THE MYSTERY OF THE WANDERING CAVEMAN M. V. Carey
The Stranger in the Fog
“ARE YOU ALL RIGHT?” said a woman’s voice.
Jupiter Jones stood still and listened.
The afternoon was thick with fog. Fog muffled the noise of the traffic on thePacific Coast Highway. It hung like a curtain between The Jones Salvage Yard and the housesacross the street. It seemed to press in on Jupe. He felt cold and lonely, as if he were theonly person in all the world.
But someone had spoken, and now there were footsteps. Outside, just beyond the gates of thesalvage yard, someone was walking.
Then a man spoke, and two people appeared, moving like shadows in the grey light.The man was bent over, and as he walked his feet made slow, scuffling noises on the pavement.The woman was girlish and thin, with long, fair hair that hung straight about her face.
“Here’s a bench,” she said, and she guided the man to a seat near the office. “You rest aminute. You should have let me drive. It was too much for you.”
“Can I help?” Jupe moved closer to the pair.
The man put a hand to his head and looked around in a dazed fashion.
“We’re looking for … for …” He caught at the young woman’s hand. “You do it,” he said.“Find out where we … where we …”
“Harbourview Lane,” said the young woman to Jupe. “We have to go to Harbourview Lane.”
“It’s down the highway and off Sunset,” said Jupe. “Look, if your friend is ill, I can calla doctor and —”
“No!” cried the man. “Not now. We’re late!” Jupe bent towards the man. He saw a face thatwas grey and glistening with sweat. “Tired!” said the man. “So tired!” He pressed his handsto his forehead. “Such a headache!” There was surprise and dismay in his voice. “So strange!I never have headaches!”
“Please let me call a doctor!” begged Jupe.
The stranger pulled himself up.
“Be all right in a minute, but now I can’t … can’t …”
He sank back against the side of the office, and his breathing became heavy andharsh. Then his face crumpled and twisted.
“Hurts!” he said.
Jupe took hold of the man’s hand. The flesh was cold and clammy to his touch.
The man gazed at Jupe. His eyes were fixed and did not blink.
Suddenly it was very quiet in the salvage yard. The young woman bent to touch theman. She made a sound like a whimper of pain. There were brisk footsteps on the pavement, andJupiter’s aunt Mathilda came through the gate. She saw the man on the bench and thegirl bending over him. She saw Jupe kneeling in front of him.
“Jupiter, what is it?” said Aunt Mathilda. “Is something wrong? Shall I callthe paramedics?”
“Yes,” said Jupe. “You … you call them. But I don’t think it will do any good. I thinkhe’s dead!”
Afterwards Jupe was to remember a confusion of lights and sirens and men hurryingin the fog. The blonde girl wept in Aunt Mathilda’s arms. People clustered at the gate of thesalvage yard, and there was a terrible hush when the stretcher was put in the ambulance.Then there were more sirens, and Jupe and Aunt Mathilda were driving to the hospital
with the blonde girl between them in the car.
Jupiter felt that he moved through a dream, grey and unreal. But the hospital was grimreality. There was a corridor where people hurried about. There was a waiting roomstale with cigarette smoke. Jupe, Aunt Mathilda, and the blonde girl sat and leafedthrough old magazines.
After a long, long while a doctor came.
“I’m sorry,” said the doctor to the girl. “We couldn’t do anything. It’s … sometimesit’s best that way. You aren’t a relative, are you?”
She shook her head.
“There will be an autopsy,” he said. “I’m sorry. It’s usual in cases where someone dieswithout a doctor. It was probably a cerebral accident — a ruptured blood vessel in the head.The autopsy will confirm it. Do you know how we can get in touch with his family?”
She shook her head again. “No. I’ll have to call the foundation.”
She began to sob, and a nurse came and led her away. Jupiter and Aunt Mathilda waited. After along while the girl came back. She had made a telephone call from the nursing director’soffice. “They’ll come from the foundation,” she told Jupiter and Aunt Mathilda.
Jupiter wondered what the foundation might be, but he didn’t ask. Aunt Mathilda announced thatthey must all have a good strong cup of tea. She took the girl by the arm and propelled herout of the waiting room and down a corridor to the hospital coffee shop.
For a while they sat without talking and drank their tea, but finally the girl spoke.
“He was very nice,” she said. She went on in a low voice, staring down at herrough hands with their jagged, bitten nails. The dead man was Dr. Karl Birkensteen, a famousgeneticist. He had been working at the Spicer Foundation, studying various animalsfor the effects his experiments had on their intelligence — and that of theiroffspring. The girl worked there, too, helping to care for the animals.
“I’ve heard of the Spicer Foundation,” said Jupe. “It’s down the coast, isn’tit?
Near San Diego?”
She nodded. “It’s in a little town in the hills there, on the road that goesover to the desert.”
“The town is called Citrus Grove,” said Jupe.
For the first time the girl smiled. “Yes. That’s nice. I mean, not many people know aboutCitrus Grove. Even if they’ve heard of the foundation, they don’t know the nameof the town.”
“Jupiter reads a great deal,” said Aunt Mathilda, “and he remembers most of what he reads.However, I don’t know about the town, or the foundation either. What is it?”
“It’s an institution that fosters independent scientific research,” said Jupiter.
Suddenly he sounded like a college professor discoursing on some little-knownsubject. It was a way he had when he explained subjects in which he was well versed.
Aunt Mathilda was accustomed to it, and she did not seem to notice, but the blonde girl staredat him curiously.
“Abraham Spicer was a manufacturer of plastics,” said Jupe. “His company producedsuch items as dish drainers and food containers. He made millions in his lifetime.However, he never achieved his real ambition, which was to be a physicist.
He therefore instructed that when he died, his money was to go into a trust fund. The incomefrom the fund was to support a foundation where scientists could do original, and perhapsrevolutionary, research in their special fields.”
“Do you always talk like that?” asked the girl.
Aunt Mathilda smiled. “Too frequently he does. It may have something to do with all thatreading.”
“Oh,” said the girl. “Okay. I mean, that’s nice, I guess. I didn’t tell you my name, didI? It’s Hess. Eleanor Hess. Not that it matters.”
“Of course it matters,” said Aunt Mathilda.
“Well, what I mean is, it’s not as if I were really anybody. I’m not famousor anything.”
“Which is not to say that you’re nobody,” said Aunt Mathilda firmly. “I’m pleased to meetyou, Eleanor Hess. I am Mrs. Titus Jones, and this is my nephew, Jupiter Jones.”
Eleanor Hess smiled. Then she looked away quickly, as if she were afraid ofrevealing too much of herself.
“Tell us more about your work at this Spicer Foundation,” said Aunt Mathilda.
“You said you take care of animals. What kind of animals?”
“They’re experimental animals,” said Eleanor. “White rats and chimpanzees and a horse.”
“A horse?” echoed Aunt Mathilda. “They keep a horse in a laboratory?”
“Oh, no. Blaze lives in the stable. But she’s an experimental animal just the same.
Dr. Birkensteen used isotopes or something on her mother. Her dam is what you’d
say, I guess. Anyway, that did something to her chromosomes. I don’t understand it, but she’sreally smart for a horse. She does arithmetic.” Aunt Mathilda and Jupe both stared. “Oh,nothing complicated,” said Eleanor hastily. “If you put two apples in front of her,and then three apples, she knows it’s five apples. She stamps five times. I
… I suppose that isn’t really so — great, but horses don’t come awfully smart. Their headsare the wrong shape. Dr. Birkensteen’s chimps are the clever ones. They talk in sign language.They can say some complicated things.”
“I see,” said Aunt Mathilda. “And what did Dr. Birkensteen plan to do with these animals,once he had them properly educated?”
“I don’t think he was going to do anything with them,” she said softly. “Not really.
He didn’t care about smart horses and talking chimps. He wanted to help people be better. Youhave to start with animals, don’t you? It wouldn’t be right to start with a human baby, wouldit?”
Aunt Mathilda shuddered. Eleanor looked away, retreating into a cocoon of shyness.“You really don’t have to stay with me,” she said. “You’ve been great, butI’m okay now. Dr. Terreano and Mrs. Collinwood will be here soon, and they’ll talk to thedoctor and … and …”
She bowed her head and the tears started again.
“There, now,” said Aunt Mathilda quietly. “Of course we’ll stay.”
And stay they did until a tall, bony, grey-haired man came into the coffee shop.
Eleanor introduced him as Dr. Terreano. He had with him a plump, sixtyish woman who woreenormous false eyelashes and a curly, flaming red wig. She was Mrs.
Collinwood, and she took Eleanor out to the car while Dr. Terreano went to find the doctor whohad attended to Dr. Birkensteen.
Aunt Mathilda shook her head when she and Jupe were alone.
“Strange people!” she said. “Imagine doing things to an animal so that its offspring will bechanged. That Terreano person who came in just now — what do you suppose he does?”
“Some sort of research, if he’s at the Spicer Foundation,” said Jupe.
Aunt Mathilda frowned. “Strange people,” she said again. “And that foundation
— I would not like to go there. Once those scientists start poking and pryingand changing things around, there’s no telling where they’ll stop. It’s not natural!Terrible things could happen!”
AUNT MATHILDA TOLD Uncle Titus that night about the scientist who had come through the fogand died in their salvage yard. She said very little about the Spicer Foundation,however, and when Jupiter mentioned the place, she quickly changed the subject. The idea ofgenetic experiments plainly upset and frightened her. But she did not have a chance to forgetthe Spicer Foundation entirely, for as the cool, grey days of spring passed, thatinstitution for scientific research was in the news again and again.
First there were the reports on Dr. Birkensteen’s death. As the physician at thehospital had suspected, Birkensteen had suffered a stroke. There were brief accounts of hiswork in genetics, and the reports concluded with the information that the body was to beshipped to the East for burial.
Scarcely a week later the Spicer Foundation was involved in an astounding discovery,and newspaper people swarmed into the little town of Citrus Grove to cover thestory. An archaeologist named James Brandon, a scientist in residence at the foundation, haddiscovered the bones of a prehistoric creature in a cave on the outskirts of thetown.
“What a great mystery!” exclaimed Jupe. It was an afternoon in May, and Jupe and his friendswere in the old mobile home trailer that was Headquarters for the detective firm they hadstarted some time before. Jupe had the newspaper spread out on the desk. BobAndrews was reorganizing the files while Pete Crenshaw was cleaning the equipment inthe tiny crime lab the boys had set up.
Pete looked around. “What’s a mystery?” he asked.