Authors: Franklin W. Dixon
Hardy Boys Casefiles - 23
Disaster for Hire
Franklin W. Dixon
"CAN'T YOU GET this barge moving any faster?" Joe Hardy asked his brother Frank. "This could be — "
"If I hear you say 'life or death' one more time, you're out and walking," Frank said, stopping him short.
Both brothers ducked a wave of spray from their speedboat's bow as they cut through the waters of Puget Sound, moving farther and farther from Seattle, Washington. Frank Hardy was at the wheel, his brother Joe seated beside him. Both brothers' faces were grim as the fiberglass boat whizzed through the gray, overcast September afternoon.
Frank at eighteen was a year older than Joe, a bit slimmer and an inch taller. Right now, his hands were so tight on the boat's steering wheel that his knuckles were white. Joe, spray and wind tousling his blond hair, grabbed the side of the windshield with one hand while the fingers of his free hand drummed on the dashboard.
They passed a gleaming white power cruiser with a party going full blast. One girl, slim and tanned, waved to them.
"This still doesn't make any sense," Joe said, raising his voice over the pulsing beat of music from the party boat.
"That's why we're here," Frank reminded him. "To make some sense out of this whole mess."
Joe stopped tapping and clenched his hand into a fist. "Dad — a murderer! The whole idea is ridiculous."
"We know that. We just have to prove it."
"If only we could find Dad and get his version of what happened."
"We'll find him," Frank promised.
Frowning, Joe hunched lower into his seat. Far off to his left rose the snowcapped peak of Mount Olympus, and all around was the impressive Northwest scenery of forests and mountains. But Joe wasn't paying much attention to any of it.
He was thinking about their missing father, Fenton Hardy. Just two days earlier Joe and Frank had been back in the East, in Bayport, their hometown. As far as they knew then, their father was in Seattle, working on a routine private investigation. All Joe knew was that he'd been hired by the president of a local university. That seemed tame enough. What could go wrong?
A lot of things, apparently. A prominent professor in the university's biotechnology department had been murdered. The local police claimed to have three witnesses who'd seen Fenton Hardy prop the professor's body in a car, then roll it over a cliff. As soon as the auto had burst into flames, Fenton Hardy had supposedly sped away from the scene. No one had seen or heard from him since. Not even his wife or two sons.
Even though their father was a respected private detective with a national reputation, the Seattle police were now convinced he'd committed a brutal murder. They were hunting for him.
As soon as Joe and Frank had heard of the charges against their father, they hopped on a plane for Seattle. After checking into a hotel, the Hardys rented this boat. They had something important to check on before contacting their father's client or the police.
"How much farther?" the impatient Joe now asked.
Frank answered. "I'd guess another fifteen minutes before we get to Berrill Island."
"Can't you crank up a little more speed?"
"Relax," said Frank.
"There's got to be a clue on the island."
"Something," said Frank, "that will tell us about Dad's week out there." Fenton Hardy and John Berrill were old friends, and Berrill had allowed Fenton to use his island lodge while he was in Europe.
Joe shook his head. "I just wish Dad had stayed at a hotel in Seattle instead. We'd have an easier time tracking him down."
"And so would the police," Frank reminded him. "I guess he wanted a little privacy while he was working on this particular case."
"Privacy is right." Joe glanced around. "Robinson Crusoe would get lonely out here."
The sky was lowering and the waters of the sound were taking on a darker cast.
Joe started to drum his fingers again. "We have to talk to these so-called eyewitnesses too."
"If the police'll let us."
"Those people have got to be lying — saying they saw Dad fake an accident to cover a murder."
"Don't forget," reminded Frank, "the cops have three witnesses."
"They've got to figure that one person might be wrong or lying. But three?"
"Come on. What's the number got to do with anything?" said Joe, shaking his head. "If somebody's trying to frame Dad, he can buy a dozen witnesses just as easily as one."
Frank bit his lower lip. "But from the newspaper stories we've looked at, they look like reliable witnesses."
"If they lie about Dad, I wouldn't call them reliable." Joe set his jaw.
"Well, we'll ask the police if we can talk to them, or at least get a look at their statements."
"We should just get on their cases until they admit they're lying."
Frank shot a look at his brother. "Come on, Joe. We don't work that way."
They traveled in silence for the next several minutes. Then Frank said, "This is the island." He cut the engine, swinging the boat in beside a wooden dock.
Joe hopped out, glad for the activity, and got it secured. "So this is it?" he asked as Frank joined him on the ramshackle dock. "I don't see anything but trees. Where's the house Dad was using?"
Facing them was a thick stretch of woodland. The gray afternoon made the shadows of the forest almost black, and a chill drifted down from the tall, dark trees to encircle them.
Frank walked along the slightly swaying dock, pointing. "There's a path over there."
"Path?" Joe grunted. "Mr. Berrill sure wasn't one for weeding."
The trail was barely visible. It was thickly overgrown with high grass and prickly weeds. The Hardys were soon deep in the woods. The feeling of chill deepened.
"You talked to Dad when he phoned four days ago," said Joe, walking single file behind his brother. "You sure he didn't give you any hint he was expecting trouble?"
As they went around a curve, they scared some unseen bird that fluttered up through the branches.
"Joe, we've been over this," said Frank. "The president of Farber University hired Dad to handle some sort of confidential investigation for them. All Dad said on the phone was that he'd seen this Professor Bookman, the guy who was killed, and he was worried about something. It had to do with the biotech laboratory. That's it."
"You should've asked him for more details."
"It didn't seem important at the time," said Frank as they pushed through the forest trail. "Dad doesn't usually talk about his cases until he has the facts. You know that."
"Frank, this professor was worried and then all of a sudden he's dead," Joe said. "Sounds to me like he had good reason to be worried. I bet part of Dad's job was to protect him, and the people the professor was afraid of knocked him off and framed Dad."
"Maybe. I hope this President Fawcette can give us a lead." Frank slowed down. "Looks like we've found the lodge."
About fifty yards ahead of them was a clearing in the woods. The Berrill lodge was fairly large, four or five rooms at least, and finished in redwood shingles. It had a steeply slanting roof, a fat redbrick chimney, and a railed porch running all across the front.
Impatiently, Joe pushed past his brother and ran toward the clearing.
Sprinting through the tall damp grass around the lodge, Joe bounded up the half-dozen wooden steps and pushed open the heavy oak door.
Frank had just reached the edge of the clearing when he saw a flash from the darkness inside the lodge.
Then came the blast of a gunshot—followed by the dull thud of Joe Hardy's body hitting the porch.
"JOE?" FRANK ZIGZAGGED a path through the knee-high grass.
He crouched down as a second shot rang out, and continued in a duck walk to the house.
From inside the lodge Frank heard running feet. Two people at least. Seconds later another door slammed.
Frank straightened up and charged full out for the porch and up the steps.
Joe was sprawled out with his head against the leg of a heavy redwood chair. Frank knelt beside him. "Joe! Are you okay?"
"Huh?" Joe opened his eyes, turned slightly, and tried to sit up.
"I just faked it, so they wouldn't shoot again." Joe shook his head and winced. Then he rubbed his temple.
"They did fire again."
"I didn't hear the second one," said Joe. "When I dived, I must have hit my head. Guess I was out."
"You stay here. I'm going to check out back."
"Bet on it." Frank tore around to the back of the shingled lodge.
Another trail, weedy and overgrown, led away from the rear door and into the stand of fir and pine trees beyond the clearing. The guys from inside were already out of sight. But Frank could hear them. They didn't care how much noise they made, not knowing there was a partner with Joe. Quickly but quietly Frank followed the sound.
Then came a crash and a complaint of pain.
"Get up, you oaf," urged a thin, nasal voice.
A gruffer, deeper voice did some swearing.
Frank slowed his rush. Moving quietly, he eased into the woods.
He could see the pair. A thickset blond man of about thirty, wearing dark jeans and a parka, was sitting on the ground, massaging his ankle. Tugging on him to stand upright was a lean younger man with long dark hair. He was wearing black jeans and a black pullover.
Frank crept forward. Then he came to an abrupt stop as he stepped on a dry fallen branch. The crack was loud in the silent forest.
The younger man yanked out a small revolver and fired.
Frank flattened himself behind a tree. The slug came close enough to tear the bark beside his right ear.
"On your feet. Let's go."
Frank peered around the tree. A second shot rang out and kept him glued to the fir. Less than a minute later he heard the roar of a motor launch starting up. He knew when to retreat and quickly headed back to the lodge.
Joe was sitting in the heavy chair on the porch. "I heard that shot and started to get up." He shook his head. "But I'm still a little out of it."
"It's all right. Our visitors just tried to discourage me from following them."
"Get a look at them?"
Frank nodded. "How's your head?"
"Thick as ever." Joe gently rubbed the sore spot at the back. "I feel sort of dizzy but okay. Really."
"They must have had a boat docked on the other side of the island."
"How many were there?"
"Just two of them," Frank said. "Two men.
One of them is skinny, about twenty-five or so. Long dark hair down to here," — he touched his shoulder — "black headband, looks mean. The other one's maybe thirty or so, big, husky, crew-cut, blond. His partner called him an oaf."
"Sounds like they have the same relationship we do." Joe groaned a little as he followed his brother to the open door.
"There's nobody inside now. Let's go in." Frank groped around, found a light switch, and flipped it. A dangling overhead lamp came on.
The living room of the house where their father had been staying was large. The furniture was heavy and rustic, with Navajo rugs on the floor and paintings of western scenes on the redwood walls. Embers glowed in a deep stone fireplace on the far side of the room.
Frank ran to it and grabbed a poker off the rack, probing at the grate. Then he dropped it with a clatter. "Too late. Somebody just finished burning some papers."
"They've obviously been searching the room." Joe joined his brother after stopping at a small table with its drawer lying on the floor. "Must have been Dad's notes, huh?" He made a disappointed noise. "That means we're too late."
"Let's not say that," said Frank. "Not till we've searched the whole lodge."
Fifteen minutes later Frank was on his hands and knees next to the bed in the room their father had used. He cocked his head, frowning. After sniffing the air, he called out, "Joe, what are you doing?"
There was no answer.
"Are you cooking something? I smell bacon."
From the kitchen Joe replied, "Eating is good for headaches. I'm fixing myself a BLT."
"We're supposed to be hunting for clues."
"I can eat and hunt, don't worry."
"Then get on with it."
"Want a sandwich?"
"Just as well. There's only enough bread for two of them anyway."
Frank looked under the bed, reaching out to get ahold of something. Once he had it out in the light, it turned out to be an old argyle sock.
"Not Dad's," Frank muttered. He tossed it into the brass wastebasket next to the bedside table. "Oops. Wait a minute."
Down at the bottom of the wastebasket was a small memo pad. It might have fallen off the table and landed in there.
He fished it out. All the sheets were blank, but when Frank held the top page to the light he saw the impressions of writing. "Looks like Dad's handwriting."
Frank sat and took a mechanical pencil out of his pocket and slowly and carefully shaded the entire top page. It brought out what his father had written.