Colby, your tour guide. If you've never been to Sea Lion Harbor before, you're in for a treat. I see most of you dressed warmly. That's good. It gets chilly down in the cave. Let's get started. Follow me, folks.”
The girls hurried down the hall following Colby as he led the group down a set of stairs to an elevator.
“Once the elevator lowers us two hundred feet down, we'll take more stairs and climb farther down to the observation area,” Colby explained as the elevator descended. “A few sea lions may be inside the cave, but most of them will be outside on the rocky ledges. In the spring and summer, sea lions prefer to be outside in the fresh air.”
McKenzie felt her stomach twitch as the elevator dropped lower and lower into the ground. After they reached the bottom, they stepped out of the elevator. The girls followed Colby and the rest of the group down a set of stairs. Tiny lights set into the wall lit their way.
McKenzie peered over the railing into the darkness of the cave. The air smelled damp and musty. McKenzie shivered despite the sweatshirt she had worn. Alex was at the end of the line, recording every minute with her video recorder.
At the bottom of the stairs, they turned a corner and stepped into a well-lit observation area. Water from the cove rushed through a tunnel, forming a natural pool at the bottom of the cave. Though only a few sea lions gathered in the pool, they sounded like a thousand. Their barking echoed off the cave walls.
McKenzie searched the group of sea lions, hoping to see Mario and Bianca. She was praying that the two pups had somehow gotten separated from their mother, Susie, and made their way in here. She knew it was not likely, but she couldn't help hoping. Scanning the herd of sea lions, she groaned inwardly.
They're not here, either,
she thought dismally.
Down inside, McKenzie felt guilty for suspecting the Frankses of stealing the pups. Though the young boy claimed he had seen the theft, he could have been mistaken. But the description of the man's fish tattoo seemed too coincidental. McKenzie felt the boy was speaking the truth.
But why would anyone steal some of God's precious animals? If the Frankses actually stole them, surely they knew it was illegal,
“Let's record some more here,” Alex said as she tugged McKenzie into position in front of the railing.
“I can't hear a thing you're saying!” McKenzie yelled over the din of the barking sea lions behind them.
“This could be interesting!” Alex practically screamed in McKenzie's ear. “But let's try it.”
After several attempts at recording McKenzie's report, Alex broke into a fit of giggles. “All I can see through the viewfinder is your mouth moving, while the sea lions are barking their heads off. It almost looks like you're barking your head off, too!”
“Maybe I can report separately, when we get away from all this noise,” McKenzie said.
The girls hurried to catch up with Colby and the rest of the group who had left the observation area. The tour guide led the group outside, down another set of stairs to the outdoor viewpoint. As Alex recorded the herd of sea lions on the rocky ledge, McKenzie stepped closer to the tour group.
“Can sea lions be hunted?” a man asked.
“No, it is illegal to hunt sea lions,” Colby answered. “The number of Steller sea lions have decreased over the years. But since laws are in place to protect all marine mammals, hopefully their numbers will increase.”
McKenzie pulled a notebook from her backpack and scribbled notes in case she needed them later. As she turned to head back to Alex, Colby's voice caught her attention.
“Many people love to watch the sea lions at play. They adapt well to captivity and are natural entertainers.” Colby pointed out several sea lions putting on a show for the audience by spinning in the water.
The group gathered at the railing, watching the sea lions frolic below them. Alex paced about the upper ledge, recording the animals from various angles.
McKenzie's mind was lost in thought when she felt her cell phone vibrate in her pocket. Stepping away from the barking sea lions, she saw Bailey's phone number on the screen.
“Hey, Bailey,” McKenzie answered, plugging her other ear with her finger to drown out the background noise.
“I can hardly hear you,” Bailey said. “What's all that noise?”
“We're at the Sea Lion Harbor taking a tour. That barking is from the sea lions,” McKenzie explained.
“Well, I just wanted to tell you I've been researching sea lions. I found an Internet article that says they make great performers in circus acts and marine shows,” Bailey said.
“Really? That's cool,” McKenzie said. “I wonder what kinds of acts they can do.”
“I don't know,” Bailey said. “The article didn't say. Maybe the thieves want to sell them for an act, though.”
McKenzie thought for a moment. “That's an idea, anyway. Maybe I can ask our tour guide about it.”
After saying good-bye to Bailey, McKenzie hung up and stuffed the phone in her pocket. The group had scattered about the observation area, many of them snapping pictures.
While she waited for Alex to finish taping the sea lions, McKenzie walked over to Colby. He was leaning on an iron railing, staring at the sea lions below. He looked up as she approached.
“My friend and I are doing a video report for a public TV station. Could I ask you a few questions?” McKenzie asked.
“Shoot,” Colby answered, still leaning on the railing.
“We're trying to figure out what happened to the missing sea lion pups.” McKenzie held her notepad and pen, poised to write. “A friend of mine said that sea lions are used for circus acts. Is that true?”
Colby's eyes narrowed. “Yes, some shows around the country use them for entertainment.”
“How and where are sea lions trained?” McKenzie continued.
Colby stood up straight, looking at her with piercing eyes. He paused and asked, “What do you know about these missing pups?”
“Nothing, really,” McKenzie said, wondering why he didn't answer her question. “We heard they might have been stolen, so we're trying to figure out where the thieves might have taken them.”
“So, you think you can find these baby sea lions?” Colby smirked.
“Well, we're pretty good at solving mysteries,” McKenzie explained. “We have some clues already.”
Colby's eyes narrowed as he folded his arms across his chest. “What kind of clues?”
McKenzie suddenly felt uncomfortable.
Why is he so concerned about the information we have?
she wondered while Colby tapped his foot.
“Well, we have a description of the couple seen taking them. Since sea lions are used in circus acts, I'm wondering if the thieves are planning to train and sell them. If we could get inside a training center, maybe we could find the pups,” McKenzie said.
Colby turned away and stared absentmindedly at the sea lions in the cove.
Did I say something wrong?
He acts almost upset with me for asking about Mario and Bianca.
After a minute, Colby turned back to McKenzie. “I know somebody who may have answers for you. Let me make a quick phone call.”
McKenzie took a deep breath.
He must not be mad after all if he wants to help. Maybe he's just concerned about the sea lions.
Colby walked to the far side of the observation area. He pulled a cell phone from a clip at his waist. He glanced at McKenzie, then turned his back to her. The noise of the sea lions was so loud that she couldn't hear a word he said on the phone.
A movement behind McKenzie caught her attention. Turning, she saw Alex approaching. McKenzie quickly filled her in on her phone call with Bailey and her conversation with Colby.
The girls waited anxiously until Colby returned. “Well, girls, I have a surprise for you. I called Sea Park and told them about your video report and your questions. They are happy to help you out. The moment this tour is over, they want you to come for a special tour of the park. Someone there will have all the answers for you.”