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CHAPTER VII

Dangerous Beachcombing

FRANK took the mask from Joe and examined it carefully. “You’re right. Here’s the place where Chet ripped it at the party.”

“But what’s it doing floating in the bay?” asked Joe in great concern. “He and Biff must have gone out in a boat after all.”

“But whose?” Frank queried.

“And why would they go out in the fog?” Joe added. Then he voiced the question uppermost in both their minds. “You don’t think they could have drowned?”

Frank’s face was grim. “Chet and Biff are excellent swimmers. Maybe, for a reason we don’t know yet, they’re hiding somewhere-perhaps Shantytown!” Frank gazed intently across the water at the squatter colony, now falling astern.

“Could be,” Joe said. “They knew about our case. Maybe they picked up a clue and landed in Shantytown. We’d better find out as soon as we get the Sleuth.”

The boys lapsed into worried silence until the Coast Guard boat came within sight of rocky cliffs toweringhigh above the white beach.

A seaman scanned the shore with binoculars and sang out, “There she is, sir! It’s the Sleuth, all right. I can read her name.”

The engines of the cutter shuddered as it swung in toward the beached motorboat. The Hardys whipped off their shoes and leaped overboard into thigh-deep water as the craft crunched against the sandy bottom. Joe was the first to reach the derelict Sleuth.

“She looks okay,” he called out to his brother.

“Yes, but high and dry,” Frank said as he waded ashore.

“We’ll help you float her,” a seaman offered.

Quickly gathering large pieces of driftwood, the boys improvised a crude skidway. Then, with the Coast Guardmen helping, they slid the boat down to the water. A towline was secured and the Sleuth bobbed toward Bayport in the wake of the Coast Guard patrol boat.

“Let’s tow her straight to the boatyard,” Frank suggested. “Maybe they have the new part by now.”

His guess proved correct. While the patrol boat waited, the young mechanic quickly examined the Sleuth.

“Have you been using her?” he asked the Hardys.

“Well-somebody has, Charlie,” Joe replied.

The mechanic nodded. “Hm-thought so. The temporary repair I made didn’t last. But if you keep turning the wheel, you can make her steer a little-enough to get by.”

“That’s how the bandits slipped away in the fog last night,” Frank whispered to his brother.

“I’ll be finished in an hour,” Charlie said. “Shall I have her taken to your boathouse?”

“Righto,” Frank replied. “We’ll pick her up there.”

The Hardys rode on the patrol boat to the Coast Guard pier, thanked Lieutenant Parker and his men for their help, and hastened to their motorcycles.

“I wish the Sleuth were ready now,” Joe said impatiently, “so we could go right to Shanty-town.”

“But first we have to round up beachcomber disguises,” Frank reminded him.

The boys rode home and changed into dry clothes. While Mrs. Hardy and Aunt Gertrude were preparing lunch for them, Joe called police headquarters. He learned that there were no new leads on their friends or the bank robbers.

Chief Collig was amazed to hear about the discovery of Chet’s mask. “The boys may be nearer than I thought. I’ve already sent out a seventeen-state missing-persons alarm.”

“We might find more clues in Shantytown,” Joe told him. “We’re going there next.”

Directly after lunch, Frank and Joe bounded upstairs, pulled out some old shirts and pants, and hurried down again. As they passed through the hall carrying the clothes, their mother and aunt looked out fromthe living room in surprise.

“Where are you going?” Aunt Gertrude inquired.

Mrs. Hardy asked, smiling, “Not another costume party? I returned your gorilla and magician suits this morning.”

“Did you explain to Mr. French about Chet and Biff? He’ll wonder why they don’t bring their costumes back,” Joe said.

“He wasn’t there,” Mrs. Hardy replied. “I left your outfits with the clerk.”

“Where are you boys off to?” Aunt Gertrude demanded again.

“We’re going sleuthing in Shantytown,” Frank replied. “Probably we won’t be home to supper.”

Aunt Gertrude stared in disapproval. “Even foolhardy young detectives get hungry,” she said tartly.

“I’ll pack your supper,” their mother offered. Aunt Gertrude and the boys followed her into the kitchen where the two women quickly prepared a package of food for the boys to take along.

“You and Auntie certainly move fast, Mother,” Joe said admiringly. “Thanks a lot.”

“Yes, we appreciate it,” Frank chimed in.

Mrs. Hardy smiled. “We know you’re in a hurry.”

The boys went out the back door and hastily stowed the food and clothing in their motorcycle carriers.

“We must put in the make-up kit from the lab,” Frank reminded his brother. With Fenton Hardy’s help, Frank and Joe had fitted out a small modern crime laboratory over the family garage. Joe hurried upstairs to it and soon emerged with the kit, which he put in the carrier.

When they reached their boathouse, the boys found the Sleuth there. By the time the craft emerged, she carried two entirely different-looking young men.

Frank’s face was smudged and his dark hair was tousled. He wore a battered straw hat and a striped jersey with a long rip in the back.

Joe’s normal suntan had been made even darker by the use of make-up. A fake tattoo decorated his right arm. His trousers were torn off at the knees.

Both boys wore tennis shoes bursting at the sides. They carried burlap sacks appropriate for beachcombing.

“Let’s land about a mile this side of Shanty-town,” Frank suggested. “We can wander toward it along the beach.”

Soon Beachcomber Joe, at the wheel, ran the Sleuth into a little cove. Drawing her up between two rocks, they camouflaged the craft with pieces of driftwood and dry seaweed.

“Now,” said Joe, “if we can just find another clue to lead us to Chet and Biff!”

Frank nodded. “And at the same time learn what’s behind the fighting in Shantytown.”

Trying not to appear hurried, the two boys sauntered along with their sacks. The midafternoon sun threwa white sparkle over everything -the curling waves, the sand, and even the gray, bleaching driftwood.

Now and again Frank and Joe would stoop and put a handful of shells, bits of rope, or a few pebbles into the sacks.

“Some beachcombing!” Joe grinned.

At last the Hardys entered the squatters’ village. The first huts were merely tarpaulins stretched across driftwood poles. But as the boys strolled along, they saw that several of the many shacks were of wood, well constructed, with solid, padlocked doors.

A few men were lounging about, smoking. Frank and Joe passed near a group roasting potatoes in hot coals before one of the huts. The men paid no attention to the Hardys as the boys moved on.

“If Chet and Biff are here, they could be in any of these shacks!” Joe muttered in a low tone. “How can we get a closer look?”

The young sleuths were walking between the water’s edge and the first row of huts. Near them a man stood in the water wringing out a shirt.

“Let’s drift up to the next shack,” Frank suggested.

The boys approached a solidly built shanty. Abruptly the door swung open. A thin, seedy-looking man with faded red hair stepped out in the sunlight and stared at them with hard blue eyes. As the Hardys returned the look, the fellow moved toward them.

“What are you doing here?” he challenged harshly.

“Just walking along the beach,” Joe returned in a tough-sounding voice. “Looking for junk.”

“Yeah? Well, get out of here and do it some place else. See?”

“This is a free country,” Frank retorted, also speaking in a tough tone. “We’ll walk here if we feel like it.”

Instead of answering, the man reached into a back pocket and pulled out a blackjack. He lunged at Frank with the agility of a cat.

“Cut it out, Sutton!” barked a voice. The newcomer, a broad-shouldered young man, darted between Frank and his assailant. A boxer’s hand chop sent the blackjack flying to the sand.

Sutton muttered under his breath, clenched his fists, and glared at the tall man. He was young and strong, with a blond crew cut.

“If you’re looking for trouble, I’ll give it to you,” the big fellow said meaningfully.

Sutton dropped his eyes and turned away. He retrieved his weapon and disappeared behind his shanty.

Relieved, Frank said, “Thanks a lot, Mr.-“

“Call me Alf,” was the friendly reply. “I was wading over there when I saw Sutton go for you. You’d better stay away from this place. We’ve had a lot of trouble lately.”

“Well, thanks again, Alf,” Frank said warmly as he shook the huge, hard hand. “You sure saved me a lump on the head. I’m Frank, and this is my brother Joe.”

The three strolled along the beach. “So there’s been trouble in Shantytown lately,” Joe repeated, hopingto learn more from their new acquaintance.

“Yes. Sutton and his pals have been the ones making it, too. All they do is fight among themselves.

Shantytown wouldn’t be such a bad place, otherwise.”

“Do you live here, Alf?” Frank inquired.

“Me?” The man laughed good-naturedly. “No, but I work on the docks and I know some fellows who work in town occasionally and live here, so I come out a lot on my hours off.”

By now the three had reached the far edge of the colony. “I’ve got to see a fellow,” Alf told them. “Look out for Hank Sutton when you go back. If he tries anything, just yell for Alf-Alf Lundborg.”

The young giant’s friendly act and his open face made Frank decide to trust him. “Maybe we can help you sometime, Alf,” he said. “Our name is Hardy, but we don’t want anyone in Shantytown to know it.”

“Nobody’ll hear it from me,” Lundborg replied. “Say, if you’re going to be around for a while, why don’t you eat with my friends and me?”

“We’d like that,” Frank said. “How’11 we find you?”

Alf reached into his pocket. “Just listen for this,” he replied, opening his hand. In the palm lay a harmonica. “See you around,” he said and moved off.

When Alf Lundborg had gone up the beach, the brothers retraced their steps. While picking up more stones and shells, they scanned the sand carefully for anything that might belong to their missing chums.

This time they took care not to venture too close to Sutton’s shanty.

“There’s our ‘friend,’” Frank said in a low voice.

Stealing a glance toward the hut, Joe saw Sutton standing at one corner, talking earnestly with another man. His companion was listening with obvious impatience. He shifted his weight and suddenly turned full around. The Hardys saw that he was short in build, and had black hair combed straight back.

“That man!” Joe whispered. “It’s-“ “I know!” Frank took his brother’s arm and hurried him toward the beach. “It’s the speedboat driver who almost rammed us! What’s he doing here?”

CHAPTER VIII

Postcard Puzzle

“KEEP going,” Frank advised Joe. “If we turn around for another look, that powerboat pilot may recognize us!”

With bent heads, the young detectives shuffled along the beach between the ocean and the first line of squatters’ shacks. If the stranger with the dark, combed-back hair noticed them at all, he saw only two ragged beachcombers wandering back in the direction of Bayport.

“So, the fellow who rammed us hangs around Shantytown!” Joe burst out.”Yes,” Frank added thoughtfully, “and he’s friendly with the chief troublemaker there.”

“But why should one of Button’s pals try to ram the Sleuth?” Joe puzzled. “Because he found out-or suspected-we’d be investigating Shanty-town?”

“Possibly,” Frank replied. “And if Chet and

Biff are prisoners here, the men don’t want us to find out! They’ll do everything to keep us away.”

Joe whistled. “If that’s true, we must find them.

I’m scared about what may have happened to them.”

“Maybe we’ll pick up some clues tonight,” Frank said. “It’s almost suppertime. Let’s go back and watch Sutton’s place.”

When the boys returned to the group of shacks, they saw some of the men drifting in from work, and others tending cooking fires.

Behind Sutton’s shanty was a deserted shack. Frank and Joe slipped inside and settled themselves by a broken window. Although they stayed at their post an hour, they saw no sign of activity.

“Sutton’s probably eating somewhere else,”

Frank said. “Let’s find Alf and come back later.”

As the boys stepped outside they heard a lively tune from a harmonica. Following the sound of the music, they found Alf playing for a small group of rough-looking men, seated around a fire.

When Alf finished the song, he introduced the boys and the laborers by first names. The men looked the Hardys over and nodded.

“The stew’s done,” a big red-faced man said, taking the lid from a large kettle. “Pitch in!”

As the men began to serve themselves on tin plates, Frank and Joe reached into their bags and took out the food they had brought. They unpacked a pound of frankfurters, rolls, two cans of beans, and apples.

“Help yourselves,” Frank invited cordially. “Looks good, boys,” said the red-faced man, whose name was Lou. “Most of us are hungry enough to eat two suppers.”

By the time the last crumb had disappeared, the men had warmed up to Frank and Joe and willingly answered their seemingly casual questions about Shantytown. None of the men, however, knew what the fights were about, nor had they seen two strange boys.

“We’ll keep our eyes open for ‘em,” Lou volunteered. He took some driftwood from a bushel basket beside him, and threw two pieces on the fire. Then he tossed a piece of dark cloth after it. “What’s that?”

Frank asked sharply. He grabbed a long stick and hooked the cloth from the blaze. “It’s just some junk I picked up,” Lou answered.

Frank dropped it to the ground and the brothers eagerly examined the piece.

“It’s a sleeve from Chet’s gorilla outfit!” Joe whispered excitedly.

“I thought it looked familiar,” Frank said. To Lou he said, “It’s part of a costume. Where did you find this?”“Behind Sutton’s shack,” the man replied. “Is it important?” Alf asked the boys. “It definitely links our missing friends with

Shantytown,” Frank replied, as he put the sleeve in his burlap bag. “Come on, Joe! Let’s go back to Sutton’s place.”

After thanking the men for their hospitality, the boys hurried off into the darkness.

“Be careful,” Alf called after them. “Yell if you need help.”

The Hardys found the shanty dark and padlocked. They circled it cautiously, but there was no one around. Joe knocked on the door. “Chet! Biff!” Frank called. Not a sound from inside. Again Joe pounded and both boys called repeatedly.

“It’s no use,” Joe said finally. “If they are inside, they’re probably bound and gagged.”

“Look for an opening between the boards,” Frank instructed. The boys pulled out pencil flashlights and examined the side of the shack. “I’ve found a knothole,” said Joe. “And here’s a chink. I’ll shine my light in while you look through the hole.”

Joe watched the slender beam shift around the dark room. “Empty,” he declared, disappointed. “Let’s look for more of Chet’s or Biff’s belongings.” They searched the sand around the shanty, but found nothing.

“Let’s hide in the deserted shack again,” Frank suggested. “If Sutton comes back with any of his pals, we may overhear something important.”

Patiently the young detectives waited and watched, but their quarry did not return. Frank consulted his watch. “It’s almost midnight. Maybe-“

“Sh!” Joe interrupted. “Listen!” They heard footsteps and saw a dark figure approaching Sutton’s shanty.

The stranger knocked several times. Finally a neighbor opened his door. “You lookin’ for Sutton?” he asked. “Yes,” replied the unknown caller. “All I know is he went off in a car with a dark-haired fellow. I heard Sutton say he wouldn’t come back tonight.”

Without a word the caller disappeared into the darkness. The door to the shack slammed shut. “That’s that,” Frank said in disappointment. “Let’s go back to town and report to headquarters.”

“You bet. Frank, do you suppose Chet and Biff were here but have been taken away?” “It’s a good guess.”

The boys covered the mile of beach to their boat, quickly pulled off the improvised camouflage, and launched her. Frank headed down the coast toward Bayport and the Hardy boathouse. When the boys had debarked, they donned their street clothes again. Carrying their burlap bags, they emerged from the boathouse and mounted their motorcycles. It was well past midnight.

When the Hardys reached police headquarters, they were amazed to see Chief Collig in his office. He looked tired and somewhat dejected.

“I’ve been working night and day on the bank robbery case and the mystery of your friends,” he said.

“I’m afraid that the boys have been kidnaped.”

“That’s what we fear,” Frank said. He showed the gorilla head mask and sleeve of Chet’s costume and told of the boys’ run-in with Sutton.”I’ll send men out there to make a thorough search,” Collig said.

“We’ll go with them!” Joe volunteered eagerly.

“We’d better not,” Frank countered. “Once the men at Shantytown see us with the police, we won’t be able to work under cover there.”

Regretfully, Joe agreed.

Chief Collig rose, strode around the desk, and clapped each of the young sleuths on the shoulder.

“Thanks, boys! You’ve brought in the first two leads I’ve had on this case,” he said. “If we find Chet and Biff, I’ll call you at once.”

Frank and Joe hurried home through the silent streets. When they let themselves into the house, they saw a light in Fenton Hardy’s upstairs study. Frank knocked.

“Come in,” called the detective. When his sons entered, he pushed aside some papers on his desk. “What did you find out today?”

He leaned back in his big leather chair and listened carefully as his sons gave an account of their day’s progress.

When it was finished, their father said, “If Collig doesn’t find Chet and Biff in Shantytown tonight, and they were kidnaped, their parents should receive ransom notes soon.”

“Perhaps they will come tomorrow,” Frank suggested. He turned to his father. “Do you think Chet and Biff’s disappearance could have anything to do with the bank robbery?” “It’s possible.”

“In that case, maybe you’d let us give you a hand on the bank robbery case, Dad.”

“As a matter of fact,” the detective replied, “if Collig hadn’t offered you the Shantytown problem, I would have asked your help on this one.” Frank and Joe looked perplexed. “But the bank robbery hadn’t happened then!” Joe protested.

Mr. Hardy smiled briefly. “For some time I have been working secretly to round up a certain ring of bank robbers who operate on a national scale.”

“I see,” said Frank. “And they committed the Bayport holdup?”

“I believe so. It looks like their work. I’ve learned that the gang is broken up into a number of teams,”

Mr. Hardy explained. “Somewhere on the West Coast is the ringleader who assigns each ‘team’ to rob a local bank in a different part of the country. The scheme is very well organized.”

The boys went to bed, hoping to be disturbed by a call from the police, telling them good news, but none came. In the morning Joe called headquarters, then relayed a disappointing report to his family. “The police didn’t find Chet and Biff, but they picked up pieces of their costumes on piles of half-charred paper trash in different parts of Shantytown. Someone didn’t know the outfits were fireproof and tried to burn them.”

“Then our pals were taken there and later moved somewhere else,” Frank declared. “But where?”

He and Joe were so upset they could hardly eat breakfast. The other Hardys, who also were fond of Chet and Biff, were greatly sobered.

“Oh, I almost forgot something,” said Mrs. Hardy. “A letter came for you boys in this morning’s earlymail.” She handed Frank a plain white envelope. “It’s postmarked Northport, yesterday.”

Frank looked at it. “The writing is familiar,” he remarked, “but there’s no return address.”

He tore open the envelope, took out a picture postcard, and scanned the message.

Frank’s eyes widened. “Listen to this!” he exclaimed. “ ‘Having a wonderful time. Don’t worry about us.’

And it’s signed ‘Chet and Biff’!”

The rest of the family stared in amazement.

Aunt Gertrude snorted indignantly. “Having, a wonderful time, indeed! Everyone worried sick, police searching all over the map for them, and they’re having a wonderful time!”

“But what a relief!” Mrs. Hardy said warmly. “I’ll call Mrs. Morton and-“

“Wait a minute,” Mr. Hardy cautioned. “It may not really be from the boys.”

“This is Chet’s handwriting,” Frank said. Joe had jumped from his chair to examine the card. “Yes, it is,”

he affirmed. “The picture is of Waterfront Street in Northport. Looks like an old card,” he added, passing it to his father.

“Why do you think it was mailed in an envelope?” Mrs. Hardy asked, puzzled.

“So no one would read the message until it got here,” suggested Joe.

“Why didn’t they telephone?” Aunt Gertrude asked tartly. “It’s even quicker.”

“I think they would if they could, Auntie,” Frank replied. “Chet and Biff know better than to worry everybody this way. They’re prisoners!”

“Anyway, we know they’re alive,” said his mother. “That in itself is good news.”

“Will you call Mrs. Hooper and Mrs. Morton and tell them?” Frank requested his mother. She nodded.

“And I’ll notify the police,” Mr. Hardy added. “By the way, they looked for the thieves’ fingerprints on Chet’s jalopy and your motorboat, but didn’t find any.”

“I suppose the robbers wore gloves,” Frank remarked.

As Joe went back to his chair, he said, “I think we ought to run up to Northport and see if we can trace this card.”

Mr. Hardy looked thoughtful. “The bank robbers stole their getaway car in Northport.”

“And the fellow who tried to ram the Sleuth,” Frank added, “may have come down from there after watching the regatta.”

“Don’t forget,” said Joe, “he’s a pal of Sutton’s.”

“Northport might provide clues to Chet and Biff, the bank robbery, and the Shantytown trouble,” Frank concluded.

The boys finished their breakfast and rode to the Hardy boathouse. As Joe stepped into the Sleuth, he kicked off his moccasins. The next moment he cried, “Ouch-hey! Broken glass!” He lifted the floor rack.

“There’s a whole mess of it in the bottom. Looks like a soda bottle.”“That’s funny,” said Frank. “We didn’t notice any yesterday.”

“That’s because the glass was all hidden under the rack,” Joe pointed out. “This piece was forced up between the slats overnight by the rocking of the boat.”

While he gingerly extracted a sliver of glass from his toe, Frank picked up the jagged fragments. “These weren’t here the day before the robbery,” he broke in excitedly. “We took out the rack and emptied the boat completely. It’s a clue, Joe! We’ll put these pieces together at home.”

He found some cheesecloth in the dashboard compartment, gathered all the glass fragments into it, and put the little bundle in his pocket. Joe, meanwhile, stuck a small bandage on his foot and put on his shoes.

After filling the tank with fuel, the boys headed for Northport. The motorboat streaked across the bay, with Frank at the wheel. Skillfully he throttled down a bit as his craft moved into the long, dark swells of the Atlantic.

Steadily the Sleuth plowed northward. Joe shaded his eyes with his hand as dots of land appeared off the coast ahead. “There are the islands where Chet and Biff wanted to camp,” he noted. “Say! They’re pretty isolated-and would be likely spots for hiding kidnap victims! We ought to search them if we don’t find some clue to the boys in Northport.”

“I’ll pass them as close as I can,” Frank offered. “Maybe we’ll see something.”

One by one the line of islets could be seen. Though the Hardys watched carefully, they saw only sand, pines, and huge stone formations. Some of the islands were surrounded by dangerous half-submerged rocks.

“We’re getting close to Jagged Reef,” Joe reminded his brother. “Better take her out. Those rocky teeth can bite the bottom of a boat!”

Frank turned the Sleuth’s prow seaward. As he revved up the engine, however, he was startled by a shout from Joe.

“Hold it! There-submerged just off those rocks-“ Joe pointed to a little island. “It looks like the wreck of a motorboat!”

Immediately Frank throttled down and headed toward the spot. Finally he let the engine idle. “I don’t dare go any closer,” he said. “Can you see her from here?”

“Only the outline,” reported Joe, who was standing up now with one foot on the gunwale. “Looks as if she hit a rock close to shore and sank. She’s a good size.”

“Those fragments on the rock look black,” Joe noticed. “So does the outline. Say, do you suppose it’s the boat that nearly hit us-the Black Cat?”

“We can find out,” Frank said promptly. “Our underwater equipment is in the locker. Take the wheel. I want to get a look.”

Quickly Frank donned a face mask with a wide glass plate. Leaning over, he put his head in the water and strained to see the wreck more clearly.

Lifting his face, he exclaimed, “It is black! I can’t tell if it’s the Black Cat at this distance. Keep her in close, Joe. Why are we drifting away?”“Can’t help it.” Desperately Joe yanked at the wheel. “We’re caught in the current!” he exclaimed frantically.

While the boys had been intent on the sunken hull, the swift, strong current had caught their craft. The Sleuth was being rushed toward the deadly rocks of Jagged Reef!

CHAPTER IX

The Old Salt’s Story

BUFFETED by the current, the Sleuth plunged out of control toward the line of white exploding spray, where the sea’s swell smacked against the barrier reef.

Joe bore down hard on the wheel as the churned-up waters, falling back from the rocks, seethed underneath. The din of crashing waves was terrific, but above it could be heard the powerful throb of the Sleuth’s engine.

“If I could only turn her!” Joe thought.

For an instant the motorboat seemed to stand still in the midst of the boiling waters. The engine and treacherous current pulled with equal strength in a fierce tug of war. Then, slowly, the sturdy craft inched her way seaward under Joe’s guidance.

“She did it!” Frank whooped in relief. “What a boat! And nice piloting, Joe!”

The Sleuth gathered speed and Joe took the boat out a safe distance from the reef.

“Too bad we couldn’t find out if that sunken boat was the Black Cat,” he remarked. “But maybe we can learn something about the wreck when we get to Northport.”

“First we should trace the postcard,” Frank said. He pulled it from his pocket and looked at it again carefully. “This is so old, it probably was bought in a place that doesn’t sell many,” he commented.

“The edges are yellow and the picture is out of date. There haven’t been trolleys on Waterfront Street for years. As soon as we get there, let’s look for a little hole-in-the-wall store.”

Frank studied the card from all angles. “Joe, look!” he exclaimed, and pointed to the thin edge. There was a blue stain. “Ink,” Frank judged. “If it was spilled on the whole batch of cards, the others will have similar blots. We’ll look for that.”

It was well past noon when the boys sighted Northport on their left. Passing between a pair of entrance buoys, the Sleuth came off the swelling ocean onto the calm surface of a small, well-protected harbor.

On one side a forest of thick masts rose from a fleet of sturdy fishing boats. At the far end of the bay, bright-colored pleasure craft rode at anchor. Slender, pencillike masts marked the sailboats. On the shore nearby were the yellow wooden skeletons of boats under construction.

Joe guided the Sleuth toward a large dock with gasoline pumps, which extended into the water from the boatyard.”This must be the yard that sponsored the regatta,” Frank commented. “Bring her in, Joe.”

Within minutes the young detectives had made their craft secure and scrambled onto the dock. They hurried down the wooden planking and turned onto Waterfront Street. There were restaurants, souvenir shops, and boat-supply stores. All of them were well kept and busy. The boys stopped in a luncheonette for a snack, then hurried on. They paused to look down the first intersecting street. It was narrow and shabby.

“Let’s try the stores on this street,” Joe suggested.

Halfway down the block, they found a small confectionery squeezed between a junk shop and an empty store. There was a sign HARRY’S on the window.

As the boys went in, a musty smell hit them. When their eyes adjusted from bright sunlight to the dark interior, they saw a glass case of candy and a soda fountain with a broken stool. There was no one in the store.

“Look!” Frank said, pointing to a rack of postcards on a shelf behind the candy case.

As Joe stepped behind the counter to peer at them, a door opened in the rear of the store.

“Don’t touch it!” said a deep voice.

The boys turned to see a big man lumbering toward them. He had a swarthy face with huge dark eyes and a heavy black mustache.

“You want a postcard?” he asked shortly.

“Yes, please,” Joe replied. The shopkeeper took the card rack from the shelf and placed it on the counter. “Pick out,” he ordered.

Frank showed the man Chet’s postcard. “We want one like this. Some friends of ours bought it here yesterday, we think.”

The man looked at them stonily. “Could be!” He pointed at the rack to some faded cards identical to the one Frank held. Joe lifted them out, held them up together, and squinted at the edges. There was the blue inkstain!

“Do you remember the fellows who bought this one?” Frank asked casually, holding out the card from Chet and Biff.

“You buying or asking questions?” the man inquired.

“Both,” Frank told him with a smile.

“I guess you don’t recall,” Joe said. “Two boys our age-one of them pretty chubby?”

The man looked annoyed. “I remember who comes in my place,” he said hotly. “No kids. It was a big, bald fellow with a loud voice. He bought a lot of Fizzle soda. Second time in a week.”

Frank and Joe exchanged glances. Both had the same recollection: the huge, bald-headed man in the Black Cat. Could he be the postcard purchaser?

Unable to learn more, the boys thanked the proprietor and purchased three postcards. Outside, they turned toward Waterfront Street.”Just as we suspected!” Joe burst out. “The postcard’s a phony. Somebody forced Chet and Biff to write it!”

“And that somebody may be the bald man. But what’s his game? And is his buddy who piloted the Black Cat in on it too? What’s their connection with Shantytown, anyway?”

“I’d sure like to get my hands on those two guys!” Joe declared. “They must know where Biff and Chet are.”

The Hardys stopped at a nearby restaurant, where Frank telephoned Bayport police headquarters. He gave a report of their findings to Chief Collig.

“Good lead,” said the officer. “That bald fellow might have a connection with your pals’ disappearance.

I’ll send out a description of him. Keep up the good work.”

The Hardys then went to the boatyard where they had left the Sleuth. “Maybe someone here knows about the Black Cat,” Joe said. “Let’s ask.”

As the boys walked out on the docks, a wiry man bustled up to greet them. He had a lively, ruddy face and unruly black hair.

“Hello, mates!” he called out. “I’m William Caine-I manage this dock. Need any gas? Repairs?”

Frank spoke up. “What we really want, Mr. Caine, is some information.”

The manager smiled. “We’v got plenty of that, too. Come along.”

The friendly man led the Hardys to his office, an old deck cabin, at one end of his dock. Inside, Frank and Joe looked about them curiously. The room was filled with all sorts of old sea articles-a barometer, a binnacle, and a huge pilot wheel. In addition, there were a desk, a filing cabinet, a typewriter, and a telephone.

“Pretty snug, eh?” Mr. Caine chuckled. “It’s my little bit of sea on shore, now that my sailing days are over.”

While Joe grinned appreciatively, Frank noted a limp object lying on top of the filing cabinet. “Excuse me, Mr. Caine,” he said. “What’s that?”

The seafaring man followed Frank’s gaze. “Oh, that!” Carelessly he tossed it over.

“A mask!” Frank exclaimed.

“A gorilla mask!” Joe added. “Where did you get this, Mr. Caine?”

“Kind of scary, ain’t he?” The old-timer chuckled. “We had a big masquerade party the last night of the regatta. I went as a gorilla.”

The young sleuths studied the rubber face intently. “Coincidence,” Joe murmured.

“Sure was a big regatta,” the manager went on. “People came from all over.”

Joe nodded. “What we want to ask you about, Mr. Caine, is a good-sized inboard, painted all black, named the Black Cat,”

“The Black Cat?” Caine raised his eyebrows. “Why, I own her!”“You do?” Frank exclaimed.

“Sure. Nice fast boat, too. Where’d you see her?”

“At Bayport, day before yesterday,” Joe replied. “She tried to ram us.”

Caine looked astonished. “What happened?”

“We pulled away from her.”

“You fellows must have a pretty good boat yourselves!”

“Who was piloting the Black Cat, Mr. Caine?” Frank asked. “Did he wreck her?”

“I should say not! She’s tied up to the dock right this minute.”

“We saw the sunken hull of a black boat off one of the islands,” Joe explained.

“Oh, yes, the poor old Queen of Spades” Mr. Caine replied. “Too bad she was wrecked. Like to have a look at my boat?”

“We sure would!” Joe declared.

Caine obligingly led the way out on the long pier. As he walked, the old salt rambled on about the Black Cat. “She’s a fast boat, all right. Let’s see-day before yesterday-that was the last day of the regatta.

Three men from San Francisco hired her.”

“Three?” Joe caught him up. “There were only two men aboard when they tried to ram our boat.”

“Well, three hired her, but only two went out in her. Let’s see-there were the Stark brothers, Ben and Fritz, I think their names were, and a third fellow-big and bald. He and Ben went out in the boat. The men said they came all the way here on their vacations, especially to see the regatta.”

“Are they still around?” Frank asked.

“They’re back in California by now, I guess,” Caine replied. “Said they were taking a plane.” He stopped at the edge of the dock and motioned downward. “There she is,” he said proudly.

Frank and Joe found themselves looking into the same sleek, black powerboat which had nearly rammed them.

Joe stepped into the boat and looked around carefully. “Sure they didn’t leave anything behind?”

“Yep. I always clean my boats out good after people bring ‘em in.”

“Well, the Black Cat sure is a nice boat,” Joe declared as he climbed back onto the dock. “Which one of the renters was driving her? A dark fellow, with black hair combed straight back?”

“Yes,” Caine replied. “That would be Ben Stark.”

“We reported the attack to the Coast Guard,” Frank told the manager.

“And right you were!” said Mr. Caine. “Just let them turn up here again, and I’ll have ‘em arrested.”

“If you should hear anything about them, please let us know,” Frank requested, and gave his name and address.”Glad to!” exclaimed Caine. “Now can I give you some gas?”

“We’d better get some,” Frank replied, “and start for home.”

By the time the boys were ready to leave, the sun was setting. Frank revved up the Sleuth’s power plant and sent the craft knifing through the swells.

Soon the boys passed out the narrow mouth of Northport harbor. Frank turned the Sleuth southward toward Bayport.

The sea was calmer than it had been during the day. On the ocean’s horizon the darkness gathered slowly, and finally a few stars were beginning to push through when the coastal islands came into view on the Sleuth’s starboard side.

After passing Jagged Reef safely, Frank ran in closer to the islands. Ahead they saw a tall, limp white sail.

As the Sleuth drew nearer, the boys made out the masts and hull of a trim-looking schooner, anchored for the night off one of the islets.

“Nice lines,” commented Joe. “Pass close to her, will you, Frank?”

Quietly, with her engine throttled down, the motorboat drew abreast of the larger vessel. It was now dusk and a light shone in her cabin from which came the sound of activity. Frank gazed in admiration at the tall masts and shipshape riggingSuddenly Joe’s fingers clutched his brother’s shoulder. “Look! On the deck!”

As the Sleuth passed the schooner, Frank caught a quick glimpse of the figure of a boy leaning over the rail.

Joe cried out, “That was Chet!”

CHAPTER X

A Narrow Escape

“IT’S either Chet or his double!” Joe exclaimed. “But I’m sure my eyes weren’t playing tricks.”

“Do you suppose he’s a prisoner on that schooner?” Frank asked. “Well, we’ll soon find out!”

He turned the wheel sharply and the Sleuth swung about. It circled close to the anchored vessel.

“Chet!” cried Joe, making a trumpet of his hands. “Chet Morton! It’s Frank and Joe! Are you all right?”

“Che-e-t!” both boys yelled together. “Che-e-t Mo-or-ton!”

A momentary hush followed, as the Hardys paused for breath. All sounds of activity aboard the schooner ceased. Abruptly a burly sailor in white duck trousers appeared on deck.

“What’s all the holler?” he barked. “Clear out of here, or you’ll get in plenty of trouble!”As Joe stood up to retort, Frank yanked him down again. “We should go!” he whispered. “Let him think he scared us off.”

The Sleuth’s engine roared louder, and the boat moved along the shore of the island until the white sails were out of sight.

“It’ll be black night out here in half an hour,” Frank explained. “Then we’ll go back and see what’s up.”

Daylight faded away, leaving in its place broadly sprinkled stars. A calm ocean swayed their boat gently.

Rocks along the shore humped up, massive shapes in the darkness.

“Now!” Frank said softly.

Joe took the wheel and throttled the smooth-running engine so low that its sound was only a faint hum.

Keeping as close to shore as possible, the Sleuth crept toward the anchored schooner.

When the vessel loomed just ahead, Joe cut the throttle completely and the motorboat glided noiselessly under her stern. Frank, holding out his hands to ward off the hull, suddenly felt rough fibers.

“A rope ladder!” he whispered. “I’m going up!”

“I’ll follow,” said Joe.

After securing their own boat with a loose hitch, Frank cautiously drew his body upward, rung by rung.

Joe was right behind him. Frank slipped underneath the rail and crawled along the empty deck.

Joe reached the top of the ladder and stepped forward. Suddenly, from out of the darkness, two powerful arms seized him in a viselike grip, and a man’s sandpaper voice called out: “Here! I caught one of them!”

Joe tensed in surprise, then spun around, breaking the grip. He ducked. With all his strength he drove upward, his head hitting the midsection of his attacker like a battering ram.

As the man fell back, gasping, Joe leaped to his feet. “Frank!” he cried hoarsely. There was no reply, but a wild clamor rose from the fore part of the deck.

“Here he is!” someone cried out.

“No, here!” another rasped.

“That’s me, you fool!”

Someone began ringing the deck bell. There came the shuffle of running feet and the grunting of men short of breath.

Then Frank’s clear voice sang out, “No use, Joe! Overboard!”

Both boys vaulted the rail. As Joe hit the water, another geyser of spray rose several feet from him. The Hardys popped to the surface, then disappeared under the dark water again.

“Harbor thieves!” came shouts from the deck. “Get them!” The bell clanged on. There were two sudden bursts of light, accompanied by sharp explosions. Someone was shooting wildly!

Frank and Joe surfaced near the rope ladder and quickly untied the Sleuth. Swimming with swift, silentstrokes they pushed their craft away from the schooner into the protecting darkness.

“Whew!” breathed Joe as he tumbled, panting, into the motorboat. “They must have been on deck, watching.”

“Anyhow, I found out what we wanted to know,” Frank reported. “That wasn’t Chet, but a boy who looks a lot like him.”

“How do you know?”

“He tackled me. I said, ‘Chet, it’s Frank!’ but he hung on tightly. That’s when I yelled for you to go over the side.”

Joe started the motor and opened the throttle all the way. As the Sleuth gained power, the prow lifted and the boat leaped forward. Safely away from the yacht, Joe switched on the running lights. Along the shore, they could see a solitary light here and there. Presently the bright glow of beach fires told them they were passing Shanty-town.

“No more stops tonight,” Frank said with a chuckle.

The Sleuth crossed the quiet expanse of Bayport harbor and finally entered their boathouse. Twenty minutes later they reached the Hardy house. Their mother and aunt were anxiously waiting.

“Goodness gracious!” scolded Aunt Gertrude. “Is this a time to come home-“ She stopped and gasped.

“Oh! Look at them! Soaking wet-like a pair of drowned rats!”

“We’re almost dry, Auntie,” Joe replied with a laugh. “We fell in over an hour ago.”

“Fell in!” their mother exclaimed. “We can’t wait to hear! But first you’d better go upstairs and change, then have some supper.”

Soon Frank and Joe, comfortable in fresh, dry clothes, were seated at the kitchen table before a late but steaming dinner.

“Where’s Dad?” Frank asked.

“He left town this afternoon,” Mrs. Hardy replied. “He’s checking an out-of-state clue on the bank robbery. Now tell us what happened to you boys.”

“Well, we thought we saw Chet on a schooner,” Frank began, as he cut into a generous slice of roast beef.

“Only it wasn’t Chet . . .” Joe said, and helped himself to a baked potato.

“They thought we were thieves . . .” Frank tried again.

“So we jumped overboard!” Joe added.

“A very clear account,” Aunt Gertrude commented tartly.

As soon as the brothers finished eating they excused themselves, jumped up, and headed for the back door.

“Oh, no!” cried Aunt Gertrude in alarm. “Where are you off to now?”“Just out to the laboratory, Auntie,” Frank reassured her. “We found something today we must work on.”

The boys ran up the garage stairs and Joe unlocked the door at the top. Frank switched on the fluorescent light over a clean table. On it he laid the cheesecloth bundle of glass fragments from the Sleuth.

“We’ll need something to hold these together,” he noted, unwrapping the green shards. As the brothers examined them, Frank reached for a container of putty. “This will be better than glue.”

Treating the fragments like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, the young sleuths rebuilt a twelve-ounce, green-tinted pop bottle.

“Fizzle,” Joe read from the raised glass letters. “Fizzle-where-“

“Harry’s confectionery in Northport!” Frank broke in excitedly. “The owner said that the bald man bought several bottles of Fizzle!”

“You mean he might have been the one who left the broken glass in the Sleuth?”

“Yes! Not only that-he might have done it while helping to steal our boat.”

“Wait a minute!” Joe’s thoughts raced as he followed his brother’s line of deduction. “If that’s true, he could be one of the bank robbers! They stole a car in Northport!”

“And don’t forget the postcard business, which may tie him in with the kidnaping of Chet and Biff!”

Joe nodded. “Then there’s Ben Stark, the pilot of the Black Cat, which by the way, came down from Northport the day of the bank robbery. Is he linked with both cases? And is his pal Sutton? And where do the fights at Shantytown fit in?”

“That’s for us to find out,” Frank said determinedly. “Especially since the answer might lead us to Chet and Biff. We’re pretty sure they were in Shantytown-since we found Chet’s gorilla mask off the coast there, and his sleeve was picked up behind Sutton’s shack.”

The excitement suddenly faded from Joe’s face. “Maybe our hunches are on the wrong track. After all, Fizzle could be sold in other places besides Northport-and we have no proof the bald guy left the bottle in the Sleuth”

“Don’t be a pessimist,” Frank begged. “Remember what Dad says: ‘Persistence is just as important as cleverness in detective work.’ “

“Yes, and a little luck helps, too. Don’t worry. It’s just that we have so many mysteries to solve. Which one do we tackle next?” The ringing of (the telephone interrupted. Frank answered.

“Glad to find you home,” came Chief Collig’s familiar voice. “Maybe you can help me. We have a man down here-been brought in for stealing. He seems to think you and Joe can clear him.”

“Joe and I?” repeated Frank, astonished. “Why . . . what’s his name? What does he look like?”

“He’s a big, strong fellow-a stevedore. Calls himself Alt”CHAPTER XI Midnight Caller

“ALF Lundborg a thief!” Frank exclaimed. “I can’t believe it! We’ll be right down, Chief Collig,” he promised.

“I don’t buy it,” Joe said flatly as they started out. “What’s the pitch?”

Frank shrugged and hurried off to inform his mother of the errand, while Joe locked the laboratory. Then the brothers rushed downtown on their motorcycles to Chief Collig’s office.

“Where’s Alf?” asked Joe, looking around as he entered.

“We’re holding him in a cell until I talk to you boys,” the officer explained.

“He’s the man we told you about yesterday,” Frank reminded the chief. “The one who helped us in Shantytown. If it hadn’t been for him, Sutton would have cracked my skull with a blackjack.”

“I remember,” the chief replied. “Sutton’s the cause of his arrest.” Before the surprised boys could speak, he added, “I’ll let Lundborg tell you himself.” Over his intercom he ordered the suspect brought in.

“I don’t believe Alf’s a thief,” Frank said.

“But he does have a record for petty theft and disturbing the peace,” Chief Collig said soberly. “That makes it look bad for him.”

“How long ago was that?” Joe asked.

“Alf’s last brush with the law was five years ago,” Collig replied. “He claims he was just a wild kid at the time.”

The door opened and Alf stood on the threshold. His giant frame almost hid the sergeant behind him.

When he saw the Hardys, his troubled face lighted up instantly.

“I knew you fellows wouldn’t let me down,” he burst out. “Tell the chief I didn’t take it!”

“Take what, Alf?” said Frank.

“The police found a transistor radio in my knapsack,” the big man explained, “but I didn’t put it there!”

“Sutton reported it stolen,” the officer said. “We sent out Lieutenant Daley to investigate, and he found it in Lundborg’s bag.”

“Is Lieutenant Daley still here?” Frank asked. “Would you have him come in?” Collig nodded.

A few minutes later a tall, thin-faced officer entered. He and the Hardys had known one another for years and exchanged greetings. “Lieutenant

Daley,” Frank said, “when you were hunting for the radio who suggested that you look in Alf’s knapsack?”

“Sutton,” the officer answered.Frank nodded. “It looks like a plant, Chief.”

“Sure it is,” Joe declared. “Alf scared Sutton off when he attacked Frank. He probably planted the radio to get even.”

“That’s right! That’s just what I told them!” Alf boomed. “Thanks a lot for sticking by me, fellows. I’ll get Sutton!”

“Hold on there!” commanded Chief Collig. “You’ll be back here for assault if you try that. Since the Hardys back up your story, I’ll let you go. But if Sutton prosecutes, we’ll have to bring you in again.”

“Okay.” Alf wrung the boys’ hands, thanked them, and left.

Frank pointed to a radio on Collig’s desk and asked, “Is this the stolen property?”

“That’s it,” Lieutenant Daley spoke up.

“Take a look,” the chief invited, and Frank picked up the compact, heavy little set.

“Japanese make. Yokohama Super-X.”

“Let’s see,” Joe requested. He gave a low whistle as his brother passed it to him. “What a little beauty!

Brand new, too. Look at that nickel-and-ivory case!”

“It’s an expensive, rare set,” Lieutenant Daley commented. “Not many people can afford one.”

“That’s true,” Frank said. “Hank Sutton seems to be just a seedy-looking character who lives in Shantytown. But Joe and I have a hunch as to how he could afford a radio like this.”

“You mean he stole it?” Chief Collig asked.

“We think he belongs to a ring of thieves,” Frank told him. “If they fight among themselves, it would explain the trouble in Shantytown.”

Lieutenant Daley looked doubtful. “If Sutton stole the radio, why would he plant it on Alf? That would only call the attention of the police to himself.”

Frank grinned. “If you’d seen Sutton go after me, you’d know he acts first and thinks later.”

“Then he’s probably regretting Lundborg’s arrest right now,” Lieutenant Daley returned.

“That’s not all he’ll regret,” Joe promised grimly, “if he’s had anything to do with Chet and Biff’s disappearance.”

“That reminds me,” the chief said. “The boys’ parents received postcards from Northport, too. We’re looking for the bald, loud-voiced man you told me about, but that isn’t much to go on.”

“No,” Frank admitted, “but we’re working on a new clue.” He told of the discovery of the Fizzle soda bottle and the purchase of a similar one by the bald-headed man in Northport. “That’s why we think he’s connected with stealing the Sleuth as well as Chet and Biff’s disappearance.”

“Then,” Joe put in, “we learned that the dock manager up there owns the Black Cat and rented it the day of the bank robbery to the bald fellow and Ben Stark-the one we saw talking to Hank Sutton in Shantytown.”Chief Collig looked at the boys keenly. “I see what you’re driving at-that Sutton may be more than a petty thief-he and the other two might be involved in the robbery!”

As Lieutenant Daley stared at the Hardys in amazement, Frank replied, “You’re right, Chief. But we have no solid evidence yet to back up our hunch. Joe and I will check stores in town tomorrow to see where the radio came from.”

“Good. We’ll do some checking of our own too. Thanks, Frank and Joe, for coming down.”

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