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The Death Valley Mystery: Chapter 9

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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 9: On a Mission

 

 

The three boys agreed to accomplish two tasks that afternoon.  Bob would go to the library and research the disappearance of Vanessa Hartwell, while Pete and Jupiter met with Lloyd Hartwell at the police station.

 

So promptly at a quarter till four o’clock, they left the hotel and separated, Bob crossing the street to the Wilderville public library, his friends heading toward the center of town.

 

“Remember,” Jupiter warned, “don’t let anyone see what you’re looking up!”

 

“Okay,” Bob agreed.  “I have my camera with me, so whoever’s there will think I’m just out sightseeing.”

 

Fortunately, he met very few people on the sidewalk or the street of the quiet little town.  He supposed the library would probably be fairly empty too, of which he was glad.  If anyone saw him conducting research on the Hartwells, they might guess that he was no ordinary tourist and question his true intentions.

 

Bob entered the small library, welcoming the cool air.  He was accustomed to hot weather, but back home in Rocky Beach the heat was constantly tempered by ocean breezes.  Here in the Valley there was little relief from the oppressive humidity.  Bob took off his glasses, which were now steamed with perspiration, and polished them off with his handkerchief.

 

“Hello!  May I help you?” a friendly voice asked in front of him.

 

Bob looked up, squinting slightly, and made out the smiling face of a girl moving toward him from behind her desk.  He hastily shoved his glasses back on, and the girl’s form came into clear focus.  She looked about his age, with dark wavy hair and a smooth pale complexion.

 

He returned her smile.  “Yes,” he answered, attempting to sound important.  “I’d like to view some newspaper articles on microfilm, please.”

 

“Right this way,” she invited pleasantly, turning to lead him in the right direction.  As he passed her desk, Bob stole a hasty peak at the nameplate sitting at an angle on the corner.  It read: Alexis Carter, Reference Information.

 

A good name for a good face! he thought with satisfaction, then followed her over to the corner where the boxes of microfilm were displayed on tall shelves.

 

“The dates are shown on each container label,” his companion told him.  “If you have any questions, I’ll be right over here at my desk.”

 

“Thanks,” Bob said gratefully.  He watched her for a moment as she walked away, then hastily turned his attention to the boxes of microfilm.  He studied them carefully for a moment, then selected The Death Valley Reporter July 1990 issue, which was the time in which Vanessa Hartwell had vanished.

 

No one else was operating the microfilm machines, but Bob still chose the one furthest from the library entrance.  This way, he could be assured complete privacy.

 

Expertly, he threaded the film into the machine and began scanning the headlines.  Most of the news was trivial, as the town was small and events worth reporting were few.  It wasn’t long, however, until he found what he was looking for.

 

TREVOR HARTWELL MURDERED TODAY! exclaimed the headline in bold print.

 

Bob quickly jotted the date down in his notebook.  July 11, 1990.  Then he read the article beneath:

 

Our town was shocked to hear that Trevor Hartwell, one of Wilderville’s most prominent citizens, was shot to death on his own front porch today.  Mrs. Abigail Polly, the family’s housekeeper, reported that she was in the kitchen when she heard the sound of men’s voices quarreling.  Then, she said, she heard a gunshot and a cry of pain.  “I hurried over to the front door, and there lay Mr. Hartwell, doubled up and bleeding from the wound in his chest,” she said.  “I ran outside just in time to see four masked men riding away from the house.  They were on horseback, and they headed as fast as they could toward the hills behind our property.  I called the police and a doctor, but by the time they got here poor Mr. Hartwell was already gone.”  The police are presently conducting a search for the masked men Mrs. Polly spoke of, but so far their efforts have turned up no traces.  Meanwhile, Mr. Hartwell’s funeral will be held at the Methodist Church on Sunday, July 15th with Reverend Hamilton presiding over the service.  There will be a public viewing, and afterwards the burial will take place in the Rosewood Hill cemetery where Trevor Hartwell will be laid to rest next to his deceased wife, Eleanor Hartwell.

 

Bob recorded a few more notes in his book, then slowly rolled the film to the following day.

 

WHERE IS VANESSA HARTWELL? the afternoon headline wondered.  Underneath it read:

 

Our town is stunned again, this time by the disappearance of Trevor Hartwell’s four-year-old daughter Vanessa Jane Hartwell.  Mrs. Abigail Polly, the child’s nanny, called the police last evening after Mr. Hartwell’s murder, reporting that Vanessa had not returned to the house for dinner as she always has previously.  “She sneaked away from me as soon as she finished her lunch,” Mrs. Polly said.  “She always does that, the little dickens!  She loves the outdoors, so I always let her play in the backyard.  I never worry about her wandering off, though, because the yard is completely enclosed by a stone wall that she’s too little to climb over.  But after those men shot Mr. Hartwell, I called for Vanessa to come inside.  I was so afraid if they found her, they would hurt her.  I called and called her, but she did not answer.  I searched for her in every possible place, just in case she might be hiding from me.  She loves to hide from me.  But now it’s getting dark, and I’m so worried!”  The distraught Mrs. Polly broke into tears.  “Maybe she was killed or kidnapped by those awful men!”  The police have searched for the child all night, but as of yet not a trace of her has been found.  Will Mrs. Polly’s theory prove correct?  Our town has not known greater tragedy than this.

 

Bob scanned the articles of the following days, but nothing new was reported on Vanessa’s mysterious disappearance.  The police were completely baffled as to what could have become of her.  They could not prove whether she had been killed or kidnapped, or by whom.  No ransom note materialized, so her whereabouts remained unknown.  Eventually Mrs. Polly was reported to have left the big house and moved into a small place of her own outside of town.  Consequently, Lloyd Hartwell ordered the mansion to be carefully boarded up and the surrounding property barred to the public.

 

Bob finished writing his notes, then unloaded the microfilm and returned it to its shelf.  He hadn’t really learned anything his father hadn’t already told him.  I guess the only way we can learn more about Vanessa is to talk to Mrs. Polly, he thought.  If she’s even still alive.  I wonder how we can find out where she lives?

 

He walked slowly toward the library exit, still pondering everything he’d read.  Then, unexpectedly, Alexis Carter called to him from behind her desk, startling him out of his reverie.

 

“I’m sorry.  What did you say?” Bob asked her, blushing slightly.

 

“I was asking if you found what you were looking for,” the girl repeated with a smile.  “I guess you must have; you look so thoughtful!”

 

“Yes, I did,” Bob said hastily.  “Thank you.”

 

“Are you new in town?” she asked, leaning forward with interest.  “I haven’t seen you around school.”

 

Bob nodded.  “I’m here on a vacation from Rocky Beach,” he said, showing her his camera.  “I’m Bob Andrews.”

 

“I’m Lexi Carter,” she introduced herself cordially.  “I’m glad to meet you, Bob!”  Her green eyes twinkled at him.  “So how long are you staying?  Will you be here tomorrow?”

 

“We plan to stay here for about two weeks,” Bob told her.

 

She smiled brightly.  “Good!  Then you won’t miss the most exciting event that’s ever happened here in Wilderville.  The reading of the Hartwell will!  I’m sure you‘ve heard about that – everyone has.”

 

Bob smiled too.  “I sure have.  I plan to be there to photograph the event.”

 

“Great!” Lexi looked genuinely pleased.  “Then I guess I’ll see you there!”

 

“Okay,” Bob agreed.  “I’ll look for you!”

 

He gave her a quick wave, then left the library.  Once outside, he drew a deep breath and smiled triumphantly to himself.

 

“Well, Jupe and Pete,” he murmured.  “It looks like you guys aren’t the only ones who’ve met a cute girl in this town!”

 

---

 

Pete and Jupiter paused outside the police station.  “Remember,” Jupe cautioned, “let me do all the talking.  All right?”

 

“Okay,” Pete returned playfully, “as long as you don’t say anything I’ll regret!”

 

Jupiter laughed as he pushed open the door.  Inside the building, the cool air was a sharp contrast to the relentless heat of the outdoors.  The boys drew deep, relieved breaths as they approached the front desk, which, Jupiter noted thankfully, was not occupied by Ellen the unpleasant receptionist.  Instead, a young police officer arranging a stack of papers raised his eyebrows quizzically at the sight of them.

 

“Can I help you boys?” he inquired.

 

“We have an appointment to see Officer Hartwell,” Jupe informed him.  “I’m Jupiter Jones and this is Pete Crenshaw.”

 

The man smiled.  “Oh yes, he’s expecting you.  His office is straight back the hallway to your right.”

 

“Thank you, sir,” Jupiter said politely.  He and Pete pushed through the swinging doors and headed in the direction the officer indicated.

 

“I just hope he’s here,” Pete whispered.  “I wonder what he wants to talk to us about?”

 

“I guess we’ll find out soon enough,” Jupiter said softly, stopping beside a partially-opened door.  Inside the room, they could see Lloyd Hartwell seated behind a large desk, intently concentrating on his writing.  He made quite an impressive picture in his blue police uniform.

 

“Excuse me, Mr. Hartwell,” Jupe spoke up hesitantly, knocking on the open door.  He hated to disturb the man, but judging from how deeply he was immersed in his work, it might be awhile before he even noticed the boys.

 

Lloyd Hartwell looked up, startled, then smiled in recognition.  He quickly pulled his glasses from the top of his head back down to the bridge of his nose.  “Hello there, boys!  Come on in and have a seat.  I’m just finishing up my paperwork here, since we’ll be closed on Sunday.”

 

“That’s right, sir,” Jupiter commented as he and Pete sat down facing the desk.  “Tomorrow is the day your brother’s will is going to be read, isn’t it?”

 

“It certainly is,” Mr. Hartwell sighed.  “What an adventure that will be for the people of Wilderville!  Although I must admit I’ll miss that old house.  It’s been in my family for many generations.”  Then he smiled and added briskly, “But that’s no matter.  You came here to talk about something else, didn’t you?”

 

“Yes, sir.  You wanted to see us about helping you with something,” Jupiter reminded him.

 

“Oh, yes.”  Mr. Hartwell nodded to Pete.  “Close the door, will you, young man?  I don’t want this to go any further than the three of us.  Except, of course, you may tell your friend.  What’s his name?  Rob?”

 

“Robert Andrews,” Jupiter said, hiding a smile.  “But his friends call him Bob.”

 

Mr. Hartwell chuckled.  “Stacey Robbins isn’t too good with names, I’m afraid.  She’s called me Floyd more than once!”

 

He waited until Pete was seated again, then lowered his voice.  “Chief Robbins told you about the outlaws called the Kipleys, didn’t he, Jupiter?  The father and son bandits that have been raiding this countryside for years?”

 

Pete caught his breath.  Jupiter’s face did not change expression.  “Yes, he mentioned them yesterday,” he answered mildly.

 

“Well, I’ve been trying to track them down, but so far I’ve been unsuccessful,” Mr. Hartwell continued.  “Lately it seems like they’ve completely vanished.  I have found no traces of a hideout, but logic tells me they have to live somewhere!  Especially since we actually captured Kelly Kipley a few months ago.”  He paused.  “Then, earlier this week, my men and I discovered a few horses grazing in a clearing about three miles from here, up the mountainside.  We decided at once that they must be the bandit’s horses, since they appeared tame.  There was no one around, though, and only tall rocks surrounded the clearing on all sides.  They looked much too treacherous to climb, but then I noticed a crevice in one of the rock walls.  It was too small for any of us to crawl through, but one of my men peeked under there and said there appeared to be a box canyon on the other side.”

 

Oh, no! Pete thought, his heart clutching with anxiety.  The law is hot on Kelly’s tail!

 

“And that’s where we come in, right?” Jupiter finished.

 

Mr. Hartwell smiled.  “That’s right.  I thought you boys, particularly your small friend, could probably fit through that crevice.  So if you would, I’d like you to come with us on our next trip.  Then we can obtain proof that we have, indeed, found the Kipleys’ hideout.”

 

“Of course we’ll go,” Jupiter promised readily.  “We’re always eager to help the police force in every way we can.”

 

“Good boy!” Lloyd Hartwell exclaimed, looking highly pleased.  “Any assistance you can give us will be greatly appreciated.”  He beamed at them.  “And as a reward for your services, you have my permission to join in the search for the hidden deed tomorrow!”

 

“Yahoo!” Pete shouted before he could stop himself.

 

Mr. Hartwell laughed heartily, and both boys joined in.  “I’m glad to see you’re happy, young man!”  Then he rose and shook their hands.  “Thank you for coming here today, boys.  It will be a day for celebration when we can finally capture those Kipleys!  You fellows will be the town heroes.”

 

“What about the Thornwood gang the chief mentioned?” Jupiter asked.  “Do you have any leads on them?”

 

Mr. Hartwell’s face clouded.  “No, I’m afraid not.  They’re very elusive.  Sometimes I could swear they were ghosts rather than men!”  He smiled.  “But we must take these things one step at a time, I guess.  Goodbye, boys, and thank you again.”

 

“’Bye, Mr. Hartwell,” Pete said jubilantly.  “Thank you!  He fairly flew out of the office, never noticing Jupiter lagging slowly and thoughtfully behind.

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