The Three Investigators
Hot WheelsText byWilliam ArdenBased on characters created byRobert Arthur
Early on the Monday of spring break in Rocky Beach, California, Pete Crenshaw glared into the engine of an old blue Corvair.
“Stupid car!” he growled to Jupiter Jones. “I’ve checked everything. Why won’t it start?”
Jupiter was on his way from the office of The Jones Salvage Yard to the headquarters trailer of The Three Investigators, the detective agency he’d founded long ago. He stopped at Pete’s auto grease pit next to the trailer and looked eagerly at the old car.
“When you get it all fixed, you can sell it to me,” he said.
Pete wiped a smear of grease across the giant wave on his Surf’s Up T-shirt. “Hey, this car is a collector’s item, Jupe. The Corvair was America’s first successful rear-engine car. They have whole clubs of owners. If I get it fixed up, I can sell it for a bundle. How much money do you have now?”
“Only five hundred bucks,” Jupiter admitted. “But I’ve got to have wheels! A detective has to have a car.”
“Give me a break. You know I need all the money I can get to take Kelly places,” Pete said. “Anyway, Bob and I have enough wheels for the team.”
“It’s not the same.” Jupiter sighed. “I’ll eat to drown my sorrows and get fat. Then you’ll be sorry.”
Pete grinned. “Hey, that snappy new outfit should make you feel better.”
Jupiter was wearing a new loose-fitting Foreign Legion fatigue shirt and pants to hide the pounds his grapefruit and cottage cheese diet had failed to take off.
“The Foreign Legion look is the latest in college men’s fashion,” Jupiter retorted. “And olive green looks good with dark hair like mine.”
The baggy pants and oversized shirt suited Jupiter fine. Pete and most of the other seventeen-year-olds in school still wore their old jeans and T-shirts. Kelly Madigan, Pete’s cheerleader girlfriend, was always trying to get Pete to wear polo shirts and button-down oxfords like Bob Andrews, the third member of the Investigators. But that was about the only thing Kelly hadn’t been able to get Pete to do.
“Look,” Pete said, “after I get the Corvair running I’ll find a good car for your five hundred.”
“You said that weeks ago,” Jupiter scoffed. “You’re always busy with Kelly.”
“Not true!” Pete protested. “Anyway, I noticed it was okay to take time out when she fixed you up with that date the other night.”
“A waste of time. The girl wasn’t my type,” Jupiter complained.
“Jupe, you spent the whole night explaining the theory of relativity to her!”
Before Jupiter could protest, a loud honking outside the junkyard gates startled them. It was only ten minutes to nine. The yard wasn’t open yet, but someone was very eager to come in. The honking went on in time to a rock music beat.
“I guess we can open up,” Jupiter said, pressing a button on a tiny box on his belt.
The box was a remote-control gate opener that Jupiter, an electronics whiz, had built after he’d installed electronic locks on the main gate. Uncle Titus and Aunt Mathilda Jones, the owners of the yard and Jupiter’s only family, each had an opener. A main control was in the office.
The gates swung open. Jupiter and Pete stared as a red Mercedes 450SL convertible whipped through and screeched to a halt in front of the office cabin. A wiry young man with dark hair vaulted over the side of the car without bothering to open the door.
He was dressed in ragged jeans, beat-up cowboy boots, a shapeless Stetson, and a faded baseball jacket. He carried a worn backpack covered with buttons and badges. He took a gift-wrapped package and a white envelope out of the backpack. With an airy wave of the wrapped package to Pete and Jupe, he sauntered whistling into the office.
Pete could hardly take his eyes off the beautiful little two-seater. “Talk about awesome, huh, Jupe?”
“A magnificent machine,” Jupiter agreed, but his gaze was on the greasy bedroll that stuck up behind the seat of the elegant car. “Only I’m more interested in the driver.”
“I never saw him before, Jupe. Did you?”
“No, but I can tell you he’s from the East, despite the Western attire, and has just hitchhiked across the country. He has no money and no job, and he’s a relative of mine!”
Pete groaned. “Okay, Sherlock, how do you figure that?”
Jupiter grinned. “First, his baseball jacket is the New York Mets, he doesn’t have a suntan, and that package is from Bloomingdale’s department store. All that says the East and probably New York.”
“Oh, sure,” Pete agreed, “that’s obvious.”
“His boots are run-down, those buttons and badges are from every state along Highway 1-80, and the Mercedes has California plates. That tells me he came to California on 1-80 without a car, and since no one in his right mind walks all the way from the East, he must have hitchhiked.”
“Oh, yeah,” Pete said, nodding. “That’s easy to see.”
Jupiter rolled his eyes and sighed. “His clothes are dirty and ragged, and they haven’t been washed in weeks. He’s sleeping in that bag instead of a room, and he’s here at nine, when most people start work. That says he doesn’t have money or a job.”
Pete frowned. “What about being a relative?”
“He’s brought a package and an envelope all the way from the East. What else could it be except a gift and a card, or a letter of introduction, to a relative?”
“Now that’s pretty thin, Jupe,” Pete said. “And you’re crazy about the money. Anyone with that car’s got to be rich, no matter what he wears or where he sleeps!”
“I don’t know where he got the car,” Jupiter answered, “but he’s not much more than a wandering street person.”
“Boy, you are crazy!”
They were still arguing beside the Corvair when Pete nudged Jupe. The stranger and Jupiter’s Aunt Mathilda had emerged from the office cabin and were coming across the yard. The man walked with a slow, confident, easygoing amble, as if nothing were worth rushing for. Aunt Mathilda, a tall, heavyset woman, looked slightly impatient with the stranger’s slow gait.
Up close, the stranger was older than he had seemed at a distance, probably in his late twenties. His easy smile was off-center, and his nose was crooked as if it had been broken more than once. His dark eyes were sharp and bright, and with his long hair and thin nose he had a hawklike look.
Beside him, Aunt Mathilda held a letter. “Jupiter,” she said, her voice dubious, “Pete, this is my cousin Ty Cassey from New York.”
It was Pete’s turn to sigh. Jupiter was right again.
“Babylon, Long Island,” Ty Cassey said breezily.
“That’s an hour from the city out on the Great South Bay. My mom is Mathilda’s cousin Amy. When I told her I was going out to California to see the country and get some good sun, she said I had to look up Cousin Mathilda in Rocky Beach. Even gave me a letter for her.”
As he talked Ty looked around the junkyard. His eyes gleamed at the piles of salvaged building materials and household contents. Old stoves and refrigerators stood next to outdoor furniture and garden statues, brass bedsteads and empty TV consoles. There were also pinball machines, neon signs, and an old-time jukebox.
Even Uncle Titus hadn’t remembered everything he had until Jupiter computerized the inventory a year ago. It had been a mammoth job, but it freed Jupiter from doing any chores around the yard he didn’t want to do.