بخش 02

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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When they got back to the Kanes’, they found the farmer and his wife somewhat recovered from their harrowing experience. Mrs. Kane was busy straightening up the kitchen.

“We couldn’t catch them,” Frank reported sadly.

“Well, those hoodlums had a high-powered car and they weren’t wastin’ any time. I could see ‘em from the window as they went down the lane,” the farmer remarked, frowning angrily at the recollection.

“Please tell us exactly what happened, Mr. Kane,” Joe urged.

“Well, Mabel and I were here in the kitchen,” the man began. “Mabel was washin’ the supper dishes when this fellow came to the door. He was a tall chap with a long, thin face.”

“He asked us if we were looking after the man that was almost drowned earlier,” the farmer’s wife took up the tale. “When we said we were, the fellow told us that Mr. Jones was his brother and he had come to take him away.”

“I got suspicious,” Mr. Kane broke in. “He didn’t look nothin’ like Jones. I asked him where he lived.”

“At that,” Mrs. Kane said, “he walked in the house with another fellow right at his heels.

They grabbed my husband. Henry put up an awful good fight but he was outnumbered. When I tried to help, a third man appeared from nowhere and held me back.”

“They dragged us into the livin’ room, tied us to those chairs, and put the gags in our mouths,” the farmer continued. “Then we heard ‘em goin’ into Jones’s room. Pretty soon they carried him out to a car where a fourth fellow was sittin’ at the wheel.”

“Did Jones put up a fight when they took him away?” Frank asked.

“He tried to. He hollered for help, but of course I couldn’t do anythin’ and he was too weak to struggle much.”

“This whole affair is very peculiar,” Mr. Hardy observed. “Perhaps Jones is mixed up in the smuggling going on around here. But who were those four men, I wonder?”

Mrs. Kane shook her head. “All I know is, we’re sure glad you and your sons came out tonight. There’s no telling how long we’d have been tied up before somebody found us!”

“We’re glad, too, that we got here,” Frank replied.

“You folks say your name’s Hardy?” said the farmer. “Any relation to Fenton Hardy?”

“Right here.” The detective smiled.

“Pleasure to know you!” exclaimed Kane heartily, putting out his hand. “If anyone can get to the bottom of this business, you can.”

“I’ll certainly try,” the boys’ father promised.The Hardys bade the farmer and his wife good-by. They promised to call again at the Kane farm as soon as they had any further information, and Mr. Kane, in turn, said he would notify them if he found any trace of Jones or his kidnapers.

When they returned home the boys followed their father into his study.

“What do you make of all this, Dad?” Joe asked.

Mr. Hardy sat down at his desk. He closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair a few moments without speaking.

“I have only one theory,” he said at last. “The kidnapers probably are Snattman’s friends. That means you boys may have uncovered the fact that there is a whole gang of smugglers around here.”

The brothers were pleased with their progress. “What do we do next, Dad?” Joe asked eagerly.

“I want to evaluate this case from every angle,” their father replied. “I’ll think about it and talk to you later.” With this the boys had to be content for the rest of the week end.

When the brothers came downstairs Monday morning, Mrs. Hardy was putting their breakfast on the table.

In answer to the boys’ inquiries, she replied, “Your father went out early this morning in his car. He didn’t say when he would return. But your dad didn’t take a bag with him, so he’ll probably be back today.”

Mrs. Hardy was accustomed to her husband’s comings and goings at odd hours in connection with his profession and she had learned not to ask questions.

Frank and Joe were disappointed. They had looked forward to resuming a discussion of the case with their father.

“I guess we’re left on our own again to try finding out something about those smugglers,” Frank remarked, and Joe agreed.

Later, when they reached Bayport High School, the brothers saw Iola Morton standing on the front steps. With pretty, dark-haired Iola was her best friend Callie Shaw. Callie, a blond, vivacious, brown-eyed girl, was Frank’s favorite among all the girls in his class.

“How are the ghost hunters this morning?” she asked with a mischievous smile. “Iola told me about your adventures on Saturday.”

“Chet was really scared,” Iola chimed in. “I think somebody played a good joke on all of you.”

“Well, whoever it was had better return the telescope eyepieces and our motorcycle tools,” Joe said defiantly.

But as the day wore on and none of their classmates teased them or brought up the subject, the Hardys became convinced that the “ghost” had been serious and not just playing pranks.

“It was no joke,” Joe said to Frank on the way home. “If any of the fellows at school had done it, they’d have been kidding us plenty by now.”

“Right,” Frank agreed. “Joe, do you think the smugglers had anything to do with what happened at the Pollitt place?”

“That’s a thought!” exclaimed Joe. “That house on the cliff would be a great hide-out. If the smugglerscould make the house appear to be haunted, everyone would stay away.”

“I wish Dad would get home, so we could take up this idea with him,” Frank said thoughtfully.

But Mr. Hardy did not come home that day. He had often been away for varying lengths of time without sending word, but on this occasion, since he had not taken a bag, the boys felt uneasy.

“Let’s not worry Mother about this,” Frank said. “But if Dad’s not back by Wednesday-at the latest-I think we should do some inquiring. Maybe Pretzel Pete will be able to help us.”

Joe agreed. Wednesday was the start of their summer vacation and they could give full time to trying to locate their father.

On Tuesday afternoon the mystery of Mr. Hardy’s absence took a strange turn. Frank and Joe came home from school to find then- mother

seated in the living room, carefully examining a note that she evidently just had received.

“Come here, boys,” Mrs. Hardy said in an apprehensive tone. “Look at this and tell me what you think.”

She handed the note to Frank.

“What is it?” he asked quickly. “Word from Dad?”

“It’s supposed to be.”

The boys read the note. It was typed on a torn sheet of paper and the signature looked like Fen-ton Hardy’s. It read:

I won’t be home for several days. Don’t worry. Fenton.

That was all. There was nothing to indicate where the detective was; nothing to show when the note had been written.

“When did you get this, Mother?” asked Frank.

“It came in the afternoon mail. It was addressed to me, and the envelope had a Bayport postmark.”

“Why are you worried?” Joe asked. “At least we’ve heard from Dad.”

“But I’m not sure he sent the note.”

“What do you mean?”

“Your father and I have an agreement. Whenever he writes me, he puts a secret sign beneath his signature. Fenton was always afraid that someone would forge his name to a letter or note, and perhaps get papers or information that he shouldn’t have.”

Frank picked up the note again. “There’s no sign here. Just Dad’s signature.”

“It may be his signature. If not, it’s a very good forgery.” Mrs. Hardy was plainly worried.

“If Dad didn’t write this note,” Joe asked, “who did and why?”

“Your father has many enemies-criminals whom he has been instrumental in sending to prison. If there has been foul play, the note might have been sent to keep us from being suspicious and delay any search.”“Foul play!” exclaimed Frank in alarm. “Then you think something has happened to Dad?”

CHAPTER VII

The Hidden Trail

JOE put an arm around his mother. “Frank and I will start a search for Dad first thing tomorrow,” her son said reassuringly.

Next morning, as the boys were dressing, Joe asked, “Where shall we start, Frank?”

“Down at the waterfront. Let’s try to find Pretzel Pete and ask him if Dad talked to him on Monday. He may give us a lead.”

“Good idea.”

The brothers reached the Bayport waterfront early. It was the scene of great activity. A tanker was unloading barrels of oil, and longshoremen were trundling them to waiting trucks.

At another dock a passenger ship was tied up. Porters hurried about, carrying luggage and packages to a line of taxicabs.

Many sailors strolled along the busy street.

Some stepped into restaurants, others into amusement galleries.

“I wonder where Pretzel Pete is,” Frank mused. He and Joe had walked four blocks without catching sight of the man.

“Maybe he’s not wearing his uniform,” Joe surmised. “You know, the one Dad described.”

“Let’s turn and go back the other way beyond the tanker,” Frank suggested.

The boys reversed their direction and made their way through the milling throng for six more blocks.

Suddenly Joe chuckled. “Here comes our man.”

Strolling toward them and hawking the product he had for sale came a comical-looking individual. He wore a white cotton suit with a very loose-fitting coat. Around his neck was a vivid red silk handkerchief, embroidered with anchors.

The vendor’s trousers had been narrowed at the cuff with bicycle clips to keep them fromtrailing on the ground, with the result that therewas a continuous series of wrinkles from the edge of his coat to his ankles.

The man wore a white hat which came down to his ears. On the wide brown band the name Pretzel Pete was embroidered in white letters.

“Boy, that’s some gear!” Frank murmured.Pretzel Pete’s garb was bizarre, but he had an open, honest face. He stopped calling “Pretzels! Hot pretzels! Best in the land!” and smiled at the Hardys. He set down the large metal food warmer he carried. From the top of it rose three short aerials, each ringed with a dozen pretzels.

“You like them hot, or do you prefer them cold?” he asked the brothers.

Joe grinned. “If they’re good, I can eat them any way.” Then he whispered, “We’re Mr. Fen-ton Hardy’s sons. We’d like to talk to you.”

At that moment a group of sailors brushed past. Pretzel Pete did not reply until they were out of earshot, then he said to the boys, “Come into this warehouse.”

The brothers followed him down the street a short distance and through a doorway into an enormous room which at the moment was practically empty.

“You’ve brought a message from your pop?” the vendor asked.

Quickly Frank explained to him that their father seemed to be missing. “We thought you might have heard this.”

“Yes, I did,” Pretzel Pete answered. “But I didn’t think nothing about it. I always thought detectives disappeared-sometimes in order to fool people they were after.”

“They sometimes do,” Joe told him. “But this time seems to be different. Dad said he often came down here to get information from you-because you always give him good tips-and we wondered if you had seen him lately.”

“Yes.”

“When?”

“Monday morning.”

“Dad has been gone ever since.”

“Hmm.” The man frowned, picked up a pretzel from one of the aerials, and began to munch on it. “Help yourselves, fellows.”

Frank and Joe each took one of the pretzels.

They had just bitten into the delicious salted rings when Pete continued, “Now you got me worried. Your pop’s a fine man and I wouldn’t want to see anything happen to him. I’ll tell you a place you might look for him.”

Pretzel Pete said that he had picked up a bit of information that led him to think an East Indian sailor named Ali Singh might be engaged in some smuggling. The vendor did not know what ship he sailed on, but he understood that the man had come ashore for a secret meeting of some gang.

“This here meeting,” Pretzel Pete explained, “was being held out in the country somewhere off the shore road. It was to be in a deserted farmhouse on Hillcrest something or other. I don’t remember whether it was ‘road’ or ‘street’ or what.”

“Was this last Monday?” Frank asked eagerly.”Oh, no,” the vendor answered. “This was about three weeks ago, but when I told your pop he seemed real interested and said he guessed he’d go out there and look around.”

Joe broke in, “Dad must have thought the rest of the gang might be living there. Maybe they’re holding him a prisoner!”

“Oh, I hope not,” Pretzel Pete said worriedly. “But you fellows had better get right out there and take a look.”

“We certainly will,” Frank told the man.

The brothers thanked Pretzel Pete for the information, then hurried home. Mrs. Hardy was not there, so they did not have a chance to tell her about their plans.

“We’ll leave a note,” Frank decided and quickly wrote one.

Their hopes high, the brothers set off on their motorcycles on the search for their father. By now they were very familiar with the shore road but did not recall having seen any sign reading Hillcrest.

“Suppose it’s not marked,” said Joe. “We’ll never find it.”

Frank gripped his handle bars hard. “If Dad found it, we won’t give up until we do.”

The motorcycles chugged past side road after side road. The farther away from Bayport the boys went, the farther apart these roads became.

After a while they came to the Kanes’ farmhouse and were tempted to stop to see if they might know where Hillcrest was. But just then, a short distance ahead, Joe saw a small car suddenly turn into the shore road. It seemed to have come right out of a clump of bushes and trees.

“Come on, Frank! Let’s investigate that place.”

The boys pushed ahead, hoping to speak to the driver of the car. But he shot down die road in the opposite direction at terrific speed. When Frank and Joe reached the place from which he had just emerged, they saw that it was a road, though hardly noticeable to anyone passing by.

“I’ll take a look and see where it goes,” Frank said, shutting off his motorcycle and walking up the grassy, rutted lane. Suddenly he called back, “We’re in luck, Joe. I see a homemade sign on a tree. It says Hillcrest Road.”

Frank returned to his brother and the boys trundled their machines up among the trees to hide them. Then they set off afoot along the almost impassable woods road.

“There aren’t any tire tracks,” Joe remarked. “I guess that fellow who drove out of here must have left his car down at the entrance.”

Frank nodded, and then in a low tone suggested that they approach the deserted farmhouse very quietly, in case members of the gang were there.

“In fact, I think it might be better if we didn’t stay on this road but went through the woods.”

Joe agreed and silently the Hardys picked-their way along among the trees and through the undergrowth.

Five minutes later they came to a clearing in which stood a ramshackle farmhouse. It looked as if it had been abandoned for many years.The young sleuths stood motionless, observing the run-down building intently. There was not a sound of activity either inside or outside the place. After the boys had waited several minutes, Frank decided to find out whether or not anyone was around. Picking up a large stone, he heaved it with precision aim at the front door. It struck with a resounding thud and dropped to the floor of the sagging porch.

Frank’s action brought no response and finally he said to Joe, “I guess nobody’s home. Let’s look in.”

“Right,” Joe agreed. “And if Dad’s a prisoner there, we’ll rescue him!”

The boys walked across the clearing. There was no lock on the door, so they opened it and went inside.

The place consisted of only four first-floor rooms. All were empty. A tiny cellar and a loft with a trap door reached by a ladder also proved to have no one in them.

“I don’t know whether to be glad or sorry Dad’s not here,” said Frank. “It could mean he escaped from the gang if he was caught by them and is safely in hiding, but can’t send any word to us.”

“Or it could mean he’s still a captive somewhere else,” Joe said. “Let’s look around here for dues.”

The boys made a systematic search of the place. They found only one item which might prove to be helpful. It was a torn piece of a turkish towel on which the word Polo appeared.

“This could have come from some country club where they play polo,” Frank figured.

“Or some stable where polo ponies are kept,” Joe suggested.

Puzzled, Frank put the scrap in his pocket and the brothers walked down Hillcrest Road. They brought their motorcycles from behind the trees and climbed aboard.

“What do you think we should do next?” Joe asked.

“See Police Chief Collig in Bayport,” Frank replied. “I think we should show him this towel Maybe he can identify it.”

Half an hour later they were seated in the chief’s office. The tall, burly man took a great interest in the Hardy boys and often worked with Fenton Hardy on his cases. Now Chief Collig gazed at the scrap of toweling for a full minute, then slapped his desk.

“I have it!” he exclaimed. “That’s a piece of towel from the Marco Polo!”

“What’s that?”

“A passenger ship that ties up here once in a while.”

Frank and Joe actually jumped in their chairs. Their thoughts went racing to Ali Singh, smugglers, a gang at the deserted farmhouse I

At that moment Chief Collig’s phone rang. The Hardys waited politely as he answered, hoping to discuss these new developments with him. But suddenly he put down the instrument, jumped up, and said: “Emergency, fellows. Have to leave right away!” With that he rushed out of his office.

Frank and Joe arose and disappointedly left headquarters. Returning home, they reported everything to their mother, but upon seeing how forlorn she looked, Frank said hopefully, “That note you received with Dad’s name on it could have been on the level.”Mrs. Hardy shook her head. “Fenton wouldn’t forget the secret sign. I just know he wouldn’t”

Word quickly spread through Bayport that the famous Fenton Hardy had disappeared. Early the next morning a thick-set, broad-shouldered young man presented himself at the front door of the Hardy home and said he had something to tell them. Mrs. Hardy invited him to step inside and he stood in the hall, nervously twisting a cap in his hands. As Frank and Joe appeared, the man introduced himself as Sam Bates.

“I’m a truck driver,” he told them. “The reason I came around to see you is because I heard you were lookin’ for Mr. Hardy. I might be able to help you.”

CHAPTER VIII

A Cap on a Peg

“YOU’VE seen my father?” Frank asked the truck driver.

“Well, I did see him on Monday,” Sam said slowly, “but I don’t know where he is now.”

“Come in and sit down,” Frank urged. “Tell us everything you know.”

The four walked to the living room and Mr. Bates sat down uneasily in a large chair.

“Where did you see Mr. Hardy?” Mrs. Hardy asked eagerly.

But Sam Bates was not to be hurried. “I’m a truck driver, see?” he said. “Mostly I drive in Bayport but sometimes I have a run to another town. That’s how I come to be out there that mornin’.”

“Out where?”

“Along the shore road. I’m sure it was Monday, because when I came home for supper my wife had been doin’ the washin’ and she only does that on Monday.”

“That was the day Dad left!” Joe exclaimed.

“Well, please go on with the story,” Frank prodded Sam Bates. “Where did you see him?”

The truck driver explained that his employer had sent him to a town down the coast to deliver some furniture. “I was about half a mile from the old Pollitt place when I saw a man walkin’ along the road. I waved to him, like I always do to people in the country, and then I see it’s Mr. Hardy.”

“You know my father?” Frank asked.

“Only from his pictures. But I’m sure it was him.”

“Dad left here in a sedan,” Joe spoke up. “Did you see one around?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“What was this man wearing?” Mrs. Hardy asked.”Well, let’s see. Dark-brown trousers and a brown-and-black plaid sport jacket. He wasn’t wearin’ a hat, but I think he had a brown cap in one hand.”

Mrs. Hardy’s face went white. “Yes, that was my husband.” After a moment she added, “Can you tell us anything more?”

“I’m afraid not, ma’am,” the trucker said. “You see, I was in kind of a hurry that mornin’, so I didn’t notice nothin’ else.” He arose to leave.

“We certainly thank you for coming to tell us, Mr. Bates,” Mrs. Hardy said.

“Yes, you’ve given us a valuable lead,” Frank added. “Now we’ll know where to look for Dad.”

“I sure hope he shows up,” the driver said, walking toward the door. “Let me know if I can help any.”

When the man had left, Joe turned to Frank, puzzled. “Do you suppose Dad hid his car and was walking to the Pollitt house? If so, why?”

“Maybe he picked up a clue at that deserted farmhouse on Hillcrest Road,” Frank suggested, “and it led to the old Pollitt place. If he left his car somewhere, he must have been planning to investigate the haunted house without being seen.”

“Something must have happened to him!” Joe cried out. “Frank, I’ll bet he went to Pollitt’s and that fake ghost got him. Let’s go look for Dad right away!”

But Mrs. Hardy broke in. Her expression was firm. “I don’t want you boys to go to that house alone.

Maybe you’d just better notify the police and let them make a search.”

The brothers looked at each other. Finally Frank, realizing how alarmed she was, said, “Mother, it’s possible Dad is there spying on some activities offshore and he’s all right but can’t leave to phone you.

The Pollitt line must have been disconnected. If Joe and I go out there and find him we can bring back a report.”

Mrs. Hardy gave a wan smile. “You’re very convincing, Frank, when you put it that way. All right. I’ll give my permission, but you mustn’t go alone.”

“Why not, Mother? We can look out for ourselves,” Joe insisted.

“Get some of the boys to go with you. There’s safety in numbers,” his mother said.

The boys agreed to this plan and got busy on the telephone rounding up their pals. Chet Morton and Biff Hooper agreed to go, and they suggested asking Tony Prito and Phil Cohen, two more of the Hardys’

friends at Bayport High. Phil owned a motorcycle. He and Tony said they could go along.

Shortly after lunch the group set out. Chet rode with Frank, Biff with Joe, and Tony with Phil. The three motorcycles went out of Bayport, past the Tower Mansion, and along the shore road.

They passed the Kane farmhouse, Hillcrest Road, and at last came in sight of the steep cliff rising from Barmet Bay and crowned by the rambling frame house where Felix Pollitt had lived. All this time they had watched carefully for a sign of Mr. Hardy’s car, but found none.

‘Your dad hid it well,” Chet remarked.

“It’s possible someone stole it,” Frank told him.As the boys came closer to the Pollitt property, Phil said to Tony, “Lonely looking place, isn’t it?”

“Sure is. Good haunt for a ghost.”

When they were still some distance from the lane, Frank, in the lead, brought his motorcycle to a stop and signaled the other two drivers to do likewise.

“What’s the matter?” Chet asked.

“We’d better sneak up on the place quietly. If we go any farther and the ghost is there, he’ll hear the motorcycles. I vote we leave them here under the trees and go the rest of the way on foot.”

The boys hid their machines in a clump of bushes beside the road, and then the six searchers went on toward the lane.

“We’ll separate here,” Frank decided. “Three of us take one side of the lane and the rest the other side.

Keep to the bushes as much as possible, and when we get near the house, lay low for a while and watch the place. When I whistle, you can come out of the bushes and go up to the house.”

“That’s a good idea,” Joe agreed. “Biff, Tony, and I will take the left side of the road.”

“Okay.”

The boys entered the weeds and undergrowth on either side of the lane. In a few minutes they were lost to view and only an occasional snapping

and crackling of branches indicated their presence. The six sleuths crept forward, keeping well in from the lane. After about ten minutes Frank raised his hand as a warning to Chet and Phil. He had caught a glimpse of the house through the dense thicket.

They went on cautiously until they reached the edge of the bushes. From behind the screen of leaves they looked toward the old building. An expression of surprise crossed Frank’s face.

“Someone’s living here!” he exclaimed in astonishment.

From where the boys stood they hardly recognized the old place. Weeds that had filled the flower beds on their last visit had been completely cleared away. Leaves and twigs had been raked up and the grass cut.

A similar change had been wrought in the house. The hanging shutters had been put in place and the broken library window glass replaced.

“What do you suppose has happened?” Chet whispered.

Frank was puzzled. “Let’s wait a minute before we go any farther.”

The boys remained at the edge of the bushes, watching the place. A short time later a woman came out of the house carrying a basket of clothes. She walked over to a clothesline stretched between two trees and began to hang up the laundry.

Shortly afterward a man came out, and strode across the yard to a shed where he started filling a basket with logs.

The boys looked at one another in bewilderment. They had expected to find the same sinister and deserted place they had visited previously. Instead, here was a scene of domestic tranquillity.”There’s not much use in our hiding any longer,” Frank whispered. “Let’s go out and question these people.” He gave the prearranged whistle.

The other three boys appeared, and the entire group walked boldly up the lane and across the yard. The man in the woodshed saw them first and straightened up, staring at them with an expression of annoyance. The woman at the clothesline heard their footsteps and turned to face them, her hands on her hips. Her gaunt face wore an unpleasant scowl.

“What do you want?” demanded the man, emerging from the shed.

He was short and thin with close-cropped hair, and he needed a shave. His complexion was swarthy, his eyes narrow under coarse, black brows.

At the same time another man came out of the kitchen and stood on the steps. He was stout and red-haired with a scraggly mustache.

“Yeah, who are you?” he asked.

“We didn’t know anyone was living here,” Frank explained, edging over to the kitchen door. He wanted to get a look inside the house if possible.

“Well, we’re livin’ here now,” said the redhaired man, “and we don’t like snoopers.”

“We’re not snooping,” Frank declared. “We are looking for a man who has disappeared from Bayport.”

“Humph!” grunted the woman.

“Why do you think he’s around here?” the thinman put in.

“He was last seen in this neighborhood.”

“What does he look like?”

“Tall and dark. He was wearing a brown suit and sports jacket and cap.”

“There hasn’t been anybody around here since we rented this place and moved in,” the red-haired man said gruffly.

There seemed to be no prospect of gaining information from the unpleasant trio, so the boys started to leave. But Frank had reached the kitchen door. As he glanced in he gave a start. Hanging on a peg was a brown sports cap!

It looked exactly like the one his father owned, and which he had worn the morning that he had disappeared.

CHAPTER IX

Plan of Attack

“I’M very thirsty,” Frank said quickly to the occupants of the Pollitt house. “May I have a drink?”The red-haired man and the woman looked at each other. They obviously wished to get rid of their visitors as soon as possible. But they could not refuse such a reasonable request.

“Come into the kitchen,” said the man grudgingly.

Frank followed him through the door. As he passed the cap he took a good look at it. It was his father’s, and there were stains on it which looked like blood I

The redheaded man pointed to a sink on the other side of the room. On it stood a plastic cup. “Help yourself,” he said gruffly.

Frank went across the room and ran some water from the faucet. As he raised the cup to his lips, his mind was racing. On his way out he glanced again at the peg.

The cap was gone!

Frank gave no sign that he had noticed anything amiss. He walked out into the yard and joined the other five boys.

“I guess we may as well be going,” he said nonchalantly.

“You might as well,” snapped the woman. “There’s no stranger around here, I tell you.”

The boys started off down the lane. When they were out of sight of the house, Frank stopped and turned to his companions.

“Do you know what I saw in that kitchen?” he asked tensely.

“What?”

“Dad’s cap hanging on a peg!”

“Then he has been there!” cried Joe. “They were lying!”

“Yes,” Frank continued, “and-and there were bloodstains on the cap!”

“Bloodstains!” Joe exclaimed. “That means he must be in trouble. Frank, we’ve got to go back!”

“We sure do!” his brother agreed. “But I wanted to tell you all about it first.”

“What do you think we should do?” Chet asked.

“I’ll ask those people in the house about the cap and force a showdown,” Frank declared tersely. “We’ve got to find out where Dad is!”

Resolutely the boys started back to the Pollitt house. When they reached the yard they found the two men and the woman standing by the shed talking earnestly. The woman caught sight of them and spoke warningly to the red-haired man.

“What do you want now?” he demanded, advancing toward the boys.

“We want to know about that sports cap in the kitchen,” said Frank firmly.

“What cap? There’s no cap in there.”

“There isn’t now-but there was. It was hanging on a peg when I went in for a drink.”“I don’t know anythin’ about no cap,” persisted the man.

“Perhaps we’d better ask the police to look around,” Joe suggested.

The redhead glanced meaningly at the woman. The other man stepped forward. “I know the cap this boy means,” he said. “It’s mine. What about it?”

“It isn’t yours and you know it,” Frank declared. “That cap belongs to the man we’re looking for.”

“I tell you it is my cap!” snapped the swarthy man, showing his yellowed teeth in a snarl. “Don’t tell me I’m lyin’.”

The red-haired man intervened. “You’re mistaken, Klein,” he said. “I know the cap they mean now. It’s the one I found on the road a few days ago.”

“Guess you’re right, Red,” Klein conceded hastily.

“You found it?” asked Frank incredulously.

“Sure, I found it. A brown cap with bloodstains on it.”

“That’s the one. But why did you hide it when I went into the kitchen?”

“Well, to tell the truth, them bloodstains made me nervous. I didn’t know but what there might be some trouble come of it, so I thought I’d better keep that cap out of sight.”

“Where did you find it?” Joe asked.

“About a mile from here.”

“On the shore road?”

“Yes. It was lyin’ right in the middle of the road.”

“When was this?”

“A couple of days ago-just after we moved in here.”

“Let’s see the cap,” Chet Morton suggested. “We want to make sure of this.”

As Red moved reluctantly toward the kitchen, the woman sniffed. “I don’t see why you’re makin’ all this fuss about an old cap,” she said. “Comin’ around here disturbin’ honest folks.”

“We’re sorry if we’re bothering you,” said Joe, “but this is a very serious matter.”

Red came out of the house holding the cap. He tossed it to Frank.

The boy turned back the inside flap and there he found what he was looking for-the initials F. H. printed in gold on the leather band.

“It’s Dad’s cap all right.”

“I don’t like the look of those bloodstains,” said Joe in a low voice. “He must have been badly hurt.”

“Are you sure you found this on the road?” Frank asked, still suspicious.”You don’t think I’d lie about it, do you?” Red answered belligerently.

“I can’t contradict you, but I’m going to turn this over to the police,” Frank told him. “If you know anything more about it, you’d better speak up now.”

“He doesn’t know anything about it,” shrilled the woman angrily. “Go away and don’t bother us. Didn’t he tell you he found the cap on the road? I told him to burn up the dirty thing. But he wanted to have it cleaned and wear it.”

The boys turned away, Frank still holding the cap. “Come on, fellows,” he said. “Let’s get out of here.”

As the boys started down the lane they cast a last glance back at the yard. The woman and the two men were standing just where the” young sleuths had left them. The woman was motionless, her hands on her hips. Red was standing with his arms folded, and Klein, the swarthy man, was leaning against a tree. All three were gazing intently and silently after the departing boys.

“I’m sure that those people know more about Dad’s cap than they’re telling,” Frank said grimly, as the boys mounted their motorcycles and rode back toward Bayport.

“What are you planning to do next?” Phil asked as he pulled his machine alongside Frank’s.

“I’m going right to Chief Collig and tell him the whole story.”

“Okay, we’re with you!”

The boys rode directly to police headquarters and left their motorcycles in the parking lot. Chief Collig looked up as his six visitors were ushered into his office.

“Well,” he said heartily, “this is quite a delegation! What can I do for you?”

As Frank and Joe took turns, with an occasional graphic illustration from one of the other boys, they told the full story and showed him the bloodstained cap.

Chief Collig looked grave. “I don’t like the sound of this at all,” he said finally. “We must find your father at once! This cap is a good clue.” Then he went on, “Of course you realize that the area where the Pollitt house is located is outside the limits of Bayport, so my men can’t go there. But I’ll get in touch with Captain Ryder of the State Police at once, so he can assign men to the case.”

The boys thanked the chief for his help and left. Chet, Tony, Biff, and Phil went their separate ways while Frank and Joe turned toward home. They decided not to upset their mother about the bloodstained cap, but merely tell her that the State Police would take over the search for her husband.

“I still think there’s some connection between Dad’s disappearance and the smuggling outfit and the house on the cliff,” Frank declared.

“What I’ve been wondering,” said Joe, “is where those two motorboats came from that day Jones was attacked. We didn’t see them out in the ocean earlier-at least not both of them.”

“That’s right. They could have come right out from under the cliff.”

“You mean, Frank, there might be a secret harbor in there?”

“Might be. Here’s the way it could work. Dad suspects smugglers are operating in this territory from a base that he has been unable to find.” Frank spread his arms. “The base is the old Pollitt place! What more do you want?”“But the house is on top of a cliff.”

“There could be a secret passage from the house to a hidden harbor at the foot of the cliff.”

“Good night, Frank, it sure sounds reasonable!”

“And perhaps that explains why the kidnapers got away with Jones so quickly on Saturday. If they left the Kane farmhouse just a little while before we did, we should have been able to get within sight of their car. But we didn’t.”

“You mean they turned in at the Pollitt place?”

“Why not? Probably Jones is hidden there right now.”

“And maybe Dad too,” Joe cried out excitedly.

“That’s right. I’m against just sitting and waiting for the state troopers to find him. How about asking Tony if he will lend us his motorboat, so we can investigate the foot of that cliff?”

“I get you!” Joe agreed enthusiastically. “And if we pick up any information we can turn it over to the State Police and they can raid the Pollitt place!”

CHAPTER X

A Watery Tunnel

WHEN the brothers arrived home Frank and Joe assured their mother that the State Police would soon find Mr. Hardy. Some of the anxiety left her face as she listened to her sons’ reassuring words.

When she went to the kitchen to start preparations for supper, the boys went to phone Tony Prito. After Frank explained their plan to him, he agreed at once to let them use the Napoli, provided they took him along.

“I wouldn’t miss it for anything,” he said. “But I can’t go until afternoon. Have to do some work for my dad in the morning. I’ll meet you at the boathouse at two o’clock.”

“Swell, Tony. I have a job of my own in the morning.”

Chet called a few minutes later. As Frank finished telling him about the plan, he whistled.

“You fellows have got your nerve all right. But count me in, will you? I started this thing with you and I’d like to finish it. We’ve got to find your father!”

After Chet had said good-by, Joe asked his brother, “What’s on for the morning?”

“I want to go down to the waterfront and talk to Pretzel Pete again. He might have another clue. Also, I want to find out when the Marco Polo is due back here.”

Joe nodded. “I get it. You think something may be going on then?”“Right. And if we can find Dad and lead the Coast Guard to the smugglers before the boat docks-“

“Brother, that’s a big order.”

By nine o’clock the following morning Frank and Joe were down at the Bayport docks. Pretzel Pete was not in evidence.

“We’d better be cagey about asking when the Marco Polo’s coming in,” Frank cautioned. “The smugglers probably have spies around here and we’d sure be targets.”

Acting as if there were no problems on their minds, Frank and Joe strolled along whistling. Once they joined a group of people who were watching a sidewalk merchant. The man was demonstrating little jumping animals. Frank and Joe laughed as they bought a monkey and a kangaroo. “Iola and Callie will get a kick out of these,” Joe predicted.

“Say, Frank, here comes Pretzel Pete now!” Joe whispered.

The Hardys went up the street, saying in a loud voice in case anyone was listening, that they were hungry and glad to see Pete.

“Nobody can make pretzels like yours,” Joe exclaimed. “Give me a dozen. Two for my mouth and ten for my pockets.”

As Pretzel Pete laughed and pulled out a cellophane bag to fill the order, Frank said in a whisper, “Heard anything new?”

“Not a thing, son.” Pete could talk without moving his lips. “But I may know something tomorrow.”

“How come?”

“The Marco Polo’s docking real early-five A.M. I heard Ali Singh is one of the crew. I’ll try to get a line on him.”

“Great! We’ll be seeing you.”

The boys moved off, and to avoid arousing any suspicion as to why they were in the area, headed for a famous fish market.

“Mother will be surprised to see our morning’s catch,” Joe said with a grin as he picked out a large bluefish.

The brothers did not discuss the exciting information Pretzel Pete had given them until they were in the safety of their own home. Then Joe burst out, “Frank, if the Marco Polo gets offshore during the night, it’ll have to lay outside until it’s time to dock!”

“And that’ll give those smugglers a real break in picking up the stolen drugs!” Frank added. “Maybe we should pass along our suspicions to the Coast Guard.”

“Not yet,” Joe objected. “All we have to go on is Pretzel Pete’s statements about Ali Singh. Maybe we’ll learn more this afternoon and then we can report it.”

“I guess you’re right,” Frank concluded. “If those smugglers are holding Dad, and find out that we’ve tipped off the Coast Guard, they’ll certainly harm him.”

“You have a point.”When Frank and Joe reached the Prito boat-house at two o’clock, Tony and Chet were already there.

Tony was tuning up the motor, which purred evenly.

“No word from your dad yet?” Tony asked. The Hardys shook their heads as they stepped aboard.

The Napoli was a rangy, powerful craft with graceful lines and was the pride of Tony’s life. The boat moved slowly out into the waters of Barmet Bay and then gathered speed as it headed toward the ocean.

“Rough water,” Frank remarked as breaking swells hit the hull. Salt spray dashed over the bow of the Napoli as it plunged on through the white-caps. Bayport soon became a speck nestled at the curve of the horseshoe-shaped body of water. Reaching the ocean, Tony turned north. The boys could see the white line of the shore road rising and falling along the coast. Soon they passed the Kane farm. Two miles farther on they came within sight of the cliff upon which the Pollitt house stood. It looked stark and forbidding above the rocks, its roof and chimneys silhouetted against the sky.

“Pretty steep cliff,” Tony observed. “I can’t see how anyone could make his way up and down that slope to get to the house.”

“That’s probably why nobody has suspected the place of being a smuggling base,” Frank replied. “But perhaps when we look around we’ll find an answer.”

Tony steered the boat closer toward the shore, so that it would not be visible from the Pollitt grounds.

Then he slackened speed in order that the sound of the engine would be less noticeable, and the craft made its way toward the bottom of the cliff.

There were currents here that demanded skilful navigation, but Tony brought the Napoli through them easily, and at last the boat was chugging along close to the face of the cliff.

The boys eagerly scanned the formidable wall of rock. It was scarred and seamed and the base had been eaten away by the incessant battering of waves. There was no indication of a path.

Suddenly Tony turned the wheel sharply. The Napoli swerved swiftly to one side. He gave it power and the craft leaped forward with a roar.

“What’s the matter?” Frank asked in alarm.

Tony gazed straight ahead, tense and alert. Another shift of the wheel and the Napoli swerved again.

Then Chet and the Hardys saw the danger. There were rocks at the base of the cliff. One of them, black and sharp, like an ugly tooth, jutted out of the water almost at the boat’s side. Only Tony’s quick eye had saved the Napoli from hitting it!

They had blundered into a veritable maze of reefs which extended for several yards ahead. Tony’s passengers held their breaths. It seemed impossible that they could run the gantlet of those rocks without tearing out the bottom of the craft.

But luck was with them. The Napoli dodged the last dangerous rock, and shot forward into open water.

Tony sank back with a sigh of relief. “Whew, that was close!” he exclaimed. “I didn’t see those rocks until we were right on top of them. If we’d ever struck one of them we’d have been goners.”

Frank, Joe, and Chet nodded in solemn agreement. Then, suddenly, Frank cried out, “Turn back! I think I saw an opening!”Tony swung the boat around. The opening which Frank had spotted was a long, narrow tunnel. It led right through the cliff!

“This might be the secret entrance!” Joe exclaimed.

“I think it’s large enough for the boat to go through,” said Tony. “Want me to try it?”

Frank nodded tensely. “Go ahead.”

The Napoli slipped through the opening and in a few moments came out into a pond of considerable extent. The boys looked about expectantly. Steep slopes covered with scraggly trees and bushes reached to the water’s edge. But there was no path or indication that any human being ever came down to the pond.

Suddenly Frank gave a gasp of surprise and said, “Look to my right, fellows.”

Among the thickets at the base of the steepest slope stood a man. He was very tall, his face was weather-beaten, and his lips thin and cruel. He stood quietly, looking at the boys without a shadow of expression on his sinister face.

Upon realizing he had been observed, the man shouted, “Get out of here!”

Tony throttled the engine and Frank called, “We aren’t doing any harm.”

“I said ‘Get out!’ This is private property.”

The boys hesitated. Instantly the man, as though to back up his commands, reached significantly toward the holster of a revolver.

“Turn that boat around and beat it!” he snapped. “And don’t ever come back here! Not if you know what’s good for you.”

The boys realized that nothing would be gained by argument. Tony slowly brought the boat around.

“Okay,” Joe called cheerfully.

The stranger did not reply. He stood gazing fixedly after them, his left hand pointing to the exit, his right tapping the gun holster, as the motorboat made its way out through the tunnel.

“Looks as if he didn’t want us around,” remarked Tony facetiously, as soon as the Napoli was in open water again.

“He sure didn’t!” Frank exclaimed. “I expected him to start popping that gun at any moment!”

“He must have an important reason. Who and what do you suppose he is?” Tony asked in bewilderment.

“Fellows,” Frank said thoughtfully, “I think that man might have been Snattman!”

CHAPTER XICliff Watchers

“FRANK!” Joe exclaimed. “I think you’ve hit it! That man had no reason to act the way he did unless he’s covering up something.”

“Something like smuggling, you mean,” said Chet. “He must be Snattman or one of his gang.”

“And,” Frank went on, “the fact that he was in that cove must mean he has some connection with the house on the cliff.”

“Snattman, king of the smugglers!” Tony whistled. “You guys really get in some interesting situations!”

“I’ll bet that he’s one of the fellows who chased Jones that day in the motorboat,” Joe cried.

“And tried to kill him,” Frank continued the thought.

“Let’s get away from here!” Chet urged.

“Why should we go now?” Frank demanded.

“We’ve stumbled on something important. That hidden pond may be the smugglers’ base.”

“But if they use the house how do they get to it?” Tony asked. “Those cliffs up from the pond were mighty steep.”

“There must be some other way that we couldn’t see,” Joe said. “What say we hang around here for a while and find out what we can?”

Tony caught the Hardys’ enthusiasm and agreed to keep the motorboat in the vicinity of the cliff.

“That fellow may be keeping his eye on us and we don’t want him to know that we’re watching the place,” Frank observed. “Let’s run back to the bay and cruise up and down a while, then return.”

Chet sighed. “I’m glad none of you argued with that armed man.”

“Right,” Joe replied. “As it is, he must think we were simply out for a cruise and wandered into that tunnel by mistake.”

“Yes,” his brother agreed. “If he’d known we’re hunting for Dad, he might have acted very differently.”

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