LIVE JOURNAL ENTRIES:
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: I have never visited Death Valley, California, so I have no earthly idea what it really looks like. All the descriptions of the scenery in this story come straight from my (rather vivid) imagination. Wilderville is an entirely fictitious town as well.
Thanks for reading!
Chapter 2: Wilderville
“This is the life,” Pete sighed contentedly, placing his luggage beside his bed. “Bob, your dad sure was terrific to invite us to come!”
“He certainly is,” Jupiter agreed fervently. “I’m afraid our thanks sounded quite inadequate when compared to the magnitude of his generosity.”
“Don’t worry, fellows,” Bob grinned. “We’ll repay him well enough. He’s going to keep us pretty busy!” He patted the expensive digital camera he had carefully packaged in his baggage. “While we’re here, we’re supposed to take pictures of the Hartwell mansion and everything else that will apply to his story.”
It was early evening. Their flight from Los Angeles had only taken about an hour, and the three boys were now settling into their small but attractive hotel room, located just outside the tiny town of Wilderville in Death Valley. Mr. Andrews had warned them to be on time for the evening meal in the hotel dining room, which was served at six o’clock sharp.
“Well, we’ve got about an hour to kill before dinner,” Pete announced. “What do you guys want to do?”
“Dad has a pile of notes here he wants me to put into the computer for him,” Bob said, indicating the case containing his laptop that he’d brought along. “He said I arrange them in a much neater order than he does, and he needs clearly organized information when he’s ready to write out his final drafts.”
“Good luck!” Pete groaned. He had little patience for the precision journalism work required. He looked over at Jupiter. “How about you, Jupe?”
Their stout friend was staring thoughtfully out the window. From the view at the third story level, he could clearly see the entire town. It stretched for a maximum of two city blocks, and looked very much like the tiny western towns the boys had seen in old classic movies. Jupiter surmised that Wilderville had, for years, remained virtually untouched by the civilized world outside, and had therefore retained its traditional methods of running a business. He was eager to explore all the quaint little old-fashioned shops along the boardwalk and find out what they sold.
He turned from the window. “I think I’ll take a walk through town,” he answered. “Maybe keep an eye out for anything unusual that Uncle Titus might like for the salvage yard. Want to come with me?”
Pete hesitated. He always welcomed the opportunity to explore new territories, especially in his best friend’s company. On the other hand…
“I saw a weight room downstairs in the gym when we came in,” he confessed, a bit sheepishly. “I sorta wanted to check that out first, then take in a few laps around the swimming pool.”
Bob and Jupe winked at each other. Pete had a build that was the envy of every boy in Rocky Beach, and there was hardly a sport in existence that he didn’t excel in. Consequently he liked nothing better than to spend his free time keeping his body in top shape, with such athletic endeavors as jogging, bicycling, swimming, and weightlifting. Both his friends knew that nothing could make him pass up such a golden opportunity as a fully-equipped gymnasium right in their hotel.
“Sure thing, Hercules,” Jupiter teased. “You go ahead and keep up the old strength! I’ll give you fellows a full report on everything I see when I get back.”
“Both of you guys make sure you wear your watches,” Bob warned. “Dad said if we’re late for dinner, we won’t get served, and the hotel staff is very prompt.”
“Don’t worry,” Pete assured him fervently, pulling his gym clothes out of his luggage bag. ”I wouldn’t miss dinner for the world!”
Jupiter laughed. Along with his love of athletics, Pete had a very hearty appetite, and was very conscious of every designated meal hour. Jupe himself was a little on the heavy side as a result of his own love for eating, so he had no intention of missing dinner either. He strapped his watch firmly onto his wrist and double-checked with the bedside clock to make certain the time was accurate.
“See you guys later!” he called over his shoulder as he left the room.
Outside, the air was still, and the sun shone brilliantly from the cloudless California sky. As Jupiter strode along the boardwalk beside the tiny shops, he began to wish he’d stayed in the air-conditioned hotel room. He did not much care for physical exercise, particularly in the heat of summer. He much preferred to challenge his brain power instead. Already he found himself panting from the unaccustomed exertion, and beads of perspiration had sprung to the surface of his skin.
That pool Pete was talking about sounds just about perfect right now, he thought with a sigh of longing. What did I hope to find out here, anyway? This town is so small and old-fashioned, I’m already bored with it, and I’ve only seen half of one block!
He stopped walking and squinted down the street, wishing that he’d at least remembered to wear his sunglasses. The desert sun was glaring so brilliantly off of the various shop signs that he could hardly read them.
I think I’ll step inside one of these stores for a minute, he reasoned. At least I’ll get a chance to cool off before I go any further! Maybe someone will have a pair of sunglasses in stock, too.
With the hope of that added comfort, Jupiter pushed open the door of the store nearest him, a card and gift shop. The small bell above the door tinkled merrily as he entered, and a wave of cool air washed over him. He found himself gasping in relief at the enormous climate difference, and he surreptitiously wiped his face on his shirt sleeve to sponge off the sweat that had formed there.
“Hello, there! Can I help you find anything?” a pleasant voice asked. Jupe turned to see a young girl about his own age walking toward him, a friendly smile crossing her round, cheery face.
Self-consciously, Jupiter ran a quick hand through his hair, hoping he didn’t look too disheveled. The girl looked so fresh and clean…but then again, she probably hadn’t been outdoors since early that morning when the air was still fairly cool.
“No, thank you,” he answered, politely returning her smile. “I just want to look at the post cards.”
“Oh, of course!” she answered eagerly. “They’re right over here, by the register. I’ll show you!”
Jupiter smiled to himself as he followed her over to the wire rack containing colorful post cards. She was probably so glad to finally have a customer that she was being overly helpful. He had noticed that the little store was empty of people, and that the sidewalks outside were also sparsely populated. He had only seen a few cars driving by on the street as well.
He began flipping through the stacks of cards, trying to find one with an ariel view of Death Valley to send to his aunt and his uncle, when he noticed from the corner of his eye that the girl was leaning over her counter toward him, unabashedly staring at him with wide and curious eyes.
“You’re new in town, aren’t you?” she asked.
Jupiter looked at her with quick interest. “Yes. How did you know?”
The girl smiled engagingly. “Because I’ve never seen you before. This town is so tiny, I know every person who’s ever lived here! Besides, I can tell by your clothes that you’re not a native.” She giggled as Jupiter, surprised, glanced down at his outfit. “Nobody around here dresses that classy! Where are you from?”
Jupe wasn’t sure what to think of that statement. He saw nothing classy about his clothes. Then he remembered that this secluded little area probably found it very difficult to keep up with the latest California fashions. He smiled. “I’m from Rocky Beach, which is just a few miles from Hollywood,” he told her.
“Oh, you’re so lucky!” the girl squealed. She sighed enviously. “I’ve lived here all my life, and nothing exciting ever happens. Not as much as living near the movie capital must be, anyway!” She laughed and held out her hand to him. “I’m Stacey Robbins, by the way.”
“Jupiter Jones,” Jupe introduced himself, shaking her hand. “I’m glad to meet you, Stacey.”
The girl’s large brown eyes widened, and she tightened her grip on his hand. “Jupiter Jones?” she breathed in astonishment. “Are you the same one who starred in that TV series The Wee Rogues?”
Jupiter felt his face flaming. That was a part of his life he tried never to think about. As a three-year-old child, before his parents died, he had played the embarrassing role of “Baby Fatso” in that popular television show. He had been quite famous at school because of it, but in his mind it was a derogatory popularity. He wanted to be known as Jupiter Jones, First Investigator, and for all the crimes he and his friends had successfully solved together. The last thing he wanted to be remembered for was the lisping, chubby child he’d played in what he considered a silly and worthless TV program.
“Yes, that was me,” he reluctantly told the eager girl in front of him.
Stacey clasped his hand even tighter. “Oh, wow! Imagine, having a famous television star right here in my little shop!” Then she giggled and at last released his hand. “I’ll bet you’re surprised that we even have TV’s out here, aren’t you?”
“Well, that was a long time ago,” Jupiter said quickly. “I’m not an actor anymore. I’m a detective.” He could not keep the pride from his voice.
Stacey raised her eyebrows. “A detective? Really? You mean like an FBI agent? I didn’t think you were that old!”
“I’m seventeen,” Jupe told her. “My two friends and I formed our own detective firm a couple of years ago, and I must say we’ve been quite successful despite our youth. Sometimes we’ve even succeeded where the police have failed.” As he spoke, he selected a post card together with a pair of sunglasses with multi-colored frames, and laid his purchases on the counter.
Stacey continued to look impressed as she slowly rang up his items. “Wow, a private detective! That’s almost as good as being a television star!” She laughed. “My father is the police chief of this town. Why don’t you go down to headquarters and meet him? Tell him I sent you.”
Now it was Jupiter’s turn to be impressed. “Your father’s the police chief? Hey, that’s great!”
Stacey shrugged modestly. “Yeah, I guess so. I’ll admit it does give our family some importance among the townsfolk. But that’s nothing compared to the fame you’re used to, I’ll bet!” She handed him a small plastic bag containing his purchases, her eyes shining with undisguised admiration.
Jupiter smiled back at her, discovering that he very much liked this buoyant, cheerful girl. “I can see you’re almost bursting with questions about me,” he said in a gently teasing tone. “How about I treat you to the Soda Fountain sometime, and you can ask me anything you want?” He was referring to the small snack bar he’d seen across the street as he entered her shop.
“You bet!” Stacey agreed enthusiastically. “Just come in any evening this week when I’m ready to close up shop here, around seven o’clock. I look forward to it!”
“I do too.” And Jupe realized that he really did anticipate the pleasure of her company in a leisurely setting. “Thanks, Stacey. Now I’ll go meet your father, so he can rest assured that his daughter will be in good company.”
“Oh, he’ll love you!” Stacey assured him. “You two think alike!” She winked playfully at him.
Jupiter laughed. “I’m sure we do. See you in a couple of days!”
As Jupiter exited to the sound of the jangling little bells, the girl behind the counter leaned against her cash register, a small but unmistakably dreamy smile playing around her lips.
“So that was Jupiter Jones,” she mused to herself, recalling how, as a small child, she’d always looked forward to watching his amusing antics on The Wee Rogues. Then she shook her head in amazement. “Boy, he sure grew up nice. What a guy! I can’t believe he actually asked li’l ol’ me out on a date!” And she hugged herself with delight, eagerly anticipating their get-together where she could pepper him with the burning questions about him that had plagued her all her life.