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 11: On the Trail of the Kipleys
“Come on, Jupe, let’s go!” Pete grabbed his friend’s arm and started after the throng.
“Wait.” Jupiter stopped him. “Mr. Hartwell is signaling to us. We’d better go see what he wants.”
Pete heaved an impatient sigh. “Delays, delays. At this rate we’ll never get started. Someone else might find that clue before we even get to the house!”
“Very doubtful,” Jupiter said. “That hint given in the will is subtle at best. Most likely it has a hidden meaning that will take a while for anyone to figure out. Meanwhile, we’ll go see Mr. Hartwell.”
“Oh, okay,” Pete agreed reluctantly. “I just hope you’re right about the clue not being easy, or we’re out of the picture for good!”
“It means a lot to you to find this deed, doesn’t it?” Jupiter asked thoughtfully.
Pete looked at him, surprised. “Well, sure. I want to help Kelly. After all, she did hire us to find the deed for her, and I just have a strong feeling that she has all rights to it.”
“You mean she hired you…” Jupiter began, but stopped when he saw Mr. Hartwell purposefully approaching them.
“There you are, boys,” the policeman greeted them. “Before you get started on the treasure hunt, would you mind coming with me? My men and I are taking a trip up into the mountains.” He kept his voice low so as not to be overheard by anyone passing by.
“Okay, Mr. Hartwell,” Jupe agreed. “We’ll go find our friend Bob, then meet you back here.”
“Fine!” Lloyd Hartwell beamed. “I’ll have a few of my horses ready for you!” He hurried away.
The boys had no trouble locating Bob. He was standing alone beside the tall bronze statue, clicking back through the store of photos in his digital camera and looking highly pleased.
“I got some pretty good pictures!” he told his friends enthusiastically. “Now I’m going over to the house and photograph the great search.”
“Just a minute, Bob,” Jupiter said. “Mr. Hartwell wants us to go up the mountain with him first.”
Bob’s eyes widened. “You mean to find the Kipleys’ hideout?”
Jupiter nodded. “You and Pete can go. I’ll stay here and take pictures for you.”
“Us?” Pete wailed. “But Jupe, you can’t cop out now! You’re the only one who would know the right thing to say!”
“Don’t worry about a thing,” their stocky leader assured them. “I said I had a plan, remember? Just do exactly what I tell you and everything should go well.”
He glanced around to make sure no one was watching, then pulled a folded paper out of his pocket and handed it to Bob. “Hide this in your pocket,” he instructed. “I’m positive you’ll be the one chosen to crawl through that hole, since you’re smaller than Pete. After you get through, post that note where you know Kelly will find it, on a rock or something. Then come back out and tell the police that nothing is back there except a box canyon and untouched wilderness. Got that?”
Bob grinned with relief. “Yeah, sure, Jupe. That’s easy enough!”
“What’s that note say?” Pete asked curiously.
Jupiter smiled mysteriously. “You’ll find out tonight. Now get going, before Mr. Hartwell suspects we’re plotting something.”
“Thanks, Jupe,” Pete told him gratefully. Jupiter only smiled, knowing what his friend meant.
“Let’s go, Pete,” Bob said, handing Jupiter his camera. “Take lots of good pictures for my Dad’s story, Jupe!”
He and Pete hurried toward the now-dismantled platform where Lloyd Hartwell waited with three saddled horses. Two other uniformed police officers on horseback were also waiting.
“Where’s Jupiter?” Mr. Hartwell called to the boys as they raced over to him.
“He’s going to join in the search,” Bob explained. “If anyone can figure out that clue, it’s Jupe!”
Mr. Hartwell smiled slightly. “Of course. Oh, well, you’re the one I need most of all anyway; your slim frame should be able to fit through that crack most easily.” He gestured toward the waiting horses. “Mount up and let’s ride! Lane,” he addressed the dark-faced man holding his horse’s bridle, “we won’t be needing that extra horse. Take it back home, would you?”
“Si, Senor Hartwell,” Lane replied in a thick Spanish accent. “I take it.”
Lloyd Hartwell nodded his thanks, and the small party set off along the road leading to the Hartwell estate. Pete, riding beside him, asked, “Was that one of your ranch hands?”
“Yes, it was,” Mr. Hartwell replied. “I own a fairly small spread not far from here. But most of the time I’m too busy with police work to attend it. So I hired six men to work it for me, and they’ve always done a mighty fine job. All of them, including the foreman, have been with me for about twenty years now, so I couldn’t ask for more loyal and efficient help.”
“Twenty years!” Pete exclaimed, shocked. “Wow, that’s a long time to work in one place!”
Mr. Hartwell smiled. “My ranch is their home, my boy. The people of Wilderville go back a long way, living and working each other’s lands just like our ancestors did two hundred years ago when they first settled here. I only hope that nobody from the outside tries to come in here and commercialize everything.”
“The Valley is a great place to retreat from the fast past of modern city living,” Bob put in. “That’s why we decided to come here for our vacation.”
Pete marveled at the ease with which his friend could lie about their reason for visiting Death Valley. Lloyd Hartwell apparently accepted his story, however, for he looked pleased and proud at Bob’s statement.
They passed the Hartwell grounds teeming with the townspeople and began climbing the steep mountain trail behind the house, the sure-footed horses picking their way carefully around the rocks and trees. Mr. Hartwell studied their surroundings, his expression turning sober.
“Just don’t forget, boys,” he warned them. “The Valley may be beautiful, but it’s not the safest place to be spending a vacation, either. At least not until those bandits are captured. So I want you to stay out of these mountains, do you hear? Stay in town where there are always other people around.”
“Yes, sir,” the boys chorused, each secretly wondering if Lloyd Hartwell had seen them hiking up this trail yesterday.
“I’m responsible for the welfare of all the people of Wilderville,” Mr. Hartwell continued, “and that includes tourists as well.”
After they had climbed the trail in silence for a time, he finally pulled his horse to a stop in front of the tall rock formation that hid the box canyon from view. Removing his pistol from its holster, he solemnly handed it to Bob.
“That’s why I’m taking all the precautions I can to ensure your safety,” he told the boy. “Don’t hesitate to use that if you have to! Remember, you have the legal right to fire in self-defense if you are first threatened by someone brandishing a firearm.”
“Okay,” Bob said, trying to hide his aversion to the loaded weapon. He took it gingerly, then slid down off his horse.
“Crawl through that crevice right there,” Mr. Hartwell instructed him, pointing to the slit between the rocks. “And be very careful no one sees you. If you find anything at all that proves someone lives in there, come back at once. Don’t try anything by yourself! Got that?”
“Yes, sir,” Bob assured him. “I’ll be careful.”
Dropping down to the prone position, he slid cautiously through the hole, trying not to snag his clothes against the sharp points of the rocks. Once on the other side, he hastily ducked behind a bush and peered over at the hidden little cabin. There was no sign of movement.
I’d better hurry, he thought. I don’t want either of the Kipleys to see me and give away their presence here!
He pulled the note that Jupe had given him out of his pocket and studied it. A thick piece of duct tape was stuck onto the top, which would enable him to hang it somewhere. Bob opened the folded paper and read:
Meet us tonight. Edge of woods behind Hartwell property. Disguise will be provided.
? ? ?
The Three Investigators
Bob’s eyes widened in surprise. Jupiter wanted Kelly to meet them that night? And what did he mean about a disguise? Bob resolved to ask Jupe to explain his intentions as soon as they returned to town. Meanwhile, he had to find a place to hang this note where Kelly would find it, but where her father wouldn’t see it. He thought a moment, then taped it firmly onto the outcropping directly beside the crevice he’d just crawled through. Most likely, Sam Kipley wouldn’t come near these rocks, as he was too large to use this particular exit. But Bob thought Kelly probably used it quite frequently whenever she wanted to ride her horse, since she kept the animal in the clearing right outside the canyon.
Taking a deep breath, Bob plunged back through the hole. Reaching the other side, he stood and made a show of brushing himself off.
“Well?” Mr. Hartwell demanded at once. “What did you see?”
Pete nearly laughed aloud at Bob’s confused expression. His friend’s acting skills were every bit as convincing as Jupiter’s!
“What did you think I would find back there, sir?” the slender boy asked, sounding puzzled.
Now it was Lloyd Hartwell’s turn to look confused. “Why, a home, of course. Something that looks like a hand-built shelter, either temporary or permanent.”
“A home?’ Bob frowned. “Oh no, sir, all I saw was a box canyon with miles of untamed wilderness and mountains beyond. Obviously, no people have touched that particular land for ages.”
Mr. Hartwell stared at him, clearly crushed, his shoulders sagging with defeat. “I was so sure…” he muttered. as if to himself. “I was positive I’d finally found the Kipleys’ hideout!”
Bob couldn’t help feeling sorry for him, and a bit guilty for lying. After all, it was probably extremely frustrating for police officers to search for criminals for years with no success. Then, when they finally thought they’d found a convincing lead, to come to yet another dead end was probably the last straw.
“I’m sorry, sir,” he said sincerely. “I wish there was something more I could do.”
Mr. Hartwell pulled himself from his reverie to smile briefly at Bob. “Thank you, my boy, but you’ve already done your duty for the law. Your assistance today is greatly appreciated!” He took back the pistol Bob held out to him, then wheeled his horse about. “Mount up, men. I guess we have to start searching the opposite side of the mountain. Those Kipleys won’t give me the slip for long, I promise you that!”
Behind the officers’ backs, Pete gave Bob a thumbs-up signal. Bob, in turn, heaved a silent sigh of relief. His ordeal of convincingly putting on a false act was finally over. He looked back over his shoulder as they left the clearing, fervently hoping he would never have to see this place again.