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Authors: Franklin W. Dixon

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BOOK: Line of Fire
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The Hardys got stiffly to their legs as Denny stepped back.

"Now I've got to figure out someplace to keep you two," Denny said. "Long enough so you can't stop me."

He pointed at a large vat that looked miraculously undamaged. "That should take care of it," he said. "Through this old inspection hatch."

Again, the Hardys had no choice. They stepped through the hatch. "I won't lock this," Denny said from outside. "But I'll brace something against the door. You'll get out soon enough. I'll just have a comfortable head start. Now step back. I don't want you trying anything stupid, like a rush for the door when my back is turned."

Joe stepped back, a scowl on his face. That was exactly what he'd had in mind.

Frank looked around their new prison. The metal walls were deeply discolored with scaly greenish stains. "I wonder what they used to keep inhere."

"Better not to know," Joe said. "But did you notice? There were no weeds growing anywhere near this thing."

"Denny!" Frank yelled through the doorway. "You still have time to give up this crazy idea!"

"No way!" Denny's voice floated back. "By the time you get out of here, Lucius Crowell will be a dead man."

He kicked the door shut, and then something clanged down to hold it in place.

The movement sent the vat walls vibrating, and some of the green scales disintegrated. They floated down in clouds of dust.

Joe was banging on the door as the greenish haze enveloped him. He began coughing and his eyes started to tear.

"What is this stuff?" he asked, wheezing.

Frank began to cough too. "I don't know," he said. "But it's a real killer!"

Chapter 14

Even though he didn't know for sure that Denny was gone, Joe ran to the entrance hatch. He pushed against it gently. It didn't budge. Joe braced himself and pushed harder. The hatch still didn't move.

Joe muttered something, then threw himself against the door. He bounced back, rubbing his shoulder. The door rattled, and the whole wall shook.

A new shower of scales came down, turning into a hazy cloud. It drifted around Joe, who immediately began coughing and choking. He staggered back, clutching at his throat, unable to catch his breath.

Tears streaming from his eyes, Joe retreated from the cloud. He was almost bent double, still coughing uncontrollably.

Frank knelt down, trying to support his brother, staring worriedly at Joe's red, twisted face. And still his coughing continued without any break.

A wisp of dust floated by, making Frank's eyes sting. He finally got Joe over to the far end of the vat, away from the green dust.

At last his coughing subsided, and Joe was able to suck some air into his aching lungs.

"Wha - what is that stuff?" Joe finally managed in a hoarse voice.

"I don't know," Frank answered. "But we have a big problem. Denny thought he was just slowing us up by putting us in here. But he's actually stuck us in a perfect trap. We've got to knock the door down to get out of here. And every time we hit it, we get another dose of that dust."

"We?" Joe said. "So far, I've been the one choking my head off."

"That's because you jumped in without thinking," Frank said. He pulled a handkerchief out of his back pocket and tied it around his face. "I hope you've got one of these things, and not a bunch of crumpled tissues."

Joe grinned as he pulled out a handkerchief of his own. "We look Like bandits getting ready to rob the stage in a western movie."

Frank's eyes twinkled over his mask. "Whatcha say, pardner?" he asked in a long drawl. "Let's bust out of here."

Together, they dashed for the door, hitting it. But it stood up to them. The only thing their combined, attack did was to bring down more of the green flakes.

They kept on smashing into the door in spite of the tears running down their cheeks. But the fine green dust made its way right through their handkerchief masks. Soon they were both convulsed in helpless coughing spasms. They had to crawl along the ground to reach fresh air.

When he could finally speak again, Joe turned to Frank. "Well, that was certainly good thinking. I think this was the worst choking fit I've had yet."

Frank glared at him.

"I mean, that was the plan, wasn't it?" Joe went on.

"Funny man," croaked Frank, starting to unbutton his shirt.

"What's this?" Joe asked. "Are we going to have a fight? A couple rounds of boxing?"

Frank shook his head. "We're going to try it again. With heavier masks, this time." He wrapped the shirt around his face, getting several layers of cloth around his mouth and nose.

Joe took off his shirt and imitated Frank.

"You ready to try again?" Frank's voice was muffled under wrappings on his face.

"I feel like the whole Bayport defensive line is dancing on my lungs." Joe got to his feet. "Let's get this over with."

He got shakily to his feet. "Come on."

They charged into the green cloud, which still hadn't settled. As their weight hit the door, Frank felt the hatch shift a little.

"It's moving!" he yelled.

"Great," came Joe's muffled voice. "Because I can't see it."

More of the green scales came down in a landslide, and the green cloud became too thick to see through. They kept pounding on the door, until the killer dust made its way through the layers of their new masks.

Joe was paralyzed with great racking coughs. He couldn't pound anymore. He was just clinging to the door, trying to remain upright. Half-blinded by tears and dust, Frank led him back to clearer air.

He made Joe lie down. Then Frank charged back into the green cloud, throwing his whole body into a karate kick.

Frank's foot slammed into the door. From outside, metal screeched against metal. The door gave an inch, then stuck again. The entire side of the vat shook like a giant gong. But they still couldn't get out.

Frank was sagging against the door, defeated, when a piece of metal fell on his shoulder. It was about the size of a dinner plate, and it hurt as it bounced off his shoulder and hit the ground.

Frank searched blindly for it with his hands, hoping he could use it as a tool to wedge the door open. But as he picked the piece up, he could feel the edge flaking away. It had been eaten away, it was too weak—Too weak! Trying to hold his breath, Frank staggered out of the cloud again. There was very little fresh air left in the vat now. Most of it was filled with drifting green motes. Joe was breathing raggedly, flapping his shirt to keep the green cloud away.

"What have you got there?" he asked.

"A piece of the vat," Frank answered. "It nearly fell on my head." He showed Joe the flaky green edge on the metal.

"Looks like this green rust or whatever ate it away," Joe said.

Frank nodded. "And that's our way out of here. Let's find a big green patch at ground level."

They looked around the little area where the air was clear, but there were no patches of green rust. Frank and Joe looked at each other, took a deep breath, then headed back into the killer cloud.

Each of them worked along an opposite wall of the vat. The green dust whirled in front of Frank's eyes, obscuring everything as he picked his way along the wall. He was working by touch because his eyes were burning so badly, he had shut them. His lungs were burning, too, so he held his breath.

Then his questing hands came across a large scaly patch on the wall. He opened his eyes and peered closely at the wall. Yes, it was the green corrosion. And the patch seemed large enough for them to fit through.

"Joe!" he called. "Over here!" Frank grimaced and spat as the dust got into his mouth. The stuff even tasted bad. "Come on!"

Joe's voice came out of the dust cloud. "Where?" He was beginning to cough again.

"Follow my voice!" The dust was getting to Frank too. He pulled his shirt tighter over his nose and mouth, but even so, the green particles started him hacking.

A figure appeared, shambling blindly through the cloud, zeroing in on Frank's coughing. "Good guiding," Joe gasped as he reached his brother. "I could hear that cough all the way on the other side."

Through teary eyes, they examined the rust patch before them. Then they started kicking at it. A fresh cloud of dust enveloped them, but they held their breath and kept kicking.

What if the metal hasn't been weakened enough? Frank wondered. What if we can't get through? He knew that this fresh cloud of dust would be enough to fill the old vat. If they couldn't get out, they'd have created their own gas chamber.

The thought of that made him kick harder.

Frank drew back his leg, sending another power kick into the patch of corrosion. His foot jarred against the weakened metal and then, it went through!

Joe joined his brother, kicking around the edges of the hole. Together, they knocked larger chunks of the wall loose. The dust cloud was too dense to see through, but they kept on kicking, in spite of their blind stares and coughs. At last they escaped into fresh air, stumbling into the sunlight.

"Kicking my way through a metal wall makes me feel like a comic-book hero." Joe tried to flex a muscle, but ruined the effect when he started to cough again.

"Yeah? Well, come on, Super guy. We still have to catch up with Denny."

Frank's words wiped the smile off Joe's face. "Right. Let's get going."

They raced to the van. "I thought he'd do something clever, like shoot out the tires," Joe said, stopping to check.

He stopped when he heard Frank pounding on the steering wheel. "He didn't have to," his brother said. "He took the car key."

Joe came around to the front of the van. "Yeah, but we've got an extra set — "

"He thought of that, too," Frank said with disgust. "So he broke the key off in the ignition. I can't get the key out, or the engine started."

Joe leaned under the wheel. "More over," he ordered his brother. "There's more than one way to skin a Denny."

He went to work, pulling wires and using a wrench to break the ignition lock. Suddenly, the engine roared to life.

"One hot-wired van at your service," Joe said, letting Frank take the steering wheel again. "Just do me one favor. Don't let the engine die out whenever you stop. The cops might get a little suspicious if I have to do this operation in the middle of the street."

He ran around and hauled himself aboard, and Frank took off. "Be careful on the bumps," Joe warned. "We don't want to jiggle those wires loose."

"All right, all right, I'll save the speed for smoother roads," Frank said. He reached out to turn on the radio, but Joe grabbed his hand.

"Sorry. We lost that connection."

"Great," Frank fumed. "Without the news, we won't know when the grand jury lets out."

"They aren't supposed to knock off before six." Joe checked his watch. "We should get there in time."

"If they don't finish early." Frank sighed. "Let's just hope some of the witnesses are long-winded."

As they drove toward town, the already cloudy sky darkened. Then came a sprinkle of raindrops, which quickly turned into a downpour.

"Just what we need," Frank said, turning to Joe. "Did you kill our windshield wipers too?"

"They should work," Joe said as his brother's hand went to the control. "I hope."

The showers stopped after a few minutes. However, the roads were still slippery and sent the Hardys into one scary skid.

Frank steered them out of it, and then they were in the town, heading for Main Street.

The Bayport courthouse was just off the town square, a big red-brick building with an old-fashioned copper dome. On sunny days, the polished copper glittered like gold. But under that day's gray and overcast sky, it just looked drab and wet.

The other outstanding feature of the courthouse was the white stone staircase that led up to the front of the building. As a kid, Frank had always been impressed by the number of steps it took to reach the door. Now he was wondering if they would be the stage for Denny to shoot Crowell.

Even from a block away, the Hardys could see that a pretty good crowd had assembled on those steps. There were many Crowell supporters on hand, as well as press people and two TV crews.

The crowd began to cheer as the courthouse doors opened. Lucius Crowell started down the stairs, with George holding an umbrella over his head.

"He's coming out!" Frank said, braking the van to a stop. Both he and Joe frantically scanned the crowd, looking for a tall kid with red hair.

He didn't seem to be anywhere in the mob on the steps. But then a spear of brilliant red light flashed across the street, right in front of their windshield.

It painted a round red dot of light—right on Lucius Crowell's chest.

Chapter 15

As soon as Frank saw the beam flashing in front of him, he stepped hard on the gas. The van lurched forward, taking them straight into the laser.

It felt weird to see the beam come through the windshield and weirder still to realize they were passing right through the line of fire. If Denny should pull the trigger right then, both Hardy brothers would buy it.

But the instant of danger passed. Now the van's solid metal sides were between Denny and Crowell. Frank hit the brakes, leaving the van right where it was.

"You stop Denny," he told Joe, opening his door. "I've got to get to Crowell."

He dashed across the street and up the courthouse stairs. It wasn't easy getting through the tightly packed mob.

The crowd was milling around nervously. Both the news people and Crowell's supporters were wondering what was going on.

"He's been shot!" somebody yelled, apparently thinking the spot of red on Crowell's chest was blood.

Frank heard the response as he pushed his way deeper into the crowd. "What are you, stupid? It was only a light. Something to do with the TV cameras, I think."

Everyone was waiting for an explanation from Lucius Crowell. He stepped forward to speak just as Frank was reaching the front ranks of the mob.

Crowell stood frozen for a moment, half-leaning against George, his face white. Frank knew just how terrible a shock that unexpected bolt of red light had been. He couldn't have enjoyed suddenly finding himself a target.

BOOK: Line of Fire
2.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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