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 8: A Puzzling Case
Meanwhile, Jupiter and Bob sat on the floor in the back room, wondering how much longer they would have to remain prisoners here in this tiny mountain cabin. The room consisted of only a small cot, a chest of drawers containing articles of clothing, and a tall shelf unit displaying several odds and ends. The only source of light came from a round window much like the one in the main room. The rough, unfinished planking of the floor and walls suggested that Sam Kipley must have built the house with his own hands for himself and his daughter. Another indication was that the cabin contained no electricity or plumbing of any kind.
Jupiter shifted uncomfortably on the hard floor, and his stomach rumbled audibly. It was getting close to lunchtime by now, and he wondered uneasily how much longer Kelly planned to question Pete. What did the Kipleys want from them, anyway? He fervently hoped that Pete had read his signal and would not give away Mr. Andrews’ secret mission in Wilderville.
Bob, on the other hand, was carefully watching Sam Kipley as he paced restlessly in front of them. In spite of their predicament, Bob almost laughed at the man’s nervousness as he shifted his gun from one hand to the other, scowling at the door as if wondering what was taking his daughter so long. Bob wondered, also, what plan Kelly had devised to try and extract information from Pete.
He sighed and leaned back against the bed, mentally picturing what his father’s reaction would be when he discovered that the boys were missing.
Pete stared at Kelly Kipley, speechless with shock. He wondered if he had heard her correctly.
“What did you just say?” he gasped.
She sighed heavily. “I know, I know. It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Like I said, sometimes I don’t believe it myself! But then, other times…”
Her voice trailed off and she looked away, staring into the corner of the cabin as if trying to peer into the past.
“Sometimes, I think I remember things,” she continued in a hushed voice. “Sometimes I’m sure I lived another life before this one. I remember a huge house, with long halls, lots of rooms, an enormous backyard, and…” she hesitated, looking slightly embarrassed…”and, would you believe, a nanny?”
Pete’s eyes widened. “That sounds like you must have lived in a big mansion, with a rich family.” Then he frowned, puzzled. “But what makes you think Mr. Kipley isn’t your real father?”
“Well – I mean, I…” Kelly stammered for a moment, then cleared her throat decisively. “I believe I was the heiress to my family fortune, so I think he kidnapped me in order to keep me from inheriting the estate.” She lowered her eyes to her hands, which she was twisting nervously together in her lap. “And now, Pete, the whole town of Wilderville will keep me from it forever, by finding the hidden deed for themselves!”
Pete felt as if a jolt of electricity had shot through his body. “Oh, no, don’t tell me…are you trying to say that you are Vanessa Hartwell?”
Kelly shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know. I can’t think of any other possible explanation for my memories. If I am the Hartwell girl, I would’ve been only four years old when I was kidnapped. My recollections are kind of hazy and disjointed, but they’re real. They’re very real, Pete!” She stared up at him pleadingly. “Sometimes those memories scare me, they’re so real. But no matter what, I’ve got to find that deed before anyone else does. Then maybe I can learn my true identity. Whether or not I find out that I’m the rightful owner of the Hartwell estate, I still need to know who I really am, and where I came from! Does that make sense?”
Pete released his breath, which he’d been holding, and slowly nodded. “Yeah,” he said softly. “I guess you’re right. Lloyd Hartwell said whoever finds the deed becomes the owner of the house, and if you are Vanessa, it’s already yours anyway! But wouldn’t it be a lot easier to just go to town, tell Mr. Keenan, the Hartwell family lawyer, who you are so you can legally claim your inheritance?”
The girl shook her head quickly. “I don’t know for sure if I’m Vanessa, and I have no proof whatsoever. No one’s just going to take my word for it.” She grimaced. “Besides, if I dare show my face in town, they’ll throw me right into the clink! I’m a wanted outlaw, remember?”
“Why are you a criminal?” Pete asked gently.
“I’ve never had any other choice,” Kelly informed him ruefully. “Pa taught me to ride a horse and shoot a pistol when I was really young. Because of my small size, and my skill with a gun, he has always made me ride down into the Valley and steal supplies whenever we needed them. I only take enough from the ranches to feed and clothe us for about a month. I used to sneak into town at night and rob the stores, but lately they’ve become equipped with some pretty reliable security devices. Now I just stick to the ranch houses, and if anyone tries to stop me, I shoot at them.” Pete’s eyes widened, and she added hastily, “But only to scare them. I’ve never killed anybody in my life, I promise!”
Pete remembered how she had threatened him and his friends by shooting at their feet, and how it had convinced them to follow her every wish. He believed that her scare tactics probably worked just as well with the local ranch folks.
“Well, you’re right about one thing,” he said firmly. “Whichever way you look at it, you’ve got to be the one to find that deed. I promise I’ll try to convince my friends to help you.”
“Oh, thank you, Pete!” As if overcome with gratitude, Kelly threw her arms around his neck, giving him a crushing hug. Pete was embarrassed yet pleased by her display of affection, and he did not even notice the back room door opening until Sam Kipley spoke sharply.
“What’s goin’ on here!”
Pete and Kelly leaped apart as if stung by a bee. Pete felt his face turning crimson as he caught sight of Jupiter and Bob’s expressions. But Kelly, recovering quickly from her initial shock, rose gracefully to her feet and smiled at her father.
“Pete here gave me some very valuable information, and I was just thanking him for it, Pa. But now, I think we’d best send these guys on their way before someone gets the police after them.” Half-turning toward Pete, Kelly gave him a quick, secret wink, as if to say, “Don’t worry; I have everything under control!” She then proceeded to cut the ropes biding the other boys’ hands while Sam Kipley watched with a slight scowl.
“I don’t like the idea of just letting them go like this, Kelly-girl,” he grumbled. “What if they run to the cops and tell them where we’re hiding out? I don’t want to be on the run anymore, not after we finally found a nice secluded spot to settle down in!”
“Don’t worry, Pa, they won’t say a word,” Kelly told him firmly. “I already made a bargain with Pete. If they promise to keep quiet, they go free. But, if they let anything slip…” she patted her pistol threateningly “…they have an accident out there in the canyon where no one will ever find them.” She smiled slyly. “So you don’t have to be afraid of them telling anybody anything, Pa. It’s no secret around town that I’m the best and fastest shot this side of the Rockies!”
Bob and Jupiter paled at her implication. Kipley nodded, apparently satisfied. “All right, you heard her,” he growled at the three boys. “Get out of here!”
They scrambled for the door, only too happy to obey.
The three Investigators raced across the clearing and down the mountain trail as fast as they could, fearful of being waylaid by more bandits. Not even Jupiter complained about the pace this time. They hurried across the Hartwell property and jumped over the low stone wall. Only when they had reached the sidewalk in town did they stop running, breathing in deep gulps of air.
“We’d better get back to the hotel,” Bob managed between gasps. “Dad’s probably wondering where we are.”
“Yeah,” Pete panted. “Let’s order pizza by room service. I’ve got the weirdest things to tell you guys!”
Jupiter wiped his arm across his forehead, puffing hard from his unaccustomed exercise. “Yes, let’s do that. I’m very anxious to hear what transpired between you and that female bandit.”
Pete detected the cynical note in his friend’s voice, but decided to ignore it. Jupe would change his mind about Kelly once he heard the truth about her, he was certain of it.
Twenty minutes later, the boys were settled in their comfortable, air-conditioned hotel room with a piping hot pizza and Cokes. Between mouthfuls, Pete excitedly told his friends everything Kelly had said. Instead of sharing his enthusiasm, however, Bob and Jupiter exchanged frowns.
“Kelly Kipley thinks she’s the missing Hartwell heiress?” Bob snorted. “That’s incredible! What makes her think that? Just because she has a few foggy memories about living in a big house? All houses look big to a little kid; I know mine did!”
“Oh brother,” Jupiter groaned. “I knew she’d try some kind of trick on you, but I had no idea she’d make up such a wild story as that.”
Pete stared at his friends. “You mean you’re just going to automatically not believe her?” he demanded incredulously. “It is possible, you know!”
Jupiter looked dubious. “Well…she’s been a thief all her life, Pete. People steal only for selfish gain, so it makes more sense that she is just being the greedy thief she is, trying to get her hands on an easy fortune. Since she doesn’t dare venture into town to hunt for the deed herself, she had to find someone to use. Someone who would fall for that sob story she cooked up.”
“But I’m telling you, she’s okay!” Pete insisted. “I don’t believe she’s trying to trick me. I could…” he hesitated. “I could see that she was telling the truth, by her eyes.”
“Well, for your sake, I hope she was,” Jupiter said, still sounding doubtful.
“What do you mean, ‘for my sake’?” Pete demanded.
“It’s quite obvious that you’re smitten with her,” Jupiter said, a stern note creeping into his voice. “But a good detective never lets his heart rule his head when deciding a person’s innocence or guilt. Just because you may want her to be an innocent victim of Sam Kipley, one who only wants a way out of a ‘terrible life’, doesn’t mean she truly is one.”
”Well, you can’t automatically assume she’s lying, either!” Pete shot back.
“No. None of us is going to assume anything,” Jupe went on firmly. “We will prove her story, with clear, logical thinking, devoid of all emotional connotations. Is that understood?”
“And how are we going to do that?” Pete wanted to know, crossing his arms defiantly.
Jupiter turned to Bob, who had been watching the heated exchange between his two friends somewhat uneasily. “Records, there’s a local library in town. Try to find as many newspaper stories as you can from the summer of 1990. They should contain reports of Vanessa Hartwell’s disappearance. See if you can locate some photos of her as well, so we can see if there is any resemblance between the child she was and the teenager Kelly is. Once we find out everything we can about Vanessa Hartwell, then we will question Kelly Kipley very thoroughly about her memories. If the stories unmistakably coincide in detail, then we can be fairly certain that she is, indeed, the missing heiress. But if there’s too much discrepancy, or if she changes her story too often, we will have proved that she’s only lying in order to acquire that valuable property.”
“Well, I’m sure she’s not lying,” Pete said stubbornly. “You didn’t talk to her like I did! I could tell by her face that she is truly unhappy with her life, and scared of Mr. Kipley. If he did kidnap her, then there’s no reason why she would want to keep doing him any favors, is there?”
“Well, to play devil’s advocate, let’s just say she’s a true bandit in every sense of the word,” Jupiter returned. “In that case, she only wants the deed for herself, and has no intention of sharing the money with her father. Once she’s rich, she probably intends to leave the Valley forever and desert him. So she’s pretending to think she’s Vanessa Hartwell, in order to get honest citizens like us to help her get her hands on a lot of money.”
Jupiter’s explanation did sound plausible, Pete grudgingly admitted to himself. After all, he had suspected Kelly of trickery at first too, and she was a clever girl. What better way of assuring her claim to the Hartwell estate than pretending to believe herself the missing heiress? But Pete refused to believe that she would deliberately fabricate such a lie just to make a fool of him.
“I trust her,” he repeated, hoping he sounded convincing. “I know she’s not lying!” Secretly, though, he hoped that Jupiter wouldn’t be able to prove him wrong in this, as it seemed he was always doing!