Authors: Franklin W. Dixon
A shot rang out, driving the’ figure on the caboose platform backward. It swayed on the opposite side for a second and then plunged off the train.
Joe scrambled to the other side of the boxcar and wrenched the door open. He saw the moon reflected in the water below. Next he saw a cloth covered lump bob twice in the river, then sink beneath the swirling waters. Frank was gone.
“HE WAS THE only one who loved me,” Holly said through her tears.
Joe looked up wearily and shook himself awake. He sat crouched over his knees against the wall of the boxcar; he had been sitting that way for hours while Holly cried herself to sleep on and off.
“I don’t want to talk about Frank anymore,” he said. A lump about the size of a fist rose in his throat and choked him. He had always known that danger might one day take one of them. But not yet, he thought. It shouldn’t have happened yet.
Holly was so grief-stricken, though, that she couldn’t see how upset Joe was. “I know he loved me,” she repeated. “If he didn’t love me, he wouldn’t have gone into the commune after me. Poor Frank.”
“He didn’t love you!” Joe shouted in exasperation. Holly sat up stiffly and stared at him, pain and doubt in her eyes, and Joe softened. She’s not to blame. There’s no reason to yell at her.
“That’s just the way he was,” he said gently. “He knew you were in trouble and he came to help.”
She smiled. “You’re a lot like him. Not in the way you walk or dress, of course. He was quieter than you are, and a lot less physical. But both of you believe in the same things, don’t you?”
“Yes, I guess we do,” Joe said. “Or did. Look, I’d rather not talk about Frank anymore. Not until I have to explain to Mom and Dad.” “So what do you want to talk about?”
“I’d like to sleep,” Joe replied, “but if you want to talk, then let’s talk about you.” …… “Me?” Holly said in surprise. “I’m … there’s nothing to talk about.”
She’s hiding something, Joe realized suddenly. It was in the way her voice trembled, the way she wrapped her arms tightly around herself. “Let’s talk about the Rajah, then,” he said, playing a hunch.
“What about him?” Holly asked coldly, and he knew he was on the right track. She didn’t want to talk about the Rajah.
He had to coax the information out of her. How would Frank have handled this? He wondered. He smiled and bent his head so she would not see. When he raised his head again, his expression was bland, as if he weren’t really interested in their conversation.
“What made you run to the Rajah?” he asked.
Her relief at his question was noticeable, but there was still a darkness in her eyes and a chill in her voice that bothered Joe. “My father,” she said slowly. “I had to get away from my father.”
“Why?” Joe asked. “He seems like a nice enough guy to me. Did he hit you?”
“No. He never laid a hand on me. He never even touched me. That was the problem.”
“I don’t understand.”
Holly’s eyes flashed angrily. “You’ve got a family! You hug, don’t you? You do things together, like a family should.” “Sure.”
“We didn’t. My father and I, I mean. Not since Mom died. He didn’t love me much before that, but afterward, he never had time for me. I didn’t even see him at meals.
“It was like he didn’t want me there. Like he wanted me to vanish, to be a non-person. There’s nothing worse you can do to somebody, Joe. Nothing!
“Nothing,” she repeated softly, then she started to cry again. He stood and pulled her to him, hugging her. She clung to him like a child, and after a few minutes, her sobs quieted.
“That explains why you left home,” he said gently. “But how did you, get hooked up with the cult?”
She pulled away from him, suspicious again. “You’re working for my father, aren’t you? He’s the one who sent you.”
“No. He sent our dad. You know him. Fenton Hardy, the detective. He couldn’t do anything for you, so we decided to give it a shot.” “So you are working for my father.”
Joe shook his head. “He doesn’t know what we were doing. Neither does our father. We did it for you, not them. So why don’t you trust me?”
“Why should I?” She turned away, arms wrapped around herself. “I trusted Frank. But he’s gone now. Why did he have to go?”
“Blame it on the Rajah!” Joe shouted. “He sent his goons after us.” Joe calmed himself down. “Look, I’ll tell you everything I know. When I was in the Rajah’s‘ home, I heard him talking about big plans. You were at the center of them.” Holly gasped. “Me? What do you mean? How could I-?” “I don’t know,” Joe replied. “That’s why you’ve got to talk.” She stared at him for along time. At last she said, All right.
“It was horrible,” she began. “I had to leave home. I couldn’t stay there anymore. But I had nowhere to go. My mother had left me some money, so I took it with me. I thought I could live off it for a long time, if I was careful.
“I went to New York. My father probably didn’t even notice. By the end of my first day, I had found a cheap hotel to live in. They made you pay by the day, which would make my money run out quicker, but I was going to get a job. There are a lot of acting jobs in New York. I think I’d make a good actress, don’t you?
“I would have, too,” Holly continued without waiting for Joe to answer. “Every day for a week, I went out and looked for a job. But there were lots of other girls looking, too. I never got to prove myself. It was awful. And I always had this feeling I was being watched, like someone was waiting to get me. “The first time I noticed any of the Rajah’s people, they were dancing outside my hotel. I guess that was three or four days after I got there. They seemed so happy and … and loving. And loved. It made me think of everything I wanted and never had. They were a family.
“One day I came back to my room and found I’d been robbed. I’d hidden my money, but it was gone. All of it. So I complained to the manager, and she accused me of trying to get out of paying the rent. She took all my stuff and threw me out. On the street! Where was I supposed to go? All I could do was cry and cry and cry.
“Then he was there.
“He brushed away my tears and called me little sister and told me there was always a place for me among his children. He said that with him, I would be free and safe.
“And I knew I was home.
“I spent the night in the Rajah’s center in Manhattan. The next morning, a Rolls-Royce arrived-for me. It was the Rajah’s, too. He was there to escort me personally to the commune. The others said that marked me as a special follower, and I was. I knew I was.
“For the first time in my life, I felt special and loved. The Rajah treated me like a princess. To this day, I don’t know why he did it. But I know I’ll always love him.”
“Joe?” Holly whispered, but he was asleep. His head bobbed as the train rumbled along, but his eyes didn’t open. With her soft, droning voice, she had stopped him when all the Rajah’s agents couldn’t.
Holly smiled and peered out the door of the boxcar. The train slowed as it neared a railroad yard. They weren’t in Bayport, she knew, but they were close enough. It was another of the look-alike, semi-industrial, semi rural towns that dotted the banks of the Hudson River. The sweet country smell of the upstate air had been replaced by the odor of sulfur and exhaust.
Holly had hoped she would never see a city again, but there she was.
Joe mumbled, startling her. She watched him carefully to make sure he was still asleep. He murmured something else and rolled onto his side.
Holly studied the empty car, as she had studied it every minute of the long trip. There was nothing in it but Joe and her. She chewed on her lip.
There’s got to be something here I can use, she thought.
Her eyes lit up, and she moved quickly to one of the doors. It slid shut easily, and much more quietly than she expected. On the door was a metal bar, a support used to keep the door closed.
She grabbed the bar and twisted it. It refused to come loose. Joe rolled onto his stomach.
The train was pulling to a stop. Holly knew the jolt of that final stop would jar Joe awake. She had to work fast.
But the metal bar wouldn’t cooperate. Holly braced herself against the door and twisted again.
The bar moved slightly. It was old, and the bolts holding it to the door were loose.
She closed her eyes, gritted her teeth, and wedged her hip between the door and the bar. Holding the bar in place with her hands, she threw her weight against the bar. The wood of the door cracked, then splintered.
Joe grumbled at the noise and shook his head, but his eyes stayed closed.
At that moment, the bar broke off in Holly’s hands. Catching her breath, she stood over Joe and with both hands raised the bar high over her head. “Goodbye, Joe,” she said. With all her might, she swung the bar down.
SOMETHING WRAPPED AROUND Holly’s ankle and shoved it forward. As she fell back, she tried to scream, but a rough hand clapped over her mouth. The stench of rot filled her nostrils, making her sick. Her arms flapped wildly as she fell, and the iron bar flew from her hand and clattered across the boxcar floor. Joe shot up. The train lurched to a halt.
Cops, he thought as he saw the two men in the doorway. Train yards hired private guards to keep people off the freight trains. But the men he saw were ragged and unshaven. They looked as if they hadn’t slept indoors or eaten in days. Bums, he realized. One of them dragged Holly from the car as the other came inside and picked up the iron bar. “Money,” he said to Joe, and patted the bar against his palm. The bum spoke in a flat, dull voice. His eyes were dull, too, glazed over by hunger and hate. There was no reason or hope left in him. Joe didn’t move or speak.
“Money!” the bum repeated. He smashed the bar to the floor. Bits of wood flew up from the blow. Joe held his ground.
With a shout, the bum lunged at Joe and swung the iron bar. Joe rolled aside as the bar smashed the floor again. Balancing on his hands, Joe swung his feet around and kicked at the back of the bum’s knees. The bum toppled forward.
He caught himself on the iron bar. Without thinking, he flung the bar at Joe, dancing on one foot for a moment, trying to regain his balance. Then his feet spun out from under him, and he flopped like a rag doll onto the floor. A tiny groan sputtered from his lips.
Joe kicked the iron bar out of the car and leaped after it.
Half a car away, Holly wrestled with the other bum, trying to drive him away. It was no use. The bum was much stronger than she was. She dug her fingernails into-his cheeks, but the expression in the bum’s eyes didn’t change. Like the guy in the boxcar, he was beyond pain.
Joe grabbed his shoulder, spun him around, and landed his fist as hard as he could in the bum’s belly. The bum doubled over and clutched his stomach. Something woke in his dead eyes, and he growled from his gut.
The bum straightened up as best as he could and threw a punch at Joe. Joe easily sidestepped it and brought both fists down onto the bum’s back. The bum sat down suddenly, whining and crying. Joe watched him carefully for a long moment, but the fight had gone out of the bum. He probably doesn’t even remember it, Joe realized, and he turned his attention to Holly.
She was kneeling on the ground, shivering with horror. Joe put his hands on her shoulders to help her up, but she wriggled out of his grasp.
“I’m all right,” Holly said. “Thanks for helping.”
“Those bums won’t bother us again,” Joe replied. He glanced around the train yard. “There doesn’t seem to be anyone else here. Any idea where we are?” She shrugged. “Come on, then,” Joe continued, and walked alongside the train.
A head bobbed through the space between two cars. Joe flattened himself against the side of the train, signaling to Holly to do the same. The footsteps on the other side of the train passed by and faded into the distance.
“Let’s get out of here,” Joe said. He grabbed Holly’s hand and pulled her into a run, they sprinted as fast as they could along the row of boxcars. A whistle pierced the air, and rapid footsteps began moving toward them. Joe glanced over his shoulder. No one was there, but he could hear more footsteps moving quickly in their direction. They’re running alongside the other trains, Joe thought. That’s why I can’t see them.
He concentrated, sorting out the footsteps. At least six men were after them. From the sound of it, there are four on our left side and two on our right. He might be able to take the two men by himself, but not before the others caught up. There was nowhere to go but forward.
Ahead, he could see the open field beyond the train yard. All they had to do was reach it and climb over the barbed-wire fence surrounding the yard and they were safe. Only a few more steps, he told himself. Just a few more steps.
A bald man with a baseball bat stepped out from behind the caboose and blocked their path.
“We’ve been waiting for you, boy,” he said with a toothless grin. He passed the bat back and forth from hand to hand. “A guy upstate alerted the yard crews all up and down the river that you were on this train, and he’s offering a lot of money to get you back.”
“Sheriff Keller,” Holly gasped. “He’s doing this for the Rajah.” She slowed to a fast walk. “We can’t make it.”
“Keep running,” Joe ordered. He lowered his head and butted into the man before he could swing the bat. Then he straightened up suddenly, flipping the man over his shoulder.
Holly froze in her tracks. A group of burly men rounded the next train and whooped at her. She whirled around. “Joe!”
“This way!” he shouted, and grabbed her hand again. They dashed back the way they’d come, with the herd of howling men in hot pursuit.
The four men Joe had heard moments earlier spilled through the gaps between the boxcars. Joe veered in the other direction, shoving Holly between two boxcars. The other two men who had been following them would be on the other side, he knew, but he hoped he could handle both of them. If nothing else, he could buy Holly time to escape.
He clenched his fists. Then he hurled himself into the open, hoping to catch the men by surprise. The surprise was on him.
The two men lay on the ground, unconscious.