Read Old Bones Online

Authors: Gwen Molnar

Old Bones


In fond memory of my siblings,

Helen Rodney, Barbara Ann Cram and John Ross McGregor

With special thanks to Robert Wuetherick for all his invaluable help.

And to Wendy Taylor, my gratitude for your interest and expertise.

Chapter One

Casey had to have it. He'd never wanted anything so much in his life. He wanted it so badly his heart was pounding and his palms were sweating.

“I'll give you thirty bucks for it.” He was rubbing the curved, two-inch-long end piece of a dinosaur tooth with his thumb. Its ridged surface was cool to the touch and it fitted exactly one end of the jagged inch-long piece of tooth he'd picked up a few minutes earlier. He just had to have it.

“Fifty.” Mike sounded like he meant it.

From the day Mike O'Malley had moved with his family to Richford, just two months before, he and Casey had connected as if they'd known each other all their lives. They couldn't have looked less alike: Casey, with his tumble of white-blond hair, his blue eyes, his skinny frame; and Mike, with his dark hair, freckles, deep brown eyes, and sturdy build.

“I come from Black Irish stock,” he'd told Casey when they'd first met.

“What does that mean, Black Irish?” Casey had asked.

“Well, my dad says we're descended from a bunch of sailors from the Spanish Armada who got shipwrecked on Irish shores way back when. They had dark eyes and dark complexions, and black hair like me. There are a lot of other explanations as to why we're called that — I checked the web — but I'll stick with Dad's version.”

“Forty,” Casey offered. “It'll be all I'll have left when I've bought the stuff I want.”

His parents had given him a hundred dollars spending money for this two-day field trip of Mr. Deverell's grade ten science class to the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller. Casey planned to use the rest of his money for a book on fossils, and models of two of the museum's most famous exhibits, a huge
Tyrannosaurus rex
and a not-quite-so-huge

The class had left Richford at 7:00 that morning for the sixty-some kilometre bus ride south. Half the class were going to be spending the field trip in and around the museum, with just an hour's “dig” each day, but the first day, Mr. Deverell had reserved ten places for his most interested students at what was called a “Day Dig” — part of the Royal Tyrrell Museum's Explorers' Program — and Casey and Mike were two of the ten.

They'd stowed their gear in the Hoodoo Hotel's locked storage room early in the morning and would be returning there at the end of the day to eat and sleep. Sometimes whole classes of students slept right in the museum, in the shadow of the gigantic dinosaurs, but other schools had booked to stay there long ago, so Mr. Deverell had reserved space for his class at the Hoodoo.

At 8:30, Casey and Mike and the other eight Richford kids met up with the Day Dig staff at the main entrance to the museum. The staff gave them a behind-the-scenes tour of the museum's fossil collection, and instructions on how they were to go about “exploring” the dig.

“Every fossil you see here,” Dr. Spain, the dig's leader, told them, “was mapped and collected just the way you'll be doing it on our dig today.”

A short bus ride to the quarry's parking lot, followed by a ten-minute hike up a short incline and they were at the dig site in the Red Deer River Valley.

“Can you believe,” Mike asked, “this is a seventy-million-year-old rock formation and dinosaurs used to roam around here then?”

“Oh give me a home, where the dinosaurs roam,” Casey whispered under his breath.

“Shush and listen,” said Mike.

“The Red Deer Valley has several bonebeds preserved over an extensive area,” Dr. Spain was saying. “Often the majority of the bones come from a single type of dinosaur, like the
of Dinosaur Provincial Park.”

“What's in ‘our' bonebed?” Casey wanted to know.

“An assemblage of ‘teenage' duckbilled dinosaurs,” Dr. Spain said. “And along with the juvenile dinosaurs, we've also uncovered numerous teeth from carnivorous dinosaurs such as the

“You must have a huge staff to cover such a big area,” Mike said.

“The problem is, we don't,” Dr. Spain replied, shaking his head. “And that's where teams like yours come in. By bringing in ten or twelve people each day to help, many times more work gets done. You'll be conducting real research with palaeontologists — remember what we told you this morning about how you handle what you find. As you uncover fossils at this site, you help us gain a better understanding of the dinosaurs and the other animals that lived in this area. The more we scientists know about the past, the better we're able to understand the present. End of lecture. Let's go to work.”

Casey and Mike had headed away from the rest and both had got lucky.

“Give me the forty,” Mike said, “and ten more when we get home, and it's yours.” Mike liked science but he liked music even more — and the CDs he wanted cost fifty dollars.

“All right.” Casey nodded. “My wallet's in my pack at the hotel; I'll give you the money later.”

“You know you can't keep what you find anyway,” Mike reminded Casey.

“I know,” said Casey, “but I want to hold all the pieces of a real dinosaur tooth in my hand; and the museum will put my name as the finder on a card in that fossil room.”

They worked on as the sun rose higher and higher.

After a while, Mike called to Casey. “They're going to be serving us lunch in the Museum Cafeteria at twelve.” Mike was always hungry. “Let's get back to the bus and get in the shade for a while.”

“Okay.” Casey put his water bottle down to mark his spot.

Lunch was a better one than Casey was expecting, and being in the air-conditioned museum was a real treat. He was kind of wishing he'd opted for only the short dig, but the feel of the tooth pieces in his pocket made him decide he was glad he was going back to hunt for the rest of the tooth.

Back at the dig, Dr. Spain reminded them of the afternoon's schedule.“The bus leaves for the museum at 2:50, but you're welcome to spend the rest of the day at the museum.”

Mike wanted to talk to one of the staff, so Casey went back to “his” spot alone. Before restarting his search, he took a drink of his now lukewarm water and looked around.

This is one strange place
, he thought,
no wonder it's called the badlands
. He'd read that early French trappers and traders had called the Whiter River area of South Dakota
les mauvaises terres
— the badlands — and before them, the Sioux Indians called them
Mako Sica
, meaning “land bad.” The name had stuck for all such landscapes in the western United States and in this part of Alberta.

Casey pulled his broad-brimmed hat further down on his forehead (Mr. Deverell said they couldn't go on the dig without one). Gazing over the landscape, he took another swallow of water. He remembered the moment on the ride into Drumheller when, at a turn in the road, the landscape changed from open, sweeping prairie to this enchanted, mysterious valley, with its hoodoos and mounds and hollows and hills and arroyos all carved by wind and weather.
An alien world
, Casey thought.

He got down on his knees right where he'd found his piece of tooth.
Should have worn long pants like they suggested we do
, he thought. He brushed away the dust and small stones that covered the ground; everything was dry, parched, and barren. His knees began to hurt so he took off his T-shirt and made a roll of it for a kneeler. Now his knees didn't hurt, but his back was getting the full brunt of the rays of the semi-desert sun. He knew he'd get a sunburn. With his fair skin, he always did, so he'd put lots of sunscreen on his face and neck.

It's probably worn off by now
, he thought.

Was a sunburned back worth the chance of finding all the pieces of a real dinosaur tooth?

“Yes,” he said right out loud, “it is.”

Casey drank a gulp of water, now almost hot. It was very quiet as he worked alone in his area of the quarry and he jumped when a deep voice shouted across the rocks, “Casey, put your shirt back on, this sun will fry you.”

“Okay,” he said, watching as Dr. Spain moved away to another helper. “I'll put it on in a few minutes,” he added to himself. Instead, because the sweat was trickling down from beneath his hat, he took it off, putting it on the ground, top down so the inside could dry.

As he patiently searched every inch, going round and round in ever-widening circles, Casey's mind wandered back to his family's move to Richford when his father retired from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police almost a year ago.

His parents had been so happy to return to their hometown, Richford — Paradise on the Prairies. But paradise it wasn't. This they found out when Casey, out to retrieve the antique pipe of his father's, which he'd “borrowed,” had come upon a wounded Mr. Deverell who'd been left to die in a snow storm at the remote Old Willson With Two L's Place on the outskirts of Richford. Casey had discovered that the attic of the Willson house had been turned into the high-tech headquarters of a Hate Cell whose members were harassing the town's minorities.

Things had quieted down once the hate gang had been apprehended.

Mr. Deverell was almost back to being his old self, except he didn't have as much energy as he used to and got tired quite quickly. Apparently, the doctors had told Mr. D. it'd take at least a year for him to feel like himself.

Casey smiled, remembering how much his actions had helped to put the “bad guys” away. He guessed he'd never again be challenged to use his so-obviously-superior skills at detection.
Not unless I join a police force like Dad did
, he thought,
and that I don't plan to do
. Casey had long ago decided he wanted to be an archaeologist.

Continuing his inch-by-inch search, Casey found wrappers from six sticks of Juicy Fruit gum, two ballpoint pens, a dime, and three cigarette butts, but not one more piece of tooth. He stopped a minute, reached up to scratch a shoulder blade, and smiled as he thought again of his winter adventure.

While he'd ended up a hero of sorts for saving Mr. Deverell's life, and helping to solve the mystery of who was running the Hate Cell, he'd done a lot of pretty dumb things as well. As punishment, after every snowfall last winter his father'd made him clear the snow off their driveway and all the neighbours' sidewalks as well — a lot of work since it was the snowiest winter in one hundred years.
It was a typical Chief Superintendent Templeton–type punishment
, Casey thought.
One that gives the punishee lots of time to think about why they are being punished and one that keeps said punishee fit and healthy at the same time

I wish there was a great big pile of that snow here right now
, Casey fantasized.
Boy, would it feel good to roll around in it
. Instead, he stood up in the hot sun and stretched.

“Someone else must have found the rest of my tooth,” he muttered in frustration.

The bus horn blasted. Casey looked at this watch. Was it really already 2:50? A long time since lunch. Shaking the sand from his sweaty T-shirt, Casey pulled it over his head. His back felt a little hot, but not bad. Maybe the sun hadn't been all that powerful after all. He put on his hat, checked his pocket to make sure he still had the two pieces of tooth, and walked to the museum bus. He handed his treasures to Dr. Spain.

Looking at them closely, Dr. Spain said, “Nice find, Casey. I'm putting them in a zip-lock — see — and putting your name on it.”

“Wish I could have found more.” Casey sat down with a thump as the museum bus lurched to a start and started back over the bumpy road.

After an hour-and-a-half looking at fossils inside the air-conditioned Tyrrell, the ten Day Dig students joined their classmates in the school bus in front of the museum.

“Our hotel rooms will be ready when we get there.” Mr. Deverell was kneeling on the front seat facing the class as the bus driver started the engine. He frowned as Casey, the last to get on, slid into the only empty seat — the one beside him. “First, get your gear from the hotel's storage room. Then assemble it in the foyer. I've made a chart of who bunks with whom and I'll give you your keys. We're all on the second floor, but we do have one small problem. We've one boy too many and the hotel has one room too few, so one of you boys will be sleeping in a closet. It's a big closet, even has a window. Do I have a volunteer?”

“I'll take the closet,” Casey said. He'd brought a powerful flashlight and a favourite Harry Potter he was rereading. If he was on his own, he could close the closet door, open the window, and read as late as he wanted.

“Good lad.” Mr. Deverell went on to read out the list of roommates and room numbers. “Your closet is in Mike and Kevin's room, Casey. Room 327.”

Instead of eating at the Hoodoo, Mr. Deverell had arranged for the school bus to take the class to the famous Smorgasbord Night at the Badlands Motel. The dining room was packed with tourists, townspeople, and lots of visiting school kids, including the twenty-one from Mr. Deverell's science class.

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