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 13: The Treasure Hunt Begins
The three Investigators walked slowly back toward town, feeling dismal and completely discouraged.
“Gosh, Jupe,” Bob sighed. “I guess we’ve been barking up the wrong tree.”
“Yeah,” Pete agreed gloomily. “I was so sure we’d found the missing heiress!”
Jupiter shook his head. “Fellows, I must admit I am completely stumped. Too many things just aren’t making sense.”
“Like what?” Bob asked. “Spell them out for us.”
“Well, for one thing…” Jupe began counting on his fingers. “Let’s assume that Kelly Kipley is Vanessa, like she says. If that’s true, why did Sam Kipley kidnap her? If he did it to get his hands on her inheritance, why isn’t he down here searching for the deed instead of shutting himself away up in that canyon? He could do it easily – he’s never been captured by the police, so no one would know who he is without his mask. The most confusing part is, why would a man like him even want to be bothered taking care of Vanessa all these years, unless he had something to gain from it? Also, is there any connection between Vanessa’s kidnapping and her father’s murder? If so, what is it?”
“Good questions,” Pete muttered.
“Secondly,” Jupiter held up another finger, “if Kelly is not Vanessa, then who is she really, and why is she pretending to think she’s the Hartwell girl? What really happened to Vanessa, and why? Was Trevor Hartwell’s murder just a random act of violence, or was there a specific motive behind it? If so, what was it?
“And,” he continued, holding up a third finger, “what if, for some reason, Mrs. Polly cooked up that whole story about bandits murdering Trevor because she killed him herself? If so, what was her reason? Did she hope to get ahold of the family fortune, or was it something else entirely? Did she then kill Vanessa too, or did she kidnap her? If she did take Vanessa, where is she hiding her now?”
Bob held up his hands as if to stop the onslaught of questions. “Boy, Jupe, now I see why you’re stumped. I don’t know how we can possibly find answers to all those questions! There are so many angles to consider.”
“Besides, it’s such an old mystery,” Pete added. “The people that were involved might not even be around anymore, so how can we find out the truth about them?”
Jupiter nodded. “I guess nobody ever said solving this case would be easy. But I hope to find out something tonight, when we search for the clue to the missing deed with Kelly Kipley.”
“What are you talking about?” Pete demanded anxiously. “She can’t come down here! Someone would recognize her immediately.”
Jupiter smiled a bit smugly. “I know that, and that’s where Stacey’s assistance comes in. The Hartwell property is supposed to be closed to the public tonight, but she got special permission from her father to let the four of us explore the mansion by ourselves. I also asked her to bring along one of her more dressy outfits, a makeup kit and some hairspray for Kelly.”
“So that’s what you meant when you said a disguise will be provided!” Bob exclaimed.
Jupiter nodded. “That’s right. Everyone in town thinks Kelly Kipley is a boy, remember? They’ve only ever seen her wearing jeans and that oversized brown leather jacket with her hair hidden under her big hat. So tonight, if she wears feminine garments and her hair down her back, anyone who happened to be passing by and saw her would never guess her identity.”
“Wow!” Pete marveled. “Jupiter, you’re a genius. I wish I’d thought of that!”
Jupiter looked pleased. “Well, Pete, you’ll have plenty of chances to use your brain tonight,” he assured his friend. “Because it is imperative that we find that clue before anyone else does. All of the unanswered questions to our mystery depend on it!”
That evening, the boys had to formulate an excuse for their absence to Mr. Andrews. They found him in his hotel room, lounging on the sofa buried behind a large newspaper.
“We saw a bowling alley downtown today,” Bob told his father, “and we’d like to go check it out. Then, afterwards, we’ll probably stop at the Soda Fountain for a milkshake. Is that all right?”
“Fine,” Mr. Andrews replied, smiling up at them. “You boys are here to have fun! I’m going to read this story about the big hunt today in order to bring a fresh perspective to my own version. The Death Valley Reporter is a pretty good newspaper for such a small town as Wilderville.”
“Their articles aren’t nearly as good as yours, Dad,” Bob declared loyally.
As his father smiled his thanks, Jupiter spoke up. “Sir, I was wondering if you had learned anything more about Vanessa Hartwell and her disappearance. Do you really think she was murdered the same day as her father was, and by the same person – or people?”
Mr. Andrews sighed and shook his head. “Unfortunately no one knows for certain, Jupiter. No traces of a body have ever been found, and Mrs. Polly said she only got a glimpse of those masked riders as they galloped away from the house. So they could have taken the little girl with them. Or, maybe someone else altogether decided to kidnap her, and maybe even move to another state or country with her. Maybe Mrs. Polly herself even killed Trevor and stole Vanessa because she wanted her own child. Who knows?”
“It is very confusing,” Jupiter acknowledged. “Did Lloyd Hartwell tell you what he thinks? Maybe since Vanessa is his relative, he would have felt strongly enough about the whole affair to do some investigation on his own. Maybe he knows something no one else does.”
“As far as I know, he really doesn’t like to talk about Vanessa, or his brother,” Mr. Andrews told him. “I imagine it’s his way of putting the family tragedy in the past so he can get on with his life. He must be quite lonely, since he has no wife or family of his own, so he wouldn’t want to entertain painful memories too often. But he did tell me today that if his niece were still alive, he’d know her immediately, no matter how much her face may have changed.”
“How?” Pete asked, puzzled.
“Apparently, Mrs. Hartwell, Vanessa’s mother, was quite sickly while she carried her,” Mr. Andrews explained. “Vanessa may have looked fragile like her mother, but according to Lloyd, she was as healthy and active as any child could be. Except for one bad tic she had. Only that was abnormal about her.”
“A bad tic?” Jupiter asked alertly.
Mr. Andrews nodded. “He said that anytime she became upset enough to cry or throw a tantrum, her left shoulder would go into spasms and jerk upwards toward her face. She was born with the condition, and Lloyd said that very likely it would still be with her today. So he would be able to identify her instantly if he saw her doing that.”
The boys looked at each other, their eyes wide. Bob said quickly, “Well, we’ll be going now, Dad. I guess we’ll see you tomorrow morning.”
Mr. Andrews nodded. “Okay, boys. Have a good time! Remember to be back no later than eleven.”
“Yes, sir, we will,” Bob assured him.
Mr. Andrews turned back to his newspaper, and the boys hastily left his room and exited the hotel by a side door.
“Now there’s a perfect proof method!” Pete exploded as soon as the boys had reached the sidewalk. “All we have to do is get Kelly really upset and see if her shoulder starts jerking!”
Jupiter frowned. “That seems a bit impractical. For one thing, she’s much too old to throw tempter tantrums, which, according to Mr. Hartwell, is what triggered the spasms. Second of all, that could have just been a childhood affliction that she outgrew by now.”
“Besides, I wouldn’t feel right deliberately upsetting someone that badly, even if it was for a good cause,” Bob added.
“Okay, okay,” Pete said impatiently. “But how else do you propose we find out if she’s Vanessa?”
“There has to be a way,” Jupiter said determinedly. “Meanwhile, let’s concentrate all our efforts on locating the meaning behind that clue. I’m hoping that taking Kelly into the Hartwell mansion tonight will revive some old memories for her, if indeed she ever lived there. I’ll be observing her very closely for any play-acting. Believe me, I can tell things like that!”
“We know,” Pete said wryly, as the Hartwell mansion loomed into view. “Gosh, Jupe, I’m really excited about tonight. I feel like we’re going to find out everything we need to know!”
“I sure hope so,” Jupiter said fervently. “But right now, we have to go back to the edge of the property. If Kelly got our note, she will be waiting there.”
Silent now, the boys climbed over the stone wall and crept across the wide expanse of lawn behind the Hartwell house toward the shadows cast by the mountain trees. The moon was only a sliver in the sky, so it was difficult to see beyond a few feet in front of them.
“Kelly!” Jupiter called softly.
Instantly, a dark figure snaked out of the bushes next to them, something gleaming in its hand. “Oh, it’s only you guys,” the familiar voice sighed with relief. “I didn’t know who that was sneaking over here!”
Now that she was closer to them, the boys recognized Kelly Kipley in her complete bandit attire. The pistol she held ready in her hand shone in the moonlight.
“Oh, brother,” Jupiter groaned in disbelief. “Kelly, why didn’t you have sense enough to leave that gun home? And get that ridiculous mask off your face before someone recognizes you!”
“I never go anywhere without my gun,” Kelly said defiantly. “I don’t feel safe if I do. What if it had been someone else besides you coming over here and I had no defense?”
For answer, Jupiter pushed her back into the shadows and yanked off her hat. Long golden hair spilled over her shoulders. Next he removed the kerchief that concealed her face and pried the gun out of her hand.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she hissed, indignantly yanking away from him.
“Do you want everyone to know who you are?” Jupiter asked shortly. “Come on. We’re going into the house so you can change clothes.” He carefully concealed her possessions in the thick bushes bordering the property line.
“What do you mean, ‘change clothes’?” Kelly demanded heatedly. “I’m fine the way I am!”
“No, you’re not,” Jupiter said firmly, propelling her by the arm toward the Hartwell mansion. “That leather jacket is a dead giveaway. A friend of mine is waiting inside, and she’ll lend you one of her outfits. Now hurry up before someone sees us!”
“I’m hurrying, I’m hurrying,” Kelly muttered. She yanked her arm away from Jupiter’s grasp, held her head high, and marched purposefully toward the side of the house.
“Hey, Kelly, where are you going?” Bob called softly after her. “The front door is around this way. You can’t get in from over there.”
Kelly stopped, looking confused for a moment. “I can’t?” she asked skeptically, studying the ivy-covered wall carefully. Then she shrugged and hurried after the boys.
The four young people slipped around the side of the house to the front porch, where Jupiter knocked three times on a stately pillar.
The front door cracked cautiously opened. “Jupe? Is that you?” a voice asked.
“Yes, Stacey, it’s us,” Jupiter answered. “We’re all here.”
He and his friends hurried up the wide front steps, and Stacey Robbins ushered them inside. Only a shaded lamp sitting on an end table illuminated the shadowy parlor.
“How are we going to be able to see what we’re looking for?” Pete wondered. “Do we have to keep all the lights off?”
“I brought five powerful flashlights,” Stacey assured him. “We don’t want people walking by outside to know anyone is in here.” She stared at Kelly, her eyes widening. “Are you really Kelly Kipley? Wow, everyone in town thinks you’re a little boy!”
Kelly’s only reply was a disgusted snort, and Jupiter quickly broke in. “That’s what we’re hoping everyone will continue thinking, Stacey. Will you take her into the powder room and fix her up? Make sure she looks completely different from that face on your father’s office wall.”
“Don’t worry,” Stacey laughed. “I’m an expert at makeovers, believe me! Come on, Kelly, the powder room is this way.”
“Now wait just a minute,” Kelly protested. “Who are you, and what are you going to do with me?”
Stacey looked embarrassed. “Oh, I’m sorry. In all the excitement I completely forgot to introduce myself! I’m Stacey Robbins, the police chief’s daughter.”
“The police chief!” Kelly’s eyes widened in horror as she backed away from Stacey. “So, you’re here to turn me in to your old man, are you?” She whirled on Pete, her blue eyes blazing. “You broke your promise,” she accused bitterly. “You said you wouldn’t tell anyone who I am, and now the police chief’s daughter knows all about me!” Her voice rose shrilly. “I trusted you, and you betrayed me!”
“Calm down, Kelly!” Jupiter ordered sternly, as Pete gaped in speechless shock at her unexpected attack. “Nobody betrayed you, and nobody’s going to. Stacey has no intention of letting anyone know who you are. That’s why she’s going to disguise you, with different clothes and hairstyle. As for us, you can rest assured that when the Three Investigators give their word to help someone, they keep it! We’re giving you a chance to search for that deed and no one, especially not the police, is going to know you’re here. You got that?”
“They better not!” the irate girl snapped. Tossing her head, she marched ahead of Stacey toward the small powder room adjoining the parlor.
Behind her, the Three Investigators looked at each other, their eyebrows raised.
“Boy, I’ve never known a girl who could get so mad so fast,” Bob observed dryly.
Jupiter nodded agreement. “She has obviously received very little discipline, growing up in those mountains. She needs to find that deed for sure now.”
“Why do you say that?” Pete asked curiously.
Jupiter grinned mischievously. “Maybe if she gets rich, she can return to civilization and learn some manners!”