Authors: Franklin W. Dixon
Hardy Boys Casefiles - 33
Franklin W. Dixon
"Isn't she beautiful?" Seventeen-year-old Joe Hardy said, slipping his mirrored aviator sunglasses on top of his head.
His older brother, Frank, turned to see which girl had grabbed Joe's attention. But of course he realized in the next second that Joe meant the bright yellow-and-red machine gleaming in the sun before them.
The reflected light from its sleek body glinted in their eyes, and Joe absently pulled his sunglasses down over his blue eyes as he approached the car.
The term car hardly described the automobile the boys were looking at—it was more like a fighter jet on wheels, with wings in the front and back, and air intakes like airplane engines attached to each side of the bullet-shaped body.
"It looks like it could take off and fly, doesn't it?" Joe turned to greet Scott Lavin, the speaker and owner-driver of the race car. Scott was a few inches shorter than Joe and several years older. His racing jumpsuit—and protective gear underneath it—padded out his wiry frame. His hair was light brown, cut short on the top, but long in the back. At twenty-four Scott was young for his profession, but the deep creases around his green eyes made him look older.
"It sure does." Joe grinned. They both knew the car was designed to do just the opposite it would hug the ground at high speeds and in tight turns.
"It seems so small for a race car," Joe added. "Look, the top of the roll bar doesn't even reach my waist."
"Well, it has to be built low to the ground," Scott noted, "and it is a tight fit in the cockpit. The whole thing's pretty compact. But the engine can crank over six hundred horsepower, and I've gotten her over two hundred miles per hour on the straightaways."
His teeth flashed in a wide grin. "Formula One Grand Prix race cars aren't very much like those stock cars that chase each other around in a circle."
"This baby's a whole different breed." Joe ran a hand along the side of the speed machine. He thought it was just about the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen.
it's been a long time coming," Scott reminded him. Three years earlier, when Joe was only fourteen, Scott had been organizing and tracing in amateur road rallies in Bayport. Now he had returned to his hometown with his own Formula One racing team.
» "We had some good times with that old Porsche, didn't we, Joe?" Scott went on. "You may have been too young to drive it, but you sure Weren't too young to take the engine apart and put it back together again."
"Not many people would have given me the chance at that age." Joe smiled at the memory. "But you accepted me without a second thought. My favorite part was when we'd road test it on the rally course that you mapped out."
"Ah, yes!" Scott chuckled. "The old Bayport Road Rally. I remember it well."
The business people of Bayport remembered the road rallies, too. Scott's careful planning and attention to detail had created a popular local event that had brought money into the city. The city council, always looking for ways to bring in more money, decided to expand on Scott Lavin's Idea. This year they had hired a slick racing promoter named Russell Arno to organize a Formula One Grand Prix race in Bayport.
"Well, I'm not too young to drive now," Joe said, bringing his mind back to the present. "And I sure would like a chance to give this baby a spin."
"It takes more than a driver's license to handle one of these." Scott looked with pride at the car he had built himself. "But maybe you'll get your chance."
While Joe talked cars with Scott, Frank scanned the crowd, shielding his brown eyes against the sun. "There sure are a lot of people here — mostly out-of-town reporters," he said.
"Maybe we should hire a promoter like this Arno character," Joe said, flashing his brother a smile.
Frank laughed. "Yeah, our last case, Blood Money, should have been good for a series of comic books. All those mobsters falling over one another, trying to grab that inheritance—and Dad caught in the middle!"
Their father, Fenton Hardy, was a private investigator and former police detective. His name wound up on a hit list when a dying gangster left a fortune to his enemies. Frank and Joe had been forced to risk their own lives to protect their father from greedy mobsters.
"You'd probably feel more at home investigating Russell Arno than making a deal with him," Scott said. "He's got some kind of deal going now with Angus McCoy. I don't like the guy, but he sure knows how to pull in the racing fans."
"Angus is the former world champion Grand Prix driver," Joe added for Frank's benefit.
"McCoy is a crowd pleaser. That's why all the reporters are here. The race is still three days away, but they all turned up for McCoy's official qualifying lap around the course." - Scott shrugged. "The time trials are important because the driver with the best time gets the best starting position. But the rest of us aren't 'not worthy' — not when the press can cover Angus McCoy's thrilling race against the clock."
"He was the best in his day," Joe said, catching the bitterness in Scott's words. "But he's past his prime now."
"He still may be the best in this crowd." Scott stared at the assorted drivers, reporters, photographers, and race officials who were gathered for McCoy's time trial. "Everybody thinks he'll have the best lap time."
Joe saw McCoy standing next to Arno, both men surrounded by reporters. Like Scott, the lines around the champion's eyes made it hard to judge his age, and his wavy red hair and fair skin made him look like a big kid. But Joe could tell by McCoy's piercing gray eyes that he was no innocent kid.
As if sensing Joe's gaze, McCoy turned his eyes toward Joe and stared. Joe could almost feel the driver's confidence. He pulled his eyes away and put a hand on Scott's shoulder. "He'll have to be pretty fast if he wants to beat your time, Scott. Your average speed was almost one seventy!"
"Ya," came a fourth voice, with a slight German accent. "He even beat me. But I expect to do better tomorrow."
Scott turned to greet the newcomer. "Reinhart! Good to see you. Joe and Frank Hardy, meet Reinhart Voss. Reinhart is the number-two driver for the McCoy racing team."
"How many cars does McCoy have?" Frank asked.
"We used to have three," Voss said. "But times have been hard, and now we have only two. Let's hope nothing happens to McCoy's car today—or else he will end up driving mine and I will have nothing."
"That's what happens when you're number two," Scott said, laughing. "I don't have that problem. Of course, I also don't have a second car either. So if something happens to my car, I'll be sitting in the grandstand with you!"
Joe looked back in the direction of McCoy and Arno. McCoy had worn his fireproof racing suit to the press conference and was now pulling on his crash helmet as he walked to his car. Completely covered in protective gear, anybody or anything could have been inside that outfit, Joe observed. Even with the helmet visor up, the driver's identity was a mystery. In fact, Joe thought that the fire retardant face mask—resembling a ski mask with two large oval holes for the eyes—made the guy look like an alien from an old sci-fi movie.
"Can we meet McCoy?" Joe suddenly asked Voss.
"Ya, sure. Come. I will take you to him."
But as the group of four moved toward the center of the crowd they were intercepted by Russell Arno. "Well, if it isn't Reinhart Voss and Scott Lavin, two of my favorite drivers. Having a good time?"
"We were just going to introduce my friends, frank and Joe Hardy, to Angus," Scott replied.
"The Hardy brothers? You boys have made quite a name for yourselves in Bayport."
Frank looked at Arno curiously. The promoter looked as if he were a middle-aged banker. His hair was thinning on top, and he was a little overweight—but his tailored suit was cut beautifully and made him look thinner.
"Where did you hear that?" Frank asked.
"When Scott asked me to put your names on the guest list for the press party, I made a few inquiries," Arno explained. "I make it a point to know something about all my guests. And I would be delighted to introduce you to Mr. McCoy, but as you can see, he's getting in his car now. Perhaps some other time?"
"That's okay," Joe said. "We'll just hang around until he finishes."
Arno flashed a toothy smile. "Say, I've got an idea! We're videotaping his entire lap from my helicopter. Why don't you come along? You can see the whole race course from the air and witness the historic event from the best seats in the house!"
Joe didn't care much for Arno's tone or manner. The slick way he had breezed into town and taken all the credit for Scott's work didn't sit well with Joe. Still, this was too good an opportunity to pass up. "Sounds great," came Joe's reply.
"How about you, Scott? Arno asked, smiling at the young driver.
"No thanks," Scott said, looking Arno straight in the eyes. "I've seen McCoy drive before, and I'm quite familiar with the layout of the course. You and your pals on the city council didn't bother to give me any credit, but those are my course maps you used as the blueprint for the Bayport Grand Prix."
"And I have no great love of flying," Voss said, breaking the awkward silence that followed Scott's quiet outburst. "I like to go fast—but I prefer to do it on the ground."
Joe felt a twinge of guilt as he and Frank moved away from Scott, toward a cargo helicopter that had been modified to hold a video crew and cameras. He almost felt as if he were deserting his friend. Arno hustled them on board and introduced them to a short man with a notepad. "I'd like you to meet T. B. Martin. He's writing McCoy's biography."
The writer wore thick, wire-rim glasses and a photographer's vest crammed with notebooks, pens, and even a small tape recorder. His dark hair and beard were trimmed so short that they bristled. "Actually, I'm just a ghost writer," Martin said. "McCoy will get the credit."
"Oh, so it's supposed to be an autobiography," Frank shouted as the large turbine engine started '- to wind up.
"Sure, it's an autobiography," Joe cut in, laughing as the lumbering machine lifted off the ground. "McCoy drives cars for a living, doesn't he?"
As the helicopter rose higher, Frank could see the whole city of Bayport spread out below, as well as Barmet Bay and the Atlantic Ocean beyond that.
Joe outlined the course for his brother. "It's kind of a sloppy U-shape, with a few squiggles thrown in. It starts at the Bayport Fairgrounds and then runs south through the middle of town and curves around the bay to the ocean.
"Down there," he shouted, pointing again, "it swings back behind the city to the west. Then it nins into the highway and heads up a long straight section due north. Up there, it turns east and runs to the cliffs on the coast north of town. Finally, it swings back along the bay again."
"This course reminds me of Monte Carlo," Martin shouted above the din of the engine and the rotor blades.
Joe focused out the window again and saw McCoy's race car, a tiny ant-mobile, crawling around the turn at the south end of the course. Now it was heading back inland. Because of the helicopter's height and speed, McCoy seemed to be barely moving, but Joe knew he must be topping 190 as he headed into the long straightaway that ran to the north before the course turned uphill to the northern cliffs at the ocean's edge.
"Yeah," Joe yelled back to Martin. "The only difference is the tunnel at Monte Carlo doesn't lead out into a blind hairpin turn!" He was talking about the tunnel cut through the cliff that ended just before the road made a tight westward turn away from the ocean to follow the curve of Bar-met Bay. Everyone in Bayport knew about the hazardous curve. It had been the scene of many accidents over the years — some of them fatal. "If you miss that turn, it's a long, rough ride down to the bottom."
The helicopter swung out over the ocean as McCoy disappeared into the tunnel. It seemed like an eternity before he came out the other end, although it couldn't have been more than a few seconds. The car came rocketing out of the tunnel, hugging the road surface in an impressive display of aerodynamic technology. But something was wrong.
"He's going too fast! He won't make it!" Frank shouted. Before anyone could respond, the car smashed through the guardrail on the hairpin turn.
For a second it looked as if the car could fly. But its forward momentum quickly gave way to the pull of gravity, and the car plummeted toward the cold, waiting waters of the Atlantic two hundred feet below.
The impact with the water barely seemed to slow it down. The car knifed cleanly through the surface—and sank without a trace.
The helicopter quickly swooped down to the spot where the race car had plunged into the ocean. Concentric waves rippled across the water, but there was no sign of McCoy or the car. The bullet-shaped vehicle had sliced straight to the bottom.
Frank Hardy looked over to see his brother fumbling at the laces on his shoes. "What are you doing?"
"I'm going in after him!" Joe unbuttoned his shirt as he lunged out of his seat. "He might still be alive, trapped down there!"