It would have been an uneventful ride home from the Jones Salvage Yard if the little girl hadn't been crying.
Bob Andrews saw the small girl--maybe about six years old--furiously wiping tears from her eyes with balled fists, while further down three young boys crouched down on the lawn by a neatly trimmed hedge, playing a game of some sort. Bob guessed that the boys would not let the smaller girl play with them and he felt sorry for her. He hopped off his bicycle and walked over to see if there was anything he could do to make her feel better.
"Hi, what's your name?" he asked.
The girl looked up in surprise. "Ka--Katie," she whispered.
"I'm glad to meet you, Katie. My name is Bob." He sat down beside her and asked softly, "What's wrong?"
Katie pointed at the three boys, choking out between sobs, "They're playin' detectives, an'...an' they said I can't play ca--'cause there's not s'posed to be any girls allowed. Mom said they had to let me play, and they won't!"
She started crying again. Bob took another look at the boys, still huddled together on the ground playing their exclusive game, and stood up. "What if I ask them if they'll let you play?" he asked. "Maybe I can talk them into letting you join their game."
The girl dried her eyes and tried to smile at him. "Okay!"
Bob walked with the girl to where one of the boys now had stretched himself out on the grass. Bob could now see that this boy--the tallest of the three--had an old magnifying glass with the lens missing, and he was pretending to examine a twig through it.
"I found something!" he said with excitement.
The other boys looked unimpressed. "Aw, that's just a broken stick!" one said in disgust.
"No, it's not! It's an important clue!" the first boy insisted. "I'm the leader and I say it's a clue so it's a clue!"
"Excuse me," Bob interrupted, with the little girl gripping his hand. Startled, the three younger boys looked up. "Katie told me you won't let her play," Bob said. "Why not?"
"Because," the boy who had claimed to be the leader answered, "there's only supposed to be three, and besides, they wouldn't let little sisters in!"
"Who wouldn't?" Bob asked, wondering if he already knew the answer.
The boy stood up taller and proclaimed proudly, "The Three Instigators, of course!"
Katie tugged on Bob's hand. "See, I told you they wouldn't let me! I'm telling Mom!"
While the four children glared at one another, Bob absorbed what the young boy had declared so proudly. The boys were playing Three Investigators? They were pretending to be Bob and his two friends, Jupiter Jones and Pete Crenshaw?
Jupiter, the founder of their detective firm, had always believed highly in publicity for the Three Investigators, but Bob doubted even Jupe would have expected that they'd have young children imitating them. He wanted to smile, but the younger boys and the girl were all so serious that he resisted the urge.
"The Three Instigators?" Bob asked slowly. "Do you mean The Three Investigators?"
The leader of the boys shrugged. "Mom says we're more like three instigators," he said in a matter-of-fact tone that would have made Jupiter Jones proud. He added, "But that means that Katie can't play 'cause that'd make four, and there isn't any girls!"
"Okay, that's true," Bob conceded. The boy looked triumphantly at his sister, so Bob added quickly, "But that doesn't mean that The Three Investigators wouldn't have a girl help them out if they could use her help."
Saying that, he was reminded of Liz Logan, a girl he had met when he and the other investigators had worked on the Mystery of the Fiery Eye. She had been excited to be involved in that case and had asked if they ever needed a girl operative in the Three Investigators. Bob hoped that someday they might be able to call on her for help. He, at least, had no problem with a girl helping out in an investigation, and he didn't like to think of her waiting eagerly for a call from the Three Investigators that might never come.
But now was not the time to think of that so he pushed those thoughts aside, determining to bring up that particular matter at Headquarters someday soon. Thinking of her had given him an idea, though. "Let's see," he said thoughtfully. Katie could play a client that you're working with on a case...or she could even be the person who calls on the Ghost-to Ghost hook-up with an important clue! But you don't have to let her out, alright?"
The leader of the three boys glanced at his two friends, who didn't give him any objections.
"Well...okay," he answered reluctantly.
One of the other boys looked up at Bob and said, "You know a lot about the real Three Investigators, right? Do you want to play, too?"
Bob shook his head, answering with a small smile, "I'm sorry. I have to go home."
"At least look at our card!" the third boy said eagerly, dragging from his pockets a piece of tablet paper with the words "The Three Instigators" printed in a childish scrawl.
"Wow, that's really great," Bob said, taking the paper and looking it over. "Do you mind if I keep this?"
The boys glanced at each other reluctantly. It was the only one they had made and they had hoped to show it to other people as well. Bob saw their reluctance and suggested, "What if I trade you my card for it?" taking out his wallet and pulling out the card of the Three Investigators. He handed one over to the leader of the little group. "Now I'll know who you are if I ever need your help," Bob said as the children stared wide-eyed at his card.
As he pedaled home, he heard the children yelling excitedly after him, "You're one of them! You're a Three Investigator!" But Bob himself spent the rest of the bike ride home doing a lot of thinking.
When he reached his house he took the children's scribbled piece of paper and put it away, intending to take it to Headquarters in the morning and place it in the Three Investigators' files as a reminder that it wasn't always the bad guys that were watching what he and his friends did. If imitation were the highest form of flattery, then he, Jupiter and Pete had been paid a very high compliment. Jupiter would certainly enjoy that. As for Bob, he felt good knowing that those children admired the Three Investigators enough to want to copy them, but that also made him aware of the fact that impressionable young children were watching what they did and how they acted. It was a responsibility that he, for one, was not going to take lightly.