Authors: Franklin W. Dixon
Joe Hardy carried his lunch tray across the crowded cafeteria of Bayport High School. Tall and blond, he moved with the casual grace of a star running back. Two girls, deep in conversation, crossed directly in front of him. Without breaking stride, Joe neatly stepped around them without spilling a drop of his soda.
Joe's older brother, Frank, was already at the table where they usually sat, against the far wall. Frank was sitting with his girlfriend, Callie Shaw. They were listening closely to their friend Chet Morton. As Joe approached, they looked up and smiled. Joe put his tray down next to Chet's.
“Joe, wait until you hear this,” Chet said. “I
just had this incredibly brilliant idea. How does guacamole sherbet sound?”
“Yuck!” Joe said, making a face. “Are you guys having a gross-out contest or what?”
“Chet's new job starts this afternoon,” Frank explained. “He's going to be driving a Freddy Frost ice-cream truck.”
“The company's having a contest,” Chet added.
“The person who comes up with the best idea for a new flavor before the end of the week gets a free ice cream every day for a year. I'm not eligible because I work for Freddy Frost, but I want to show them how enthusiastic I am.”
“Guacamole sherbet?” Joe repeated in disbelief. “Would you serve it in a cone made out of corn chips?”
Chet's jaw dropped. “That's it, Joe! I knew I needed a gimmick that would grab people, and you just gave it to me. Maybe they'll put my picture on the wrapper.”
“They will,” Callie said with a laugh, “with 'Wanted' under it.”
“Genius is always misunderstood,” Chet said with a hurt expression. “It's the penalty for being ahead of my time.”
“You just gave me an idea, though,” Callie added. “I'll bet cream cheese and jelly ice cream would be terrific.”
“Not you, too!” Joe groaned. He looked up and
spotted his girlfriend, Iola Morton, coming toward them. He smiled and waved.
Iola was Chet's sister. She put her tray next to Joe's and sat down. “Has Chet been telling you about his new dessert inventions?” she asked.
Frank chuckled. “He certainly has.”
A grin spread across Iola's face. “Did he mention last night?” she continued. “He was in the kitchen for hours working on a secret formula forâget thisâcheeseburger ice cream.”
“That reminds me,” Joe said. “I forgot to get ketchup.” He pushed his chair back. As he was getting to his feet, another student bumped into him and gave the leg of his chair a sharp kick.
“Hey, watch it,” Joe said over his shoulder.
watch it, turkey.”
Joe turned to face his opponent, who was an inch or so under six feet tall, with broad shoulders and a bull neck. His dark hair was cropped close at the sides and back, and left long on top. He was wearing baggy jeans, unlaced work boots, and a black T-shirt with the image of a heavy metal group on the front.
“I'm afraid you blew your line,” Joe said with a tight smile. “When you crash into somebody, you're supposed to say, âsorry.'Â ”
Joe drew himself up. There was a flicker of indecision in his opponent's eyes as he realized that Joe outreached and outweighed him.
“Joe, let it go,” Iola said, taking his elbow. “It's not worth the hassle.”
With a shrug, Joe took a half step backward. The boy sneered and walked away.
Joe looked over at his friends. “Who's Mr. Attitude?” he asked. “Anybody know him?”
“I do,” Callie replied. “That's Gus French. He's in my history class. He's pretty tight with Marlon Masters.”
There was a short silence. Marlon Masters was the most powerful gang leader at Bayport High. Joe and Frank had never tangled with him and his followersâyet, at least.
“So, he's one of the Starz, right?” Joe said, using the gang name that had recently started appearing on walls and desktops around school. “I wonder if he bumped me by accident or if he was trying to start something.”
“Accident,” Frank said. “Bet on it. If he'd done it on purpose, he would have brought a few buddies along as backup.”
Joe noticed Mr. Vincenza, the school counselor, striding across the cafeteria. He stopped next to their table and said, “Joe, Frank? Could I speak to you for a second?”
The Hardys followed Mr. Vincenza out into the corridor. Joe wondered if they were in some kind of trouble.
“Boys, I need your help,” Mr. Vincenza began, after glancing around. “There's an epidemic
starting at Bayport High. We've got to get it under control, before it's too late.”
“What is it?” Joe asked. “Flu?”
“No. Something a lot more serious than that. Extortion,” Mr. Vincenza replied. “Our younger students are being forced to make payoffs to avoid being assaulted. That's bad enough at any time. But the town council is going to be taking up a plan to help the high school. If this gets into the papers, it could badly damage us for years to come.”
“What can we do?” Frank asked.
“Everybody knows that you're both skilled detectives,” Mr. Vincenza said. “And you have the advantage of being students yourselves. What I want you to do is find out who is behind all this. Give us the evidence we need to stop them.”
“We'll do our best,” Joe promised.
“I knew I could count on you,” Mr. Vincenza said. He took a card from his pocket and wrote on the back. “Here are my office and home numbers. If you need to reach me, call.”
Joe and Frank returned to their friends in the cafeteria. As they sat down, Chet said, “Hey, guys. What about pizza sherbet? How does that grab you?”
Joe clutched his stomach. “It grabs me,” he said. “Right about here. And I can tell you, it's not a pleasant feeling.”
â¢Â Â Â â¢Â Â Â â¢
After school Joe and Frank met near the parking lot.
“Any luck?” Frank asked.
“Some people in my classes have heard about kids getting leaned on for money,” Joe replied. “I got the names of a couple of victims, both freshmen. We can call them later. How about youâdid you find out anything?”
Frank shook his head. “I tried to get more information about the Starz, but nobody wanted to talk about them. We can try again tomorrow. For now, why don't we go find Callie and Iola? I want to surprise Chet by waiting for him somewhere along his ice-cream route.”
“Great idea,” Joe said with a chuckle. “As long as you don't expect me to try one of his specials. But how do we find out his route?”
“Iola might know,” Frank said. “If she doesn't, we could call the Freddy Frost office. As detective work goes, it should be something we can handle without Dad's help,” he added with a sly grin.
Joe grinned back. Their father, Fenton Hardy, had held a high post in the New York City Police Department before retiring to become a private investigator.
Callie and Iola came into view. Frank waved them over, then told them his idea.
“Perfect,” Iola said. “I have to go home first,
but we can catch Chet next to the playground in Jefferson Park at around four-thirty.”
“Good deal,” Joe said, grinning. “I'll even order one of his special broccoli sundaes.”
“Is that the one with a brussels sprout on top of the whipped cream, instead of a cherry?” Frank asked with an innocent look.
“I'd better go,” Iola said, “before I throw up. See you later.”
After Iola headed home, Joe, Frank, and Callie took the Hardy's van to Mr. Pizza for a snack. Then they drove across town to Jefferson Park. The park took up two square blocks in one of the older sections of Bayport. Around the park stood rows of narrow two-story houses, each with its own front yard and covered porch.
Iola was waiting for them on a bench next to the playground. “Am I glad to see you,” she said. “I looked at Chet's schedule when I got home. He was due here earlier than I thought. I was afraid you'd miss him.”
Joe listened for a moment. He could hear the shouts of kids in the playground and the hum of traffic over on Winthrop Street. He even heard the rustle of leaves from nearby treesâbut not the tinkly sounds of the Freddy Frost music.
“He can't be that close, or we'd hear the theme song,” Joe said.
Callie started humming the tune. Joe sang
along. The tune was that of a nursery rhyme. But anyone who had grown up in Bayport knew a different set of words:
Freddy Frost is such a treat
We bring dessert right to your street
For frozen yogurt or soft ice cream
Get Freddy Frost today!
doesn't rhyme with
Frank pointed out.
“You're right. I never noticed that when we were growing up,” Iola replied. “Who cares? What I want to know is, where's Chet? I can't believe he'd get lost on his first day.”
“Maybe he's selling so much stuff that he fell behind schedule,” Joe suggested. “Let's go back along his route and look for him instead of just sitting here.”
The others agreed that this was a good idea and piled into the van.
“Go back along Jefferson and turn right on Cuyler Street,” Iola told Joe. “There's a school playground a couple of blocks up.”
As he pulled away from the curb, Joe checked his side mirror. A few cars back, he noticed a red compact with a badly dented front fender starting to pull out of its parking place. Joe made sure his turn signal was on, then followed Iola's directions.
At the playground they found ten or fifteen children, but no Freddy Frost truck. Joe was about to ask Iola for more of Chet's route. Then he noticed something. One little girl in the playground was on the last bites of an ice-cream bar.
“Wait here a sec,” Joe told his friends. “I think we just missed Chet.” He climbed out and went over to the closest trash basket. Near the top were two torn Freddy Frost wrappers. So, unless there was more than one truck assigned to this route, Chet
Two boys playing tag came running toward him. “Hey,” Joe called. “Did you guys see an icecream truck?”
The boy in front stopped. “Sure,” he said. “A little while ago. I wanted to get a Rainbow Rocket, but the man didn't wait. He just drove away. I don't get it.”
“Maybe he didn't see you coming,” Joe said.
“Maybe,” the boy said doubtfully.
“He saw us. It was those two other guys who made him hurry,” the second boy said. “They got in the truck with him, and then he drove off.”
Joe frowned. “Two other guys? Who were they? What did they look like?”
The second boy shrugged. “I don't know. They both had ski masks over their faces. That was pretty weird. It's not cold out.”
“Yeah,” the first boy said. “And those two guys kept shoving the Freddy Frost man like they didn't like him.”
Joe froze. Chet driving away with two men wearing ski masks could only mean one thingâhe'd been kidnapped!
“That does sound weird,” Joe said to the two boys, trying to sound as calm as possible. He asked them a few more questions about the two men. How tall were they? What else were they wearing? Had they come in a car? Was anyone else with them? It was no use; the ski masks were all that had stuck in the boys' mindsâthat and missing out on getting Freddy Frost ice cream.
Joe got their names and thanked them. Then he hurried back to the van. He told the others what he had just found out.
“They must be kidnappers!” Iola exclaimed. “But why Chet? And what are we going to do?”
“Maybe it wasn't Chet they were after. Maybe they wanted the money in the truck,” Callie suggested. “Chet might have had several hundred dollars on him.”
“I can think of another possibility, too,” Frank said. “Remember, this
Chet's first day. Maybe the hijacking is a fake, some kind of hazing that the other drivers put new people through.”
“You mean, a practical joke?” Iola asked. “That is so mean. Chet must be incredibly upset.”