Read Danger in the Extreme Online

Authors: Franklin W. Dixon

Danger in the Extreme (5 page)

Metal barriers were set up in a forty-foot square with the ice wall at one end. Two or three large portable bleachers were set up outside each side of the square.

Only athletes were allowed inside the barriers; after Neal and Frank showed their IDs they went in and sat on a bench.

Neal gazed up at the fifty-foot wall. The face rose straight up, but the ice was rough and full of cracks, tiny ledges, and bumps, just like those on a real mountain.

“Freaky” was all Neal said.

“It takes them a week to get it set up,” Frank said, pulling ice axes out of his pack. “Basically, it's a big set of scaffolding with cooling pipes running through it. They pump water through tubes to the top, and the water runs down the face of the wall slowly and freezes.”

Frank noticed that Agents Ardis and DuBelle were remaining in the background. Frank couldn't hear them, but he could see them constantly talking on their radios, directing other agents to move from one place to another.

Frank continued. “To change the shape of the wall they have different pieces they can attach to it. When the water freezes over them it makes a step or a crack.”

“But what if one side is easier to climb than the other?”

“Each race is two heats,” Frank said. “You go up one side while your opponent goes up the other. Then you switch sides. Lowest total time wins.”

As Neal nodded his understanding, two more climbers arrived.

Jamal threw his bag down next to the bench. “What's up, Frank?” He gestured to the guy who'd
come in with him. “ ‘The Claw' here says he's going to show us how it's done.”

Frank instantly recognized Rick “The Claw” Salazar, the top climber on the circuit. He was about Joe's height, six feet, but lanky and incredibly flexible. He wore his shoulder-length black hair pulled back in a ponytail, and a tiny gold ice-ax earring hung from his left ear.

Frank introduced Neal to Jamal and Rick.

“I thought I recognized you,” Rick said. “Sammy said you were competing in the aerials.”

“Yup.”

Salazar held up his fist and glanced at Jamal. “President's kid shreds. That's sick, man—I can't wait to see it.”

Jamal nodded. “That's going to be a wild contest.”

Frank could tell Neal was enjoying the attention. He pulled his steel crampons from his bag and carefully clipped them to his boots. “Who's going to test this wall?” he asked.

“I made a few runs last night,” Jamal said, sitting on the bench next to Neal. “It's sort of sketchy toward the top. Slick as glass.”

“Good,” Salazar said. “You got first, Jamal. Show us the route.”

When Jamal had his gear on, the four athletes walked over to the wall. A safety harness hung down from the top by two nylon ropes. A pulley system would catch Jamal if he slipped off the wall.

Jamal stepped into the harness and ran the rope through his belt. He gave it a sharp tug to make certain it was anchored, then asked Frank to hand him his ice axes.

“Now show us your scoot,” Salazar said.

Jamal looped one ax over a hook on his belt, then swung the other at the wall. The pick end stuck tight in a narrow fissure.

Using his free hand to balance against the wall, Jamal pulled himself up. He jammed the sharp tips of his crampons into the ice.

With a few deft moves, he was twenty feet off the ground. Then he seemed to get stuck.

“There's a fissure above your left hand,” Frank called.

Hanging on the wall like an insect, Jamal reached up as high as he could and jammed the flat adze end of his ax into the fissure. He pulled himself sideways and up, then suddenly fumbled for a foothold. He slipped down a couple of feet, snapping the rope tight.

“Ha!” Salazar shouted. “On a free climb you'd splat, Hawkins.”

“If I fall, I'm gonna make sure it's right on your head, Rick,” Jamal answered.

Jamal wasn't stalled for long. Once he maneuvered around a big bulge in the ice, it was easy climbing to the top.

He stood up on the edge and tossed the safety harness down. “Who's next?”

Salazar grabbed the harness. “Get out your stopwatch, Hardy,” he said. “You're about to see a new record.”

Within seconds Salazar was halfway up the wall. So many ice chips were flying that Frank and Neal had to step back and shield their eyes as they watched him.

Jamal appeared, having climbed down the ladder at the back of the wall. “How's he doing?”

“He's moving,” Neal said. “It's like he's memorized the whole thing.”

Salazar took the wall in big chunks, reaching far over his head with one arm to sink his ax, then pulling up and hammering the other one in above it.

He pulled himself over the top ledge and looked down, smirking. “Here you go, Frank,” he said. “Let's see what you've got.”

The harness landed at Frank's feet.

“Take your time, Frank,” Jamal said. “Don't let him psych you out.”

Frank clipped on the harness and dug his axes into the wall. He hoisted himself up, scooted sideways a foot or so, then started to climb along a small crevasse he had discovered.

“The ice is good,” he said to Jamal. “Not too soft, not too brittle.”

“Yeah,” Jamal said. “Wait till you get to the top. It's not so nice there.”

“How's it going, Frank?” Salazar yelled from
above. “I'm timing you with a sundial up here, man.”

Frank ignored Rick. He looked away from the wall for a moment. He was now about thirty feet up, he guessed. A few spectators were sitting in the bleachers, watching the athletes practice.

Frank came to a big bulge in the ice. He couldn't see the top now; it was like being under a ledge. The safest thing to do would be to go around it, as Jamal had done. But it might be faster to go right over it.

Reaching back over his head, Frank smashed his ax into the bulge. Splinters of ice rained down on him. He tugged. The ax seemed secure.

Frank made sure his feet were set, then slammed the other ax into the ice. Now came the tricky part. He would have to let go with his feet. Then he would be hanging in midair by the ax handles. To get over the ledge he would have to use only his arms, pulling each ax out in turn and hammering it back into the wall—like climbing a Peg-Board.

He let his feet fall free.

“Keep going, Frank,” Jamal shouted. “You got it, buddy.”

Salazar's teasing voice floated down. “You stuck, Frank? Need a ladder?”

Frank pulled the left ax free. Now he hung by one hand. With all his strength, he pulled up and punched the left ax back in as high as he could. It was going well. He'd be over in a few more seconds.

He felt a tug on the rope. Probably nothing, he thought.

Frank reached the top of the ledge. Getting both axes set tight, he concentrated on lifting his right leg up over the edge. Then he would be all the way over.

When he thought he had his crampons dug in well, he tried to pull himself up. He put pressure on his foot.

The ice gave way. His foot lost its grip and swung free. He felt the axes break loose.

Now he was falling. Frank waited for the safety line to stop him. It went tight, snapping his head. Then, just as suddenly, it slackened.

He was falling again. Falling thirty feet to the cold pavement below.

6 Daring Aerials

Frank could see the rope slithering through the pulley on his harness like a snake. If it all pulled through, he'd be dead. Acting on instinct, Frank dropped the ice ax from his right hand and grabbed the cord.

He stopped abruptly and slammed into the wall. Spinning slowly, Frank looked down. He guessed he was still twenty, maybe twenty-five feet up.

“Frank!” Jamal shouted. “What happened?”

“The rope came loose up on top,” Frank said, trying to catch his breath and slow his pounding heart. He checked the harness. The friction of the rope had almost burned through his climbing glove. His hand ached from the effort of holding on.

“I can't hold on much longer,” he said. “If I lose my grip, I'm going to fall.”

As he spun, Frank caught glimpses of Jamal's and Neal's frightened faces. And there was Agent DuBelle, speaking rapidly into her radio.

He felt the rope slipping slowly through his fingers. Kicking out desperately, he managed to get one crampon jammed into the ice wall. That stopped the spinning, at least.

With his left hand, he hacked at the wall with his remaining ice ax. Nothing. It wouldn't stick. He tried again. It grabbed and held.

At that instant, the rope slipped away. Frank found himself on the wall with no safety rope and only one ice ax.

“Hardy! You still on the wall?” It was Salazar calling down from the top.

“He's stuck,” Jamal shouted. “What happened up there?”

“No clue,” Salazar said. “Frank, you going back down?”

Frank had two fingers of his free hand wedged into a tiny crack. He took a deep breath. “I'm coming up,” he said. He noticed a crowd gathering below him.

“Your call, Frank,” Salazar replied.

This time Frank went around the ledge. He set the pick of the ax in his left hand tight in the ice. Then he used the fingers on his handlike pitons,
jamming them into any fissure he could find, and pulled himself up.

His arms shook with the effort, and sweat poured down his face. He climbed slowly, searching blindly with his feet for any foothold.

“A few more feet,” Salazar called. “I'm sending down a new rope.”

Frank found a nice seam and followed it up. When he saw Salazar's rope in front of him, he ignored it. He'd rather complete the climb without help, he decided.

He reached the top, and Salazar grabbed him under one arm and pulled him to his feet.

The crowd below clapped.

“Gutsy climb,” Jamal shouted up at him.

“What happened up here?” Frank asked.

Rick patted him on the back. “Dude, it was bad luck. Those ropes just gave out. They were fine when I went up.”

“Yeah. Bad luck is right,” Frank said.

Salazar smiled. “You need a parachute for this sport, man. A lot safer that way.”

“Let me have a look at that rope.”

Salazar quickly pulled the rope up, coiling it neatly. He pretended to hand it to Frank, then tossed it over the edge.

“Oops. Sorry, Frank.”

Frank started to say something, but Salazar immediately pulled out his ice axes and started back down the wall without the safety harness.

“You coming, Frank?” he asked, grinning mischievously. “I'll race you down.”

Frank watched him disappear over the edge. “No thanks, Rick. I'll take the ladder.” He walked across the top platform to the back of the wall, where a ladder was set up.

Neal, Jamal, and Agent DuBelle met Frank back on the ground.

“What went on up there?” Jamal asked.

“No idea,” Frank replied. “I'd like to take a look at that rope, though.” He hurried around to the front of the wall.

Fred Vale had arrived and had the coil of rope in his hands. He and another Max Games official rushed up to Frank.

“I heard what happened,” Vale said. “You're not hurt, are you?”

“I'm okay,” Frank replied, holding his hand out for the rope.

Vale pulled it away. “Nope. Sorry, friend. Nobody touches this but me.”

“That piece of equipment almost got me killed,” Frank said angrily. “Let me see it.”

Vale looked over Frank's shoulder at Jamal, Neal, and DuBelle. It seemed as though he wanted to yell back at Frank but was restraining himself.

“Look,” he said, keeping his voice low. “I promise I'll personally test every piece of Max Games equipment. But nobody can hear about this, okay. I
do not
skimp on safety equipment.”

Frank turned away in disgust. “Come on,” he said to Neal and Jamal. “Let's get out of here.”

As they packed up their stuff, Frank looked around for Salazar. He wasn't around, and no one seemed to have seen him since he'd climbed down the wall.

Neal said he was hungry, so they headed back over to the snack area at the stadium. They walked past a crowd outside the stadium parking lot, waiting to catch shuttle buses.

“What's up with this crowd?” Neal asked.

“Some events, like say, downhill mountain biking and maximum biathlon, are held at sites outside town,” Jamal answered. “A shuttle bus is the best way to get there.”

“Maximum biathlon?”

“Yeah,” Frank said. “You ride a snowmobile through the woods really fast and stop every mile or so to shoot targets with an air rifle.”

Neal turned to Agent DuBelle, who was hanging back, as usual. “Sounds like an event for you,” he teased.

Agent DuBelle sent back a fake smile. “Sure, Neal. I'll sign right up.”

They all laughed.

As Frank might have guessed, they found Joe in the snack area munching on a chili dog.

When Frank, Jamal, and Neal finally sat down with their food, Joe told them about his run-in with Jim Edwards.

“Fred Vale was totally amped about it,” he said. “He was happy we got into a fight.”

Frank nodded and related his own adventure on the ice wall. “Vale showed up there, too,” he said. “At first he seemed concerned, but when I asked to look at the rope he got all mad about it and told me to keep quiet.”

“I don't know,” Jamal said, taking a gulp of soda. “You really think Vale's so desperate for ratings that he'd endanger the lives of the athletes?”

“All I know is that he was happy I wiped out,” Joe said.

Frank grabbed a bunch of fries. “Either the safety rope was bad or Rick Salazar tried to snuff me.”

Neal's eyes grew wide. “Attempted murder?”

“Come on, Frank,” Jamal said. “Salazar's competitive, but you don't think he'd go that far, do you?”

“He was the only one on top of the wall,” Frank said.

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