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The Death Valley Mystery: Chapter 1

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TITLE: The Death Valley Mystery

GENRE: Young Adult Mystery Series

DISCLAIMER:  These characters do not belong to me.  They were created by the wonderful and talented Mr. Robert Arthur, may he rest in peace.  I am writing my own story about them because they were such an integral part of my growing-up years and I love them a lot.  This is purely a work of fiction, and any resemblance to any persons living or dead is completely coincidental.  I do not profit from this venture, and no copyright infringement is intended.

RATING: G (anyone can read this)

FEEDBACK: Yes, please!

SUMMARY:  The boys travel to Death Valley and end up solving a nearly twenty-year-old family mystery.

 

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The Three Investigators books were published in the 1960’s, so the original stories reflect the trends and values of the time period.  For my own pleasure, I have “updated” the boys to exist in the 21st century and our modern era.  Not to worry, though – I stay completely true to the characters and their unique personalities remain unchanged. 

 

I also have each of them finding romance in this particular fic.  Nothing at all mushy, I promise, but nevertheless I feel it is a very important part of their story.  After all, Jupe, Pete and Bob are normal, typical teenage boys, so realistically they would have begun showing a healthy interest in the opposite sex by now!

 

Okay, enough of my rambling – on with the chapter!  Thanks so much for reading! 

 

Hugs, Blue

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Chapter 1: Summer Vacation


“Fellows,” Pete Crenshaw announced dramatically, “explain something to me, if you would.  It’s summer vacation, the end of the long grind, the start of that glorious thing called freedom.  Right?  So how come I feel so lousy?”

 

“I know why,” Jupiter Jones answered seriously, as if he didn’t know his friend was trying to make a joke.  “It’s because you face three months of emptiness, devoid of any adventure or excitement.  Not to mention the possibility of long, drudgerous hours mowing lawns and other strictly summer chores.  In plain and simple words,” he finished less pompously, “we’re all going to be bored to death this summer if we don’t find a case to solve, and soon!”

 

“Well, if it’s boredom you’re worried about, have no fear,” interjected Bob Andrews with a grin.  “Jupe’s Aunt Mathilda will find plenty of work for us to do around here, which always proves to be quite adventurous!”  He and his two friends groaned in unison at the memory of long, hot hours spent laboring under Aunt Mathilda Jones’s stern watchfulness.

 

The three boys were sitting in Headquarters, a mobile trailer that was no longer usable.  It lay hidden under piles of the scrap material that made up the Jones Salvage Yard, owned by Mathilda and Titus Jones.  Jupiter, whose parents were killed when he was only four years old, had been raised by his aunt and uncle.  Together he and his friends Bob and Pete had formed a junior detective firm which they called The Three Investigators.  Working as a team, using Jupe’s brains, Pete’s muscle power, and Bob’s ready access to information due to his part-time job at the local library, they had successfully solved a number of cases.  In fact, hardly a day went by that they hadn’t been involved in some sort of mystery. 

 

But lately, things had been dull for the boys, and they dreaded the prospect of a long summer vacation with no promise of a case in sight.

 

“You’re right, Jupe,” Pete said now.  “I didn’t realize how much I depended on other people’s troubles to give us something to do.  But, if all’s well with the world, I guess we’re sunk!”  The tall, muscular boy propped his feet up on the opened drawer of a filing cabinet, leaning back languidly in his chair.  “So, what’ll we do?  Put an ad in the paper saying, ‘Wanted: A problem or a crime that needs solving.  Call three bored guys at such-and-such a number’?”

 

 “Not a bad idea, Pete!” Bob exclaimed.  “After all, we’re pretty well-known in these parts as reliable investigators.  Maybe someone would answer the ad!”

 

“Small chance of that,” Jupiter said.  “Most people would prefer going to the police over a couple of high school kids, bored or otherwise.”

 

“I know, I know,” Pete said impatiently.  “I wasn’t serious.  Besides, I’d like the mystery to be outside of Rocky Beach for a change.  I’ve been wanting to see other parts of California in a bad way.”

 

“Oh, that reminds me!” Bob jumped to his feet.  “I’d better get home and say good-bye to my dad.  He’s leaving for Death Valley in a few hours.”

 

“Death Valley!” Pete echoed in astonishment.  “What’s he going there for?”

 

“He’s been assigned to do a cover story out there,” Bob answered.  Mr. Andrews was a reporter for a famous Los Angeles newspaper, and he frequently traveled to different parts of the state in order to capture interesting bits of news.  “I don’t know all the details, but he said something about a rich family’s very unusual will being read in a few days.”

 

“What’s unusual about it?” Jupe asked, his ears perking up.  Pete leaned forward eagerly, his curiosity also aroused.

 

Bob shrugged.  “I’m not really sure exactly, but Dad said something about the estate being deeded to the public since the only surviving heir disappeared years ago.”

 

Jupe and Pete looked at each other, their eyes wide.  This sounded like a promising adventure, complete with old family mystery!  However, their manners cautioned them not to show too much enthusiasm.  After all, they hadn’t been invited to go with Mr. Andrews, and they didn’t want Bob to think he had to influence his father to take them along.  What if Mr. Andrews wanted some time to himself on this particular job assignment?

 

“Sounds pretty neat, Bob,” Pete managed.  “I can’t wait to read about it in the paper!”

 

“Me neither.” Bob grinned.  “Well, so long, fellows.  Can’t keep Dad waiting!”  With that, the slight boy pulled open a trapdoor on the floor and easily maneuvered himself into Tunnel Two, a long pipe leading to the outside.  It was one of the secret entrances into their hidden headquarters.

 

After Bob had gone, Pete heaved a loud sigh of frustration and rocked back on his chair’s rear legs.  “Well, there’s one for the record,” he said glumly.  “One minute we’re talking about finding a good, exciting case to work on, and the next, we’re letting the perfect opportunity for one walk away without us!  Why couldn’t we have been rude for once and asked if we could go along?”

 

“I wish we could’ve too,” Jupiter admitted, sounded as regretful as Pete felt.  “But we must consider Mr. Andrews above ourselves.  The last thing we want is to put him under an obligation to invite us if he’d rather go alone.”

 

“I know, I know,” Pete moaned.  “Sometimes, Jupe, I wish you weren’t so darned logical!”  But he softened that criticism with an affectionate grin at his friend.  In reality, he admired Jupiter for his mind and all its remarkable powers, and Jupe knew that.

 

The stocky first Investigator returned Pete’s smile, his eyes alighting hopefully.  “Well, let’s not look on the dark side of things.  For all we know, Mr. Andrews has every intention of inviting us, and we just have to wait to hear from Bob!”

 

“Boy, you are looking on the bright side, aren’t you?” Pete snorted doubtfully.  Nevertheless, he felt his spirits rise considerably as he began to hope that maybe, just maybe, Jupe was right…as he so often was.

 

---

 

“Dad?” Bob inquired as he and his parents sat at the table eating their luncheon.  “How long will you have to stay in Death Valley?”

 

“I’m not really sure yet,” his father replied between mouthfuls.  “It all depends on how soon that deed is found, and how soon the decision of the courts will be made final.”

 

“Will you tell me the whole story, Dad?” Bob asked eagerly.  “I only know a little piece of it, but it sounds pretty wild!”

 

Mr. Andrews smiled at his son.  “Your nose for a mystery is still as strong as ever, I see!”  He leaned back in his chair.  “Well, about twelve years ago, a man named Trevor Hartwell owned quite a large estate in the heart of Death Valley.  A few hundred acres, I understand, which included some of the property in the town as well.  Mr. Hartwell was a widower, and the only other people living in that huge house with him were his small daughter and a middle-aged woman who doubled as housekeeper and nanny to the child.”

 

“So the daughter was the one who was supposed to inherit the family fortune, but is still missing?” Bob asked.

 

His father nodded.  “It seems that one day, Mr. Hartwell died on his front porch from a gunshot wound, and Vanessa Hartwell, who was only four years old at the time, completely disappeared.  Mrs. Polly, the housekeeper, found Mr. Hartwell’s body and called the police.  She didn’t discover that Vanessa was missing until that evening, since, as she said, her little charge was always hiding from her.  But when the child did not show up for dinner, as she always did, Mrs. Polly called the authorities again.  She insisted that Mr. Hartwell had been murdered and Vanessa kidnapped.  The police combed the surrounding areas for days, but the little girl was never found.  Finally, everyone in town agreed that Mrs. Polly had good reason to suspect foul play.”

 

“Wow!” Bob breathed.  “You think someone wanted to get their hands on the Hartwell fortune?”

 

“That’s possible,” Mr. Andrews conceded.  “Vanessa was supposed to be given the deed to the estate on her sixteenth birthday, which would be next week if she were still alive.  The only other surviving member of the Hartwell family is Trevor’s younger brother Lloyd.  He tried to claim the estate some years ago, but the provisions of Trevor’s will clearly state that the entire fortune is to go to Vanessa alone.  Apparently, Trevor liked to play games with his daughter, because he hid the deed to the property and gave her clues in his will as to where to find it.  But since he is dead, and Vanessa is also legally dead, Lloyd Hartwell has decided he wants the will to be read to the townspeople of Death Valley.  Whoever solves Trevor’s riddle and finds the deed will then become the legal owner of the Hartwell estate.”

 

“Wow!” Bob repeated, his eyes wide with wonderment.  “Well, that seems to rule out Lloyd Hartwell as a suspect in the murder,” he observed.  “I thought right away that he would have had the perfect motive, to do away with Vanessa and her father so he could get the family money.  But if he’s letting the public have it like that…”

 

“Yes, Lloyd was the prime suspect when the crime first occurred,” Bob’s father told him.  “But he testified that he was home at the time of the murder, and several of his ranch hands confirmed it.  Mrs. Polly was also a suspect, of course, since she lived in the house with the Hartwells, but no motive on her part was ever discovered or proven.  So the mystery of who did it, and why, still to this day has never been solved.”

 

“Boy, what a story!” Bob exclaimed.  He eagerly jumped to his feet.  “May I be excused to call Jupe?  I’ve got to tell him and Pete all about it!”

 

“Hole on there, young man!” Mr. Andrews called sternly after him.  When Bob looked back in surprise, he noticed the playful twinkle in his father’s eyes.  “Before you go anywhere, I need your permission for something.”

 

“My permission?” Bob raised his eyebrows, puzzled.  “For what, Dad?”

 

“Well, in order for a good newspaper story to be complete, it has to have some good pictures, right?” Mr. Andrews smiled knowingly.  “Well, I’m looking at someone right now who happens to be an excellent photographer.  All he needs to do is agree to come with me on my trip, and help me put together one smashing story!”

 

“You mean it, Dad?” Bob fairly whooped in his incredulous excitement.  “You really want me to go with you?”

 

“On one condition.”  Mr. Andrews held up a cautioning finger.  “That you invite your friends to come along too.  As we’ve all seen from the past, three heads are better than one when it comes to getting the job done.”  He winked playfully.  “And piecing together a puzzle, I might add!”

 

“Dad, you’re the greatest!”  Bob hugged his father jubilantly, then dashed over to the phone.  Behind him, Mr. Andrews met his wife’s eyes, and the two of them burst into laughter.

 

“Ah, the indomitable spirit of youth!” Mrs. Andrews teased.  “I wonder what excitement those rascals will conjure up for you this time?”


 

 

 

 

 

 

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