Authors: Franklin W. Dixon
At the bottom of the pile, he found another interesting letter. It read:
I'm pleased to hear you'll be competing in the Max Games snocross event. I'm aware that you usually receive a five-thousand-dollar fee to appear at such events.
Unfortunately, due to financial limitations, I can't pay you to be here. However, I can offer you great television exposure and a chance to attract top sponsors.
I hope you'll still be able to compete.
The letter was signed by Fred Vale.
Frank felt a chill go down his spine. Here was evidence that Vale was having money problems.
Could that be the reason for all the wild stuff going on?
Frank tossed the letters down and went over to the phone. There he found a yellow sticky pad with a short note on it: “Talk to Fear again about quick $.” Frank remembered seeing Fear and Edwards together in the pit area after Joe's first wreck. What were they in on?
Frank made one last search of the room. The one thing he didn't find was a spare snowmobile track like the one the thug had used to smash his face just a couple of hours earlier. But of course that could still be at the stadium. Frank hoped Joe hadn't run into trouble.
He needn't have worried. By the time he'd retraced his steps and escaped unnoticed out the hotel service door, Joe was waiting for him.
Frank jumped in the van and pulled off his tie.
“That thing strangling you?” Joe joked.
“Like a rope,” Frank said, tossing the offending garment into the back of the van. “How'd the ceremony go?”
Joe flashed his gold medal. “Nice, huh?”
Frank studied it. Almost the size of a hockey puck, the medal showed a snowmobile and rider flying through the air. Around the edge, lettering said, Third Annual Max Games Snocross Champion. “Beautiful,” Frank said. “I can't wait till I win one for ice climbing tomorrow.”
Joe wheeled the van through the quiet streets. “Find anything in the hotel?”
“I think I got some good clues.” Frank told Joe about what he'd found and the conversation between Mollica and Salazar.
“What could the big stunt be?” Joe asked, mostly to himself.
“Don't know,” Frank replied. “But I thought it was pretty strange that Salazar had a target rifle and a skydiving radio.”
“Fred Vale must be behind it all,” Joe said. “That letter just about proves he'll go broke unless the Max Games do great this year.”
Frank stared out the window for a moment, thinking. “How did Edwards act at the awards?”
“Totally cool,” Joe answered. “I'm starting to change my mind about him. He seems like a good guy.”
“Don't make friends too quickly,” Frank warned. “I figure he's involved in all this somehow.”
Both Hardys were exhausted by the time they pulled into the driveway. They talked to their parents for a few minutesâFrank tried to explain his swollen faceâthen went upstairs to go to sleep.
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Joe bolted upright in bed. His clock radio read 5:15
He listened intently. A car hummed by, its lights making his curtains glow for a second.
There! He heard it again. A sound from outside.
He got up, slipped on some sneakers, and padded over to Frank's room.
“Frank. Wake up,” he whispered.
“What? Huh?” Frank rolled over.
Joe heard the noise again. A clunk, like something metallic hitting the driveway. He went over to Frank's window and peered out. There was the van, right where he'd parked it. He could see the small hole the ice ax had made in the roof.
He heard the noise again, and the van seemed to rock a littleâor was it his imagination?
Now Frank was fully awake.
Joe held a finger to his lips, motioning for his brother to stay quiet. Together they crept downstairs and outside, where it was cold and dark.
Joe edged silently around the back of the van. At first he didn't see anything unusual. Then his eyes adjusted to the darkness.
He motioned for Frank to take a look.
Frank followed Joe's gaze. The side door of the van was open, and someone was inside.
The Hardys crept forward, Frank leading the way. Staying close to the side of the van, Frank leaned over and peeked in the open door. He saw something move and pulled his head back quickly.
“One guy, I think,” he whispered to Joe.
“I say we rush him.”
Frank nodded. He sprang in front of the door, only to get hit in the mouth with a long-barreled flashlight.
Joe saw his brother crumple to the ground in pain. A figure dressed all in black, his face covered with a ski mask, jumped from the van.
The guy sprinted past Joe toward the street.
“Get him!” Frank shouted.
Joe took off down the driveway. With his running
back's speed, he figured he'd catch this joker in no time.
Frank's assailant had other plans, though. He cut across the Hardys' front lawn.
Joe saw what the guy was running for: there was a mountain bike leaning against the Hardys' mailbox post.
The two of them were going full speed when they made it to the street. As Joe was about to make a diving tackle, he felt his foot go out from under him. He'd slipped on a patch of ice. He went down hard, cracking his elbow on the pavement and yowling in pain.
Joe tried to stand up. If he could knock the guy off the bike, he and Frank could get some answers.
But what he saw sent a rush of fear and adrenaline through his body.
The bike speeding toward him had steel-studded ice tires. They'd shred his skin like razor blades.
His attacker pedaled furiously.
Joe dove toward the curb. The front tire of the bike clipped his right heel, and then the rider was gone into the darkness.
Joe sat up and caught his breath. His right shoe had a two-inch rip in it, but he was unhurt.
He got up to check on his brother. Frank was inside the van, rummaging around. His lip was swollen and bloody, and his face was a kaleidoscope of colors from the attack the night before, but other than that he was okay.
“Nothing seems to be missing,” he said.
Joe rubbed his arms to keep warm. “We must've scared him off before he could find whatever he was after.”
Frank nodded. “Did you see who it was?”
“Had a ski mask on,” Joe said. “But I'd bet the fact that he was riding a mountain bike with mean-looking ice tires means he's connected to the Max Games somehow.”
The Hardys heard their mother's voice. “What's going on out there, you two?”
Frank slammed the van door shut. “Let's get some breakfast.”
Laura Hardy gasped when she saw Frank's newest injury. “What happened now?” She got some ice for his swollen lip from the freezer.
“Somebody broke into the van,” Joe said. “We chased him off.”
Mrs. Hardy handed Frank the ice. “Should I wake your father? Or call the police?”
Frank shook his head. “The guy didn't get away with anything valuable.”
“And if I find out who it was, he's not going to get away with clocking you in the face.”
“Joe,” Mrs. Hardy scolded. “Sit down. Since we're all up, I'll make some pancakes.”
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Several hours later, the Hardys met Jamal outside the athletes' entrance to the climbing wall.
“You juiced, Frank?”
Frank knocked fists with Jamal. “You got it, man. Big day todayâice climb, then sky surfing.”
“What happened to your face?”
“He tried to stop a truck with it,” Joe quipped.
Frank punched his brother in the shoulder, then started to fill Jamal in on everything that had happened since the previous night.
As they walked to the benches around the wall, Frank spotted Mollica, Fear, and Salazar and had to clam up. “I'll tell you more later,” he whispered.
Jamal nodded. They set their climbing gear down on the bench right next to Salazar's.
One official was busy checking the hardness of the ice, while another started and stopped the electronic clock over and over again, making certain it worked perfectly.
Frank glanced up at the sky. Clear, not too cold. It was going to be a beautiful day.
Rick Salazar ruined Frank's mood by pestering him about his near fall the day before. “Hey, Frank,” he called. “You bring your parachute today?”
“Don't humiliate Frank too much today,” Fear said, sitting on the bench next to Rick. “Amanda and I want something to be left for us to destroy in the sky-surfing competition.”
“I'm ready for anything you've got, Sammy. You, too, Rick,” Frank said.
Fear grinned. “We'll see, won't we?”
“Yo, Sammy!” someone called.
They all turned to see Jim Edwards show his athlete's ID and come through the gate.
“Sammy,” he said. “You ready now?”
“Yeah,” Fear called. He gave Frank a hard stare as he walked past. Frank didn't blink.
“You could break that dude in two,” Jamal said as Edwards and Fear headed back toward the stadium.
Joe leaned close to his brother. “I'm going to follow those two. See what's up.”
“Yo, ladies!” Salazar chided. “No telling secrets. It's rude.”
Joe laughed him off. “No big secret, man. Just going to the stadium to get a snack.”
Joe hurried after Edwards and Fear, staying far enough back so they wouldn't notice him.
To Joe's surprise, the two athletes ended up in the snocross pit area. Though he was too far away to hear what they were saying to each other, it was obvious that Edwards was teaching Fear some basic snocross riding techniques.
Fear straddled Jim's sled. As Edwards talked to him, he leaned left, then right, then stood up on the side runners.
After about ten minutes of this, Jim started up the snowmobile and coasted it slowly onto the track. He then stepped back and watched as Sammy got on and took off slowly around the course.
Joe was startled to hear someone call his name.
He turned toward the voice. Edwards was waving to him.
“Joe! Come on over and watch this.”
Joe realized he'd have to make up a story quickly or either Edwards or Fear would figure out that he'd been following them. He ambled over to Jim.
“How come you're not at the ice wall, watching your brother?” Edwards asked.
“Oh, the competition hasn't started yet,” Joe replied. “And I wanted to get one last thing cleared up between us.”
Jim looked at him suspiciously. “Yeah, what?”
“That replacement ski you gave me for my sled. How come it broke?”
Jim laughed. “I didn't sabotage it, if that's what you're wondering.”
Joe blushed. “I had to ask.”
“Since I lost my sponsor, I've had to buy cheap parts,” Jim said. “It just gave out on you, that's all.”
Jim pointed to Sammy, who was now bounding around the course at a good pace. “Can you believe that nut? He's paying me to give him snocross lessons. Claims he's going to start competing in the maximum biathlon.”
Joe watched Sammy go around and around. He believed Edwards about the broken ski. He even believed that the lessons he was now giving Fear explained the note Frank had found in his hotel room. But there was one other questionâand it
was a big one. Who were the guys who'd come after them with an ice ax and a snowmobile track the previous evening?
“Speaking of spare parts,” Joe said as casually as he could, “someone broke into our van this morning. I don't know what they were looking for.”
“No way!” Edwards said. “That happened to me, too. Some jerk snatched the only spare track I had for my sled. If I find the guy, he's dead.”
“Not if I catch him first,” Joe said with a smile.
Joe believed Jim was telling the truth. That meant he wasn't one of the two thugs he and Frank had gone up against.
He told Jim he'd catch him later and headed over to the ice wall.
By the time he made it back, the competition had already started. The stands were filling up, and the top five climbing times were posted on the electronic scoreboard.
He sat down next to Frank. “How's it going?”
“The wall is tough,” Frank said. “A few guys haven't even been able to finish it.” He pointed to the wall. “You're just in time, though. Jamal's up.”
“Who's he paired with?” Joe asked. He knew that ice climbers didn't race against each other as much as they raced against the clock. Though it helped to be paired with someone who would push you to climb your best, beating him wasn't worth much if your time was slow. The three fastest times would get medals. That was it.
“Dirk Polking,” Frank replied. “It'll be a good race.”
The starter's gun fired. Joe watched as Jamal and Dirk scrambled to the wall and started up.
They were even until Polking slipped. He dropped a few feet before the safety line stopped his fall. He hung there by his harness, spinning slowly.
“All right, Jamal!” Frank shouted as Jamal reached the top and slapped the timer with one palm.
Max Games officials then used the safety lines to lower both Jamal and Dirk back to earth.
They switched sides, and the starter pulled the trigger again.
This time Dirk didn't fall. He slapped the timer just a few hundredths of a second behind Jamal, but it didn't matter; his failure on the first climb had cost him any chance at a medal.
Joe pointed at the scoreboard. “Take a look, Frank. Jamal's in first place.”
Frank didn't have time to congratulate his friend. The next two names the announcer called were Hardy and Salazar.
Frank could feel Rick staring at him as they walked to the wall and strapped on the safety harnesses. “You're gonna lose, Hardy,” Salazar hissed. “I'm going to humiliate you in front of all these people.”