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Megan Stine - Murder To Go

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Megan Stine - Murder To Go
Murder To Go
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The taste of terror — in a feast of mystery

The Three Investigators

Crimebusters #2

Murder To Go

Text by Megan Stine and William H. Stine Based on characters created by Robert Arthur


Smashing Beauty

Pete Crenshaw zipped his car into the outdoor parking lot of Rocky Beach Memorial Hospital and hit the brakes. He revved the engine of the used ’81 Scirocco a couple of times, loud and hard, then switched off the ignition. The windshield wipers stopped in the middle of their arc.

Pete liked to think he was just like his car — lean, mean, and prone to quick moves. At over six feet tall and built like a decathlon athlete, he wasn’t far wrong.

“Wow. This is serious rain. And I mean serious” Pete said to his friend Jupiter Jones, who was sitting next to him.

Jupiter Jones was neither lean nor mean. He preferred to describe himself as “well padded” or “husky.” He never seemed to run out of substitutes for “overweight.” Most people would have laughed at Jupe’s attempts to disguise the truth. But Pete kept the teasing to a minimum. After all, seventeen-year-old Jupiter was Pete’s best friend. And Jupe was also the founder of The Three Investigators. Along with Bob Andrews, they were Rocky Beach, California’s most famous detectives.

The two of them sat in the car and watched the storm. It was more than the typical summer downpour. Rain pounded the windshield. Then, just when Pete and Jupe were least expecting it, lightning flashed and crashed.

“Come on. It’s never going to let up,” Pete said, brushing his reddish-brown hair out of his eyes. “And visiting hours are almost over. Kelly’s waiting for me.”

“You can’t let girls boss you around,” Jupe said, unbuckling his seat belt reluctantly.

“I hate to tell you this,” Pete said to Jupe, “but girls are the one subject you’re not an expert on.”

“True,” Jupe admitted. “However, as you well know, that won’t stop me from giving you advice.” Pete laughed.

Then the two friends pulled up the hoods of their Windbreakers and made a dash through the rain for the hospital entrance.

Inside the hospital lobby they shook out their wet jackets and hurried to room 2113.

When they got there, Kelly Madigan was lying in her hospital bed, talking on the phone and twirling a curl of her long brown hair with her fingers. The TV was on, playing music videos with the sound off. She didn’t look like someone who had just had her appendix taken out three days ago.

Kelly was a pretty, energetic cheerleader at Rocky Beach High School, the same school Pete, Jupe, and Bob attended. One day six months ago she suddenly decided that Pete Crenshaw ought to be going steady and he ought to be going steady with her. Pete didn’t put up much of a fight.

“Gotta hang up, Sue,” Kelly said, giving Pete and Jupe a small wave. “Time for my Friday night date. My own personal hunk just walked in with a friend.” Then Kelly laughed. “Is the friend a hunk too?” Kelly said, repeating what Sue had just asked her. She looked Jupe up and down with her large green eyes.

Jupe tried to stare back at her but then he got nervous and looked away.

“Depends, Sue,” Kelly said. “Do you think Frosty the Snowman’s a hunk?” she added with a teasing but sweet laugh.

Jupe crossed his arms and sat down grumpily on one of the uncomfortable wooden chairs that were standard in hospital rooms.

Suddenly Kelly held out the phone to Jupe! “Sue wants to talk to you,” she said, smiling.

Jupe swallowed hard and tried to look as though he didn’t know the meaning of the word “panic.” Talking to suspects in a mystery was no problem. Talking to girls — that was Bob Andrews’ department.

“Go on, Jupe,” Pete teased. He was sitting on the bed next to Kelly.

Jupe slowly stood up and took the phone.

“Hello,” he said formally, “this is Jupiter Jones speaking.” Jupe paused.

“Hi,” said a girl’s voice with a nervous giggle. “I’m Sue. How’s it going?”

“How is what going?” Jupe asked. His logical mind required logical questions before he could give a logical answer.

“Oh, I don’t know, you know,” said Sue.

Jupe cleared his throat and squinted one eye at Kelly. He wished he didn’t have an audience for this phone call. Pete and Kelly were holding hands and grinning at him.

“Don’t you want to know if I’m cute or something?” Sue asked on the other end of the line.

Just then a nurse with bright copper-red hair stuck her head in the door. “Visiting hours are over. You’ll have to leave now,” she said.

Jupe sighed with relief and handed the phone back to Kelly. “I’ll call you later,” Kelly told Sue, hanging up quickly. Then she winked at Jupe. “Jupiter Jones, ladies’ man, strikes again,” she said.

Suddenly the door banged open. A doctor, two orderlies, and two nurses pushed a gurney into the room at top speed. Jupe had to jump out of the way.

They had a patient on the gurney, a young woman with dark curly hair. Her pretty face was pale, bruised, and bandaged. She was unconscious.

“New roommate for you, Kelly,” said the doctor, a young intern with a short ponytail and a calm smile. He helped lift the new patient onto the second bed in Kelly’s green hospital room.

“Is she hurt badly?” Kelly asked.

“Her wounds appear superficial,” Jupe said. His eyes never missed anything. “My guess is she’s just recovering from a concussion and mild shock.”

“Hey — great diagnosis,” the doctor said, looking over at Jupe with a surprised smile.

The hospital team gently settled the young woman into the bed and then hooked up her i.v., which started the medication dripping. When they were certain she was secure, the nurses and orderlies backed away and the doctor wrote notes on her chart.

“What happened to her?” Kelly asked the doctor in a concerned voice.

“Car smash-up on Countyline Drive. She went right off the road. We always get a couple on a rotten night like this,” he said, moving toward the door to leave. “She’s a celebrity’s kid, although it’s hard to tell with all the bumps and bruises. She’s — ”

But before the doctor could finish his sentence, the nurse with the copper-red hair opened the door again. “I said it once. I’ll say it again,” she barked at Jupe and Pete. “Hospital visiting hours are over. This means you must leave immediately. The only exception is if you are very sick, in which case please see the admissions nurse.”

“We get the message,” Pete said.

“Good,” said the nurse with a pinched smile. “I guess I won’t have to call out the guard dogs tonight.”

As she turned and left the room, Pete leaned down and gave Kelly a quick kiss. “See you tomorrow, babe. I’m staying at Jupe’s tonight.”

Jupe, however, was looking at the new patient’s chart. “Hey — what are you doing?” Pete asked.

“Just satisfying my curiosity,” Jupe answered. “The doctor left before telling us who she is. Who’s Juliet Coop?”

Pete looked at Jupe and shrugged. The name didn’t set off any bells. So they said good-bye to Kelly and left.

But a minute later both Pete and Jupe knew exactly who Juliet Coop was, because as they headed toward the elevator a huge man came rushing out of it and went straight to the nurses’ station. He leaned over the desk so that his worried face was close to the nurse with the copper-colored hair. “Where’s my daughter?” he asked. “Where is she?”

“That’s Big Barney Coop!” Jupe said, recognizing the man instantly.

“Right. The Chicken King!” Pete exclaimed.

It had to be. He was wearing the familiar red, white, and blue jogging suit, just like the one he wore on TV. And everyone in Southern California knew Big Barney Coop’s face. You couldn’t flip the TV channels without seeing him in a commercial for Chicken Coop fast-food restaurants.

“Juliet Coop-Barney Coop,” said Jupe. “She must be the Chicken King’s daughter.”

“Room 2113, Mr. Coop,” said the nurse.

“Is that a lucky room?” asked Big Barney. “I want my daughter in a lucky room. Where is it? Which way? Which room?”

Jupiter felt sorry seeing Big Barney so upset and disoriented. He walked over to the nurse’s desk. “Mr. Coop, it’s that room,” Jupe said, pointing.

Big Barney Coop, who was practically a foot taller than Jupe, looked down. “You sure?” he asked.

“My friend and I were visiting the patient who’s sharing your daughter’s room,” Jupe said. “As a matter of fact, Juliet is sleeping now.”

That seemed to be enough reassurance to make the Chicken King relax a little. “Here are a couple of freebies,” he said, handing Jupe two coupons from his sweatshirt pocket. “I like you, guy. Plump but tender. I’ll bet you’d look great dipped in my secret golden batter. Thanks, guy.”

Jupe smiled and watched Big Barney walk into the hospital room. Then he tore up the coupons.

“Hey!” Pete said, grabbing for the coupons, but too late. “Why’d you do that, Jupe?”

“My diet,” Jupe said unhappily. “No fried foods allowed, remember?”

“Yeah, I remember,” Pete said. “And you have to eat a piece of melon with every meal. Weird. But just because you’re dieting doesn’t mean I am. I love the Chicken Coop’s fried chicken.”

“Don’t even talk about it,” Jupe moaned. “I love it too. I can smell that crispy crust and juicy tender white meat right now.”

They dashed out into the rain-soaked parking lot and Pete drove them back toward Jupe’s house. Jupe lived with his Aunt Mathilda and Uncle Titus Jones, who owned a junkyard across the street. When Jupe, Pete, and Bob were kids, they hung around the junk-yard together, especially when they were on a case. The Three Investigators even had their secret headquarters there, in a trailer that was hidden by junk. But now that they were seventeen years old, the trailer was no longer hidden, and they mostly hung around in Jupe’s electronics workshop, which was right next door.

“Too bad we couldn’t have heard the details of Juliet Coop’s car crash,” Jupe said. Then he noticed Pete looking at him out of the corner of his eye. “I know, I know. There’s no sign of anything mysterious about it. I just have this feeling. Call it a premonition.”

Finally Pete pulled into the junkyard and they splashed through the mud into Jupe’s workshop. Inside were desks and countertops filled with high-tech electronic gadgets and parts, catalogs of modern surveillance equipment, tools, high school notebooks, empty pizza boxes, music tapes, and a couple of chairs. There was also an answering machine, and as always Jupe checked it first thing.

“Hi, guys,” said a familiar voice on the message tape. It was Bob Andrews, the third Investigator. “Sorry I didn’t make it over to the hospital tonight to see Kelly. I had to check out a new band for the agency because the boss is out of town. Then Jennifer called to remind me that we had a date, which came as a shock to me and an even bigger shock to Amy, who I was supposed to meet for a clambake on the beach. Guess those clams got rained out. Anyway, Jupe, maybe you can work out a database computer program for me, to prevent accidents like this from happening. Think about it. Talk to you guys tomorrow.

“Bob works too hard at that talent agency.” Jupe scowled as he turned off the answering machine.

“I know,” Pete said with a smile. “All that work cuts into his dating time.”

Jupe started tinkering with a small device that was supposed to read electronic lock combinations, and Pete busied himself at another table, cleaning out the sprayer of a new fuel injector for his car. They talked until it got very late.

They talked about Jupe’s wish for a car, about not seeing Bob too much anymore because of his job, and about running into Big Barney Coop. And Jupe talked about Juliet Coop’s accident. It drove him crazy not to know the details about something.

Suddenly the telephone rang, startling both Pete and Jupe. They looked at the clock. Nearly midnight. Pretty late for calls, even on a Friday night.

Jupe sat down in an old swivel chair. It had a Niagara Falls 1982 souvenir pillow for its cushion. “The Three Investigators,” he said in an I-mean-business voice.

“Jupe, it’s Kelly. Put me on the speaker phone, okay? I’ve got to talk to both of you.”

“It’s Kelly,” Jupe said as he switched on the speaker phone.

Pete looked as surprised as Jupe. “What’s going on, Kel?” Pete asked.

“Something weird,” Kelly said. “Juliet Coop has been moaning and talking in her sleep.”

Jupe got that feeling again. But he didn’t want to jump to conclusions. “Bad dreams aren’t uncommon after an accident like hers,” Jupe said.

“Okay, okay,” Kelly said impatiently. “But it’s what she’s dreaming about that freaks me. She keeps saying, ‘Millions of people will die.’ ”

The words gave Jupe and Pete a chill.

“And that’s not all,” Kelly continued. “She keeps saying, ‘He’s poisoning the chicken. It’s wrong. It’s wrong.’ And she sounds like she means it. I mean, it doesn’t sound like a dream.”

Pete let out a low whistle. “Heavy duty.”

“I told you I had a feeling!” Jupe said.

“Yeah,” said Pete. “But who knew it meant the Chicken King was poisoning my favorite food!”


After-hours Visitors

“Hello?” Kelly Madigan’s puzzled voice came out of the speaker phone in Jupe’s workshop. “Are you guys still there?”

They were there, but their tongues were in shock. How many times had they eaten at a Chicken Coop restaurant in their lives? Hundreds? Thousands? Probably more for Jupe. How many times had they seen Big Barney Coop’s friendly face on TV and heard his crazy but sincere voice telling them, “I’ve built my reputation selling legs and not pulling yours.”

“Big Barney Coop. poisoning his food.?” Pete said, shaking his head. His voice trailed off and his face got serious. “I can’t believe it.”

“And there’s no reason why we should,” Jupe said, having given the matter some thought. “As Aunt Mathilda frequently reminds me, the trouble with jumping to conclusions is you don’t know what you’re going to land in.”

“What’s that mean?” Pete said.

“It means,” said Jupe, “we can’t accuse Big Barney Coop of anything. For one thing, there’s no reason to think that Big Barney is the person Juliet was talking about in her sleep. It could be anyone who’s poisoning the chicken. And for all we know, Juliet Coop is having a bad reaction to her medication or to the shock of her accident, or maybe she’s just having bad dreams.”

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