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Authors: Gloria Skurzynski

Wolf Stalker

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WOLF STALKER

A MYSTERY IN YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK

GLORIA SKURZYNSKI AND ALANE FERGUSON

For Barbara Lalicki

Together again, the three of us

Copyright © 1997 Gloria Skurzynski and Alane Ferguson
Cover illustration copyright © 2007 Jeffery 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.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to living persons or events other than descriptions of natural phenomena is purely coincidental.

Map by Matthew Frey—Wood Ronsaville Harlin, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Skurzynski, Gloria
Wolf stalker / Gloria Skurzynski and Alane Ferguson p. cm.—(A national parks mystery; #1)
Summary: Twelve-year-old Jack, his younger sister, and the family's teenage foster child Troy go to Yellowstone National Park, where Jack's mother, a wildlife veterinarian, is investigating the report that wolves reintroduced to the park have killed a dog there.
ISBN: 978-1-4263-0964-9
[1. Wolves—Fiction. 2. Wildlife reintroduction—Fiction. 3. Wildlife conservation—Fiction. 4. Yellowstone National Park—Fiction. 5. National parks and reserves—Fiction. 6. Mystery and detective stories.]I. Ferguson, Alane. II. Title. III. Series.
PZ7.S6287Wo 1997 97-11125

[Fic]—DC21

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The authors are grateful for the valuable
information provided so generously by
Mike Phillips, Wolf Restoration Program Leader,
Yellowstone National Park;
Marsha Karle, Chief of Public Affairs,
Yellowstone National Park;
Elden Naranjo, Tribal Historian for
the Southern Ute Tribe;
Bruce L. Smith, Wildlife Biologist,
National Elk Refuge, Jackson, Wyoming;
and Larry F. Jones, ballistics expert.

 

A
soulful howl rose, fell, and then faded. It told the man he was zeroing in on his prey. As he fingered the barrel of his rifle, his eyes searched the thick forest growth for signs of his enemy. There! A flash of black fur followed by a streak of silver—instantly he raised his rifle, but before he could take aim, the wolves disappeared into the brush. Once again, they had escaped his bullet.

“Don't care how long it takes,” he murmured. “You're mine.” Slinging his rifle across his shoulder, the man impatiently pushed at branches hanging in his line of sight. Morning light dappled Yellowstone National Park, turning the autumn grass into pale gold. Intent on his quest, the man didn't notice.

He was the stalker; the wolves, his prey….

CHAPTER ONE

“C
an't you put some quarters in the slot or something to make it shoot off?” Troy asked. “We've been waiting forever.”

Jack looked up sharply.

He didn't know Troy well enough to tell if he was joking. Ashley, though, burst out laughing.

“Mom!” she yelled. “Troy said we should put money in a slot to make Old Faithful start. Like it was a video game or something. Isn't that funny?”

Olivia Landon smiled, but Jack could tell his mother was distracted. She stared intently at a cellular phone she was holding. “Mmm,” she murmured, which meant she hadn't really noticed what anyone was saying.

Ashley tried again. “Mom—”

Suddenly, their mother seemed to focus. “I'm sorry, honey. It's just—every minute that slips by makes it harder for me to analyze the killing scene.” Turning the cell phone in her hand, she frowned and said, “I should have gotten the call an hour ago. I hope nothing's gone wrong….”

“So what are we supposed to do in the meantime—just stand here forever?” Troy growled.

Jack felt his stomach clamp with anger. He wished he could dump Troy right into Old Faithful and watch him melt, but his father's expression warned him to keep quiet.

Steven Landon explained, “Until Mike's call comes, we might as well stay here.” Mike was the head of Yellowstone's Wolf Restoration Program. The Landons were supposed to meet him that afternoon, but they didn't know where. “Meanwhile, we can watch Old Faithful erupt,” Steven added.

“Watch what? Nothing's happening,” Troy said.

Olivia patted the bench, inviting Troy to sit beside her. But of course he wouldn't. He kept standing there. “Don't worry, Troy,” she began. “It will happen—”

Fists jammed into the pockets of his cheap bomber jacket, Troy walked away.

Olivia and Steven Landon exchanged glances. Their look meant that Troy Haverson had better be watched. They were responsible for him. He was their temporary foster child.

“Will you go after him, Steven?” Olivia asked. “I want to dial Mike's number again. I can't figure out why I haven't heard from him.”

“No problem. I'll get Troy.” Steven ambled after the scowling boy, and when he caught up to him, put his hand on Troy's shoulder. “Old Faithful will start up any minute now,” he said. “It's pretty spectacular—you'll want to see the whole thing right from the beginning.”

“Who says?” Troy muttered, but he let Steven lead him back toward the Landon family group.

Luckily, right then Old Faithful did begin to rumble. Gurgling, splashing, it slid tentative, watery fingers aboveground. Then, as if to test the world of daylight, the first narrow column of water and steam rushed up, and a cheer rose from the hundreds of visitors ringed around the viewing area.

After the watery column fell back, sudden bursts bubbled up one right after the other, making sounds like waves on a seashore. They rose, fell, and rose again to even greater heights. Puffs of vapor at the top of the column got caught by wind, while the heavier drops splashed back onto the ground. At the peak of the eruption, Old Faithful shot nearly 200 feet into the clear blue sky, looking as if it might touch a cloud, just as white, that floated overhead. Roaring, throbbing, the column of water and steam widened into a wall of mist that drifted like a curtain across a stage before it began its descent. Slowlysubsiding, it fell to earth to collect underground for the next performance. In another hour—more or less.

“Ten thousand gallons of superheated steam—wow!” Steven exclaimed.

“The early Indians called this place ‘water that keeps on coming out,'” Ashley said. “How'd you like it, Troy?”

If Troy was impressed, he wasn't going to admit it. Ignoring Ashley, he asked Steven, “So why didn't you take pictures? You're supposed to be a photographer.”

“He's a great photographer,” Jack declared.

“At home I've got lots of shots of Old Faithful. Mostly, now, I photograph wildlife. Elk and bison and mountain lions—”

“Yeah?” Troy shrugged. “They told me you just work in some fast-photo shop developing film.”

Steven flushed a little, but he answered patiently, “That's my day job. If I could make a living photographing animals full-time, that's what I'd do.”

Jack couldn't stand it. Why was his father being so polite? And so was his mother, and so was his sister Ashley, as if Troy were some special, important guest the Landon family had to fuss over and make as welcome as possible, instead of just the obnoxious punk kid that he really was.

Almost from the first minute he'd met him, Jack had wanted to take a punch at Troy.

When the doorbell rang the night before, all the Landons had gathered in the entryway. After taking a deep breath, Olivia reached out to open the front door wide.

“Hi. I'm Theresa Lopez,” a woman with curling gray hair had said, at the same time grabbing the area right above Troy's elbow to lead him inside. “And this is Troy Haverson.”

Shuffling, head down, Troy hung back behind the social worker. Right off, Jack could tell he didn't have a lot of money. Not that the Landon family did either, but Troy looked different, more raw than the kids who lived in Jack's neighborhood. His black bomber jacket was plastic, not leather; the kind with cheap silver zippers that didn't close right. His sneakers were so worn the sides had pulled away from the canvas like strips of rubber lettuce. On the step next to him was a cardboard box he was using as a suitcase. Bands of duct tape had been wrapped around it; on top, the tape looped into a makeshift handle.

Jack wanted to smile at Troy, to try to be nice so his dad would be pleased. It was Steven's idea that the family take in short-term foster kids, to “put something back into the system,” as Steven phrased it. But Troy kept his eyes down and his face turned away.

Looking grave, the social worker said, “This guy has had a pretty rough go of it, but I know he's going to be fine. He really appreciates you helping him out on such short notice. Right, Troy?”

“Mm.” Troy pulled his hands from his pockets, crunching his fists tightly against his sides. Squeeze, relax, squeeze, relax; it was as if he could barely hold himself together inside his skin.

He was tall, taller than Jack, and thicker in the chest and arms. Even though he was only 13, a faint mustache shadowed his upper lip. Dark eyebrows knit over the bridge of his nose. For an instant his chin bobbed up; wary brown eyes skimmed the Landon family, then dropped again. Stringy hair hung over Troy's face like a curtain drawn against intruders. To Jack, the boy looked meaner than a trash dog. How long, Jack wondered, was this shelter kid going to need sheltering?

“Great to meet you, Troy,” Steven Landon said heartily. “You're welcome here.”

“Yes, Troy, we're all so happy to meet you,” Olivia told him.

Ignoring her, Troy asked flatly, “When can I go to my room?” A look passed between Jack's mother and father and the social worker until it came around and rested on Troy once again.

“How about now?” Steven answered. “Son, take Troy to where he's staying, and make sure you show him the bathroom and the kitchen while you're at it. Your mother and I need to talk to Ms. Lopez for a minute.”

Troy grabbed the duct-tape handle and followed Jack down the hallway. Brushing past Jack, he walked into the guest room just as Jack was about to announce, “This is it.”

In the silence, Troy's glance darted around the room. Jack tried again. “The bathroom's through that door, and the kitchen's—”

“The room with the refrigerator, right?” Shaking his head, Troy snorted as if Jack were the stupidest person in the world. He didn't seem to notice the navy bedspread Olivia Landon had so carefully washed and smoothed out, or the wicker basket filled with apples Steven had placed on the dresser, or the computer banner Ashley'd made to welcome him.

“Okay,” Jack said slowly. “So you've already figured out our house. Do you need anything else?” He hoped the answer would be no, because all he wanted was to escape into his own room and hide.

Troy flopped onto the bed. He kicked off one shoe by using the toe of his other foot. The worn sneaker flew into the air before hitting the wall with a thud.

Repeating the process on the other shoe, he asked, “So what did they say about me? Did they tell you my mom just walked out the door and didn't come back?”

Taken by surprise, Jack didn't know what to answer. He just nodded.

“Liars. They're all a bunch of freakin' liars. My mom would never leave me. Never.”

But she had. According to the report given to the Landon family by the Department of Social Services, Troy's mother had simply disappeared, leaving him all alone, with no food and no money.

“Something bad must have happened to her,” Troy insisted.

“Did you tell the police?” Jack asked.

Troy laughed, but it wasn't a happy sound. “Yeah—I stayed on my own for two days, then I called the cops. Big mistake. They took down all the stuff I told them, and then they asked who was stayin' with me and I said ‘No one. I can handle it. You guys just find my mom.' So instead the cops called the Social Services and they came and got me.”

“Well, when your mom comes back, they'll let her know where you are and everything'll work out OK.”

“Don't you listen?” Anger crackled from his voice and his dark eyes. Jack had never met anyone who seethed the way Troy seemed to, as if emotional lava was roiling just beneath his skin and any second could erupt. “My—mom's—in—some—kind—of—trouble! I need to be home so I can find her.”

“But you can't stay all by yourself.”

“Why not? I don't need anybody.” Leaning back, Troy knit his fingers together and rested his head in them. Suddenly Ashley came bowling into the room and ran smack into Jack's back.

“Sorry, Jack. Hi, Troy.”

Troy gave Ashley a little wave, but to Jack it looked more like a put-down than a hello.

“Jack, guess what?” Ashley exclaimed. “Something happened! Didn't you hear the phone?”

“No.”

“Mom got a call, and this guy says wolves came down and ate his dog even though it wasn't doing anything and it's been on talk radio and stuff and now they need Mom to figure out what happened.”

“Does she always talk so fast?” Troy asked.

She did, but Jack didn't like Troy enough to tell him so.

“Ms. Lopez told Mom it's OK to take Troy with us, but we have to get ready right away. We need to hurry up and pack!”

“Wait a minute, did she just say I'm going somewhere?” Troy demanded. “No way!”

Ashley's large brown eyes widened even more. “But we've got to go! If we don't, they might kill all the wolves!”

“Hold it!” Jack said, taking her arm. “Just slow down and start again. Where are we going?”

“To save the wolves. We're leaving tomorrow morning, first thing.”

“What wolves?”

“Didn't you listen?” Exasperated, looking from Jack to Troy and back, Ashley said, “The wolves they put in the park. They're saying they're too wild and mean. They're saying that the wolves are gonna start killing people next. Mom said that's not right, so that's why we're going there.”

“Going where?” Jack yelled.

“I already told you where. The park! Yellowstone.”

At that minute Olivia and Steven came crowding into the room behind Ashley. Jack knew how to read his mother's eyes, and he could see that Olivia had become energized by this crisis, whatever it was. “Can you believe it?” she asked. “It's lucky they called me on a weekend because now we can all go together. Tomorrow's Saturday—we ought to be back late Sunday so you kids won't miss any school.”

“We need to be packed and in the car no later than seven tomorrow morning—” Steven began, but Troy broke in.

“I'm outta here right now,” he said, jumping up from the bed. “No way am I gonna leave this town until I find my mom.” He would have rushed out of the room if Steven hadn't shut the door hard and leaned against it from the inside.

“Outta my way, man!” Troy ordered.

Steven Landon knew how to approach frightened animals without threatening them. As if Troy were a cornered deer, he locked eyes with the boy, then slowly raised his hand, palm up. In a quiet voice Steven told him, “I think I know how you must feel, Troy. But if you leave here right now, the police will pick you up and you'll spend the weekend in juvenile hall. And what good would that do anyone?”

Steven took a step closer. “Come with us, Troy. We'll stay in phone contact with your social worker. As soon as there's any news about your mother, you'll be the first to find out. I promise.”

Troy no longer looked like a frightened animal, he looked like a caged animal. Coiled in a half-crouch, color staining his cheeks, he shouted, “This is supposed to be my room, right? Why are all of you in here? If I gotta be stuck with you in a car tomorrow, you need to give me some space now.” His voice broke. “OK?”

“Right!” Gesturing for her family to leave, Olivia said, “Let's get started packing, kids. Tomorrow will begin early.”

Too early. By six that Saturday morning, at the day's first pale light, Jack was fighting to hang onto his pillow while his father dragged him out of bed.

By seven, as the rosy glow from the sunrise lingered over the jagged, snow-capped peaks of the Grand Teton Mountain Range, all the Landons plus Troy were crowded into their jeep, heading for Yellowstone.

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