Mr. Hardy looked searchingly at his sons. “It's a top-secret assignment,” he said, “but I know I can trust you to keep it.”
With rapt attention, Frank and Joe listened while the famous detective unfolded a tale of foreign intrigue. United States currency was being stolen in various Central and South American countries. It was suspected the money was being used to carry out some nefarious schemes. What these were had not yet been discovered.
“I'm working with the FBI on the United States end of the case,” Mr. Hardy said. “Other investigators are operating in the foreign coun tries.”
“Sounds exciting,” Joe commented. “You have no idea what the thieves are using the money for?”
“Not yet. But we think it is being spent in the United States.”
“Is the money being smuggled in across the border?” Frank asked.
“We don't know yet.”
“It could be by boat or plane, then?”
Frank and Joe looked at each other. Had their find of two thousand dollars anything to do with their father's case?
A Suspicious Salesman
“DAD, could it be possible we're working on the same case?” Joe asked.
“I'll know better when I see the bills you found. I have the serial numbers of some of the stolen money.”
“The two thousand is at police headquarters,” Frank said. “Let's go there now.”
Frank drove the car and stopped at Bayport Police Headquarters. The Hardys went in.
“I'm glad you got away from those thugs,” Chief Collig said to Frank.
“So am I.” The youth grinned, then sobered. “Any news of Chet Morton's stolen stuff?”
The chief said he was sorry to report that there was not a trace of it so far. “But I'm certain it's not in Bayport,” he added quickly.
Frank and Joe were not so sure.
“If the loot's out in the country, the State Police will probably find it soon,” Collig assured them.
“I hope so,” said Frank, and explained the reason for their call.
Collig opened the safe and took out the wallet, which he placed on a table. Mr. Hardy withdrew the bills and very slowly began to count them aloud. Frank noticed his father's eyes scanning the printing as he flipped the bills over.
“That's two thousand, all right,” the detective remarked. He handed it back to the chief.
“I could have told you that,” Collig said with a ffown. He had expected more than this from the great detective.
Mr. Hardy thanked the officer for his cooperation, then he and his sons returned to their car.
“Find out anything?” Joe asked eagerly.
“Yes. One of those hundred-dollar bills had a serial number we're looking for! We three are in this together,” Mr. Hardy said with a smile of satisfaction.
“Couldn't be better!” Joe shouted enthusiasti cally. “Look out, Rainy Night, here come the Hardys!”
When they reached home, Aunt Gertrude was reading the evening
on the front porch.
“Look at this!” she cried out, waving the newspaper in front of them. “âHardy Boy Captured, Released by Thugs.' Why do newspapers get everything mixed up? Frank got away by himself! I'll write to that editor!”
The boys were amused as well as pleased at their aunt's loyalty. Even though she objected to their working on mystery cases, she was always secretly proud of their exploits and wanted no one else to be given any credit for their achievements.
The story went on to say that Frank was safe and that the authorities were looking for the kid nappers.
“Just the same,” Mrs. Hardy spoke up, âI'd feel better if those awful men didn't know where Frank and Joe are.”
“You have a good point,” her husband agreed. “Boys, why not go on that camping trip you were talking about?”
His sons grinned. “We planned to go to North Woods this weekend and hunt for Chet's stolen stuff.”
“Excellent idea,” his father said. “Combine work with pleasure.”
“North Woods,” Aunt Gertrude snorted, “is full of wild dogs! You boys must be out of your minds.”
“The stories about the dogs are only rumors,” Frank reminded her.
Mr. Hardy suggested it was possible someone had started the rumor to keep intruders away from the area. He warned his sons to be on guard.
The boys' mother announced a new worry. Her sons might be followed into the wilderness by the kidnappers.
“Why not try leaving here without letting anyone see you?” she suggested. “Stay at Chet's house tonight and start from there in the early morn ing.”
Frank and Joe liked their mother's plan. They telephoned Chet, and also Biff Hooper and Tony Prito. The latter two promised to meet them at the Morton farm right after breakfast.
“Chet sure sounded low,” Frank commented. “I guess his dad and uncle were pretty sore when they heard what happened.”
“Iola told me he's got to work on the farm all summer long to pay for the stuff if it's not found,” Joe said.
Frank chuckled. “That'll take off the pounds.”
Frank and Joe packed their equipment in the trunk of Mr. Hardy's car. After dark they got in and lay on the floor of the rear seat, then their father drove to the Mortons'. The boys did not show their heads until they were at the farm.
“If anybody is looking for us, they won't know whether we've left the house or not,” Joe remarked.
They unloaded the gear and the detective turned the car around. Wishing his sons good luck, he said he was going to Washington for further checking on the stolen-currency case.
After a hearty breakfast the next morning, Chet, Frank, and Joe went out on the porch to wait for Biff and Tony. They had been sitting there only a few minutes when they saw a man, carrying a bulging bag, coming up the driveway. He was fairly tall, had light-colored hair, and shrewd-looking eyes.
“I'm selling insect repellent,” the stranger began. “The most wonderful stuff in the world. Use it on the farm or anywhere. Kills flies, moths, mosquitoes.”
Chet became interested. “We could use some of that for our camping trip.”
The man smiled. “Camping trip, eh? Then you'll want a lot of my repellent. Plenty of flies in the woods. Where you going?”
“To North ...”
Joe's elbow jabbed into his friend's ribs. Chet was telling the stranger too much!
“NorthâuhâuhâNorth Carolina. That is, someday,” Chet stammered.
“How much do you want?” the salesman asked.
“None, I guess,” Chet replied glumly, embarrassed about the blunder he had made.
“As you please,” the man said.
He picked up his bag and walked down the drive. As he shuffled off toward the next farmhouse, Joe grasped Frank's arm.
“I don't like this,” he said. “If that man were a real salesman, he would have given us a high pressure sales talk.”
“You're right. He might have been the one who followed me from the News office. He's about the same size and blond. That man was sent here to learn something. We'll have to be mighty careful on our trip.”
“I'm only sorry Chet practically told him where we are going,” Joe declared.
In a few minutes Biff Hooper and Tony Prito arrived.
The boys were told about the new developments in the mystery and the recent episode of the pseudosalesman.
“I've a hunch we'll see him again,” Joe said. “He may even follow us to North Woods.”
“We'll be ready for him,” Tony vowed.
After piling their camping equipment in Chet's car, the boys climbed in. The jalopy snorted and started off down the road.
When they neared the North Woods area, Frank said, “Let's park at the farmhouse where I made the telephone call. Then we can start the hike to the woods from there.”
This agreed upon, Chet turned onto the lonely dirt road. When they arrived at the farmhouse, the woman gladly let them leave the car behind the barn. The boys took out their gear and after a cold drink of water at the pump started their trek toward North Woods.
As they passed the deserted house where Frank had been held captive, the boy's spine tingled. Had the thugs planned to leave him there to die he wondered. Or would they have freed him after the ransom had been collected?
The campers walked another mile, then headed into the woods at the point where they thought Chet's stolen stuff might have been carried in. Upon reaching the brook where the suspect's footprints had ended, they stopped to confer on which way to proceed. The trees and underbrush stretched for miles, wild and apparently uninhabited.
“Well, you detectives,” Tony said, “where in this jungle did that thief go?”
Frank was sure they would have taken the path of least resistance into the forest. After all, the canoe would be an unwieldy thing to carry in dense woodland.
“Okay,” Tony said with a grin. “You find it.”
The boys resumed the trek, with Frank and Joe in the lead. After they had pressed forward for an hour, Chet stopped and flung his pack to the ground. “Say, fellows, do you know where you're going?” he puffed.
“Sure,” said Frank. “In the direction the thieves took.”
“How do you know?”
“By this.” Frank had just spotted what might be a clue.
He bent down beside a rough rock, twice the size of a man's head. Somebody apparently had stepped on it and slipped, making a deep heel impression in the moss beside it.
Frank whipped a magnifying glass from his pack and examined the rock. It revealed minute shreds of leather where the uneven surface of the boulder had abraded the shoe.
“I think we're on the right track,” he said. “Come on, Chet.”
An hour later the boys stopped for lunch. Then after a rest they moved on again, following a mountain stream. They were on the alert the rest of the afternoon, but found no further evidence that the thieves had preceded them. More than once the Hardys had to reassure their friends that they were on the right track. It was the only halfway open route by which heavily laden men could have penetrated the densely forested area.
Finally they decided to make camp. Tony prepared a satisfying hot meal of beans and bacon.
As the boys ate it, Chet gave a huge sigh. “I'm afraid that stolen stuff's gone forever.” he said. “Listen, fellows, you haven't any plans for the summer. How about giving me a hand at the farm to help pay for it?”
“Never milked a cow in my life,” was Tony's excuse.
“Pitching hay makes me sneeze something awful,” said Biff. He shifted his long legs and yawned.
“Doctor says bouncing on a tractor is bad for my heart,” Joe piped up.
Chet refused to laugh. “Then you simply got to find that stuff!” he declared.
“We?” Frank chortled. “We're only helping you.”
Chet grunted, took an extra helping of beans, and announced he was hitting the sack early. All the boys, tired from their long trek, crawled into their sleeping bags within half an hour after eat ing.
In the middle of the night the campers awoke suddenly. Some noise had aroused them. They listened. In the distance an animal howled.
But there had been another sound, too.
A wailing siren!
The Night Prowler
THE campers sat bolt upright as the siren wailed again, its mournful tone fading in the distance.
“That's the same sound we heard over the ocean, Joe!” Frank said in a hoarse whisper.
Instinctively both boys had looked up, associating the sound with a helicopter. But there was no aircraft overhead.
“Hey, what's up?” Chet called.
The boys listened, but the mysterious wailing sound was not repeated.
“You're sure it was the same sound you heard just before you found the money?” Biff asked.
“It sure was,” Joe declared.
Propped on their elbows, the five boys speculated about the source of the noise and what might happen next. Suddenly the howling of the animal they had heard a few minutes before began again. It seemed to be nearer now.
“It's a wild dog!” Chet cried out. “He's smelled us. He might bring his whole pack here!”
Biff suggested building a fire to frighten off the animal.
“But that'll focus attention on us,” Frank objected. “If the siren has anything to do with the money, my kidnappers might spot us.”
The others agreed and waited in the dark. Presently the howling animal became quiet, so the boys settled themselves once more in their sleeping bags.
The next morning while having breakfast, they talked about the disturbance of the previous night.
“Say, it's eight o'clock,” Biff interrupted, glancing at his watch. “Think I'll listen to the news. We might learn something that will explain that siren.”
He reached into his pack, drew out a transistor radio, and tuned in the Bayport station. The voice of the announcer was excited, telling of the disappearance of a plane. The pilot, Jack Wayne, had taken off from Bayport the night before. A short time later he had contacted the airport by radio.
“I'm in trouble!” he had cried. “Hijackers!” Nothing more had been heard from him.
“It's thought he may have crashed on the ocean or in the woodlands beyond Bayport,” the announcer said. “The Coast Guard has been alerted, and State Police have started a search.”