Authors: Franklin W. Dixon
Frank ignored him. Looking up the steep sheet of ice, he tried to pick the fastest line to the top. He watched as a huge, silver blimp passed overhead, flashing ads for a popular soft drink.
Frank hefted his ice axes. He was ready.
The starter's gun went off, and Frank began his climb up the wall.
His crampons dug into the ice with a crunch. Shards of glistening ice rained down on his head with each blow of his ice axes.
The muscles in his arms started to burn, but the
frenzied cheering of the crowd made him climb even harder.
He thought he could hear Salazar's axes biting into the wall just a few feet away. How high was he? Frank didn't dare look over.
He reached up and slammed his fist into the timer, then let go of the wall, allowing the safety rope to catch his fall.
As he gasped for breath, the crowd screamed its approval. From among the voices, Frank heard his brother shout, “Way to go, Frank!”
He looked at the clock. He was in the lead!
As the crew lowered them to the group, Salazar called over, “You got lucky, man. Now we'll see how you do on the hard side.”
“If you climbed as well as you talked, you'd be winning,” Frank retorted.
When they reached the ground, they took off their safety harnesses to switch sides. As they walked past each other, Salazar lashed out at Frank's leg with his crampon spikes.
Frank tried to jump back but felt the sharp metal tear into his left shin. A few people in the crowd cried out angrily. The officials, however, didn't see the cheap shot.
Frank felt blood trickling down into his boot, but he didn't even have time to check the injuryâthe officials were calling for the two athletes to get ready for the second climb.
Frank's leg throbbed. He thought of telling an
official but dismissed the idea. This was between the two of them. He glared at Rick, getting only a smug grin in return.
The second heat started.
Frank climbed on guts alone. Twice his leg gave out on him as he scrambled up the ice, and those slips cost him precious time.
He slapped the timer.
Frank knew he'd lost before he even looked at the clock. Salazar was lying back in his harness, arms outstretched in celebration as officials lowered him to the ground.
Without even shaking hands with Frank, Salazar dropped his harness and started jumping up and down.
Frank looked at the clock. Salazar had won the gold. Jamal was second, and Frank had ended up third.
Joe and Jamal came running up to him. “Frank, you've got to file a protest, man. We saw what happened,” Jamal said.
“I'm going to wipe that smile off his face,” Joe said.
Frank grabbed his brother by the arm. “Let it go. It's over, bro. And we've got to start getting ready for the sky surfing.”
Frank congratulated Jamal on his silver medal.
“Thanks, Frank. You and Joe have had some really bad luck lately.”
Frank nodded. “Almost falling off the ice wall,
the two guys who attacked us, Joe's wipeouts. I don't think it's bad luck. Somebody wants us out of the Max Gamesâpermanently. But who? Salazar, Fear, Edwards?”
“And why?” Joe added.
A camera crew tried to get an interview, but Frank waved them off. He sat on a bench and pulled up the cuff of his pants. An ugly two-inch gash still oozed blood.
Jamal dug antiseptic, a gauze pad, and some tape from his bag. “I always keep this stuff around for blisters,” he said. “Wrap up that cut, man. It's nasty.”
“I don't think Edwards is in on it,” Joe said quietly. He told Frank and Jamal about the conversation he'd had with Jim earlier. “He was over there showing Sammy Fear how to ride a snowmobile.”
“Sky surfing's the last event,” Frank said, tending to his leg. “If Sammy has some dangerous stunt planned, it's going to happen soon.” He looked up at his two sky-surfing partners. “Keep your eyes open, guys. Be ready for anything.”
Both Joe and Jamal nodded gravely.
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It was late morning when the Hardys stepped out of the Hawkins Air Service building onto the asphalt runway.
They watched Jamal taxi the single-engine plane out of the hangar and steer it toward them.
When Jamal stopped, Joe jogged up to the plane and opened the passenger door. He and Frank tossed their chutes inside.
Jamal stepped out of the plane. “Something weird's going on,” he said to Frank and Joe. He threw a glance over to the hangar, where four other small planes sat lined up and ready to go. “Sammy Fear just told my dad that he wouldn't need a pilot for his plane.”
“What? He hired his own pilot?” Frank asked. He looked over. Sky-surfing contestants milled around the hangar or stood next to the planes, putting on their colorful jumpsuits. He didn't see Sammv Fear or Amanda Mollica.
“I guess so,” Jamal replied. “Games officials were a little upset about itâthey don't like last-minute changesâbut they said it was okay.”
Frank smiled. “The question is, how does your dad feel about someone he doesn't know flying one of his planes?”
“He's dealing with it,” Jamal said, laughing.
Joe checked his helmet cam. “What's the jump order?”
“We're in the first group,” Jamal said, pulling a sheet of paper out of his pocket and unfolding it. “The Max Games are so big we're putting five planes in the air at once. After a team jumps, the pilot has to come back here to pick up the next team.”
Frank zipped up his bright red jumpsuit. “How about Fear and Mollica?”
“They go right before you guys.”
Joe pointed at the hangar. “There they are.”
The three friends watched as Sammy Fear, his long hair hanging out under his helmet, climbed into one of the planes.
“That's Amanda with him, of course,” Jamal said. “But who's the pilot?”
The third figure getting in wore sunglasses and a ski cap pulled down low against the wind. “I can't tell,” Frank said.
“Sammy just wants any edge he can get in the competition,” Joe said. “If he feels better with his own pilot, who cares. We'll still beat them.”
“That's right,” Jamal said. “The gold is ours.”
When officials were satisfied they had everything organized, the five airplanes, loaded with the first five teams, took off into the air and headed toward the stadium.
Jamal climbed to ten thousand feet.
Joe gazed out his window. At this height he could see the entire city of Bayport. Each city block was the size of a postage stamp. “You've got thirty seconds to show your stuff, Frank. You ready?”
Frank was busy clamping his boots into the bindings on his sky surfboard. “Ready,” Frank replied. “Just follow the plan.”
The Hardys had rehearsed their aerobatics for
months. Frank would execute his spins, flips, and flying positions precisely. It was Joe's job to get it all on camera artistically so the crowd and judges could see the incredible show on the Jumbotron in the stadium.
As Joe put on his parachute and cinched it tight, he heard Jamal speaking rapidly into the radio up in the cockpit. “Everything cool?” he asked.
Jamal looked back over his shoulder. “Sammy Fear's up to something,” he called over the drone of the engine.
Frank and Joe looked at each other.
“Fear and Mollica didn't jump,” Jamal continued.
“What happened?” Frank asked. “Is something wrong with their plane?”
“No. They didn't head back to the airport,” Jamal replied. “They took off due west. The tower's trying to contact them, but they won't answer.”
Joe held up his hands in a gesture of futility.
“The guy's crazy. Who knows what he's up to.”
“They want you guys to go ahead and jump,” Jamal said. “I'll bring the plane around, then you can open the door.”
Putting on their helmets and goggles, the Hardys got ready to jump.
“Ten seconds,” Jamal said. Then he started counting down.
Frank opened the door, and the cold wind came howling in.
“Seven, six, fiveâ” Jamal said.
Frank slammed the door shut and ripped off his goggles. “Jamal! Head west,” he shouted.
“What're you doing, Frank?”
Frank looked at his brother, then motioned for him to sit down again. “I think I figured out what Fear's big stunt is,” he said. “They're going to kidnap Neal Jordan.”
“What?” Jamal shouted. “That's nuts!”
“No, listen,” Frank said. “It all makes sense.” He held out his hand and ticked off one finger with each fact. “The maps of the Catskill Mountains I found in Salazar's hotel room; the sky-diving radio; that wild stunt when Fear and Mollica BASE-jumped from the stadium and Salazar rappelled downâthat was practice for the kidnapping attempt. They're going to fly over the presidential retreat, skydive, and somehow grab Neal.”
Joe stared at his brother in disbelief.
“They already tried to kidnap Neal once,” Frank said. “At the snowboard aerials yesterday.”
Joe's expression changed. “You mean that prank Sammy pulled by taking Neal's jump for him?”
“He told Neal to meet Amanda over at the stadium. That proves it wasn't a spur-of-the-moment thing like Sammy said. He had a plan, but Agent DuBelle and I screwed it up.”
“And this is their backup plan,” Joe said.
Frank nodded. He dug his wallet out of his pack and found a phone number Neal had given him to
call when they were ready to visit him in the Catskills.
Going to the cockpit, he sat down in the copilot's seat, next to Jamal. “Get on the radio,” he said. “Get us patched in to this number.”
Less than a minute later, Frank was talking to Agent Ardis at the presidential retreat.
“That sounds pretty far-fetched,” Ardis said. “I think you should stick to sky surfing and let the Secret Service do its job, young man.”
“Just be extra careful,” Frank said.
“I'll put everyone on alert,” Ardis replied, but Frank could tell by the tone of his voice that the agent was only humoring him.
Then Neal got on the line. “Frank, man?”
“Dude, the skiing's great.”
“Excellent!” Frank said. “We'll be there in aboutâ” He looked at Jamal.
“Thirty, maybe thirty-five minutes,” Jamal said.
Frank relayed the information to Neal and signed off.
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About half an hour later, Jamal pointed out of the windshield. “There's the lodge,” he reported.
“Circle around,” Frank said.
Jamal took the plane around, while Frank studied the horizon. There was no sign of another airplane. Maybe he'd been wrong about Sammy Fear's plans after all.
As Jamal took the plane up to five thousand feet, a safe skydiving altitude, Frank and Joe got ready to jump.
Joe opened the door and looked out. “This is a pretty intense way to drop in for a visit,” he said.
Frank laughed as he pulled down his goggles. “See you on the ground,” he said, and jumped out into the wind.
Seconds later Joe followed.
The wind grabbed him for a second as he cleared the plane, then he was falling free and clear.
He enjoyed the view as he counted off the seconds. The mountains were beautiful, and the snow was so white in the bright sun that it made his eyes hurt.
He pulled his rip cord.
From experience, Joe expected the chute to jerk him up as it opened and caught air. He felt a slight tugâthat was all.
Joe heard a ripping sound and looked up. His heart caught in his throat.
His main chute and his reserve had come out in one big tangled ball. The wind whipped at the knotted mass over his head.
He was not slowing down.
Joe realized that the guy who had broken into the van hadn't wanted to steal anythingâhe'd wanted to sabotage the chutes!
He spun so fast now that his vision was a blur of flashes of blue sky, then dark earth. It all seemed to blend together.
Frank saw the trouble his brother was in, but he'd already opened his chute. There was no way he could dive down to help. He watched in shock as Joe fell like a stone, growing smaller and smaller in the distance.
Joe was falling so fast now that he saw black spots in front of his eyesâhe was about to lose consciousness. He had to do something, anything.
Digging into the pocket of his jumpsuit, he found his pocketknife.
The freezing wind tore at the knife, trying to rip it from his cold fingers. He got the blade open and reached overhead to the tangle of cords.
Blindly he started cutting. The blade went through the cords one and two at a time. Joe had no idea if he was cutting lines to the reserve or the main chute. He only knew he was going to hit the ground any second now.
He sliced through another cord. He felt something give way. Looking up, Joe saw his reserve chute rip away.
The main chute unfurled about halfwayâthree or four of its cords were gone. Joe thought he was slowing down a little. But was it too little, too late?
He gasped in pain as something slammed into his ribs like a baseball bat.
Realizing he'd hit a tree, Joe reached out to try to grab a branchâanything to slow himself down a little.
He tumbled through the branches in a cold cloud of snow and snapping limbs.
He slammed into the ground, and all the whiteness of the snow suddenly went black.
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Frank had watched helplessly as Joe disappeared into the top of a tall, snow-laden pine tree. His only thought as he fell was, How am I going to tell Mom and Dad that Joe is dead?
Frantically, his heart trying to pound its way out of his chest, Frank steered his chute in the direction of the pine tree.
He landed softly and cut his chute. He had to get to Joe.
He found his brother facedown, spread-eagle in a snowdrift. “Joe!” he yelled, dropping to his knees next to the body.