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The Death Valley Mystery: Chapter 4

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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.

Chapter 4: Lloyd Hartwell

 

 

“So what do you say, fellows?” Jupe demanded.  “Shall we ask Chief Robbins to employ our services?”

 

“For what?” Bob asked.

 

“Well, so far his and his men’s efforts to capture the outlaws have been futile, right?” Jupiter responded.  “So why don’t we try to help him?  After all, we are detectives.”

 

Pete looked up in alarm.  “Wait a minute, Jupe!  We’re also just kids, and those bandits are armed men!  How can we hope to catch them if the police can’t?”

 

It was night.  The three boys were in their hotel room preparing for bed.  Bob had warned them to retire early, since he wanted to go out and explore the Hartwell property before dawn.  “You never know how many people might go roaming around there, trying to find clues to the hidden deed,” he’d said.  “I want to photograph the grounds undisturbed.”

 

Jupiter had just finished telling his friends of his adventures that afternoon, including the surprising news that masked thieves still terrorized the Valley people.  Now he settled back on his bed and regarded Pete patiently.  He had expected that type of reaction from the Second Investigator, who always wished Jupiter wasn’t quite so daring.  While Pete was far from cowardly, he was much more cautious than his other two friends whenever he anticipated danger in any of their sleuthing activities.

 

“Don’t worry, Pete,” Jupiter assured him.  “I have no intention of plunging recklessly into a band of armed robbers.  We’ll proceed with the utmost caution.  After all, who would suspect our true intentions if no one knows we’re working for the police?”

 

“That’s right,” Bob added eagerly.  “We have the perfect cover-up!  We can work quietly behind the scenes while pretending we’re just typical camera-happy tourists.”

 

“Yes,” Jupiter agreed.  “We won’t tell anyone that we’re detectives except for Chief Robbins.  That way, we can rest assured that any information we report doesn’t fall on the wrong ears.  You know, if those bandits are masked, that means their true identities are hidden.  They could be anyone in town, for all we know.”  Then he clapped his hand to his head.  “Oh, no, I forgot!  I told Stacey that I was a detective!  I’d better go over to that card shop first thing tomorrow morning and swear her to secrecy.  I don’t want our identities to leak out to anybody.”

 

Pete was relieved for the chance to change the subject.  That talk about the bandits freely walking the streets of town, unbeknownst to the people, made him quite nervous.  “So, tell us about this girl you met, Jupe!  Is she pretty?”

 

Jupiter looked startled at the question, then smiled slightly.  “Yes, I suppose she is.  She’s a very delightful person to talk to.”

 

“So you’ve got a date with her already, huh?” Bob teased.  “She must be quite a girl to catch your fancy.”

 

“What does that mean?” Jupiter demanded.

 

Bob shrugged, feigning innocence.  “Well, you usually aren’t very interested in girls, especially in spending so-called frivolous and unproductive time with them.  You seem to prefer straining your brain, trying to find answers to all the great mysteries of the universe!”

 

“Well, Stacey Robbins just might fit into that category,” Jupe replied, smiling a trifle smugly.  “After all, historically the fair sex has always been a bit mystifying to us males.”

 

Pete groaned.  “Jupe, you are too much!  You meet a good-looking girl the first day you come here, which means you’ve had the best luck of any of us, and now you want to classify her as a great mystery?  Come on, lighten up!  Go out with her and just enjoy yourself for once; leave the problems of the world behind!”

 

“Sorry to disappoint you, buddy,” Jupiter told him.  “But this time I can’t.  Stacey is now directly involved in our secret mission, and I think she can be a great asset to us.”  With that, he turned over onto his side and closed his eyes, indicating that the conversation was over.

 

Bob and Pete looked at each other with raised eyebrows.  Then Pete shrugged.  “Have it your way, Jupe,” he said, climbing into his own bed.  “But personally, I’d see that girl in a lot different light if I were in your place!”

 

---

 

At eight o’clock sharp the following morning, the three boys were slipping quietly out of the hotel.  They’d eaten only a quick breakfast in the dining room, since they wanted to be already gone before the other guests awakened.  Mr. Andrews planned to explore Wilderville that day and keep his ears opened for any of the latest news on the reading of the Hartwell will, so the boys had the entire day to do what they wanted.

 

“It won’t take long to get to the Hartwell place,” Bob told his friends as they strolled down Main Street.  “It sits right on the edge of town, and the house is surrounded by acres of open land.”

 

“Is it a ranch?” Pete asked.

 

Bob shook his head.  “Trevor Hartwell wasn’t a rancher like his brother.  He owned several of the stores here in town; that’s how he was able to maintain the family wealth.  But Dad said in recent years the businesses were bought off one by one, and now they’re all independently owned by some of the townspeople.” 

 

“Who did they buy those stores from?” Pete demanded.  “I mean, there wasn’t anybody left to own them.  Trevor and his heiress are both dead.”

 

“Nobody knows for sure if Vanessa Hartwell is dead,” Bob reminded him.  “At any rate, the shops aren’t included in her inheritance, only the house and grounds.  Lloyd, Trevor’s younger brother, was authorized in their father’s will to claim ownership of the businesses.  Apparently Lloyd has just recently decided to sell them.  He has no claim to the estate, since legally it is still titled under Trevor Hartwell’s name and willed to his daughter.  And, if she doesn’t show up by next week to claim her inheritance, her uncle is going to give it away.”

 

“Don’t forget, fellows,” Jupiter interrupted.  “We have to stop at the card store and tell Stacey not to let it slip who we are.  She opens up at eight o’clock.”

 

“How could we forget?” Pete teased.  “We’ve been dying to be introduced to your lady fair!”  He nudged Bob, who snickered.

 

Jupe tossed them a withering glance over his shoulder as he pushed open the shop door.  The jingling bell seemed to startle the only customer, a tall blonde man who was browsing among the stacks of greeting cards.  Stacey, behind the counter, looked up as the boys entered, and a welcoming smile lit her face.

 

“Jupiter, hi!” she exclaimed enthusiastically, hurrying over to him.

 

“Hello, Stacey,” he answered, his smile matching hers as if he found it contagious.  “I’d like you to meet my two good friends, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews.  Guys, this is Stacey Robbins.”

 

“I’m so glad to meet you,” the girl greeted them, shaking hands with each boy in turn.  “You’re the ones who helped form that detective firm Jupe told me about yesterday, aren’t you?”

 

Jupiter suppressed a groan while the other boys exchanged grins.  They’d figured from Jupe’s description of Stacey Robbins that such a talkative girl wouldn’t be able to keep anything a secret!  The man across the room had looked up and was listening with great interest.

 

“Yes, they are,” Jupiter answered, lowering his voice to a near-whisper.  “But Stacey…”

 

Before he could say anymore, Stacey had him by the hand and was pulling him toward the stranger by the cards.  “Boys, I want you to meet the single, most important man in all of Wilderville,” she announced dramatically.  “This is Mr. Lloyd Hartwell!  And this –“ she indicated the Three Investigators “ – is Jupiter, Pete and Rob, private detectives from Hollywood.”

 

“No, we live outside of Hollywood, in Rocky Beach,” Jupiter corrected her while Bob merely raised his eyebrows at her interpretation of his name.  “How do you do, Mr. Hartwell?  Actually, we are detectives back home, but we’re here on a vacation, so…” he threw out his hands, “…no working for us!”

 

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Lloyd Hartwell said, smiling.  He was a well-built, handsome man in his late thirties, with wavy blonde hair and dark-tinted glasses.  “Actually, my men and I could use some professional help.”

 

“Doing what, sir?” Pete asked eagerly.

 

“Ah!” Mr. Hartwell’s smile widened.  “That’s what I like to see – enthusiasm!”  He moved closer to them, lowering his voice conspiratorially.  “Come to my office at police headquarters, and I’ll fill you in.”

 

“Mr. Hartwell is my dad’s assistant police chief,” Stacey supplied.

 

Pete and Bob both murmured a response, but Jupiter said nothing, frowning as if in deep thought.

 

“So what do you say, boys?” Mr. Hartwell persisted.  “Can I count on you to help me?”

 

Jupiter’s friends waited for him to reply.  He was the leader of their firm, and as a result, they usually left important decisions up to him.  They’d learned from past experience that they could have complete faith in his judgment.

 

He slowly lifted his head, as if pulled from a deep trance, and smiled briefly at Lloyd Hartwell.  “Sure, Mr. Hartwell,” he answered.  “We’ll be glad to come to headquarters later this afternoon.  But first, we’d like to do a little sightseeing.”  He indicated Bob’s camera.

 

“Ah yes, tourists!” Mr. Hartwell chuckled.  “Go ahead and have fun, boys.  I’ll see you at four o’clock sharp.  Is that all right?”

 

“Fine,” Jupiter said.  “But we’d prefer if no one else besides Chief Robbins knows our occupation.  We don’t want to be swamped with requests for our services, since we did come here to get a much-needed break from all that.”

 

Mr. Hartwell smiled in quick understanding.  “Don’t worry; your secret’s safe with me,” he assured them.

 

“I won’t tell a soul either,” Stacey promised, crossing her heart with her forefinger.

 

Jupiter nodded to them.  “We appreciate that,” he said.  “And now, if you’ll excuse us, we will proceed to tour this lovely little town of yours.”  He gave each of them a quick smile and brief wave, then strode toward the door.  Pete and Bob, remembering their manners, told Stacey and Mr. Hartwell more lengthy good-byes and pleased-to-have-met-you’s before hurrying after their friend.

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