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Fear Stalks Grizzly Hill
By Casebusters #9, Joan Lowery Nixon
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1996 Joan Lowery Nixon
All rights reserved.
Sean Quinn peered out of the car at the dense tangle of trees and bushes that lined the road, half-hoping to see a bear. He shivered as he wondered what would happen if a bear spotted him instead. His parents' friends had recently moved to a house on Grizzly Hill, and Sean was beginning to think that it wasn't such a good idea that he and Brian were about to spend the weekend with them.
Sean turned to Mr. and Mrs. Nash's son and asked, "Alan, have you ever seen any grizzly bears in the woods?"
Alan looked puzzled. "There aren't any grizzly bears around here."
"Then why'd they name this place Grizzly Hill?"
Mrs. Nash turned from the front seat and smiled. "Long, long ago—more than one hundred years ago—a giant grizzly was supposed to have lived in a den in the area."
"Was there really a den?"
"Yes. And it's still there. Alan knows where it is. You boys can crawl in and explore the cave if you'd like."
Sean's heart gave a jump. "Is the giant bear still around?" he whispered.
"Bears don't live to be that old," Brian told him.
"But there could be other bears," Sean insisted.
Mrs. Nash explained, "Sean, the developer of this subdivision called it Grizzly Hill because he liked the name. Trust me. There are no bears around here."
Mr. Nash turned off the highway onto a road that wound up a steep hill. The forest on either side looked dark and scary. At the moment Sean wished that his parents hadn't both gone out of town on business at the same time.
Bri had complained about Mom hiring Mrs. Peabody to take care of them. "We're too old for sitters," he'd insisted, "and it would be a lot of fun to stay with the Nashes in their new home. Alan said they find all sorts of animal tracks around their house. I can bring plaster of paris and make casts for my science project. Please, Mom? Sean and I want to stay with the Nashes."
Sean wished now that he'd told Mom he wanted Mrs. Peabody. He'd rather deal with her than with a bear.
The road swept up to a wide clearing in the forest. Facing the circular road were five large, beautiful homes.
"Wow!" Sean said.
"Cool!" Brian said.
"So far, these are the only houses that have been built in Grizzly Hill," Mr. Nash told them.
He began to point out a spot off to the left where another road would soon be constructed, with more houses and neighbors, but Sean didn't listen. As he climbed from the car he was aware of the forest pressing in around them, and he didn't like it at all.
The Nash house was in the center, with two houses on each side. There were no neighbors in sight, although Brian saw a curtain move in a window of the tall colonial house on the far right.
Apparently Alan did, too, because he nudged Brian and said, "Mr. and Mrs. Webber live there. Mrs. Webber always wants to see what's going on." He waved, and the curtain quickly dropped.
Mr. and Mrs. Nash led them into their home. "You two are in the guest bedroom upstairs, and you can put your knapsacks there. Alan will show you the way," Mr. Nash said.
But Mrs. Nash put a hand on Alan's arm to stop him. "Wait. The boys haven't met Lucy," she said.
The girl who came into the entry hall was tall and slender with dark brown hair. "Lucy's sixteen," Alan had told them and made a face. "Big sisters are so bossy."
Lucy smiled when Mrs. Nash introduced Brian and Sean, but as soon as her parents had walked back to the kitchen, Lucy scowled. "There are a few rules around here you'd better learn right away," she said. "You can't use the phone when I need to use it, you can't run around making noise, and anybody who dares to set foot in my room is in big trouble. Got it?"
"Who'd want to be in your dumb old room anyway?" Alan asked.
"Just don't give me any trouble, or you'll be sorry," Lucy said. Before any of them could answer she ran upstairs.
"Big sisters!" Alan said, and rolled his eyes.
As Brian and Sean dumped their knapsacks in the guest bedroom, Alan said, "It rained yesterday. The ground is soft, so we ought to be able to find a lot of animal and bird tracks."
"Let's go!" Brian said.
They ran down the stairs and out to the backyard. A small patio was ringed with flowers. Beyond was a narrow strip where grass was trying hard to grow in spite of heavy shade from the large oaks and pines.
Brian bent to study the muddy patches where grass was sparse. "Hey, look!" he said. "Crow tracks ... sparrow ... and I know that one, too. It's rabbit."
Sean pointed to paw prints under one of the nearby trees. They were short and wide, with long claw marks. "What are those?" he asked.
"I don't know," Brian said.
Alan shrugged. "Me either."
Sean drew in a shaky breath and took a step back from the overhanging trees. "Look at the size of those claws! They're grizzly bear tracks, aren't they?"
"I told you, there aren't any grizzlies around here," Alan said.
"Besides, the paws are too small for a grizzly," Brian added.
"Maybe it's a young grizzly bear," Sean said. He glanced at the strange tracks again and backed even farther away.
"There's one way to find out," Brian said. He pointed to the prints, which led off to the right. "We'll follow the tracks and see what we find."CHAPTER 2
Brian returned to the house to get his plaster of paris. He mixed some of it with water in a large measuring cup with a spout and when he came back outside, he poured the smooth, white liquid into a few of the nearest tracks.
"Those won't take long to dry," he said. "Pretty soon we'll have some casts we can study."
Sean mumbled, "I don't want anything to do with the claw-footed thing that made those tracks." But Brian and Alan began to follow the prints, and Sean didn't want to be left alone, so he hurried to catch up with them.
The tracks wandered up into the grass, then back into the damp earth. The boys followed them into the forest, but the tracks soon turned and left the forest, making clear impressions in the mud. They led to a tall oak with a thick, twisted trunk, just behind the patio of the house next door to the Nash house.
Brian looked carefully around the base of the tree then said, "The tracks stop here. There aren't any leading away from the tree."
Sean stared upward into the tree's widespread branches. He was glad that nothing looked back at him. "Grizzly bears climb trees," he said. "I saw it in a movie."
Brian and Alan glanced upward, too. "They don't stay in trees," Brian said. "This animal—whatever it is—went up and didn't come down."
"Unless it flew away," Alan said, and laughed.
"Bears don't fly," Sean said.
"Maybe it swung from tree to tree," Brian teased.
"Yeah? Well, maybe it's hiding up there and is going to jump down and get us," Sean complained.
Brian asked Alan, "You said you'd take us to the giant grizzly's den. How about now?"
"It's too late," Alan answered. "It'll be dark soon. Want to go first thing in the morning?"
"Sure," Brian said.
"No way," Sean said.
Suddenly, something huge and hairy rushed past Sean and jumped on Alan, knocking him into Brian. The container of plaster of paris mix flew out of Brian's hands as he fell.
"Help!" Sean yelled. "Bears! Help!"
"It's okay," Alan said. "It's just Rusty. Down, Rusty! Down! I haven't got any dog yummies with me."
Brian scrambled to his feet. "That's the biggest St. Bernard dog I've ever seen," he said.
"Or else the hairiest," Sean said.
A tall, thin man rushed up and snapped a leash on Rusty. "Sit, Rusty! Sit! Stay!" he yelled.
Rusty paid no attention. He bounced around, jerking the man who clung to the leash.
Alan shook his head. "Rusty only obeys three commands—down, sit, and stay," he told Brian and Sean.
"He isn't obeying them now," Sean said.
The man's face grew red with anger as he continued to shout at Rusty.
Alan said, "That's Mr. Trent Everitt. He lives in the house on the far left. Rusty only obeys Mr. Everitt when he feels like it, but he obeys when other people tell him to stay or sit. Mr.
Shaw taught those commands to Rusty."
"Who owns Rusty?" Brian asked. "Mr. Shaw or Mr. Everitt?"
"Mr. Everitt," Alan answered. "But he travels a lot, and when he does, Rusty stays with Mr. and Mrs. Shaw."
Rusty finally tired of his game and settled down. Alan introduced Brian and Sean to Mr. Everitt.
Mr. Everitt didn't smile. He glared at Brian and Sean. "I moved to this development after I retired because it was supposed to be quiet," he snapped. "You boys are not only making much too much noise and exciting my dog, you're also littering!"
"Littering?" Sean asked in surprise.
With his free hand Mr. Everitt pointed to the upturned bowl and the splatters of plaster of paris.
"I can explain," Brian said. "I'm making plaster casts of some of the animal tracks around here for my science class project. The plaster spilled, but ..."
Mr. Everitt interrupted. "No excuses," he grumbled. "Just clean up that mess you've made."
Brian picked up one of the first plaster casts. "This one's dry already," he said and held it out. "Look. See the short, wide footpad and the marks from claws?"
Mr. Everitt stopped scowling and stared at the cast. "Where did you get that?"
"Right here," Brian said. "And I've made casts of more of the tracks in the forest."
"Do you know what kind of animal made those tracks?" Mr. Everitt looked at Brian warily.
"Not yet," Brian said. "Do you?"
Mr. Everitt studied the paw print. "It could be a cat. Glen Webber recently brought home some cats. One of them might have gotten out last night."
Brian shook his head. "It would have to be an awfully big cat to have long claws like these. Have you seen Mr. Webber's cats?"
"No," Mr. Everitt grumbled. "Glen's not the friendliest of neighbors. He keeps pretty much to himself. I've never been inside his house."
"Tomorrow we're going to look for tracks around the grizzly's den," Alan said. "We may even find the animal that made them."
"Don't count on it," Mr. Everitt snapped. "Go home, where your parents can keep their eyes on you. If you care anything about the safety of animals in the wild and the peace of the people who live here, you'll leave the forest alone."
Tugging on Rusty's leash, he stomped off toward his house.
"Don't pay attention to him," Alan whispered. "Mr. Everitt is always an old crab. Besides, we're not bothering the animals."
Brian studied the plaster cast in his hands. "The animal who made these paw prints isn't large enough to be a grizzly, but the pads on his feet do look something like a bear's."
"I told you!" Sean said, his heart racing. "That thing we were tracking is a bear! And where do bears go? To their dens, that's where. If we crawl into that grizzly's den tomorrow, we're going to find him waiting for us!"CHAPTER 3
Stop worrying about bears," Brian said. "Help me pick everything up." He scraped up the splatters of plaster and put them into the empty measuring cup. Then he, Sean, and Alan collected the casts of the strange-looking tracks.
Brian examined each one, brushing the dirt from them. "Most of these are good," he said happily. "They'll be great in my report. The only problem is that I'll have to identify them. What animal made the tracks? And where are we going to find it?"
"C'mon," Alan said. "I'm getting hungry. We can take a shortcut home through the Shaws' backyard. They won't care."
Sean looked around and saw that they had traveled in a semicircle through the edge of the forest behind the houses on Grizzly Hill. As they walked across the grass behind a red brick house, Sean glanced at a window.
A large lizard with a hideous dragonlike face peered through the glass at Sean.
"Yikes!" Sean cried out. "What's that thing?"
"A pet iguana," Alan said.
"It's more like a pet monster," Sean said. "Who'd want to snuggle up with a pet like that? Dracula? Frankenstein?"
"Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Shaw," Alan said. He lowered his voice as a short, heavyset man walked around the corner of his house and came toward them. "Here comes Mr. Shaw now."
Mr. Shaw greeted Alan with a smile, and shook hands as Brian and Sean were introduced. He nodded toward the plaster casts in Brian's hands and asked, "What have you got there?"
"Casts I made of some weird paw prints we found among the trees," Brian said. He handed him the cast on top. "See the marks from the long claws? We don't know what animal this is."
Mr. Shaw shook his head. "I'm afraid I can't help you," he said. But he studied the cast with such concern that Brian wondered if the print meant something to Mr. Shaw—something he wasn't telling.
"Do you know what—?" Brian began, but Mr. Shaw interrupted.
"I think you'd better ask someone else," he said.
"Tomorrow morning we're going exploring in the woods," Alan told him, "so maybe we'll see the animal and find out. I'm going to show Brian and Sean the giant grizzly's den."
Mr. Shaw looked stern as he said, "Under the circumstances, it might be better if you stayed out of the woods."
"Why?" Alan asked.
Mr. Shaw rumbled for an answer. Finally, he said, "Well, we aren't sure what kind of animal this is, are we? It could be dangerous."
"Are we talking about bears?" Sean asked.
For an instant Mr. Shaw looked startled, "What's all this about bears?" he asked.
"Don't mind Sean. He's worried about meeting up with a grizzly," Brian said. He took the plaster cast back from Mr. Shaw as he said, "Do you know a lot about animals?"
"I do have an interesting collection of pets," Mr. Shaw said. "My wife and I care for a pair of parakeets, some tropical fish, and the iguana, which lives in a glass aquarium on a table by the large window."
"How'd you happen to get an iguana?" Sean asked.
"Someone brought him to the local animal shelter. She didn't want him. No one wanted him. I felt sorry for the poor little thing, so I brought him home with me. Since my retirement I've been spending a lot of time as a volunteer at the animal shelter."
Sean was curious. "What kind of animals do they have at the shelter? Aren't they mostly dogs and cats?"
"Yes," Mr. Shaw answered. "However, at the present time I'm helping to care for a coatimundi. It was brought to the shelter by a woman who liked it when it was a cute baby animal, but doesn't want it now that it's an adult and has sharp teeth and bites. The woman claimed it was a gift from a friend who moved away, but between you and me, I'm sure the woman was lying. I think the coatimundi was taken from the wild in South America, smuggled into this country, and sold as a pet."
Mr. Shaw's cheeks and nose turned red, and his eyes sparked with anger as he went on.
"I can't understand the stupidity of smuggling wild animals out of their natural habitat and trying to make domestic pets out of them!"
A gray-haired woman opened the back door.
"Arthur!" she called.
"A wild animal has wild instincts, and can—"
"Arthur!" the woman persisted. "Mrs. Jones is here."
Mr. Shaw seemed to suddenly realize that his wife was calling him. He blinked a few times and said, "Yes, Agnes?"
"Mrs. Jones from the animal shelter is here," Mrs. Shaw repeated. "She's brought us the miniature dachshund you said you'd take care of while his owner is in the hospital."
Mr. Shaw beamed. "Of course, of course," he said. "Tell Mrs. Jones I'll be right with her."
He chuckled as he glanced at the muddy paw prints on Alan's clothes. "I see you've had another tussle with Rusty. I believe I'll be taking care of Rusty in another two weeks while Mr. Everitt is traveling out of the county."
After Mr. Shaw left, Brian said, "He really likes animals. I bet he knows a lot about them—more than he let on."
Sean threw Brian a quick glance. "You think he knows what animal made this track, don't you?
"C'mon, Sean," Alan said. "I heard everything that Mr. Shaw said. He didn't tell us anything to make Brian think that."
"Private detectives listen to what people don't say, as well as what they do say," Brian told Alan. "Sometimes what they don't say is important."
"Huh? I don't get it," Alan said.
"I asked Mr. Shaw a couple of direct questions," Brian said. "He didn't answer them. He just asked another question or talked more about animals."
Excerpted from Fear Stalks Grizzly Hill by Casebusters #9, Joan Lowery Nixon. Copyright © 1996 Joan Lowery Nixon. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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