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: Hope everyone had a great Independence Day! Here is Chapter 10, one day late because I’m still recovering from my own holiday. Enjoy!
Chapter 10: Trevor’s Hartwell’s Will
That evening while preparing for bed, the Three Investigators compared notes on what they’d learned.
“Somehow we have to find out where Mrs. Polly lives and go talk to her,” Bob said resolutely. “Only she can tell us everything we need to know about Vanessa Hartwell.”
“Yeah, but in the meantime we roped ourselves into helping the police catch Kelly!” Pete exclaimed. “Jupe, we can’t do it. I promised her I wouldn’t tell anybody where she lives.”
“Don’t worry,” Jupiter said firmly. “I have no intention of turning that girl over to the police just yet. Too many questions need answering, and we’ll need her around.”
“Then what are we going to do about our promise to help Mr. Hartwell?” Bob asked, puzzled.
Jupiter gave him a superior smile. “Don’t worry; I have a plan to take care of that. Meanwhile, Bob, look up Mrs. Polly’s phone number in the directory and arrange an interview with her tomorrow afternoon.”
“But tomorrow’s the treasure hunt!” Pete objected quickly, an anxious frown marring his brow. Now that they actually had been lucky enough to obtain official permission from Mr. Hartwell himself to try and find the deed, Pete wanted nothing to stand in the way.
“We only need to go to town long enough to hear the clues stated in the will and let Bob take some photos,” Jupiter assured him. “Then we’re going to do our hunting at night.”
“Why?” Pete demanded.
But Jupiter yawned and pulled a pillow over his head. “Turn out the light, will you fellows?” he asked sleepily. “Today was a long, exhausting day!”
So once again, Pete was left to sigh in exasperation. He obviously wasn’t going to get any more information from Jupe tonight! He had no choice but to wait and see what his friend had in store for them.
Sunday dawned warm and cloudless. The will was scheduled to be read in the town square at nine o’clock, so the three boys were up early. Pete was highly excited about their inclusion in the search, and his friends smiled at his enthusiasm.
“So what would you do with that huge house, Pete?” Bob asked teasingly.
“I’d sell it,” Pete answered promptly. “Sell it to the town, then use the money for my college tuition. I don’t want my parents to have the burden of paying it all.”
“College payments is something we should all be thinking about,” Jupiter said soberly. “That’s probably what I would use the money for too, if I find the deed. But remember, Pete, you already told Kelly Kipley that we’re going to give the deed to her if we find it. Regardless of whether or not she’s really Vanessa Hartwell? Right?”
“No, not regardless!” Pete protested. “If we can prove that she’s not Vanessa, there’s no reason to just give it to her as a free gift. But if she is the rightful heiress, she should definitely have it.”
“Of course,” Jupiter said calmly. “So it looks like we’ve got our work cut out for us, fellows. At all costs, we have to find the deed before anyone else does. Then, before we give it to Kelly, we have to prove whether or not she has any right to it. I’m not sure how, though,” he added ruefully.
“You doubt your abilities?” Bob asked, sounding surprised. It wasn’t like the First Investigator to be uncertain of his own capability of solving a puzzling mystery.
“Yeah, Jupe, we’re counting on your brains,” Pete added. “They’ve never failed us before, have they? And we’ve tackled some pretty tough cases!”
Jupiter looked pleased at his friends’ confidence in him. “You’re right, guys. I suppose this isn’t any more challenging than what we’ve confronted in the past. And my brain thrives on challenges. Still…” he heaved a discouraged sigh. “We’ll have to move at a much faster pace than before, which I hate!”
Bob laughed and patted his shoulder good-naturedly. “Come on, First. Let’s go fuel ourselves for the mad dash we’ll have to undergo today!”
Chuckling, the three boys hurried down to the hotel dining room. Mr. Andrews was already seated at a table for four. He spotted the boys and waved for them to join him, looking as excited as Pete had a few moments earlier.
“Well, are you boys ready for the big event?” he asked them after they’d taken their seats.
“Yes, sir,” Bob said, grinning. “Mr. Hartwell told us we can hunt for the deed along with everyone else, so we’re more than ready! Aren’t we, Pete?”
‘That’s wonderful!” Mr. Andrews looked pleased. “You’ll have the perfect excuse to take lots of pictures, then.” He looked around to make certain no one was watching, then pulled aside his jacket lapel to reveal an inner pocket. “I’m going to hide my mini tape recorder in here. That way, I can take notes without being obvious about it.”
“Hey, that’s great, Dad,” Bob said enthusiastically. “I guess all of the Death Valley newspeople will be there, won’t they?”
“Oh, absolutely,” his father said. “This is probably the most unusual thing that’s ever happened to this little town since the Hartwell murder.” His face lit up as he spied the waitress coming toward them. “Ah, here’s our food!”
“Good morning, gentlemen!” the waitress greeted them cheerily as she set their laden trays in front of them. “You’re gearing up for the big day, I see!”
“Yes, ma’am,” Jupiter said. “I guess there’ll be quite a crowd downtown today, won’t there?”
“Oh, without a doubt the whole entire town will show up!” the waitress giggled. “I’m going myself, just as soon as we close up here.”
“You mean to say that all the businesses will be closing?” Pete exclaimed.
“Just temporarily,” she assured him. “Everyone who is even opened on Sunday, that is. Like us and the grocery store. After all, not even business owners and workers want to miss the chance of getting that property!” She flashed them a quick smile as she turned to leave. “Enjoy your meal!”
“Boy,” Pete moaned in dismay. “It sounds like there’ll be a lot more competition than we thought!”
“Do you boys really expect to find that deed for yourselves?” Mr. Andrews asked seriously.
“I wish nobody would,” Pete said fervently. “Do you really think Vanessa Hartwell is dead, Mr. Andrews? It’s so unfair that she can’t be the one to find what is rightfully hers!”
“Yes, that is a shame, isn’t it?” Mr. Andrews sighed. “But she vanished without a trace, Pete, and that was twelve years ago. Even if those bandits who murdered her father didn’t kill her, the chances are her still being alive are probably pretty slim. I have to wonder if whoever kidnapped her would want to be bothered with caring for a child that long. Especially if it was those rough men!”
The boys, sobered by that thought, finished their breakfast in silence. Pete didn’t know what his friends were thinking, but he desperately hoped Jupiter would figure out the clues before anyone else. He had a strong hunch that the girl called Kelly truly was the kidnapped Hartwell heiress, and that she was being held hostage by Sam Kipley. If someone else was able to claim ownership to the Hartwell estate, Kelly would have to spend the rest of her life up in those mountains. Or, Pete thought with a shudder, Mr. Kipley might kill her if he got tired of having her around.
“Let’s go, you guys!” he urged as soon as they had finished eating.
“Yes, run along, boys,” Mr. Andrews said. “I’ll be there later. First I have a few preparations to make.”
“Ugh,” Bob groaned, sliding slowly out of his chair. “I think I ate too much. Let’s just take it easy going downtown, okay fellows?”
Pete was about to voice an impatient objection, but then he checked himself. They had plenty of time before the reading of the will. Besides, he had to remember that not everyone was in the superb physical condition that he was!
“Okay, Records,” he said, giving his slight friend a playful shove. “I’ll try to restrain myself!”
The large clock above the courthouse read fifteen minutes before nine o’clock when the boys arrived at the town square. A multitude of people, both young and old, thronged abut the center of the street where a platform had been erected next to the tall statue of Stephen Hartwell, the town’s founder. A microphone stood ready, and the boys could see Lloyd Hartwell off to the side, conversing quietly with Chief Robbins and the mayor of Wilderville.
“Golly, is it ever crowded!” Pete exclaimed. “Bob, how are you going to get a decent picture of this scene?”
“Easy,” Bob said airily. “When Mr. Keenan starts reading the will, I’ll climb up that lightpost there behind the crowd and get an aerial view. Then whoever reads the paper back home can get a good idea of how many people were here today.”
“Better you than me,” Pete said emphatically. “Come on, Jupe, let’s get closer.”
“Good idea,” Jupiter said. “I want to be sure I hear every word.”
The two boys dodged their way through the crowd, calling “Excuse me!” over their shoulders to the people they left behind, until they’d reached the front of the circle. The general din of talking voices quieted as Lloyd Hartwell approached the platform. The gray tint of his glasses had darkened so that his eyes were barely visible, but his mouth was smiling widely.
“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” he spoke into the microphone. There was a murmured response. “As you all know, in just a few minutes Mr. Keenan, my attorney, will read the last will and testament of my later brother, Trevor Hartwell.”
Shouts and cheers erupted. Jupiter sensed that the crowd’s response came not from excitement over the fortune hunt, but from the love and respect they’d obviously felt for Trevor Hartwell. Lloyd, with a slight smile, nodded to the people, displaying his appreciation for their salute to his brother.
“Also, as you all know, this will bequeaths the Hartwell estate to Vanessa Hartwell, my brother’s daughter. But unfortunately, she cannot be with us today to receive this inheritance. Wherever she is, may Heaven bless her.” He bowed his head for a moment, while a sympathetic murmur ran through the crowd. Many of the town’s older citizens could well remember when the little Hartwell girl had disappeared, and they still felt the shock and sadness everyone had experienced that day.
“And so, my good townsfolk,” Lloyd Hartwell continued, “I have decided that the only place my beloved home should to – the home that has been the pride of the Hartwell family for so many years – is into your deserving hands!” The crowd burst into enthusiastic applause. “So listen carefully to the clues my brother left, clues to the whereabouts of the deed to the property, and whoever uses his or her ingenuity well enough to find it becomes the new legal owner of the entire Hartwell estate! The best of luck to all of you, my friends!”
Lloyd Hartwell waved, then jumped off the platform amid the roars and cheers of the townspeople. Pete nudged Jupiter. “Isn’t he a great speaker?” he whispered. “It must be really tough to have to give his family’s house away!”
Jupe nodded his agreement, watching intently as Mr. Keenan approached the microphone. The small, bespectacled man held a legal document importantly in his right hand. He adjusted the microphone to his shorter height, then cleared his throat to silence the people.
“This will,” he addressed the crowd, “is dated September 1986, shortly after the birth of Vanessa Hartwell. The clues within were planned to be presented to her the day of her sixteenth birthday, which is today, August 12th, 2002. It reads: ‘I, Trevor Allen Hartwell, being of sound mind and body, and being in full control of my faculties and intentions, do declare this to be my last will and testament. I have but one major asset I wish to bequeath. My mansion, together with all of its furniture and furnishings, and every square yard of its surrounding property, I leave to my beloved daughter, Vanessa Jane Hartwell. In order to acquire all this, however, she must first possess the deed, which is the legal document containing the title to the estate. This paper is well hidden. She has but to follow the clues I have left and a fortune is hers.’”
Here the lawyer paused, clearing his throat and adjusting his glasses. The crowd waited breathlessly, tensely straining to hear every word.
“’To start you on your treasure hunt, my dear
I have some good advice
Check carefully behind the door
After you throw the dice.’”
Mr. Keenan, looking puzzled, glanced down the rest of the paper, then turned it over. The other side was blank.
”Well, that looks like all he wrote, folks!” the lawyer called out, smiling. “No doubt you’ll find the remainder of the clues as you go along.”
The crowd, clearly disgruntled, began to jabber loudly among themselves. They had obviously expected the entire amount of information they needed to be contained within the will. The bit they’d heard was cryptic and meant little, hardly a clear direction in which to start!
Chief Robbins was next at the microphone, gesturing for silence. The noise quieted.
“Remember, everyone,” the chief spoke in a strong, firm tone, “this hunt is restricted to the Hartwell grounds only, and will be carefully supervised by the police force. No digging, or cutting, or chopping, or any other means of revealing something hidden is permitted without the consent of Officer Lloyd Hartwell. Is that understood?”
The crowd murmured their affirmation. “Thank you for your cooperation,” the chief continued. “Remember that any violators of these restrictions will be prosecuted. Now, on with the treasure hunt!”
Thunderous cheers and applause erupted. The event everyone had been waiting for breathlessly for had finally arrived! Chief Robbins waited a moment, then again held up his hands for silence.
“Just one more precaution, ladies and gentlemen. Please, if you have closed your businesses for this event, reopen and carry on as usual. Recruit a member of your family to do your hunting for you, but if you must work today, do not neglect your duties. Remember that thieves take advantage of times that homes and shops are left unattended! Good day to you all.”
He turned away from the microphone, and the crowd began surging toward the Hartwell estate. Behind them the town’s employees, disappointed, stared longingly after their neighbors, hating the prospect of having to go back to work while everyone else was having so much fun.