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The Death Valley Mystery: Chapter 6

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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 6: A Startling Revelation

 

 

The horse reared and pranced, but its masked rider maintained his seat with expert ease, continuing to point his gun unwaveringly at the boys’ stunned faces.

 

“All right, you three,” he commanded in a voice muffled by the dark blue kerchief concealing the lower half of his face.  “Come up here!  On the double!”

 

Jupiter was startled by the high-pitched youthful quality of the bandit’s voice.  Why, he was just a kid!  It has to be Kelly Kipley, Jupiter’s numbed brain registered.

 

As he and his friends crossed the creek on the rocks and scrambled up the slope, the First Investigator strained to catch a glimpse of the boy’s face behind the mask.  All he could see, however, was a pair of bright blue eyes blazing out at them.  Then he noticed the fringe of blonde hair peeking out from beneath the front brim of the large brown hat.  That, together with the small stature, leather jacket and young voice, was enough testimony as to who the bandit’s identity must be.

 

“What do you want with us?” Pete demanded, once the three boys had reached level ground.  He had also heard from the outlaw’s voice that he was younger than they, and knowing that helped him regain his courage.

 

The bandit gestured impatiently with his pistol.  “Don’t ask questions!” he spat.  “Now, all of you, turn around and march straight ahead!”

 

“Why?” Jupiter asked levelly, ignoring the boy’s command not to ask questions.

 

Without hesitation, the bandit cocked his gun and fired.  The shot kicked up dirt just inches from Jupiter’s feet.  All three of the boys jumped back in shock and alarm.

 

“Now, do as I say!” their captor barked.  March!

 

The three Investigators obeyed, shaken by their close call.  They decided that, even if this masked raider was only a pre-teen, his expertise with a pistol far outweighed his youth, and he meant business.  They knew now that they’d better not antagonize him further, but follow his commands while secretly looking for an avenue of escape.

 

“Keep your eyes opened,” Jupiter muttered to his friends.  “When you see the first opportunity, run for it!  It’s every man for himself!”

 

“Hey, no talking up there!” the boy ordered sharply.  “And don’t be getting any funny ideas about escaping, either, because I got you covered, and believe me I won’t miss!”

 

Jupiter sighed and said no more.  It seemed that the kid was pretty savvy, too, despite his tender years.  They had to choice but to be led along at his command, and wait and see what he would do to them.  It was not a very comforting thought.

 

“I’m sorry, fellows,” Jupe said mournfully.  “Pete, I guess I should have listened to you.  But I never would have dreamed that any of those bandits would try capturing us in broad daylight!”

 

“Don’t blame yourself, Jupe,” Pete began to reassure him, but he was cut off abruptly by the sound of the gun cocking behind them.

 

“I said, no talking!” the boy snapped irritably.  “Now, go stand over by that rock and wait for me!”

 

The three Investigators obediently stopped beside the large rock formation their captor referred to.  They turned and watched as he gracefully dismounted from his horse.  He gave it a light slap on the rump, and it trotted toward the grassy clearing they had just crossed.

 

“All right,” the bandit said, indicating the rocks with his pistol  “Slide through that crevice there, one by one.”

 

The boys looked to where he was pointing, and Jupiter gulped.  The slit between the enormous rock walls looked too small for his portly figure to squeeze through.

 

“I – I don’t know if I’ll fit,” he ventured timidly to their captor.  Pete and Bob suppressed grins.  They rarely heard their leader talk to anyone in such a tone.  Normally he exuded self-confidence, sometimes even displaying a bit of superiority towards other people.  They decided they could attribute his sudden meekness only to the pistol that continued to point so threateningly in their direction.

 

For the first time, their captor’s voice seemed to have a hint of laughter in it.  “You’ll fit,” he assured Jupiter.  “Only grown men are too big to get through there.”

 

So the three boys dropped flat onto their bellies and slid through the narrow crevice.  It was a tight squeeze, but even Jupiter safely made it to the other side.  Their captor crawled through last, easily maneuvering his small body through the opening.  Then he stood up, brushing off his jeans, and the others did likewise.

 

“Wow!” Pete gasped, staring around with wide eyes.  “Get a load of this!”

 

They were standing in a box canyon, surrounded by the craggy rocky mountains in all their wild beauty.  In a far corner stood a tiny log cabin, almost completely hidden from view by tall trees and more rock piles.  The boys had rarely seen such picturesque scenery except on post cards.

 

“Is this where you live?” Bob asked their captor in an awed voice.

 

“Yes,” the bandit said shortly.  “To the house!  Now!”

 

Sighing, and wishing that the little runt would stop giving them such insolent orders, the three Investigators set out toward the cabin.  By now, the sun was higher in the sky, and they wondered uneasily what the boy wanted with them.  How long did he intend to hold them captive?  They knew that Bob’s father would be worried if they did not return to the hotel in time for lunch.  Also, they’d promised Lloyd Hartwell that they would meet with him later that afternoon.  Would he discover that they were missing and send a troop of his force out to search for them?  It seemed their only hope for rescue at the moment.

 

As they approached the little house, its door swung open and a man stepped out into the sunlight.  He squinted suspiciously at the boys.  “What’s this riff-raff, Kelly?” he demanded gruffly.

 

“Newcomers, Pa,” the boy answered.  “I thought maybe they could give us some answers.”

 

The three Investigators exchanged quick glances.  So their captors were the notorious Sam and Kelly Kipley!

 

“Get inside, you kids,” the man ordered, stepping aside and waving them in.  “Go sit on that bench over there!”

 

He indicated a long stone slab built into one wall, and the boys silently obeyed.  As Kelly Kipley carefully trained his pistol on them, his father fetched long pieces of calf rope hanging on hooks by the door and bound the boys’ hands together in front of them.

 

“Now,” Sam Kipley said, standing and surveying his prisoners with satisfaction.  “I have a few questions to ask you boys, if you don’t mind.”

 

Kelly returned his pistol to the holster strapped to his hip.  “I have to take care of my horse, Pa,” he said.  “I’ll be back in a few minutes.  If you need me, just whistle!”

 

Without taking his eyes off the three Investigators, his father nodded, and the boy left.

 

A heavy silence descended on the tiny room.  Sam Kipley paced back and forth a few times, frowning as if he were thinking deeply.  The boys squirmed uncomfortably, wondering what he would do to them.  Although he carried no gun on his hip, he nevertheless presented a much more formidable figure than his young son.

 

Finally he stopped and gave each of the boys, in turn, a hard, piercing stare.  “All right,” he demanded brusquely, “where do you come from, and what are you doing here in this town?  And don’t give me that ‘we’re just tourists’ crap, because nobody tours Wilderville unless they have an ulterior motive!”

 

The boys did not dare answer.  They remembered the day before, just as they’d arrived at their hotel, Mr. Andrews had fixed them with a sober gaze and a warning.

 

“Remember, boys,” he’d said.  “No one in this town is to know what we’re really doing here.  I’m going to lead Mr. Hartwell to believe that we are only tourists, here for a vacation.  If Hartwell knew that I am a Los Angeles newspaper reporter, he might forbid me to print his story for fear of too much publicity ruining his plans.  I have every intention of waiting until the deed is found before I tell the rest of California what happened here, but Mr. Hartwell may not trust me.  So can I have your solemn promise that you’ll not breathe a word about our true intentions here?  Make everyone think you are only harmless tourists, taking pictures for your own enjoyment.  Got that?”

 

“Yes, sir,” the boys had chorused.

 

Now, they each sat still, keeping their eyes averted from their captor’s, afraid that he might read their guilty secret on their faces.

 

“Answer my question!” Sam Kipley snapped.

 

Still no one spoke.  The boys could feel the man getting angrier, and they held their breath, hoping he wouldn’t resort to violence to try and get them to talk.

 

“Oh, so you’re going to be stubborn, are you?” he demanded heatedly.  “Well, you’ll find out just how stubborn I can be if somebody doesn’t tell me the truth, and now!”

 

The door of the little shack opened again, and Kelly entered.  The slim boy slowly pulled the bandana down from his face, staring curiously at the three Investigators.

 

“What’s going on, Pa?” he wanted to know.  “What did you get out of them?”

 

“They won’t talk,” Sam Kipley growled.  “Well, I know how to deal with people who won’t cooperate!  I guess I’ll just have to try a more forceful approach, eh, boys?”  He started threateningly toward them.

 

“Wait!”  Kelly reached out a hand to stop his father’s advance.  He studied the three boys, his blue eyes narrowing speculatively.  “I have an idea.  Will you let me try something?”

 

“Well…I guess anything’s worth a try,” Kipley agreed somewhat grudgingly.  “Do you remember what we want to know?”

 

Kelly nodded.  Then, casually, he removed the wide-brimmed hat from his head, tossing it carelessly onto a table in the center of the floor.  And suddenly, the three Investigators froze, their eyes wide, their mouths agape with shock.

 

A thick array of golden hair, previously trapped beneath the large hat and completely hidden from view, tumbled past the waist of Kelly Kipley, the bandit.  All three boys were speechless for a long moment.  Then Jupiter managed a croaking gasp.  “You – you’re a…a girl?”

 

Kelly Kipley stared at him, looking first surprised, then annoyed.  “Well, of course I am!” she snapped.  “What did you think I was, a boy?”  She snorted derisively.  “Or are you such a typical male chauvinist that you don’t want to believe a girl can ride and shoot as well as I can?”

 

Pete and Bob were still too stunned to respond, but Jupiter, despite his bound hands, slapped his forehead in disgust.  “Of course,” he said.  “How could I have made such a mindless assumption?  I merely jumped to conclusions without first thinking it through.  I took the word of people who’d only ever seen you wearing your hat, so they could not be very reliable in their conclusion!  I should have been more careful and kept my mind opened to the possibility of a disguise.  Then I wouldn’t have been taken so completely by surprise just now.”

 

Kelly Kipley stared at the First Investigator suspiciously.  “Why are you trying to talk like some kind of college professor?” she demanded.  “Do you think I won’t be able to understand you?  Well listen, buddy, just because I never went to school doesn’t mean I’m a dummy!”

 

“Of course he’s not trying to trick you,” Bob quickly defended his friend.  “Jupe always talks in a sophisticated manner.  It’s just his way.”

 

Kelly studied Bob for a moment through narrowed eyes, as if trying to decide whether to believe him.  Then she shrugged.  “Well, maybe you’re right.  But you are wrong about one thing,” she addressed Jupiter.  “I wasn’t wearing a disguise.  I always tuck my hair up under my hat, in order to keep it out of my way if I have to ride fast.  Trust me, hair as long as mine can be a deadly inhibitor when it comes to escaping from the law.  I never tried to pretend I was a boy.  If anyone in town thinks that, they’re pretty stupid!”

 

Studying her face, Jupiter had to agree.  He couldn’t imagine how he could’ve believed she was a boy, even a pre-adolescent one.  She was so petite in stature, with small delicate facial features – perfectly feminine in every way.  In fact, with her very long hair flowing around her shoulders and her deep blue eyes shining in the sunlight, Kelly Kipley was quite a stunning beauty.

 

Her father broke in impatiently.  “Well, Kelly, what’s your plan?  Do you think you can get them to talk?”

 

The girl did not answer immediately.  Thoughtfully, she scrutinized each Investigator in turn, so searchingly that they squirmed uncomfortably under her gaze.  Finally, her eyes began gleaming in an almost mischievous fashion.

 

“Yes, Pa, I think I can,” she said.  “If you would, please take two of them into the back room and leave me alone with just one.”

 

“One?” her father demanded, frowning skeptically.  “Which one?”

 

“That one,” Kelly replied instantly, pointing at Pete, here lips curving into a self-satisfied smile.

 

Pete felt a jolt of surprise.  Sam Kipley stared at him, his expression distinctly unfriendly.  Him?  Why?  He hasn’t opened his mouth the whole time he’s been here!”

 

Kelly shrugged indifferently.  “That doesn’t matter.  He’s the one I want to talk to, and alone.”

 

“Why?” her father repeated, suspiciously.

 

The girl looked at each boy in turn again, and this time the gleam in her eyes was downright wicked.  “Because, Pa…” and her voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper,  “he’s hot!

 

Jupiter and Bob, stunned at her bold statement, stared at their friend as if they’d never seen him before.  Pete felt his face burning, and he glued his eyes to his bound hands, fervently wishing there was a hole in the floor he could sink into.  In recent years he had heard several compliments on his appearance from girls at school, so it wasn’t anything new to him.  But to hear such sentiments expressed in front of Jupe and Bob was excruciatingly uncomfortable.  Sam Kipley merely gave an incredulous snort and rolled his eyes, as if his daughter’s comment was just too much for him to comprehend.

 

But Jupiter, after his first initial reaction, studied Kelly thoughtfully, trying to see behind her bland expression.  Was the fact that she found Pete attractive the true reason she had chosen him?  And why did she insist on talking to him alone?  Jupe had an uncomfortable feeling that the girl had a trick up her sleeve.  He believed her when she’d said she was no dummy.  No one could evade the law for as long as she had and be dim-witted!  He only hoped that Pete would recognize that also, and not fall for anything she tried to devise.

 

Kelly nodded again to her father.  “Go on, Pa.  Take the other two away.”

 

Sam Kipley still looked skeptical, but he agreed to try her idea.

 

“All right, you,” he commanded Jupiter and Bob.  “On your feet!  March!”

 

As Jupiter rose, he cast a quick look at Pete.  The other boy was watching his friends leave, still looking helplessly embarrassed.  Obviously, he was dreading the confrontation with a girl who so boldly expressed admiration for him while at the same time holding him helplessly in her power.  Jupiter caught his friend’s eye, then pressed his lips together and shook his head slightly.  He was signaling Pete not to say anything to the girl.

 

“I said march!” Kipley snapped at Jupiter, propelling him forcefully toward the back room.

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