“Well, there you are!”
Aunt Mathilda surveyed the boys with a severe expression. “Sometimes I think this salvage yard was built just for you three to hide in!”
A tall, slender boy only a few years older than the three friends stood beside Aunt Mathilda. His dark hair was rather long, and his grey suit had a slim, foreign cut. He grinned at the boys and held out his hand:
“Hello, chaps, I’m Ted Sandow.”
Concealing their intense curiosity at the coincidence of Ted Sandow’s appearance in the salvage yard, the boys all shook hands with him, and Jupiter assumed his most innocent manner.
“I’m Jupiter Jones.” The First Investigator introduced himself. “And this is Bob Andrews and Pete Crenshaw.”
“I say, I’m pleased to meet you fellows.” Ted beamed at the boys. “Friend of yours told me you were most interesting to get to know. Chap named Skinner Norris.”
“Skinny Norris sent you?” Pete blurted out, amazed.
“Said I’d find you unusual, to be exact. Are you unusual? I’m most eager to meet some unusual American boys. Haven’t had much chance, you see, out there on the estate.”
“You’re not American, Ted, are you?” Bob asked.
“I’m from England — Cambridge, to be exact. I’m visiting my Great- Aunt Sarah at the Sandow Estate. Actually, I didn’t know I had a great-aunt until my father died a few months ago! My grandfather, Aunt Sarah’s brother, was killed in France before my father was born. Apparently, my father got in touch with Aunt Sarah when he realized that he didn’t have long to live. She sent a note, and here I am.”
The tall boy grinned the whole time he was talking. Ted was obviously an eager talker. He spoke very fast, and his accent was not easy to follow. Before the boys could speak, he was off again:
“Well, Aunt Sarah has this barn full of old junk from years ago. She’s decided to spring-clean and needs it all carted away. I suggested she sell it to a salvage man. She thought it a capital idea and charged me with locating one. I saw the name of your yard, but I don’t know your city, so I contacted Aunt Sarah’s lawyer. He lives here, so he told me to see the son of a friend of his, Skinner Norris. I did, and Norris brought me here. He refused to come in himself. Rather odd, I thought.”
Before the boys had a chance to tell Ted that it wasn’t at all odd that Skinny wouldn’t come into the salvage yard, Aunt Mathilda spoke up. Her sharp eyes had shown great interest at the first mention of a barn full of old junk.
“We’d be glad to look at what your aunt has, Ted. When would you want us to come?”
“Now would be excellent,” Ted declared.
Aunt Mathilda shook her head. “My husband, Titus, is away at the moment. I’m afraid I can’t leave the yard untended. Of course, Jupiter knows what we buy as well as I do. He could go out there after he has his lunch.”
“Why don’t all you boys come?” Ted said quickly.
“Konrad could drive us in the small truck,” Jupiter suggested.
“I say, that would be wonderful!” Ted exclaimed. “The boys and I could talk. I’ve learned so little about America.”
Aunt Mathilda, who was always on the look-out for items for the yard, was soon persuaded. The boys ate quickly, then located Konrad. In a very short time they were all in the truck, following Ted’s small sports car. Ted had looked for Skinny Norris to thank him, but Skinny was nowhere in sight. He had vanished completely. This surprised the English boy, but it didn’t surprise the investigators at all.
“I wonder what Skinny’s up to?” Pete said in the truck.
“One of his usual attempts to confound us, I presume,” Jupiter answered. “I’m not worried about Skinny. But I am wondering why Ted happened to show up at the salvage yard the day after you fellows picked up that amulet.”
“You think he knows we found the amulet, but doesn’t know it was stolen from us?” Bob asked.
“Gosh!” Pete said. “That would mean there’s more than one group mixed up in this!”
“Or perhaps he knows the message was removed from the amulet, and wants to get hold of it,” Jupiter suggested.
“Gee,” Bob protested, “he seems like too nice a fellow, Jupe.”
“Perhaps it is only a coincidence,” Jupiter conceded, “but I suggest we be alert, watch what we say, and keep our eyes open.”
Bob and Pete agreed quickly. Meanwhile the truck, which was out of Rocky Beach by now, followed Ted Sandow’s sports car into the mountains. They drove up the winding road to the top of the pass and soon turned in at the big iron gates of the Sandow Estate, where Bob and Pete had heard the laughing shadow the previous night.
Beyond the gates and the high wall, they drove along a narrow macadam road for about half a mile until they saw the Sandow house. It was a big, Spanish-style house with white walls and a red-tile roof. There were bars on many windows and small balconies in front of some on the second floor. But the white walls were cracked and dingy, and the whole house looked badly neglected.
Ted led them directly to a low, brick barn behind the house. Inside, they found a great jumble of furniture, bric-a-brac, household items of the past, and some things they could not even name. There was so much dust on everything that it seemed as if nothing had been touched for at least fifty years.
“Aunt Sarah seems to have been something of a hermit, chaps,” Ted observed. “I’m sure she has no idea what’s here.”
Jupiter, who loved old junk as much as his Uncle Titus, looked at the mounds of forgotten relics in awe. “It’s a bonanza! Look at that spinning wheel! And that old lap writing desk for travellers.”
For an hour the boys picked happily over the great, dusty piles, completely forgetting the amulet, the Chumash Hoard, and the weird laughing shadow. Then, at last, Jupiter gave up and stood back looking at the piles.
“Uncle Titus is going to want just about all of it, and we haven’t even made a dent.”
“Why not come up to the house, then,” Ted suggested. “We’ll have some lemonade and biscuits, and you can talk to Aunt Sarah.”
Bob and Pete, remembering their real reason for wanting to come to the Sandow Estate, nodded quickly and looked at Jupiter. This was just what they wanted, but no one would have guessed it from seeing Jupiter’s impassive face.
“That sounds fine, Ted,” the First Investigator agreed. “Konrad can start making a partial list of what’s here.”
“I’ll send a beer out for him,” Ted said.
“A beer is good.” The Bavarian grinned.
Inside the big, house, the boys were taken into a cool, informal room with dark, antique Spanish furniture. Ted went to ask the maid to bring the lemonade. When he came back, he was with a bird-like woman whose hands fluttered up to her neat white hair. Her pale eyes lit up with pleasure.
“I’m Sarah Sandow. I’m so glad to see that Theodore has found friends. He tells me you’re from the salvage yard. I want to dispose of everything. I’ve been letting things accumulate for far too long.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Jupiter said, as Bob and Pete nodded.
“Now that Theodore is here I’m beginning to take an interest in things again. The estate is in dreadful disrepair.”
The maid brought in the lemonade and biscuits, and Miss Sandow served them herself. She seemed happy to have the boys in the house.
“After last night,” she explained, as the boys began to eat, “Ted convinced me that it wasn’t safe to have all those things lying out in the barn.”
The boys tensed, and Jupiter said, “Last night, ma’am?”
“A gold statuette was stolen. From under our noses,” Miss Sandow said indignantly. “It was one of two which my poor brother Mark left behind when he had to run away. They were all I had of Mark’s.”
“It was really my fault, chaps,” Ted explained. “You see, my dad had mentioned that my grandfather had told him about two little gold statues. I found them lying forgotten at the bottom of a drawer and was examining them in the library. I left the library, and when I came back one of them was gone?”
“You don’t know who took it?” Jupiter asked.
“We know it was some boy. Mr. Harris saw him.”
“That I did, boys,” said a deep voice from the direction of the door.
The boys turned and saw a healthy-looking man in a bright sports jacket and Bermuda shorts that displayed his long, knobbly legs. His grey eyes had a twinkle in them. His hair was sandy-coloured, and a small scar on his ruddy face give him a perpetual smile.
Ted introduced them, explaining that Mr. Harris was a friend of his Aunt Sarah’s.
“Interested in our robbery, are you, boys?” asked Mr. Harris with a smile. He spoke with an English accent that was somehow different from Ted’s. It sounded to Jupiter like a slightly cockney accent.
“Saw a boy running from the house and chased him to the gates. When I got there, though, I couldn’t find him. He must have had friends. So I suppose we’ve seen the last of that statuette.”
“Perhaps we could help, sir,” Jupiter said quietly. “We have had some success in recovering lost and stolen articles.”
“And solving mysteries, too,” Pete declared.
Mr. Harris laughed. “You sound like detectives.”
“Yes, sir,” Jupiter said. “We are, in a small way. This is our card.”
Jupiter handed Mr. Harris one of their large business cards which read:
Mr. Harris laughed. “Well, now, perhaps you could get Miss Sandow’s statuette back. Detectives, by Jove, and you have solved mysteries?”
“We sure have!” Pete exclaimed. “Chief Reynolds of the Rocky Beach police even made us deputies.”
“Did he indeed?” Mr. Harris grinned, looking at the card in his hand.
From his chair across the room, Ted asked, “What are the question marks for, fellows? You don’t question your abilities, do you?”
“The question marks are our symbol,” Jupiter explained, looking towards Ted with a frown. “They stand for all the mysteries we attempt to solve. Sort of a trademark.”
“That’s great,” Ted said with enthusiasm. “Let the boys try, Aunt Sarah, and I’ll work with them!”
“But, Theodore,” Miss Sandow objected. “There may be a gang of thieves. Would it be safe for boys?”
“Miss Sandow is right,” Mr. Harris said. “Robbery is not a matter for boys.”
“We’re always careful, ma’am,” Jupiter said, “and we would go to Chief Reynolds if we found anything serious. If it was a boy who took the statue, we might be in a good position to help. We’ve found that boys are often less afraid of other boys. All we would do is try to locate the statuette.”
“There, Aunt Sarah,” Ted declared. “You can see that the boys are responsible, and Chief Reynolds trusts them.”
“Well,” Miss Sandow said doubtfully. “I suppose it is rather a minor matter to take to the police directly.”
Mr. Harris became serious. “The police do have too much to do to look for a trinket without any evidence as to where it is. Possibly three boys could try to find out what did happen to it and then inform the police. If they promised to be very careful.”
“Oh, they will!” Ted cried. “I say, why not offer a reward, Aunt Sarah? The boys will deserve it if they find the statuette.”
Miss Sandow smiled at Ted. “Well, as long as you all promise to do nothing at all dangerous. If you do find it, I will certainly be glad to give you a reward. Suppose we say fifty dollars.”
“Then it’s settled,” Ted said. “Smashing! Can you come for lunch tomorrow so we can plan our work?”
“I’m not sure the boys would enjoy our lunch,” Mr. Harris said hastily. “Miss Sandow and I are vegetarians, boys. We eat only vegetables. I happen to be president of the Vegetarian League. Miss Sandow has given me great assistance getting our League started in Rocky Beach. You must attend a lecture. I’m giving one this afternoon as a matter of fact.”
“We’d like to, sir,” Jupiter said, “but now we’d better go back and help Konrad. My uncle will be anxious to know what Miss Sandow has to sell. We won’t be able to start looking for the statuette until later.”
“I’ll help you,” Ted said. “And don’t forget the reward. Aunt Sarah won’t even ask where you found the statue.”
“No questions asked, eh, boys?” Mr. Harris laughed.
The boys excused themselves and went to rejoin Konrad.
Inside the barn, Jupiter looked around to see if they were alone, then drew Bob and Pete into the shadows.
“Did either of you notice it?” Jupiter demanded with a grim look on his face.
“Notice what, Jupe?” Pete asked.
“Ted asked about the question marks on our card.”
“People always ask, Jupe,” Bob said.
“But Ted hadn’t seen our card when he asked!”
Bob blinked. “You’re right! Harris had the card!”
“You mean he knew about us all the time?” Pete said.
Jupiter nodded. “He knew about our card, which means he was lying to us. He didn’t have to talk to us about selling the junk. If that was all he really came to the yard for, he could have talked just to Aunt Mathilda. Fellows, the junk was just an excuse to meet us!”