Authors: Franklin W. Dixon
Joe lifted his head slowly. Snow plugged his nose and stuck to his eyebrows. “Am I alive?” he asked.
Frank was so relieved he laughed. “Yeah, you're alive.”
“Good, 'cause I sure don't feel alive.” Joe spit out some snow, rolled over, and sat up. He released the few remaining lines to his chute. “Good thing I hit that tree.”
“You made an excellent snow angel,” Frank quipped. “But I thought you were going to be playing a harp, bro.”
“So did I.”
Several people came running across the field to the Hardys.
Frank saw that one of them was Neal Jordan. “We saw it all!” Neal shouted breathlessly. “Joe, are you alive?”
“We were just discussing that,” Joe replied.
Neal laughed. “That was some entrance, dude! Sammy Fear's got nothing on you.”
Agent Ardis and a couple of other agents helped
Joe to his feet. As they walked to the lodge, Ardis let the Hardys know he was angry.
“Why couldn't you two land at the airport and get a ride out here like normal people?” he asked. “Or we could've had someone pick you up there.”
“The nearest airport is forty miles away,” Frank said. “And we were worried about what Sammy Fear might be up to.”
Ardis shook his head. “He's not up to anything. This is all absurd.”
Frank bit his tongue. He didn't want to get into an argument. And besides, he wasn't positive that Neal was in any danger. After all, it would be foolish for anyone to think they could get away with kidnapping the president's son.
An armed agent let them through an eight-foot iron gate. The retreat was a huge log house nestled high on the side of a mountain. There was a concrete helipad out front, and several black sport-utes were parked along a drive leading up to the side of the house.
“Wow!” Joe said. “There must be room for twenty or thirty people to stay here, and the view is great.”
“Yup,” Neal said. “My dad has guests up here a lot. And there has to be room for these guys,” he added, nodding at the agents.
Another agent let them in the front door. Inside, a fire crackled warmly at the far end of a long living room.
Agent DuBelle greeted the Hardys with a concerned but friendly smile. “Agent Ardis radioed me about your accident,” she said. “It's amazing you're not hurt.”
Joe agreed. They all sat down around a square coffee table in front of the fire. A tray of hot soup and sandwiches appeared only a few seconds later. The Hardys and Neal dug in.
“It wasn't an accident,” Joe said. He and Frank related the story of the guy breaking into their van. “We must have caught him before he could get to Frank's chute.”
“How do you know that?” Ardis said. “Your chute could have malfunctioned on its own.”
“I doubt it,” Joe said.
“Yeah,” Frank added. “These are the newest chutes, and Joe's an expert packer.”
DuBelle stood up and went over to the fire. “It's too much of a coincidence that someone broke into your van, and then your chute malfunctioned.”
“Right,” Frank said. “That means the guy knew about parachutes.”
“Sammy Fear,” Neal said.
Agent Ardis sighed loudly. “This is silly speculation.”
DuBelle shook her head. “I think we need to be cautious.”
Ardis threw his arms up in exasperation. “Okay, fine. We'll all be careful. But Sammy Fear's plane
left the airport before the Hardys' plane, and there's no sign of him anywhere.”
No one could answer that one.
“It's a perfect afternoon,” Ardis said to Neal. “Why don't you kids let us worry about Sammy Fear? Neal, take your friends out on the slopes for some snowboarding.”
Neal grinned. “Sounds good to me.”
“The only problem is, we didn't bring our stuff,” Frank said. “We didn't plan to arrive this way.”
“That's okay,” Neal said. He led the Hardys over to a big storage closet in an alcove off the kitchen. He opened the door. It looked like a ski shop inside. Rows of boots and skis lined the walls. “Like I said, there are a few benefits to being the son of the president. When important guests show up, we don't want them to have to worry about anything.”
The Hardys picked out boots that fit, while Neal rummaged around for two of his spare snowboards.
Within minutes Neal, the Hardys, and four agents, including Ardis and DuBelle, were heading outside to hit the slopes.
They hiked a few hundred yards away from the lodge to the start of a nice, steep slope that cut between tall rows of pine and spruce trees. Neal pointed down the mountain. “It's pretty fast,” he said. “Follow my lead the first time down.”
“There's no ski lift,” Joe said. “Are we going to hike back up?”
Neal laughed. “No way.” He pointed back toward the house. Three agents came roaring out of a storage garage on snowmobiles. “They'll follow us down and give us a lift back up.”
“This is the life,” Frank said as he clipped into his board and took off down the mountain after Neal.
The snow was fresh, perfect powder, and the three teens cut down the mountain quickly, dodging between trees and popping over small jumps.
When they reached the bottom, the agents were waiting to take them up.
At the top of the run, they huddled together. The agents on snowmobiles idled their engines nearby. “You guys know the hill now?” Neal asked.
Joe nodded enthusiastically. “Let's race, man. Free-for-all!”
“Hold up, Joe!” Frank hurried to clip back into his board. As he bent down, he thought he heard the drone of an airplane in the distance. He looked up and scanned the sky. Nothing. He must have imagined it.
Then two of the agents slumped over the handlebars of their snowmobiles. The third tumbled off his and lay in the snow.
Frank saw a look of confusion and fear on Neal's face. What was going on?
Frank looked up again. Two parachutists were dropping out of the sky overhead. One pointed a rifle at Frank. The gun made a sinister, hissing pop, and Frank dove behind a tree.
He peeked out. All the agents were down, including Ardis and DuBelle.
Neal stood out in the open, frozen with fear.
“Neal! Joe!” Frank shouted. “Dive for cover!”
Frank watched as his brother took a step toward Neal to pull him to safety. Joe stopped, grabbed at his leg, then stumbled and fell to his knees.
He'd been hit!
The two parachutists released their chutes expertly as they swooped in to land. One ran over and pulled the agents clear from the snowmobiles. The other grabbed Neal.
Frank wasn't about to let them get awayâguns or not. With a wild yell, he rushed out from behind the tree, head lowered.
He felt a projectile whiz past his ear. He dove for the gunman, his hands reaching for the barrel of the rifle.
Pain shot through the back of his skull. Frank collapsed in the snow.
He had to get up. He made it to one knee. Everything was spinning. He thought he might throw up.
Frank shook his head to clear the cobwebs. By the time his vision cleared, the two kidnappers had Neal and were roaring off on the snowmobiles.
He looked around. Everyone else was down. Only Joe moved at all. He was trying to sit up but kept falling back.
Frank took a handful of snow and rubbed it over his face to help himself wake upâthe guy must have clubbed him on the head with the rifle stock.
He got to Joe. “Where are you hit?”
“The, ah, leg,” Joe said slowly.
Frank checked him out. There, sticking out of Joe's thigh, was a plumed dart exactly like the one Frank had seen in Salazar's hotel room. So, he thought. Rick Salazar was the third person who got on the plane with Amanda and Sammy today. That meant Salazar and Fear were the kidnappers. And that they were probably the guys who'd attacked the Hardys with the ice ax and the sled track.
Frank pulled out the dart and smelled the tip. It smelled like the animal tranquilizer he'd seen his friend Chet use when he worked at the zoo.
Luckily, Joe's snowsuit had kept the dart from
penetrating too far. He was groggy, but not totally out.
Frank rubbed some snow on Joe's face. Joe groaned as he waved his arms in protest.
“Sorry, buddy,” Frank said. “That dart was carrying curare. It puts you to sleep and temporarily paralyzes your muscles. You'll be okay in a few minutes.”
Then he went around quickly and checked the agents. They were all unconscious except for Ken Ardis, who was rubbing at his upper arm as he lay on the ground.
“IâI got hit in the arm,” he said, sounding as if he'd just had a shot of novocaine.
“Can you stand?”
Ardis tried to get up but collapsed again. “Stay here,” he mumbled. “Let me call the house with my radio. They'll take the chopper up.”
“Call it in,” Frank said. “Tell them that Joe and I are going after those guys.”
Ardis shook his head. “No, stay put.”
Frank ignored him. He ran to the one remaining snowmobile and pulled it up next to Joe. “Get on!”
Joe climbed on and held on tight.
Frank gunned the engine and tore off down the mountain.
“They've got a big head start,” Joe shouted. His head was starting to clear.
“We'll follow their tracks in the snow,” Frank
said. “We've just got to keep contact until Ardis can call in the helicopter.”
Frank had the sled up to twenty miles an hour. He swerved left, just missing a tree. Low-hanging branches dumped snow on them as they flew through them.
“Where do you think they're headed?” Joe asked. He ducked down as Frank zoomed under a fallen tree trunk that had wedged itself against another tree.
“Don't know,” Frank yelled. “I think I remember seeing some kind of deep ravine on the maps in Salazar's room. It was about ten or twenty miles from the lodge.”
“Are we headed in that direction?”
Frank lost the tracks for a second, then swung back over to them. “Yeah. I think so.”
They reached a small clearing and Joe looked up. A clear, cloudless sky, but no helicopter.
They drove back into the thick woods, bouncing over a snowdrift, then arced neatly between two trees. The snowmobile engine howled like a big-bore motorcycle.
They drove on for ten minutes or so, working hard to travel fast and stay on the tracks.
As they zipped past another tree, a big section of bark exploded, sending splinters into Joe's face. He flinched and looked back over his shoulder.
He tapped his brother on the back.
“Somebody's tailing us,” Joe yelled. “And he's not shooting dartsâhe's firing real bullets!”
Frank glanced back. There was another snowmobile all right, and it was gaining on them. The rider wore a dark ski mask and held an automatic pistol in one hand while he steered with the other.
“Hold on, Joe!” Frank said, zagging hard to the right.
“Don't lose the tracks,” Joe warned. “We'll never find them again.”
Frank yanked the wheel back to the left, almost throwing Joe off the back.
A bullet sang off a small boulder. “He's gaining on us!”
“This is no good,” Frank said. “With both of us on here we're too slow. He's going to catch up at any second.”
“We'll have to ditch it!” Joe shouted.
“No way!” Knowing it was almost impossible to hit a moving target while trying to control a bouncing, bucking snowmobile, Frank decided there was only one way to end this chase.
He threw the handlebars to the left and hit the hand brake. The sled went into a one-hundred-eighty-degree spin.
Now they were facing their attacker. He was only forty or fifty yards away.
Frank revved the engine and raced forward.
“Frank! Are you crazy?” Joe cried.
Like knights jousting, Frank and the other rider headed directly at each other.
Bullets ripped through the air over Joe's head. He looked past Frank's shoulder. The two sleds were only twenty yards apart now. Then fifteen, then ten, fiveÂ .Â .Â .
A bullet crashed into the nose of the snowmobile, sending shards of plastic and fiberglass up at Frank.
Joe waited for Frank or the other driver to swerve.
The masked driver changed course, and not a second too soon. Joe dove at him as he passed, trying to slam a shoulder into him and knock him to the ground.
He made contact, but it wasn't solid. He rolled to a stop in the snow. Looking up, he saw the rider swerve but stay on board.
The guy hit the brakes and swung around. Again Joe was the prey. The rider bore down on him, gun blazing.
Joe lunged clear. The rider flew past. Joe expected him to spin and make a second pass, but the guy kept going and zeroed in on Frank.
They were playing chicken once more, but this was no game.
It looked to Joe as if the two sleds would merely graze each other this time. Then he saw the expression change on Frank's face. His brother steered his snowmobile right into the other rider.
Frank jumped off as the two machines slammed into each other like runaway trains. The sound echoed through the woods.
The gunman flew over his handlebars. Frank's sled rose straight into the air, then flopped down on its side and slid into a tree.
Frank was on his feet quicker than a gymnast. He sprinted toward the fallen rider. The guy appeared to be out cold.
As Frank got close he saw the gunman move. The guy rolled over and leveled his gun right at Frank's head.
“You're dead, kid!” he snarled.
Frank stopped in his tracks and put his hands up. He watched as the guy squeezed the trigger.
The pistol jammedâit was packed with snow.
The thug sprang to his feet just as Frank rushed him. This time Frank wasn't about to get cracked in the head. He pretended he was going in for a tackle, but then stood up straight and nailed the guy in the chest with a powerful front kick.