The Mystery of the Laughing Shadow - Arden William - Страница 1
The Three Investigators
The Mystery of the Laughing Shadow
A few words from Alfred Hitchcock
Greetings! I am delighted to have you join me for another adventure with those three amazing lads who are known as The Three Investigators. This time a mysterious golden amulet from a lost Indian hoard leads them into more danger than you could possibly imagine. And for additional excitement, a strange laughing shadow pops up in the most unlikely places.
If you have read any of their previous cases, of course, you know all about my young friends. The First Investigator, Jupiter Jones, is stocky, almost fat; Pete Crenshaw is tall and muscular, and Bob Andrews is slighter and more studious. They all live in Rocky Beach, California, a small community on the shores of the Pacific not far from glamorous Hollywood, and they make their Headquarters in a mobile home trailer cleverly hidden from sight in The Jones Salvage Yard. This unique junkyard is owned by Jupiter’s aunt and uncle, with whom he lives.
But why should I bore you with further introductions. On with the case! The shadow is about to laugh — or would screech be a more appropriate word?
A Laugh in the Night
Bob Andrews and Pete Crenshaw were still two miles from their homes in Rocky Beach when they had to turn on their bicycle lights. Darkness comes suddenly in the mountains of southern California in the winter.
“Gosh,” Pete said, “we should have started back sooner.”
“The swim was worth being late.” Bob grinned.
Their fine day in the mountains, topped off by a swim in a mountain stream, had been spoiled only by the absence of Jupiter Jones, the third member of their Three Investigators trio. Jupe had had to work in his Uncle Titus’s salvage yard.
Tired but happy, the two boys were pedalling past a high stone wall in the mountain darkness when a thin, startling cry suddenly came out of the night.
Surprised, Pete squeezed his brakes, coming to an abrupt stop. Bob ran full tilt into him.
“Ooff!” Bob grunted.
Pete whispered, “Did you hear that?”
Bob untangled his bike and glanced quickly towards the wall. “Yes, I heard it. Do you suppose someone’s hurt?”
While the two boys stood there, listening, something moved in the brush behind the wall.
This time there was no mistaking the urgency of the cry. Directly ahead of them, a heavy gate of tall iron bars topped with spearlike spikes was set into the wall. The boys did not hesitate. Dropping his bicycle, Pete ran to the iron gate. Bob, following close behind, suddenly gave a low, sharp cry:
Something had flown over the stone wall and struck him on the arm — a small object that bounced away in the dark.
“Here it is!” Pete bent over to pick it up.
The two boys stared at the object in Pete’s hand. It was a tiny, shining, metallic little statue. No more than three inches long, it resembled a weird, grinning, miniature man, his legs crossed as if he were sitting on the ground.
“What is it, Pete?”
“Don’t ask me. It looks as if it had been fastened on to something. See the loop on its head?”
“It came from behind the wall,” Bob said. “Do you… ”
The sound of heavy noises behind the wall suddenly interrupted him. Somebody was crashing through the underbush. Then a muffled voice called:
“He threw something out. Get it!”
“I’ll get it, boss,” a second voice answered.
The lock of the iron gates rasped as someone struggled to unlock it. Looking around quickly, the boys discovered a thick growth of bushes close to the wall. They pushed their bikes out of sight and crouched down in hiding.
The massive iron gate swung slowly open on creaking hinges. Then a shadowy figure slipped through the trees at the edge of the highway. The boys held their breath and peered out through the leaves. It came closer, passed, and moved off along the road.
“Could you see who it was?” Bob whispered.
“It’s too dark.”
“Maybe we should give that statuette back. It looks like it could be valuable.”
“I guess we… Watch it!”
A dark shape loomed up not ten feet from where Pete and Bob were crouching in the bushes. The boys froze, trying not to make a sound. The shadow seemed to tower above them in the night — tall, twisted, and humpbacked with a long, beaky nose and a small head that jerked about in an erratic way.
Suddenly a wild laugh shattered the darkness! It came from the tall shadow that stood so close to their hiding place. As the boys fought the panic that made them want to run, the shadow suddenly called out in an ordinary man’s voice:
“Never mind. It’s too dark to look now.”
“Okay, boss,” the other man answered from farther down the road. “I’ll see if I can find it tomorrow.”
The tall, humpbacked shadow with the weird head waited a moment for the other man to rejoin him. Then both men crunched through the bushes, and the iron gate creaked shut. Bob and Pete remained in their hiding place until they heard the lock turn, and the sounds of the two men faded away beyond the wall.
“Did you see that man?” Bob whispered. “The one with the funny head. And that laugh — what kind of laugh was it?”
“I don’t know, and I’m not so sure I want to know,” Pete said firmly.
“Let’s go home and tell Jupe what happened.”
“That idea I like,” Pete agreed.
With their bikes, the boys made their way quietly back to the main road. As they started down towards Las Casitas Pass, the wild laugh again split the night behind them.
They began to pedal furiously, and didn’t slow down until they came out of the pass and saw the friendly lights of Rocky Beach below.
A Mysterious Message
“It looks like solid gold!” Jupiter Jones exclaimed.
The stocky First Investigator of the trio looked like a solemn young owl as he studied the tiny statuette.
“Is it valuable, Jupe?” Bob asked.
“I would guess that it was very valuable,” Jupiter pronounced, “and not just because it’s gold.”
“Gosh, Jupe, what’s more valuable than gold?” Pete asked.
The grinning little statue glistened in Jupiter’s hand. “Look at how carefully it’s carved, fellows. It must have been made by a skilled craftsman, and look at the slanted eyes and feathered head-dress. I think it’s the work of some kind of American Indian, and quite old. I’ve seen things like it in museums.”
The boys were gathered inside the old trailer that served as their headquarters. Because it had been damaged in an accident, Jupiter’s Uncle Titus had not been able to sell it. Instead, he had given it to the boys to use for their meeting place, and the boys had piled so much junk over and around the trailer that no one knew it was there any more.
The trailer-headquarters could be entered only through various secret entrances. Inside, the boys had built a small office with desk, telephone, tape recorder and other equipment useful for their investigations. Next to the office was a tiny laboratory and a dark-room. Just about everything the boys used had come into the salvage yard as junk and had been rebuilt by them.
Bob and Pete finished telling Jupiter about the rest of their adventure in the mountains, while Jupiter continued to study the tiny statuette. At the end of their recital, Jupiter frowned thoughtfully.