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Authors: William Arden

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Hot Wheels

BOOK: Hot Wheels
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Hot Wheels
( The Three Investigators: Crimebusters - 1 )
William Arden

Hot cars, hot music — and sizzling mystery-adventure

The Three Investigators
Crimebusters #1
Hot Wheels


Text by

William Arden

Based on characters created by

Robert Arthur



Riding High



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.

“Haven’t seen Amy since I was a little girl,” Aunt Mathilda said. “I knew she’d gotten married, but I didn’t realize that was thirty years ago. I never knew she had any children.”

“Four,” Ty said. “All grown up now. The others are still in Babylon. I figured it was time to see the rest of the country.” His eyes were bright as he looked at the yard full of discarded treasures. “You sure do have a lot of good stuff here.” Then he became aware of the Corvair right in front of him. “Hey, where’d you get that beaut? That’s a classic!”

Instantly Ty’s head was inside the Corvair engine with Pete. They jabbered, pointed, and tossed automotive talk around as if they were old friends.

Pete straightened up and ran a hand through his reddish-brown hair. “I’ve checked or replaced everything, but I can’t get her to run at all,” he complained. Ty laughed. “And you never will, Pete. Look, you’ve put an alternator in the electrical system.”

“Sure.” Pete nodded. “You can’t get electricity to run the engine or charge the battery without an alternator.” Jupiter and Aunt Mathilda looked from Ty to Pete with glazed eyes, understanding nothing.

“In this car you can’t do it with one,” Ty said. “The Corvair’s an old car — it has a generator, not an alternator! Wasn’t there a long, round black cylinder you replaced with the alternator?”

Pete rummaged under his workbench. “This?” Ty took the cylinder and bent into the engine with Pete’s tools. He quickly made some connections and tightenings. “Everything else looks fine,” he said. “Get in and try her.”

Pete climbed into the Corvair and turned the key. The car coughed once and started! It gasped and wheezed and sputtered, but it ran.

“Wow!” Pete grinned. “How do you know so much about cars?”

Ty smiled. “Been working on them all my life. That’s what I figure on doing out here. I’ll get a part-time job at some garage, sun and surf the rest of the time. There’s more cars out here than anywhere, right? I just need a little time.”

He looked at Aunt Mathilda. “I figured maybe I could stay here until I get settled. I can sleep anywhere, eat almost anything. One of those old trailers’d be fine. Anywhere I can unroll my bedroll. I don’t want to be any trouble.”

“No,” said Aunt Mathilda. “I mean, of course you’ll stay across the street in our house.”

“Well, thanks a lot. That’d be fine,” Ty said.

“Great!” Pete exclaimed. “You can teach me stuff. I mean, you sure know cars, Ty.”

“He sure does,” a voice suddenly said behind them.

They turned to see two men in suits and ties looking at Ty. They weren’t smiling.

“Especially,” the taller man went on, “cars that don’t belong to him. That’s why he’s under arrest!”


A Real Whopper

Jupiter and Pete didn’t know the tall, sharp-faced man who glared at Ty. But they recognized the dark-haired shorter man — Detective Roger Cole of the Rocky Beach Police.

“What’s wrong, Detective Cole?” Jupiter asked.

“This is Jupe’s cousin Ty Cassey,” Pete explained. “He’s from New York.”

“Your cousin’s in trouble, Jupiter,” Detective Cole said. He was a small, quiet-looking man with friendly blue eyes and a reassuring smile. But he was serious now as he nodded to the cold-eyed taller man. “This is Detective Sergeant Maxim from Grand Theft / Auto, guys. He has some questions to ask.”

Sergeant Maxim stared at Detective Cole, and then at Pete and Jupiter. “You know these kids, Cole?”

“Yes, Sergeant, and so does the chief.”

“So who are they?” Maxim snapped.

“They’re sort of private detectives,” Cole explained. “They’ve helped us a lot over the last few years.”

Jupiter handed the startled sergeant one of the new business cards he’d designed.

“Mostly we find things for people, explain odd happenings, problems like that, Sergeant. But sometimes we’ve helped Chief Reynolds on cases that turned out to be more serious,” Jupiter explained.

He didn’t tell the sergeant that he had started The Three Investigators even before the guys were in high school. Or that the police had often been totally baffled until Jupiter, Bob, and Pete found the answers.

Sergeant Maxim stared at the card. “You mean the chief lets teenagers mess in police cases?”

“It’s more like they bring us cases that we never even knew existed,” Cole said.

“Well, they better stay out of my cases,” Maxim growled. “And that starts with this one.” He turned to Ty. “Read this guy his rights, Cole.”

Detective Cole explained Ty’s right to remain silent and to have a lawyer, and warned him that anything he said could and would be used against him in a court of law.

“Okay, you want to tell us how you happen to be driving — a stolen car?” Maxim said.

Jupe quickly said, “Maybe you should wait to talk to a lawyer, Ty.”

Aunt Mathilda, who had stood in stunned silence ever since the two detectives appeared, went pale. “Lawyer?” She looked at Jupe and Pete. “You don’t really think…?”

“I don’t need a lawyer,” Ty said. “It’s all a mistake.” He laughed. “I’ll bet the guy’s brother reported the heap stolen just because I was a little slow getting it to him. He probably thinks I’m joy-riding somewhere.”

“Guy?” Detective Cole said.

“You want to start from the beginning, pal?” Sergeant Maxim said.

“Why not?” Ty said. “I got nothing to hide. I was hitchin’ through Oxnard day before yesterday, stopped a while in a club to have a beer and hear some hot music. The place was rockin’ so good I stayed around, got to talkin’ to this Latino guy Tiburon — something like that, anyway. I never was too good with names. We got friendly, I told him I was on my way to Rocky Beach to meet my cousin. So around the time the joint was closing he says to me would I do him a favor and help myself too?”

Ty grinned. “Always like to help myself, so I listen. Seems he’s driving his brother’s Mercedes, promised to get it back next day. Says he’s met this cool chick who wants to drive up to Santa Barbara, but she’s got her own wheels. So he wants me to take the Mercedes back down to his brother in Rocky Beach. He’ll buy the gas and pay me a hundred to do it. I mean, how can I say no, right?”

Sergeant Maxim broke in. “You’re saying you never met this guy before?”

“Never been in Oxnard before,” Ty said. “Never even heard of the place.”

“That was two days ago,” Detective Cole said. “How come you’ve still got the car?”

Ty grinned again. “Well, it was late that night, and yesterday was so darn nice I took some swims, looked around the canyons. I mean, what’s a nice day for?”

“You just sort of drove around,” Sergeant Maxim said. “Sightseeing.”

“And today?” Detective Cole asked.

“Last night I slept in the car, and this morning I had to meet Cousin Mathilda,” Ty explained. “I was going to return the car to Tiburon’s brother next.”

He smiled at them. Heavy silence descended like a tent over the salvage yard. Pete and Jupe glanced at each other. Aunt Mathilda didn’t seem to want to look at anyone. Sergeant Maxim stared at Ty.

“That’s a bigger whopper than they cook up at Burger King,” he said finally. “If you think we believe — ”

“Tell you what,” Detective Cole said quickly, “why don’t we all just go and talk to this brother, Sarge?”

“Okay,” Maxim said grimly. “Let’s go.”

“If the car is stolen, Sergeant,” Jupiter said, “and Ty is telling the truth, then Tiburon’s brother isn’t going to admit anything around the police.”

“Well, we’re sure not letting him go alone,” Maxim said.

“You go first, Cassey,” Detective Cole said. “Do exactly what you would do if you didn’t know we were watching. Jupiter and Pete will go with you. Say they’re friends you brought so you’d have a ride back. We’ll stay out of sight and watch.”

Ty nodded, then jumped back into the little 450SL convertible. Pete and Jupiter headed for the black Fiero that Pete had rebuilt almost from scratch. Pete hadn’t had the time or money to fix the dents or paint it, but its engine was in top shape.

They followed Ty out of the salvage yard. The police came last in an unmarked Dodge Aries.

They drove across town to the west side, down near the harbor. The address Ty said Tiburon had given him turned out to be a bodega — a Latino grocery store — in the small Rocky Beach barrio. The barrio was an area of small, brightly painted house’s and gardenlike Mexican cafes, mixed with run-down motels and seedy cantinas.

Faded black lettering on the bodega door said that Jose Torres was the proprietor. Ty parked the Mercedes in front of the store. Pete parked behind him. The two detectives hung back, out of sight. A small crowd had already gathered around the gleaming 450SL as Ty got out.

“I’ll stay and watch the cars,” Pete said.

Jupiter followed Ty into the bodega.

Inside, a few customers inspected the exotic fruits and vegetables — mangoes, papayas, frijoles, jicama, tomatillos, and rows of hanging green, red, and yellow chili peppers. The slim, dark man behind the grocery counter looked at them coldly. They were not his usual customers. Ty gave him his best smile and a friendly nod.

“Mr. Torres? We’re looking for a guy named Tiburon’s brother.”

“So?” the man said. He was about five feet eight, scrawny looking, with a big Adam’s apple like a skinny-necked rooster. His dark eyes were almost as black as his hair. He looked at Jupiter and then back at Ty.

“Tiburon paid me to drive his brother’s Mercedes down from Oxnard,” Ty continued. “This was the address he gave me.”

Torres shrugged. He turned and yelled into a back room, “We know any guy name of Tiburon? Maybe his brother?”

Two young, tough-looking Latin men came out of the back room. They were not friendly. Only one spoke. “No one like that, Joe.”

Joe Torres turned back to Ty.

“Guess not, amigos. We don’t know anyone like that.”

Ty wasn’t smiling now. “But you’ve got to! Tiburon gave me this address. His brother’s car is outside!”

Torres shook his head and laughed. “Man, you’re a loco Anglo. Who owns a car like that in the barrio, eh? You’re crazy, amigo.”

Ty suddenly lunged across the counter and grabbed Torres by the shirt. “You’re lying, you hear? Tiburon told me to come here!”

“Hey!” Torres tried to push Ty away, but Ty was stronger than he looked. Torres couldn’t shake loose. “Nacio! Carlos!”

Before the two younger Latinos could move, Sergeant Maxim and Detective Cole hurried into the store and pulled Ty off. Jupiter guessed they had been listening on a supersensitive sound detector like the one he’d bought for the team.

Torres jumped back and glared at Ty.

“You’re really crazy, Anglo!”

“Crazy,” Sergeant Maxim said, “and a thief. Put the cuffs on him, Cole. We’re taking him in.”

Ty stood there stunned as Cole snapped the hand-cuffs on his wrists. He looked at Jupiter and shook his head — saying he hadn’t stolen the Mercedes — as the two detectives led him out.

They put Ty in the back of their car. With a heavy steel mesh screen between the front and rear seats, and no inside handles on the rear doors, Ty was trapped in a cage.

Sergeant Maxim drove Ty away. Cole followed in the Mercedes. On the sidewalk, Joe Torres stood behind Jupiter and yelled after the cars.

“Stupid, crazy Anglo!”

The two younger Latinos from the store, Nacio and Carlos, stood in the doorway watching Jupiter. Pete called from the Fiero, “Let’s get out of here, Jupe.”

But Jupiter faced Torres.

“You know, Mr. Torres, I wonder how Ty even knew this address unless someone gave it to him.”

Torres glared at him. “Get out of here, kid.”

“I mean,” Jupiter said, “he’s new in town today from way back East.”

Torres’s face darkened in anger. “You got a real big mouth, you know? Hey, Nacio! Carlos! We got to teach this bigmouth kid a lesson!”

The three men advanced menacingly toward Jupiter.


BOOK: Hot Wheels
11.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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