Authors: Franklin W. Dixon
Hardy Boys Casefiles - 15
Franklin W. Dixon
"YOU'RE WRONG — DEAD wrong," Callie Shaw snapped at Frank Hardy as they crossed the Bayport Mall parking lot after school. They were heading toward Mr. Pizza. "I happen to think Greg Rawley is a nice guy. That's no reason for you to get jealous."
"Jealous?" Frank answered indignantly, starting to walk in front of a moving car and being snatched back just in time by Callie. "All I'm saying is we really don't know much about Greg—or his brother Mike, for that matter. They seem okay, but everybody knows they spent a year on their own and nobody knows what they did then. That's all I meant."
He held the door of the pizza parlor open for Callie. She suppressed a smile as she brushed her long blond mane back and breezed coolly past him.
"Come on, Frank," she said as they sat at a corner table. "You look like somebody just rained on your parade. When they showed up in school this year, you said that the only thing wrong with them was they were too straight. And now, just because I happen to admit that I think Greg's nice, not to mention cute, you decide he's a so-called suspicious character."
Frank narrowed his dark eyes and opened his mouth as if to argue further, but decided he couldn't. Callie was being logical, and logic was one thing that Frank Hardy never argued with. "I'll get the pizza," he said.
"I have to admit," Frank continued when he returned to the table with sodas and a medium pie loaded with pepperoni and mushrooms — Callie's favorite, "I do tend to see suspicious characters everywhere. It kind of comes with the territory."
Callie, who now and then helped the Hardy brothers out with their detective work, nodded in agreement. "You show definite signs of burnout," she said. "Good thing you and Joe don't have any cases right now."
"Yeah, it's good to have time off," said Frank. "I'm going to work out some new programs for my computer. Phil Cohen's going to help. He's the only guy I know who's a bigger hacker than I am."
"What about Joe?" Callie asked.
"He doesn't mind taking a break from work either. He figures this is going to be his year as Bayport's star running back, and he's training extra hard."
"Speak of the devil, here he comes now," Callie said. Frank followed her gaze to see his younger brother enter the restaurant. With Joe was his teammate and pal, Biff Hooper. Although Joe was six feet tall and solidly built, he seemed almost fragile next to Biff, a fullback who looked like a human bulldozer and played like one, too.
"How did practice go?" Frank asked when they joined Callie and him at the table.
"Great," said Biff. "This is going to be a championship year." He grinned at Joe. "Especially with the big surprise we got today. Right, Joe?"
"Yeah, a great big surprise," said Joe, brushing a hand through his short blond hair. He didn't sound happy.
"What happened?" asked Callie.
"What happened was that Mike Rawley tried out for the team," said Biff. "And he's good. Really good. Right, Joe?"
"He's okay," said Joe grudgingly, helping himself to a slice of the pizza. "Kind of flashy, but, yeah, he's okay. I mean, it's hard to know how he'd stand up to any punishment, but on the surface he's not bad."
"What position's he trying out for?" asked Callie, her eyes lighting up. "Wait. Don't tell me. Let me guess. It wouldn't be running back, would it? He wouldn't be competition for you, would he, Joe?"
Callie sat back and grinned while Joe squirmed. Callie liked Joe, of course, but she didn't mind needling him once in a while. As far as she was concerned, it kept his cockiness from getting out of control.
"Competition? For me? No way," Joe said, grinning. "Maybe the coach can use him to give me a rest after one of my touchdown runs."
"You might get to have a rest and sit out the whole game if Mike keeps showing the speed he showed today," said Biff, winking at Callie.
"I'm not so sure about that," said Joe defensively. "I watched him pretty closely, and I noticed he was really puffing toward the end of the session."
"Honestly, you're even worse than Frank," said Callie. "Why won't you two give the Rawley brothers a chance?"
"Callie's right, Joe," Frank chimed in. "We have to be fair to them. I mean, they just moved to Bayport and started a new school, and they've handled it really well. They've been friendly but not too pushy, and it only took them a couple of weeks to start being part of the crowd. You have to agree, basically they're okay."
Joe nodded. "Yeah, you're right." Then he grinned. "But I'm not going to roll over and play dead for Mike. No way is he beating me out."
Biff glanced at his watch. "Let's split another pizza before I go home and hit the books. If I blow my test, the coach'll bench me."
"Right," said Joe. A speculative look came into his eyes. "I wonder how Mike's doing in his classes."
"Ask him," Callie suggested. "Here he comes now—with Greg."
It was easy to spot Greg and Mike Rawley the moment they walked into the pizza parlor. Both of them had short flame-red hair. Other than their hair, they blended in well with the preppie crowd, even though their jeans were a little less faded and more sharply pressed than most, their shirts less wrinkled, their windbreakers better fitting, and their loafers less scuffed. Both of them were a little over six feet tall, practically the same height as Frank and Joe. Their ages were the same as the Hardys, too: Greg, eighteen, Mike a year younger.
Callie started to wave to get their attention, then saw she didn't have to. They had already spotted their table and were making a beeline for it.
Frank, perhaps a little guiltily, gave them an extra-warm greeting. "Hey, guys, come on and sit down. Plenty of room."
"Yeah, we can order a super-pizza special," Joe said. "I figure you can use a couple of slices, Mike. You really put it out on the field today."
But Greg and Mike didn't respond to the friendly welcome, nor to the big smile that Callie flashed them. Their faces were serious, almost grim. So were their voices.
Although Greg did say hello to everyone at the table, his attention was only on the Hardys. "Frank, Joe, we were hoping to find you here. We called your house and your aunt Gertrude said you weren't home yet," said Mike. "So we figured we'd check here."
"Good thinking," said Frank, flicking his dark brown hair back in place. "Mr. Pizza is our home away from home."
"What did you want to see us about?" asked Joe.
Greg cleared his throat and glanced at the others at the table. "It's, uh, kind of private." "I know when I'm not wanted," said Callie. "It's not that, Callie," Greg said hastily. Frank had to suppress a twinge of anger as Greg looked deep into Callie's eyes. Frank noticed that she didn't look away. "It's just that, well, you know ..." Greg said to her, letting his voice trail off apologetically.
"I was only teasing," Callie said. "I have to be going anyway."
"I'll head out with you," Biff said.
"Look, no hard feelings," Mike said quickly.
"No problem," Biff said good-naturedly. "People are always coming to Frank and Joe with their troubles. I'll just say good luck and get out of here."
After Callie and Biff left, Greg and Mike took their places. Both sat on the edge of their seats.
"I hope you're not too busy to help us," Greg said.
"We don't want to impose," said Mike.
"Don't worry. Whatever it is, we'll do everything we can to help," said Frank in a relaxed voice, trying to put them at ease.
Joe said with a grin, "Sure. You can count on us. No trouble too big or too small."
But his grin faded when he heard Greg say, "This trouble is big."
"Come on, Greg," said Joe. "You make it sound like a matter of life or death."
"It is a matter of life or death," Greg said grimly.
GREG AND MIKE Rawley had arrived in Bayport a week before school started. Except that their last name hadn't been Rawley then. It was Jones, the same name their mother had before she married Walter P. Rawley. But they had taken the last name of their stepfather as soon as they moved into his house with their mother, now Linda Rawley. As soon as Greg and Mike settled in, Walter Rawley legally changed their last name to his.
Walter had been happy to do it. He and his first wife had had no children. After her death in a car accident, he had lived alone for three years. Then he had met the boys' mother on a business trip to California and brought her to Bayport as his bride.
Greg and Mike hadn't come to Bayport with the Rawleys. In fact, they hadn't even known their mother remarried.
As Greg once explained it to Frank, Joe, and Callie, sitting outside in the warm September sun during a school lunch break, "My dad died in an airplane crash a year and a half ago. That was a really bad time—our family was totally ripped apart. My mom took it hard and she pretty much lost interest in everything. As for Mike and me, all we wanted to do was get away from our house and all the memories of how happy our lives had been. So we stuffed what we could in our backpacks, laced up our hiking boots, and started thumbing around the country. We used to drop our mom postcards every now and then, but for almost a year, we were off on our own."
"We saw a lot of America," Mike had said. "Parts of Canada and Mexico too. In fact, we were thinking of getting jobs on a boat going to Europe and then to the Middle East. But when we called home to tell Mom about it, we got her Bayport phone number. She told us she had married again. And you know, we suddenly decided we didn't want to see any more of the world. What we wanted to see was Mom again, stay at home, and get our lives back on track."
"Mr. Rawley's been great to us, he's given us a lot of help," Greg had said warmly. "He really went to bat for us with the school to let us make up courses rather than being dropped back a grade."
"And when he gave us his name, it was like we were a real family again," Mike had said. "He didn't have to do that. We weren't part of the deal when he married Mom. As far as she was concerned, we were gone for good. That's what she told Mr. Raw — I mean, Dad, he wants us to call him that—when they first got to know each other."
"So it must have been kind of a surprise to him when you suddenly showed up," Frank said.
"It had to be," Greg agreed. "But he didn't let it bother him. He accepted us from the day we walked in the door."
"It sure was a relief to us," Mike had said. "Not to mention how good it made Mom feel."
Greg nodded. "Practically the first thing she told us, after she saw how great Mr. Raw — I mean, Dad—was being about it, was that the one big worry she had was gone. Now she was free to be perfectly happy."
That was the story Greg and Mike had told the Hardys a little more than a week before. But now, sitting at the table with Frank and Joe at Mr. Pizza, their story was different.
"Mom is scared," Greg said, his voice wire-tight, his knuckles showing white as his hands clenched on the tabletop. "She's scared to death," Mike echoed.
"Of what?" asked Frank.
"We're not sure," said Greg.
"But we have an idea," said Mike. He stopped, clearly reluctant to go further.
"What do you know?" asked Frank.
"Who's your mom afraid of?" asked Joe.
Greg opened his mouth, then closed it. He opened it again, and managed to get one word out: "Dad."
"Dad?" repeated Frank, shaking his head in shock.
"You mean, your real dad, don't you?" said Joe, trying to make sense of their statement. "You don't mean Mr. Rawley. You can't mean him."
"Our real dad is dead," said Greg. "Mom isn't afraid of ghosts."
"But Mr. Rawley?" Frank asked, still incredulous.
"I know it sounds crazy," said Greg. "In fact, I hope it is crazy. Except that would make Mom crazy, and I don't want that either."
"Maybe you should start from the beginning and tell us what you're talking about," said Frank.
"And it had better be good, if you expect us to believe you," Joe added.
Joe meant what he said, and he was talking for Frank as well. Walter Rawley was one of the wealthiest men in Bayport, the founder, president, and chief stockholder of Laser, Inc., an electronics company that had become a spectacular success because of its bold research and advance technology. Walter Rawley didn't just contribute money to local charities, he gave his time too.
But the key fact was that Walter Rawley was an old friend of their father, Fenton Hardy, and Joe and Frank had known him since they were little kids. As far as Joe and Frank were concerned, Walter Rawley was a good guy. And it would take a lot to make them think of him any other way.
"A couple of days ago, Mom started acting nervous. I know that that doesn't sound like much, but you had to see the way she looked to understand," Mike said. "It was like she was terrified every time Dad walked into the room. She tried to hide it, but couldn't."
Greg took over, glancing worriedly at his brother. "I don't know if Dad noticed, but Greg and I did because — well, she's our mom and we know her so well."