Authors: Franklin W. Dixon
Con Riley came through the door. He hadn't put his gun away. "I get a report of somebody engaged in some illegal shooting at this address. With a ray gun, no less. Why am I not surprised to find the Hardys involved in this? Someone want to tell me what's going on around here?" he asked.
"Somebody tried to kill us!" Denny exclaimed. "And he just called, making more threats."
Slowly Riley looked around the room, and finally holstered his pistol. "Okay, Frank, how about you filling me in — without getting excited about it?"
Frank reported what had happened out in the backyard, with Joe filling him in on the search through the woods.
Riley's eyes narrowed. "You found nothing, you say? No spent shells?"
Joe shrugged. "Nothing there. Either he was using a revolver, or he cleaned up after himself."
"And this threatening phone call?"
"I answered the phone," Callie said.
"And did you hear any threats?"
Callie shook her head. "Urn — no. Denny heard them."
Riley looked at Denny. "Very convenient. Threats that only you can hear."
Denny's face tightened. "And I suppose I fired those shots at us too?"
"It wouldn't be too hard for you to arrange," Riley suggested. "A guy like you would have lots of friends who could shoot like that. And a little stunt like this," — he looked over at the Hardys and smiled — "with the right kind of witnesses, would really help any stories you might want to tell."
"Stories?" Denny repeated.
"Let's just say that a lot of people have heard about your, uh, conversation with Mr. Crowell."
"Oh, I get it," Denny said. "And Crowell's been at work trying to make me look bad so I won't harm his precious reputation. Is that it?"
"Make you look bad?" said Riley. "I don't know how he could do that. I mean, lots of people answer their doors with guns in their hands. Right?"
"Well, you've got one way to clear out a lot of suspects," Frank put in. "This guy's gun was equipped with a laser sight. He used it when aiming his shots."
Riley nodded. "A laser sight. That's the kind competition marksmen use."
"It might be interesting to see if anyone else in town has one," Frank suggested.
"It might be," Riley admitted. "Now, about this firearm ... " He reached out his hand for the Colt that Frank was now holding.
"Hey, you can't take my gun!" Denny burst out.
"Sure I can. Don't you remember? You were about to use it to plug a police officer."
"Hey, Con, lighten up a little, will you?" Joe said, earning himself a dirty look from the policeman.
Frank spoke up. "You're perfectly right, Con. Of course, you'll be putting this house under police protection."
Riley stared at Frank. "Why?"
"Well, you've heard about the attack here. So I hope you won't leave this isolated house defenseless, just in case someone comes out and uses it for target practice."
Riley stopped reaching for the pistol. "Okay, keep the gun," he said to Denny. "But use your head before you draw it again!" He pulled out a notebook. "Now, I'll need to get a full statement from you .. ."
"Do you think that maybe Con didn't exactly believe Denny's story?" Joe said as he, Frank, and Callie finally drove off. The police had left only moments before.
"What gave you that idea?" Callie asked. "The way Con Riley cross-examined him whenever he opened his mouth?"
"Well, it did make me a little suspicious," Joe admitted, poker-faced. "That, and the way Con tried so hard to get something out of us to contradict him."
THE HARDY BOYS CASEFILES
They laughed, but Frank didn't join in. "It's not so funny," he said. "Denny's made himself a powerful enemy. Lucius Crowell is a real pillar of the community. The cops aren't ready to take Denny's word against his, and Denny isn't helping any. Every time he opens his mouth, his accusations get a little wilder."
"You don't think Con could be right, do you?" Joe asked. "That Denny got a friend to help set us up to go after Crowell? Maybe I'm getting suspicious in my old age. But it reminds me of Mike and Greg in our last case."
Frank shook his head. "I believe Denny is dead serious about getting to the bottom of whatever caused the Crowell Chemical disaster." He explained about the detailed scrapbook Barbara had shown him, and Denny's visits to uncover the old government records.
"Whatever Denny found in there has set him against Lucius Crowell," Frank went on. "And as far as tricking us to help him — well, before we left, he took me off to the side. In no uncertain terms, he told me that he doesn't want us sticking our noses in."
"Funny," Callie said. "Barbara pulled me aside and begged for any help we could give Denny."
"Well, before we make up our minds, we'll have to do some digging." Frank turned to Callie. "Do you think Liz Webling will be at the offices of the Bayport Times?"
Liz was a friend of Callie's, and her father was editor of the newspaper. "I want to see what they've got on Lucius Crowell—and Denny. Denny said he had proof that Crowell was behind the disaster at the factory. Maybe he passed it along to the Times."
Callie nodded. "They'll be putting the paper to bed soon. Liz is probably there," she said. "Drop me off at the office."
Frank nodded and drove the van downtown. As soon as Callie hopped out, Joe turned to his brother. "While Callie's digging, what are we going to do?"
"Why don't we check out Lucius Crowell?"
As they headed out toward the mansion district, Joe kept noticing the campaign posters in store windows. Lots of people were running for supervisor. But more posters had Lucius Crowell's face on them. Each one carried the message: "Luke Crowell — Clean Leadership for Bayport."
"Luke?" Joe said, staring out of the window.
"That's to show he's a man of the people. Lucius sounds too upper class."
Joe shook his head. "I think he's trying a little too hard."
"Maybe you'll have a chance to tell him that," Frank said as he turned into the driveway of one of the bigger mansions.
Two tall wrought-iron gates blocked their way. They could hear video cameras whirring, focusing on Frank as he leaned out the window. He pressed a button on a box at the side of the gate.
A tinny voice came out. "Deliveries come in the service entrance."
"This isn't a delivery," Frank interrupted, his lips tightening. "We're here to see Mr. Crowell."
"Do you have an appointment?"
"No, but I think he'll see us. We've come to tell him that somebody has been taking shots at Denny Payson — if he doesn't know about it already."
There was no answer. The box simply went dead. Joe looked over at Frank. "You think he's gone?"
Frank's only answer was to put a finger to his lips.
They sat for a moment, listening to the breeze sighing through the tree branches. Then the tinny voice came through the box again. "Drive up to the front door. Mr. Crowell will see you."
Frank waited for the gates to swing open, and then he drove the van up the drive. He and Joe walked up to the dark green door, which was promptly opened.
"This way." The owner of the tinny voice was much more impressive in person. His voice was deep and a little hoarse, coming from a bulllike throat. He dwarfed Frank's six feet one inch, and his shoulders brushed either side of the doorway.
All the Hardys saw was muscle—swelling in his arms, straining the chest of his sport jacket. One of his cheeks had a scar — more like a dent, as if a chunk of muscle had been removed.
The man's hairline had receded halfway up his head, and he looked mean. "Follow me," he said.
As he led the way into the house, Joe noticed something else about their guide. Under the ill-fitting jacket was a distinctly unmuscular lump, certainly a pistol in a shoulder rig. And judging by the size of the lump, it had to be a pretty big pistol. Joe silently nudged Frank's elbow and pointed.
They arrived at what was either Crowell's den or library. Lucius Crowell rose from a heavy leather chair, and for once, he wasn't in a suit and tie. Frank blinked in disbelief. They'd never seen him in anything other than a suit, except the night of the fire. But right then Lucius Crowell wore a red silk dressing gown and print ascot.
"You came to tell me something about Denny?" he asked, looking at them. "Why do you think I should be interested?"
"You were interested enough to ask us in," Frank answered. "After we mentioned that someone shot at him."
Crowell's eyes flickered to the hulking character still standing in the doorway. "That'll be all, George. You may return to your duties."
Poker-faced, George disappeared.
"Not exactly your typical butler," Joe commented, looking after him.
"George does a lot of work for me," Crowell said, sitting down again. "Now, tell me about this so-called shooting."
"Oh, I expect you've already heard about it," Frank said, watching as Crowell's face froze. "I mean, after all, you've got friends on the police force. Somebody was sure to call you."
Crowell relaxed again. "But I'd like to hear your story."
"Oh, it's pretty simple." Frank told about the shots and the search. He didn't mention Denny's scrapbook. "Denny is convinced that someone is trying to scare him into silence," Frank concluded. "And I guess I don't need to tell you who he's blaming."
He stared at Lucius Crowell. "All of a sudden he's accusing you, who's always helped his family, of terrible things. Maybe he has found something, maybe he hasn't. We can't be sure of anything, except the shots and the phone call. Maybe you know something we don't, and if you two talked it out..."
Lucius Crowell sat very quietly, his eyes Closed. When he opened them, Frank saw that he had failed to convince him.
"Denny and I have nothing to talk about. If you're a friend of his, you might tell him to watch out where he does his talking."
"Is that a threat?" Joe demanded.
Crowell turned to him. With his clenched jaw and glaring eyes, he resembled a frog.
"I thought Denny might have been scamming us—until now," Joe said. "We'll be watching out for him. Who knows — there may be a case here."
He looked Crowell straight in the eye. "And if there is a case, we'll get to the bottom of it. Remember the Morrison case. Of course, if there isn't one, then you have nothing to worry about." He grinned.
Crowell struggled to stay in control. "Is that a threat?" he asked.
Joe stared at him. "No, just a friendly warning," he said, heading for the door. "Come on, Frank." He stopped at the doorway and looked back at Crowell. "No need to call your 'butler.' We know our way out."
They walked out of the house, climbed into the van, and started off. The gates swung open automatically as they reached the end of the drive.
"Well, what did you think?" Joe asked.
"I'd hate to play poker with him," Frank said, turning the van onto the road. "He doesn't] rattle easily, even when we put the pressure] on."
"Yeah, but he is hiding something. Denny is right."
"That's what I think too, brother." Frank didn't sound excited, but Joe could see the gleam in his eyes. They had a case!
Almost unconsciously, Frank accelerated the van along a straightaway. The engine hummed as they took off.
Ahead of them, the road curved to the right.
Frank's foot was just reaching for the brake when a brilliant flash of red caught his eye in the rear-view mirror. It was there for just an instant, then it was gone.
Frank had just turned his attention away from the mirror when he heard a muffled crack. He glanced up again but didn't see anything in the mirror.
He had other things to think about, anyway.
His left rear tire had blown, and the van was now careening wildly across the road!
Frank gripped the wheel harder, trying to steer with the skid and not against it. But now they were spinning wildly, totally out of control. It seemed there was no way they could stay on the road.
But if they didn't make the curve, they'd crash head-on into a brick wall. One of the mansion owners had apparently decided he didn't want passersby gawking at his grounds and had built a ten-foot-high brick wall around his place. Frank didn't know if it had discouraged gawking, but he knew what would happen if the van hit it. He and Joe would be pancakes.
Desperately, Frank tried to bring the van under control. The wall came closer as he forced the van to continue its skid. The wall blurred before their eyes. The van's bodywork groaned from the stress. If Frank miscalculated, they'd topple over. ...
But riding the edges of the tires, Frank managed to keep them upright. With a thud the van fell back solidly on its wheels and tore across the gravel drive leading to a massive steel gate. Finally it plowed through some holly bushes and came to a stop, nosed up against the wall.
Joe let out a soft, shuddering breath. "That was a very bad time to get a flat," he finally said.
"It wasn't an accident." Frank pushed his door open and got out to look at the tire.
"What do you mean?" Joe jumped out and ran around the back to join him.
"It had help." Frank pointed at the wreckage of the tire. "This is where it tore apart — see this hole here."
Joe leaned forward. "Looks like a bullet hole."
"Exactly." Frank's face was grim. "I thought I saw a flash of red in the mirror."
"A laser sight? You mean Denny?"
"He's not the only one in town with that kind of sight," Frank said. "There's the guy who played target practice all around our heads."
"Denny is the only one we know," Joe pointed out. Then he shook his head. "But Denny didn't know where we were going. Anyway, he'd never do something like that." "And all the way into town, I had one eye on the rear-view mirror. I'd have noticed if anyone was following us."
"So we're dealing with a deadly marksman who reads minds—or — "
"Or?" Frank said.
"Crowell's butler, George. He left after we came into the room, and we didn't see him on the way out. And he was toting a gun as big as a cannon under his jacket."
Frank nodded. "He'd know which way we'd be heading. And that curve in the road is just a short walk from Crowell's mansion." He sighed. "But even if he did shoot at us, he's probably back home by now—with a perfect alibi."