Read The Bloodwater Mysteries: Skullduggery Online

Authors: Mary Pete/Logue Hautman

The Bloodwater Mysteries: Skullduggery

Table of Contents
 
 
G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS
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Published by The Penguin Group.
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Copyright © 2007 by Pete Hautman and Mary Logue
eISBN : 978-1-101-09976-6
First Impression

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For Jack
1
bones
Dr. Andrew Dart had climbed thirty feet up the limestone bluff when a rock struck an outcropping just above his head. Dart flinched, then looked up. He saw and heard nothing.
Dart drew a shuddering breath. Chunks of limestone, loosened by wind and rain, sometimes broke away on their own. A few inches to the right and it could have killed him.
He rested on a shallow ledge and wiped his brow. From his perch he could see over the trees to where Bloodwater River flowed into the Mississippi. Not many wild places like this left in southern Minnesota.
All this land had once been populated by Native Americans. The rivers had been their freeways. They had built great villages looking out over the Mississippi River—maybe even right here, at the top of this rocky precipice.
The bluff he was climbing, and the woodland below, were now owned by Bloodwater College, where Dart was a professor of archaeology. But in a few days the land would be sold to a developer. Dart had taken it upon himself to do a final survey of the area before the bulldozers arrived. If he could find just one good piece of archaeological evidence—the ruins of a Native American village, or a burial mound—the college might be persuaded to stop the sale. Even a single unusual artifact might be enough.
Dart resumed his climb. Moments later, he had reached the odd cleft in the rock he had seen from below. There was a concealed opening, a crack in the bluff just wide enough for a man to squeeze through. He sniffed. Bat guano. A good sign there was a cave.
He stood in the entrance and tried to get a grip on himself. He hadn't planned on exploring a cave. All he had was the small flashlight attached to his key chain. And he did not like dark places. But this was important.
He forced himself to take a few steps into the cave, then stopped and let his eyes adjust to the dark. The passageway was narrow and low. He ducked his head and followed the weak beam of his flashlight. He felt panic rise in his chest as the passage narrowed. The rock walls seemed to be closing in on him, but he forced himself to move farther into the cavern.
The passageway soon widened into a large chamber. He could hear the chittering of bats from above. Staying close to the wall, he came upon another narrow passageway leading off to the right. He saw footprints in the dust—he was not the first person to visit this cave. As he examined a footprint, he heard a shuffling noise. He froze, listening carefully, but didn't hear it again. Probably an echo.
Moving deeper into the chamber, he gasped at what he saw next. A collection of dry yellow bones lay piled against the cavern wall.
A skeleton! Was it human? Yes! He could see the skull!
He shined his flashlight into the empty eye sockets. This is just what I need! he thought.
Dart heard the shuffling sound again. He turned to look just as something smashed into the back of his head. He pitched forward, and the last thing he heard was the snapping of ancient, brittle bones.
2
blue eyes
Roni Delicata stared at Professor Bloom's face with what she hoped might be mistaken for polite attentiveness. In fact, she was merely noting how much he looked like a lady's slipper orchid, with his pouchy lower lip, pink face, bulging eyes and batlike ears. It made sense, Roni thought, since that was all the man seemed to want to talk about. Lady's slippers and trout lilies.
Yawn.
“The Bloodwater Bottoms is home to dozens of endangered wildflower species,” the professor intoned, pointing to a map with his cane. “Not only lady's slippers and trout lilies, but also such rare beauties as
Latinus misbegottenus, Boringus dullemia
and
Mesmerus dozingus
. . .”
Roni shook herself awake.
“Did you have a question, young lady?” said Professor Bloom.
“Um, no . . . I just wondered if, uh . . .” She tried to think of something—anything—interesting. “Are there any
poisonous
plants?”
“Indeed!” said the professor, rapping the hard wooden tip of his cane on the floor. “Certain mushrooms such as
Amanita virosa
and
Galerina autumnalis
can be deadly. And of course there is
Symplocarpus foetidus,
better known as skunk cabbage, which is toxic if not properly cooked. Also, the seeds of the native bindweed plant, a type of morning glory, produce a powerful hallucinogen. In addition, there are . . .” He went on with a list of long Latin names.
Looking out the corner of her eye, Roni noted that several of the other students were also struggling to stay awake. The only one who seemed at all interested was Brian Bain. That figured. Brian was fascinated by all things nerdy and scientific, no matter how boring. Fortunately, this character flaw was offset by the fact that Brian was also fascinated by explosive devices, clandestine operations and other risky behaviors.
Brian caught her looking at him and stuck out his tongue. Roni looked away. So immature. But what could you expect? Sure, he was smart enough to have gotten bumped up to the ninth grade, but he was still just a kid.
Why had she signed up for this stupid Regional Studies class? It was the middle of the summer. She should be out having fun in the sun like practically every other kid in Bloodwater. But
noooooo
! Her mother, Nick, had decided that a perfect B-minus average was not good enough for a girl of Roni's “great potential.”
Potential, schmotential. If this orchid-faced nutjob kept hammering her with Latin swamp-plant names, her brain would melt into a puddle of primordial ooze.
“Aren't we supposed to go on a field trip?” another student asked.
“Indeed we are! This afternoon we will be exploring the Bloodwater Bottoms, one of the few areas of virgin forest remaining in the county—yes, young man?”
Brian asked, “Didn't I hear something about a housing development going up in the bottoms?”
The professor scowled. “A company called Bloodwater Development wanted to build a condominium complex right along the river, which would have permanently damaged the delicate ecosystem. Totally irresponsible!” As he spoke, the professor's face turned red. He pounded his fist into his palm. “They would have destroyed the last of the trout lilies!” He paused and took a deep breath. “Fortunately, the developers decided to build their condominiums on top of Indian Bluff, rather than in the precious bottomlands.”
Professor Bloom frowned, looking toward the back of the room. “Excuse me, young man, are you registered for this seminar?”
Everyone turned to look at the boy who had just walked into the classroom.
Omigod, thought Roni.
She squeezed her eyes closed, then opened them. He was still there: tall and blue eyed with curly black hair. Omigod, she whispered to herself. Blue eyes and black hair did it to her every time.
The boy looked at the sheet of paper in his hand. His dark eyebrows came together in a way that made Roni's belly go all tingly.
“Is this Regional Studies?” the boy asked.
“Indeed it is,” said Professor Bloom. “You are twenty-two minutes late.”
“I got lost. We just moved to town last week and I—”
“Be that as it may, arriving late to the first day of class is not an auspicious beginning.”
“A not a
what
?” said the boy.
A nervous laugh erupted from Roni's throat. She couldn't stop it. It sounded like a bullfrog belching.
She clapped a hand to her mouth, but it was too late. Every single person in the classroom—including
him—
turned and stared at her. She wanted to climb under her desk and die.
“Did you say something, Miss Delicata?” asked the professor.
Roni shook her head vigorously. Her face had to be the color of a beet. Gennifer Kohlstad, two rows over, gave her a knowing smirk. Roni looked away, going from embarrassed to furious. A gorgeous guy with blue eyes and black hair would also appeal to a tart like Gennifer. Roni wouldn't have a chance against Gennifer's sexy boy-killer looks and bubbly personality.
The professor returned his attention to the new student and directed him to the nearest desk.
“What is your name, son?”
“Eric.” The boy smiled. “Eric Bloodwater.”
3
curses
Bloodwater?
Brian Bain twisted his neck to get a better look at the kid, who had sat at a desk near the back of the room. Eric Bloodwater leaned forward in his seat, as if looking attentive would make up for his late arrival.
Nobody named Bloodwater had lived in Bloodwater for nearly fifty years. And
those
Bloodwaters . . . well, they'd pretty much gone insane and killed each other off. In fact, every Bloodwater Brian had ever heard of had come to a bad end.

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