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Authors: Franklin W. Dixon

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BOOK: Line of Fire
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"So, they're still hoping their phony records will convince people," Joe said.

A nervous Corrigan went on. "I believe my assistant was only going along with a joke," he said, stumbling over the words nervously. "But there are certain people in this town who will p at nothing to blacken the name of civic leaders who only want the best for Bayport."

"He didn't mention Denny, or Lucius Crowell," Frank said.

"I'm just glad he didn't mention you," Fenton Hardy said, frowning at the TV screen.

Frank smiled at his father and shook his head. "Corrigan couldn't have done that. If he mentioned us, we'd be interviewed and tell about George. Then he'd have to explain what he was doing at the town hall. Somehow, I don't think that would help."

But the high point of the evening came when ' the town prosecutor came on the screen. He announced the formation of a grand jury, saying that enough questions had been raised over the Crowell fire to merit fresh investigation. The grand jury would convene within the next few days and would finish its work before the election.

"Now we're getting somewhere!" Joe grinned enthusiastically.

"The question is, how far will it go?" Fenton Hardy cut in. "I'm not sure that those papers Chet gave out will be considered as real evidence. All they say is that Crowell had hazardous material stored in the plant."

"They're better evidence than they'd have been if they were cut to shreds," Joe said.

Laura Hardy's face wasn't happy. "I just wish you wouldn't take such risks."

"Your mother's right," their aunt Gertrude put in as she entered the room. "The pair of you think you're so clever, but you'll find yourselves in real trouble one of these days."

"Relax, everybody," Joe said. "We did our job. From here on in, it's up to the grand jury and the police."

While he was talking, the phone rang.

"I'll get it," Frank said, heading for the kitchen. "It's probably Callie, calling about the story."

When he picked it up, it wasn't Callie's voice he heard. The cold, angry voice belonged to George.

"That was a cute stunt you pulled today," he said. "But you may regret it. There are worse things for your friend Payson than being called a liar—or crazy."

The voice grew colder. "For instance, there's being dead."

Chapter 7

Frank slammed the phone into the receiver. He was seething with frustration. If he'd been on the extension in his father's den or in his own room, he'd have activated a small tape recorder. At least he'd have a record of this threat.

But none of that equipment was in the kitchen. Frank looked around the brightly painted room as if it were something from another planet. Maybe it was. It certainly didn't belong in the same world as that voice whispering threats in his ear.

Joe stepped through the doorway. "I heard you hang up and thought you were raiding the ice cream," he said. "We've got a half gallon of mint chocolate fudge — "

He saw the look on his brother's face and his kidding stopped. "What's up?"

"Threats," Frank said.

Joe shrugged his shoulders. "What haven't we heard before?"

"Nothing like this," Frank said. "The threats were against Denny, to get him off the case." Frank looked as if he had a bad taste in his mouth. "And I even recognized the voice. It was George."

"George, huh? Calling us to threaten Denny? Did you tell him he had the wrong number?"

Frank shook his head. "The question is, who do we tell about this call? Denny? I don't see him being very impressed."

"How about the cops?" Joe suggested. "Con Riley—or maybe Chief Collig?"

That got another head shake from Frank. "This is a political case. Collig will walk very carefully. And remember the way Con questioned Denny after the shooting at his house? I don't think Denny rates very high on Con's top forty. And I'll bet he won't listen to anything we tell him. He already thinks we're too friendly with Denny."

Joe frowned. "Who else then? How about Barbara—or Denny's mom?"

Frank looked unhappy. "It will just upset them. And I don't think either of them will change Denny's mind."

They both stood in silence. Finally Joe said, "Well, that takes care of the possibilities. How about action?" He looked at his brother. "What do you say we keep an eye on Denny, just to make sure he doesn't get in any trouble."

Frank nodded with a rueful grin. "I guess it's the best we can do. We've got no proof of what Crowell is up to, and there's no way we can stop Denny. At least we can make sure he doesn't do anything stupid."

"Or that nothing stupid happens to him," Joe added. "Okay. Denny doesn't know it yet, but he's just gained himself a pair of guardian angels."

; Joe popped out of the room, heading upstairs. A few minutes later he came back down, carrying a pair of fishing rods.

"What're these for?" Frank asked.

"Oh, this is the great idea you just had a moment ago. We're going fishing tomorrow. I'm going in to tell Mom and Dad. That way they'll know why we're getting up so early in the morning."

With a cheerful grin, Joe headed into the living room.

Frank stared after him wordlessly. "Fishing," he finally said. "Fishing for trouble is more like it. I just hope we don't find too much for Denny to handle."

 

***

 

The next morning dawned beautifully. The sky was clear, and the sun bounced pink light off the few clouds scudding by. A heavy dew covered the tall grass, and the whole world smelled fresh and new.

Frank Hardy sneezed, then picked up his binoculars. "This is stupid," he muttered for the tenth time. "And I'm freezing." He shivered in the dawn chill.

Frank and Joe were standing in the woods at about the same spot the hidden gunman had fired at them. Behind them was their van, pulled off the road and hidden among the trees. They had slogged through grass and weeds, the dew soaking their pants from the knees down. At last they'd found a vantage point where they could watch the Payson house. Every window was still dark.

"I've got half a mind to go down there and wake Denny up." Frank let the binoculars hang around his neck as he rubbed his arms, trying to warm them.

"I know how you feel," Joe said, throwing his arms out and cracking a big yawn. "But think you might be giving him just a little too much warning. We both agreed last night that he shouldn't know we were around "Yeah," Frank said glumly. "So we stand out here cold while he lies in bed."

"Where else could we pick him up?" Joe asked. "This is the only place where we know he'll be."

"Right," Frank agreed. "But this is going to get worse before it gets better."

Through the field glasses, they watched Denny and his mom enjoy breakfast — they had a perfect view through the kitchen window. Then Mrs. Payson left for work, and Denny went up to his room. The Hardys watched him work at his desk for a while. : Midmorning came, and Denny switched off the radio, headed downstairs, and got into his car.

"Get ready," Frank said, following Denny with his binoculars.

"I've got a quarter that says he turns left, heading for Bayport," Joe said, fading back to · start the van.

"Then, you're out twenty-five cents." Frank grinned as he tracked Denny's gray sports car making a right-hand turn onto the county road.

"Well, come on," Joe called as the van roared into life. "We don't want to lose him after all this."

They stayed well behind Denny's car as they started off, not wanting to advertise their presence. They hoped he wouldn't recognize the black van. They had spent some time changing its appearance after they had pulled off into the woods. Carefully applied bands of red and white tape gave the impression of pinstriping on the all-black exterior. And a pair of magnetic signs on the side panels identified the van as a delivery truck for Clover Cleaners.

Joe had even added a touch to partially obscure his face at the steering wheel. A pair of red fuzzy dice dangled from the rear-view mirror, and he pulled a baseball cap down to shade his eyes. Frank stayed in the back of the van; a cleaners that sent out a two-man delivery team might be noticed.

Joe moved a bit closer as Denny came to the first big intersection, but the gray car continued straight, farther away from Bayport "Where's he going?" Joe asked as they kept driving.

"I've got an idea," Frank said, bracing himself against Joe's seat. "If I'm correct, he'll be back in his car. He drove toward Bayport again. making a left soon. You should head over to the right."

They were passing a large industrial park, and sure enough, the gray car's lights flashed, indicating a left turn.

"Okay, pull past him, then turn into the parking lot of this fast-food joint. We can keep an eye on him from across the street there."

Joe coasted to a stop at the end of the lot. Denny's car was still in sight, stopped at the entrance gate. "The mystery is solved," Joe said, as he read the sign by the gate. "So this is the new home of Crowell Chemicals."

"According to the reports, it's one of the safest plants in the country," Frank said.

"Crowell must be awfully proud about it."

"Or awfully guilty about the last one," Frank added.

"Well, it doesn't look as though Denny's going to get a guided tour," Joe said as he watched.

Across the street, the gates were still closed in front of Denny's car. A security man in a brown uniform was shaking his head and pointing at something on his clipboard.

"Guess he's not on the welcome list," Frank said.

Finally Denny gave up arguing and climbed a long drive for a short visit." Joe started the van, watched the traffic, then pulled out smoothly behind Denny's car.

He held the van's speed down, letting Denny take a big lead, which was lucky. From out of another gate in the industrial complex roared a large dark green car, which slid in right behind Denny.

"The plot thickens," said Joe. "You think Denny's got himself another tail?"

"Well, it makes a change from the usual big black car," Frank said, joking. "Let's see what happens."

The car stayed almost on Denny's rear bumper. When he switched lanes, it pulled in right behind him. When Denny speeded up, so did the green car. When he slowed down, the new shadow didn't take the chance to pass.

"Get over in the fast lane," Frank said. "We'll pass both of them. I want a look at the driver of the green monster."

As Joe sped up, Frank headed to the rear of the van. He stood by the back window, positioning himself so he could see without being seen.

They were just passing the green car, and Frank had a clear view of the driver.

It was George.

"Well, well," said Frank. "It must be the butler's day off."

They passed Denny, and Frank went back up front. Joe was constantly glancing in the rear-view mirrors, keeping his targets in sight. "This is the hardest way to tail somebody," he said. "I hope they give us some notice if they decide to turn off."

Frank scanned the road before them. "Get behind that old station wagon ahead there. He's moving slowly enough to let them get past you again."

They drove almost to Bayport, Denny in the lead, Joe drawing near, then dropping back, and George carefully staying on Denny's tail. Together they got off the county road and drove up to a major intersection. Denny slid to a stop as the traffic light turned red. Then he roared across, running the light.

George never even had a chance to start. The cross traffic cut him off.

And for the Hardys, two cars back, pursuit was impossible.

"I told you we should have a helicopter rig for times like this," Joe said.

"It would make us too noticeable," Frank answered. "Besides, we haven't lost him yet."

"Oh, no?" Joe asked. "Well, that was the sweetest imitation escapes I've ever seen."

Frank grinned. "Stop thinking like a detective for a second and think like a real person. This is Clarendon Avenue. Who lives around here?"

The light changed, and Joe shot a look at his brother. "Barbara Lynch."

As George went roaring off in the direction Denny had taken, Frank and Joe headed straight for Barbara's house. A couple of minutes after they took a position on the corner, Denny's car pulled up. Barbara came running from her door, and the chase was on again.

For the rest of the day, the Hardys followed Denny and Barbara all over Bayport as they visited house after house. The same pattern repeated itself at each house. Denny's car would stop outside, Denny and Barbara would go in. A few minutes later they'd come back out, looking unhappy. Denny would make a mark on a piece of paper, and they'd be off again.

Inside the van, Frank was busy noting each address that Denny stopped at. After he'd collected a page full of addresses, he used the mobile phone to dial his father.

"I'm glad you're in, Dad," he said. "Could you use that special directory you've got to put a name to some addresses?"

Fenton Hardy laughed. "I thought that story you gave us sounded pretty fishy," he said. "What's up?"

"We're just keeping an eye on Denny, and I'd like to know who he's meeting." Frank read off a few of the addresses, and his father consulted the directory. The first three names he gave Frank were those of complete strangers, but the fourth rang a bell. "Catherine Gunther — that sounds familiar."

Suddenly he remembered a newspaper page, with the pictures of five men. One of them was Denny's dad, and the caption on another read ... "George Gunther," Frank said, snapping his fingers. "He was one of the people who died in the Crowell disaster. Thanks a lot, Dad." Frank hung up the phone.

Now Denny's wanderings made sense. "He must be trying to track down anyone who was at the fire," Frank said. "The plant would be the easiest place, but Lucius won't let him talk to anyone who's still working for the company. So Denny's trying ex-employees."

"But why visit Mrs. Gunther?" Joe asked. "He'd know Gunther was dead."

Frank shrugged. "Maybe they had friends who worked there. Who knows? At least we have a handle on what he's doing. He's looking for witnesses."

"And not finding any, from the look on his face," Joe added.

Denny and Barbara were looking very discouraged as they drove into downtown Bayport. They parked the car and then walked into the low-rent district. It was crammed against the commercial area, across the railroad tracks from the neat homes they'd been visiting.

Here they passed shabby frame houses with weed-filled front lawns and sagging porches. Some of the houses had been painted white in an attempt to spruce them up. Others had been painted gray or brown to hide the dirt. On most of them, the paint was peeling.

As Denny and Barbara walked along the cracked pavement, Frank and Joe followed far behind. They were afraid they'd be recognized instantly if Denny and Barbara turned around.

It was getting dark and the streetlights were just coming on. Frank didn't think they made the neighborhood look better.

Denny apparently agreed. He had stopped and was talking with Barbara, who was shaking her head. Barbara pointed back the way they had come, and Frank and Joe both became suddenly interested in the window display of a hardware store.

"Look," said Joe. "A sale on drills."

"Very funny," Frank answered. "We're going to look really smart when Denny starts walking Barbara back."

They stole a glance and saw that the discussion was getting warmer.

"No, I think Barbara has taken Callie Shaw lessons," Joe said with a grin. "She's going to walk back by herself."

Even as he was saying it, Barbara started walking. Denny reached out to stop her, then shrugged. The Hardys didn't have time for more. They had to get down a side street before Barbara recognized them.

TUrning the nearest corner, they walked halfway down the block. Then they turned, waiting for Barbara to pass by. She crossed the street and marched on at top speed, never once looking their way.

Immediately Frank and Joe headed back to the corner. "I hope we don't lose Denny because of this," Joe said.

"I hope Denny isn't staring after her and sees us coming around," Frank replied. Before they reached the corner, they stopped, seeing a familiar bulky figure diagonally opposite from them. It was George, leaning against a building Somehow, he had caught up with Denny and Barbara. But as he stepped away from the building, his eyes weren't trained in the direction Denny had gone.

No, he was looking the other way, the way he started walking a moment later.

After Barbara Lynch.

BOOK: Line of Fire
3.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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