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The Three Investigators

in

The Mystery of the Cranky Collector

Text by
M. V. Carey
Based on characters created by
Robert Arthur

A Word from Hector Sebastian

Greetings, mystery fans!

Once again I’ve been asked to introduce an adventure of those busy young detectives, the Three Investigators. This time the boys rescue the meanest guy in town from a fate he probably deserves. Along the way they unravel a four-hundred-year-old mystery from South America that involves a historical villain and a lost treasure. That should be enough excitement for anyone, but there’s more. A disastrous party, a telltale computer, and a haunted house keep the sleuths on their toes.

That’s all I’ll say about the mystery for now. No sense in giving the story away. But those of you who haven’t met the Three Investigators before will want to know something about them.

Jupiter Jones is leader of the team. He’s a plump boy. Some would even say he’s fat. No matter. He’s brainy and determined and way ahead of everyone else when it comes to deducing the truth from a slender clue.

Pete Crenshaw is the Second Investigator. His strong suit is physical coordination. He’s the most athletic of the three boys — and the one most nervous of ghosts.

Bob Andrews, an all-round type, is in charge of records and research. Quite often his sleuthing takes place in the library, where he comes up with some amazing information.

The Investigators all live in the seaside town of Rocky Beach, California, not far from my own home in Malibu, and not far from Hollywood. They work out of a secret headquarters in The Jones Salvage Yard, an enterprise run by Jupe’s Aunt Mathilda and Uncle Titus.

Now that you’ve met the boys, turn to page 5 and read on.

HECTOR SEBASTIAN

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The Meanest Man in Town

“Watch out in there!” said Harry Burnside to the three boys. “That old grouch will come down on you like a ton of bricks if anything goes wrong.”

Burnside was usually a jovial, joking sort of person, but now he was scowling. “That skinflint!” he said. “He wouldn’t cough up enough dough so I could get decent uniforms for you guys. Jupe, did you try that jacket on before you took it from the rental place? It doesn’t fit you anywhere!”

Jupiter Jones shifted the tray of cheese puffs and rumaki that he was holding and looked down at himself. He was a stocky boy, and the white waiter’s jacket he wore barely buttoned across his ample midsection.

“It was the best I could do,” he told Burnside. “They had a bigger jacket, but it covered my hands. I thought I’d probably be using my hands today.”

Pete Crenshaw stood behind Jupe with a tray of carrot sticks and dips. His white jacket was so short that it barely reached his waist, and his wrists stuck out of the sleeves. The thing made him look like an amiable scarecrow.

Bob Andrews, the smallest and normally the neatest of the three boys, wore a jacket that was too big everywhere. He had rolled the sleeves back so that his hands were free to carry his tray. For the first time in his life he looked sloppy.

Harry Burnside sighed. “Okay, it can’t be helped now. Just go out there and pass the cheese stuff and the dips to the guests and keep out of old Pilcher’s way. If you drop anything he’s liable to take your heads clean off!”

Burnside held the kitchen door open, and Jupiter, Pete, and Bob carried their trays out. They started to circulate among the guests in the living room. The room was crowded with people as well as with old, uncomfortable-looking furniture and shelves full of curios. French doors opened onto the garden, letting in the June warmth but no breeze. All three boys felt hot and stiff and nervous. Each clutched his tray with great concentration, careful not to spill anything or bump anyone and so attract the wrath of the terrible-tempered Mr. Pilcher.

The boys had never met Mr. Pilcher, but they had heard a great deal about him, and nothing they had heard was good. Various business publications rated Pilcher as one of the wealthiest men on the West Coast, worth uncounted millions. His neighbors in Rocky Beach, and the shopkeepers who dealt with him, rated him as the meanest man in town. People said he was so stingy that he still had ninety cents of the first dollar he ever made.

When Harry Burnside hired the boys to help serve at the Pilcher party, they had seen that Burnside was desperate. He was the newest and youngest caterer in town, and the party at Pilcher’s home was the first big job to come his way. He had had to scramble to get together a staff for the affair, and Pilcher had made the task doubly difficult. According to Burnside, Pilcher had acted as if he were in a contest to see how cheaply he could entertain his guests. When Burnside protested, he had simply remarked that doing it for less was just the name of the game. He had haggled and bargained about costs and had insisted that there was no need to pay waiters and waitresses a penny more than minimum wage. As a result, the girls who were setting the tables in the garden were recent graduates of Rocky Beach High; the bartender was a trainee at the Cup of Cheer Bartending School in Los Angeles; and the dishes were being washed by a drifter named Ramon whom Burnside had found at the New Hope Mission.

The waiters who passed the hors d’oeuvres were Jupiter, Pete, and Bob.

The boys had agreed to help out not because they needed the money. Money was always welcome, of course, but the boys were more curious than broke. As members of The Three Investigators, the only junior detective agency in town, they were always looking for mysteries to explore, and Jeremy Pilcher counted as a mystery. He was almost a legend in Rocky Beach. He was also almost a recluse. The boys couldn’t pass up the chance to meet him and to see the inside of his house. It was a decrepit old pile on Mockingbird Lane, surrounded by a dank tangle of garden. The place was so dreary that the townspeople said it was haunted.

The party that Burnside was catering for Pilcher was in honor of Pilcher’s daughter, Marilyn. She was the old man’s only child, a sheltered heiress who had been sent to boarding schools. As a result, Rocky Beach kids had never had a chance to get to know her. Now she was a student at an eastern college, and Burnside had told the boys that she would announce her engagement at this party. Burnside had also confided that Jeremy Pilcher disapproved of his daughter’s fiance, and that he hated the whole idea of a party.

“He said it was just throwing good money away,” Burnside had told the boys. “He’s going along with the act because the daughter nagged him into it. He figured if he gave her the party, and even let her hire some musicians, she’d be satisfied for a while. He said he’s going to work on her to see if she won’t get tired of the fiance and give him the heave-ho before the wedding day arrives. Then Pilcher will find a nice Wall Street wheeler-dealer type for her. Or maybe he’ll bring her into his business. I have a feeling that’s really what he’d like.”

As Jupiter passed the cheese puffs to the chattering guests, he wondered which of the men could be Pilcher. Most of them were middle-aged. Jupe knew that Pilcher was older — seventy at least. And most of the men were well-tailored and looked as if they patronized expensive barbers and posh health clubs. That did not jibe with Jupe’s mental picture of Pilcher.

But any of the girls who laughed and shouted to be heard above the thumping and twanging of the trio of musicians might be Marilyn Pilcher. She might be the redhead in the white dress. She might be the brunette in pink. She might be the blonde in the blue dress who was chatting with the faded-looking woman in gray silk. The woman seemed distressed. When the blonde turned away for a moment to say something to the smooth-faced young man at her elbow, the woman glanced toward the ceiling. Her hand went to her throat.

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