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.
Chapter 3: The Young Bandit
Once outside, Jupiter found that his spirits had lifted considerably. Not only was he much cooler from his time spent in the air-conditioned card shop, and more comfortable with his eyes shaded, but he had found Stacey’s cheeriness refreshing as well. He smiled to himself, recalling her wide-eyed enthusiasm when she’d discovered who he was, and admitted inwardly that he couldn’t wait to see her again. Although he was not the bragging sort, secretly he held a rather high opinion of himself, and it was always gratifying to meet someone who shared it.
Police headquarters was located at the center of town, directly beside the small fire station. Jupiter stood still outside for a moment, admiring the old, stately architecture of the building, before climbing the wide front steps to the door. It opened silently, and he found himself in the reception office and more wonderfully cool air.
The woman seated behind the front desk looked up with a slight frown as he entered. “May I help you, young man?” she asked curtly, in the impatient tone some older people reserved for teenagers. It crossed Jupiter’s mind that not everyone in this town was as cordial and accepting as Stacey Robbins!
Nevertheless, he smiled pleasantly at the receptionist. “Yes ma’am. I’d like to see Chief Robbins.”
“Do you have an appointment?” she demanded suspiciously. “I don’t remember scheduling any private appointments with the chief this evening!”
“No ma’am, I don’t have an appointment. But his daughter Stacey told me to go see him,” Jupiter explained.
He expected that particular reference to soften the receptionist, but she continued to frown irritably. “Only the chief decides who can see him,” she informed Jupiter shortly, then turned back to her computer in dismissal.
“Who’s out there, Ellen?” a voice called from somewhere in the back.
“A young man, sir,” she answered. “I told him you can’t see anyone right now.”
“Ellen, when will you learn to stop being so cantankerous?” the voice laughed good-naturedly. “Of course I can see him. Send him back!” Jupiter was relieved to hear that Chief Robbins sounded as if he had the same cheery disposition as his daughter.
“You heard the chief,” Ellen snapped. “Go on back, but wait on that bench outside his office!”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Jupiter said politely. He pushed through the swinging doors beside her desk and hurried down a narrow hallway, his eyes scanning the metal name tags on the doors. The chief’s office was located at the far end. In compliance with the receptionist’s instructions, Jupiter sank down onto the padded bench located outside the door to wait until the chief came out to receive him.
To his surprise, several large “Wanted” posters were tacked up on the walls by the office door. Curiously Jupiter studied them, noting how they were the rather old-fashioned full-face mug shots. Listed under each photo was the person’s name and the crime he was wanted for. A few of the pictures even had a copy of fingerprints below them. The others were blank, obviously because no fingerprints were on file for that individual criminal.
One picture in particular caught Jupe’s eye. Puzzled, he rose and approached the poster to study it more closely. What he saw caused him to gasp in surprise.
A young boy, perhaps no older than twelve or thirteen years old, stared defiantly back at him from the photo. His slender shoulders were encased in a brown leather jacket that appeared a couple of sizes too large, and a fringe of blonde hair fell down his forehead from underneath a wide-brimmed brown hat. Jupiter quickly scanned the bottom of the poster, looking for information on this youngster. The boy’s name was Kelly Kipley, and he was wanted for thieving and terrorizing cattle ranchers all over the Valley.
“Hello! I see you’re interested in my boy there,” a jolly voice said.
Jupiter turned to see a tall man with thick snow-white hair smiling at him. He smiled back and held out his hand. “Hi, I’m Jupiter Jones,” he graciously introduced himself. “Are you Chief Robbins?”
“Yes, indeed I am,” the man agreed heartily. “We don’t get many visitors at this time of day! Do you have some information you wanted to share, young man?”
“No sir,” Jupiter admitted. “I just wanted to meet you, because I already met your daughter Stacey.”
“Ah yes, Stacey!” The chief motioned Jupiter into his office, limping slightly as he moved. “She’s a talkative one, she is. But then, she doesn’t have very many young companions in these parts. Or many customers in that store, either.” He looked curiously at Jupe. “New in town, aren’t you, boy?”
“Yes, sir.” Jupiter smiled. “I’ve invited Stacey to the Soda Fountain with me one of these evenings so we can get better acquainted. Is that all right with you?”
“It certainly is!” Chief Robbins laughed merrily. “As I said, there aren’t many young fellows around these parts, and you look like a decent sort.” He paused for a moment, eyeing Jupiter appraisingly. “I can also tell that you’re new to this area, since you’re the only one who doesn’t seem to already know about him.” He nodded toward the Wanted poster that Jupiter had just been studying.
“Who is he?” Jupiter asked eagerly.
For the first time, the smile faded from the chief’s face. “He’s the best-shooting, fastest-riding, slickest bandit that ever roamed these hills, that’s who he is!”
“But he’s just a kid!” Jupiter exclaimed incredulously.
Chief Robbins nodded grimly. “Yes. And I think it’s because he’s a kid that he’s so skillful, especially at slipping through the law’s fingers. We managed to capture him one night earlier this year, while he was robbing the Sellers ranch. He was here only long enough for us to take that mug shot, and then he escaped from his cell during the night by squeezing through the air vent on the ceiling.” He shook his head. “Pure carelessness on our part for not covering it, but I guess we underestimated how small he really is!”
Jupiter approached the poster again and studied it thoughtfully. The boy had such delicate, fine-boned features and small shoulder breadth, that Jupe wondered if he wasn’t even younger than he’d originally thought. Yet there was a haunted look in his eyes that suggested he was older, and wise beyond his years.
“You said he was a bandit,” Jupiter remarked, frowning. “Do you mean as in ‘old-time Western outlaw’?”
“That’s exactly what I mean,” the chief said, smiling wryly. “You’d think we’d be able to rid our valley of such rabble in this modern day and age, wouldn’t you? But the sheriff and my entire staff have tried many times, without success. The bandits are just too quick and clever, not to mention that they know every nook and cranny of the mountains better than anyone.”
“You mean to say there’s more than one bandit around here?” Jupiter exclaimed, his eyes widening in astonishment at this news.
“Oh yes.” Chief Robbins sighed and sank into the swivel chair behind his desk. “Kelly Kipley rides together with his father Sam Kipley. However, those two don’t give us nearly the trouble that the Thurwood gang does. We’re not sure if the Kipleys are in any way associated with that gang, but at any rate, those bandits ride down from the mountains on horseback at night, raiding local cattle ranches and stealing everything they can get their hands on. This has been going on for over ten years now, and the people of the Valley are mighty upset. They feel that the law enforcement here in town isn’t doing enough to protect them, but I’ll tell you, we’ve done everything we know how! I’ve sent out posses of men into those hills, and they’ve combed the area for days without success. I’ve even tried to set traps for the bandits, having my men lie in wait at every ranch, but we’ve been foiled every time. I could swear that somehow they find out about our plans ahead of time!”
“It sounds like someone in this town may be a spy for them,” Jupiter suggested thoughtfully.
Chief Robbins nodded. “We thought of that too, but it seems so unlikely. For one thing, we always keep plans like that completely secret. Not even the ranch families know when we’ll be hiding out on their property. Only my closest assistant and the sheriff’s men ever know where we’re going to be at any given time.”
“Well…could it be possible that one of them is an informer for the bandits?” Jupiter offered hesitantly.
Chief Robbins smiled. “Very doubtful. Every officer on my staff has been working for me for many years, and they are very devoted and dedicated men. Most of them have families too, so they’re just as anxious for the capture of those masked ruffians as anyone. As for my assistant, his family was one of the founders of this town, and they are very highly respected. He’s been in law enforcement ever since he graduated from college, about fifteen years ago. He and his brother set many of the precedents that are still upheld today.” The chief’s sparkling eyes clouded. “His brother was killed by those outlaws, so Lloyd has more reason than any of us to want them captured and clapped behind bars! He’s told me many times that he won’t rest until they’re all caught and punished for their crimes.”
“Your assistant is Lloyd Hartwell?” Jupiter exclaimed in surprise.
“You know him?” the chief returned with equal surprise.
Jupiter shook his head. “Not personally. But I heard about the will he authorized to be read to the public next week.”
“Ah yes, the will.” Chief Robbins shook his head. “That should be some spectacle. The Hartwell estate is one of the oldest and finest in the entire valley. I’m sure everyone will be very anxious to become its new owner!” He looked keenly at Jupiter. “You going to try your luck too, young man?”
“No sir,” Jupiter laughed. “I’m not interested in acquiring property just yet, especially one so far from my hometown. I’m only here to do a little sightseeing with my friends. We’re on a tour.” He remembered Mr. Andrews’ instructions to tell this story to anyone who asked, in order to protect his identity as a big-city reporter.
“How about that! Our little town’s becoming a main tourist attraction!” Chief Robbins laughed heartily and clapped Jupe on the shoulder. “Well my boy, it’s getting close to six o’clock, so I’m just about to close up here. Thank you for stopping by; I’ve enjoyed chatting with you. Anytime you want to come by my house, feel free.” He winked. “I have no doubt Stacey would like that!”
“I will, sir,” Jupiter promised. He looked quickly at his watch. “I’d better get back to the hotel before I miss dinner. Goodbye, sir, and thank you!”
“Anytime, my boy!” Chief Robbins called after him.
Jupiter hurried past the unpleasant receptionist and escaped out the door. He would have to walk fast if he intended to make it to the dining room before six. He smiled to himself, thinking of all the exciting news he had to share with Bob and Pete.