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: My knowledge of legal matters is very minuscule, so please forgive me if anything in this chapter is inaccurate in real life. I am just a kid making things up and having fun. I hope you enjoy it anyway!
Thanks for reading!
Chapter 5: The History of the Hartwells
“Hey Jupe, you were awfully quiet in there,” Pete commented as they strolled along the sidewalk toward the Hartwell mansion. “What were you thinking?”
Jupiter shrugged vaguely. “Nothing in particular. I just wish I’d had the foresight not to tell Stacey that we’re detectives.” He didn’t add that he’d just been so anxious to take her mind off of his “Baby Fatso” persona and give her a better impression of him that he’d blurted out his detective status without thinking twice.
“But why do you want to keep it a secret from everybody?” Bob asked, bewildered. “The only one she told was Mr. Hartwell, and that’s only because she had no idea at the time that you didn’t want her to say anything.”
“Yeah, and there was no harm done,” Pete added. “Mr. Hartwell is a police officer. I think he’s going to ask us to work undercover to help catch those bandits. Just like you wanted, Jupe!”
Jupiter looked unconvinced. “I still wish nobody knew,” he said quietly.
“Why?” Pete demanded.
When his friend merely shrugged noncommittally, he exchanged an exasperated glance with Bob. They both knew, from much experience, that no amount of persuasion would convince Jupiter to reveal his secret thoughts. He would tell them only when he was ready and not a moment before.
“So where exactly is this Hartwell estate, anyway?” Jupe asked, abruptly changing the subject.
“It’s located directly outside of town,” Bob told him. “You’ll see it when we top this rise here. It’s a huge stone mansion, with the surrounding yard enclosed by a low stone wall. You can’t miss it! It’s reputed to be the most beautiful and stately house that was ever built in Death Valley.”
“Oh boy, that should be something to see!” Pete retorted sarcastically. He had little interest in architecture of any form, and therefore he did not plan to be very impressed.
But when the boys at last came in sight of the Hartwell estate, even he could not help but be amazed by its splendor. The enormous mansion stood proudly in the middle of vast acres of lawn, looking like a chateau with its grand design. Although the surrounding grounds were overgrown from years of neglect, the overall picture of the property was a gorgeous one.
“Wow!” Pete managed after a moment of awed silence. “It sure is fabulous!”
“Yes, that’s just the word I was about to use,” Jupiter said with an approving glance at Pete. “It is fabulous. Whoever acquires the deed to this property will be fortunate indeed.”
“’Fortunate’ is the perfect word too,” Bob grinned. “This place is worth a fortune!”
“I trust you did some research on its origins before we came here?” Jupiter asked him. Because he worked part-time at the Rocky Beach library, Bob was in charge of finding all the background information the Investigators needed in order to complete their cases.
“I sure did.” Bob dug the notebook he always carried out of his back pocket. “The first Hartwell family to settle here dates all the way back to the Victorian age. They were among the first people to found the town of Wilderville, as a matter of fact, and the Hartwell men built this house themselves, stone by stone. They built most of the original shops in town too, which obviously is why they were family-owned until just recently. The original Hartwell clan was quite large, consisting of twelve children, the majority of them girls. The tradition back then was to name the eldest son as the sole heir in the father’s will, and that’s how the estate has been passed down through the generations. The Hartwell women got no share of the family wealth, since in those times only men could inherit property. So most of the girls moved away from Death Valley after they married, and the younger sons, the ones who didn’t receive the estate, lived in town in order to run the family businesses.”
“And that’s what happened with the present-day Hartwells also,” Jupiter supplied.
Bob nodded. “Trevor and Lloyd Hartwell were the only children in their family, and their father had been the only son in his family, so basically they were the last of the Wilderville Hartwells. Trevor, the elder son, inherited the estate after their father died, while, as tradition dictated, Lloyd took care of the shops. Trevor’s wife died soon after their daughter was born, but according to his closest friends, he didn’t mind in the least that he didn’t have any male heirs. He believed that a woman could manage the family wealth every bit as well as a man, and he intended to teach Vanessa all the legal aspects of owning land. That’s why he wanted her to inherit all this after she turned sixteen, to be sure that she would be competent enough to invest her money wisely.” He sighed. “But, of course, we all know how that turned out!”
“So Lloyd was allowed to claim ownership of the stores, but not the house and grounds?” Pete asked.
“That’s right,” Bob said. “Today he is the sole survivor of the inheriting family, but since he is unmarried and childless, he decided the best thing for him to do now would be to sell the shops to the townspeople, some of whose families date almost as far back as his does. He could have auctioned off this house and property too, since it has no one to claim it, but he prefers to let a native of Wilderville have it. He told The Death Valley Reporter, ‘Whoever is smart enough to find the deed by following the clues my brother left surely will be capable of managing my childhood home wisely. If I sold it by auction, I would be taking the chance of someone with all money and no brains getting ahold of it! No, I’d rather keep it in the family, so to speak.’”
“Interesting sentiment,” Jupiter commented.
“That’s why my dad has to work secretly to cover this story as an out-of-town reporter,” Bob told them. “Mr. Hartwell doesn’t want people from all over California swarming out here trying to find the deed. He wants the house to belong to someone he knows and trusts, just like his family businesses do now.”
“Does that mean we can’t join in the hunt for the deed?” Pete asked, only half-joking. The thought of owning such a magnificent house, along with its endless stretches of land, had become quite appealing to him.
Bob grinned and shook his head. “Sorry, Pete, but we’re here only to take pictures. Which we’d better do before it gets any later!” And with that, he hoisted himself over the stone wall, his two friends following close behind him.
“Is it all right for us to go into the yard?” Jupiter asked, a trifle nervously. “We’re trespassing on private property, aren’t we?”
“Dad said it should be OK,” Bob assured him. “But he also said we’re only allowed on the grounds to photograph the house, and for no other reason. We’re to leave everything exactly the way we found it. Although the house has been locked and boarded up for so long, people could probably still get in if they really tried.”
“Who would try to get into the house?” Pete wanted to know.
“If someone was greedy enough, they might try to see if they can find the deed now,” Bob said. “It will only be after next week, when the will is read, that the property and the house will be opened to the public. But before that, it’s a crime to try to explore this place without legal permission.” Focusing carefully, he snapped a picture of the front of the mansion.
“How many pictures do you have to take?” Pete asked curiously as Bob one again aimed his camera lens at the house.
“I like to take at least two of the same angle, in case one of them doesn’t turn out well,” Bob explained. “Then Dad’s editors can go through them and pick the ones they think best illustrate the story.” He carefully snapped another picture. “I’m going to photograph the reading of the will, the search, and the person who finds the deed, too. Those are all the important events of the story, so they should make it all that much more interesting for L.A. readers.”
“I feel sorry for anyone who won’t actually be here for the big event,” Pete declared fervently. “It will be as exciting as going on a real treasure hunt, I’ll bet!”
Jupiter, meanwhile, had been walking around the back of the house, and his friends heard them suddenly call their names. They hurried to join him. “What’s up, Jupe?” Pete asked.
Their stout friend was staring thoughtfully up at the hills which rose up behind the backyard. The tree-covered lands sloped gradually upward to form the rocky, barren mountains surrounding the Valley on all sides.
“Why don’t we take a hike up into those mountains?” Jupiter suggested. “Those trees look like they’d provide a nice shade from this sun.” Although it was only mid-morning, it was already quite warm, and he was perspiring heavily.
“Wait a minute,” Pete protested. “We can’t go up there! Those hills are crawling with gunslingers!”
“I highly doubt if they show themselves during the day,” Jupiter assured him. “It would be too risky. Besides, there will be plenty of places for us to hide, even if we do spot anybody suspicious.”
“Well then, it’s probably alive with rattlesnakes,” Pete grumbled. “Why can’t we just stay down here on level ground where all decent people belong?”
Bob and Jupiter exchanged a grin. They knew that their friend didn’t really mean what he was saying. Complaining was just his way of alleviating the anxiety he always felt about venturing into potentially dangerous territory.
“Don’t worry, Pete,” Bob said jovially, clapping a hand on the Second Investigator’s shoulder. “I’m sure there’s nothing up in those mountains that we can’t handle, the three of us together.”
“Maybe,” Pete admitted grudgingly. “But I still don’t like the idea!” He stood still for a moment, watching his friends striding purposefully toward the trees at the far side of the yard. Then, with a resigned sigh, he hurried after them.
After about thirty minutes of climbing steadily, however, Pete’s spirits began to lift considerably. He loved any activity that required exertion of his muscles, and he strolled along as easily as if they were on level ground. He grinned to himself, listening to Jupiter puffing and groaning behind him. The stocky First Investigator wasn’t exactly in the greatest of shape!
“Can’t we sit down and rest a minute?” Jupe finally begged. “I’m pooped!”
Pete stopped and turned as Jupiter, red-faced, plopped heavily down onto a large rock beside a mountain stream. “What’s wrong, Jupe?” he teased. “I thought you were the one that suggested we go hiking.”
”Well, I didn’t expect you to set such a murderous pace,” his friend complained, dipping his hands into the cold water for a drink.
Bob, laughing, joined him on the rock. “Jupe, you should know by now that The Great Athlete never slows down for anybody! We just have to learn to set our pace to his, I guess.”
Jupiter cupped the clear water in his hands and splashed his perspiring face. “That’ll be the day,” he snorted. “Everyone knows I much prefer to exercise my brain than my body. There’s considerably less strain involved.”
“Maybe for you, Jupe,” Pete said, sinking down onto another rock beside the creek, secretly glad for a chance to rest in the cool shade. “But some of us mere mortals have to strain our brains, while you can just zip right along. So take a taste of your own medicine for once!”
Jupiter glared at him good-naturedly for a long moment, then relented and grinned. “I guess you got me there, Pete,” he admitted.
“Of course,” Bob chimed in. “Everyone has to have something no one else has, right? But nobody can have everything, so each of you balances the other out. I’d say the two of you together make quite a considerable young man.”
“And where do you come in?” Pete demanded.
“Oh, I’m just the middle man,” Bob said, pretending to pout. “So average, not really fitting in anywhere!” Jupiter splashed him, and he laughed. “No, no, just kidding. I know my assistance is invaluable when it comes to records and research for our team.”
“You got that right,” Pete, who hated doing research, said firmly. He sighed and leaned back, wrapping his arms around his raised knee and lifting his face toward the sky. It was so beautiful and peaceful up here in the mountains, he thought. A gentle breeze stirred the numerous trees surround them, yet enough sunlight filtered through to sparkle like tiny diamonds on the water. All around them was the deep hush of undisturbed nature, the silence broken only by the occasion twitter of a bird and the soft gurgle of the stream.
“It’s great up here,” Bob said softly, voicing all of their thoughts. “I feel like we’re the only people in the world right now.”
Jupiter opened his mouth to reply, but what he was about to say never materialized. The quiet was abruptly shattered by the sharp whinny of a horse.
Startled, the boys looked up toward the sound. Above their resting place, they could see a tall rise with a clearing beyond. Then they stiffened, for silhouetted against the clear blue sky was a horse and rider. The horse reared, and the boys drew back in terror. Its rider was masked, and he pointed a black pistol straight at them!