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When the Hardys reached home, their house was dark. They let themselves in quietly, went to bed, and fell asleep at once.

Some time later Joe was awakened by a noise. He sat up, listening. It came again-a soft knocking.

“Frank!” he whispered, shaking his brother. “Someone’s at the front door.”

Instantly Frank was awake. The boys hurried downstairs. As the gentle knocking began again, Frank switched on the porch light. Joe swung open the front door. Before them stood a tall, thin, worried-looking man.

“Mr. French!” cried Joe in surprise.

The costume dealer’s mouth dropped open in astonishment. “You-you’re not-you’re here!” he stammered incoherently.

“Yes, of course, we are,” Frank responded. “Why are you so surprised to see us?”

“Why-ah-I’m terribly sorry, boys!” Mr. French looked nervously over his shoulder. “I-I see I’ve come to the wrong street-looking for High Avenue, and this must be High Street. So sorry! Good night!”

The tall man hurried down the steps to a car at the curb and drove away.

Joe turned to his brother. “There isn’t any High Avenue in Bayport. Mr. French must know that. He’s been in business here for years.”

As Frank closed the door, they heard footsteps at the top of the stairs and their mother’s voice asked softly, “What is it, Gertrude?”

“Burglars!” hissed their aunt. “I heard them talking.” She called down in a loud but shaky voice, “The police are coming! Go or I’ll call my nephews! Frank! Joe!”

“We’re down here, Auntie!” Frank informed her, stifling a laugh. “There are no burglars.”

After a second’s pause there came a weak “Well!” followed by “Humph! I might have known!”

“What’s the matter, boys?” Mrs. Hardy asked.

“Someone here who said he had the wrong street,” Joe told her, and switched off the porch light.

The next morning the boys ate an early breakfast. Afterward, Frank suggested, “Let’s try all the appliance stores to see if Sutton did buy the Super-X radio. We can see Mr. French later.”

Joe agreed and they set off. They went from shop to shop, but the story was always the same: The merchants did not stock the Yokohama Super-X radio-it was too costly to sell many sets. At last, however, a young clerk in a hi-fi equipment store said, “Yes, we have them. I’ll be glad to show youone.”

“We’re not here to buy,” Frank said. “We just want to know if you’ve sold any recently.”

“No,” the disappointed clerk admitted. “We don’t sell many. We thought we would-despite the high price-because the Super-X transistor has so many extra features-FM, short wave- name it!”

“Where do you get them?” Joe asked.

“We import directly from the Yokohama Radio Company’s distributors in Japan. The radios come in by ship and are unloaded on the Bayport docks.”

“Have you missed any from your stock lately?” Frank queried.

The clerk looked surprised, but answered readily, “No, but we were short one crate on the last shipment.

My boss wrote to the distributor in Japan about it, but there hasn’t been time for a reply yet.”

The boys thanked the youth and returned to the street. They wondered about the clerk’s remarks concerning the foreign-made radios.

“If Sutton bought the radio, he didn’t buy it in Bayport,” Joe declared.

Frank said, “He may have stolen the whole crate that was supposed to go to the hi-fi store. Let’s cycle out to Shantytown. Maybe we can learn more about Sutton.”

The brothers hurried home and put on their beachcomber clothes. Then they hopped onto their motorcycles and sped along Shore Road. They hid their cycles in a grove of short, scrubby pines near the squatter colony.

“We’d better walk the rest of the way,” Joe said, “and act as casual as possible.”

Frank and Joe entered the camp cautiously. It was noontime and pale smoke rose from a few cooking fires near the water. The village was nearly deserted and the boys judged that Sutton’s shack was empty.

The door was padlocked.

As Frank and Joe wandered among the huts, they noticed that each one had a trash heap of its own in the rear. Suddenly Joe darted to a pile in which something glinted in the sunlight.

“What did you find?” Frank called, and ran forward to look.

“Pop bottles!” Joe exulted, holding one aloft. ‘Fizzle soda!”

CHAPTER XII

The Desolate Island

JOE picked up another bottle from the rubbish heap. “It’s exactly like the one we pieced together last night,” he declared. “These prove the bank robbers are linked up with Shantytown!”

“It looks that way,” Frank conceded. “But- Fizzle soda may be sold around Bayport. As you said, wedon’t know for certain that the robbers used the Sleuth. Somebody may just have ‘borrowed’ it for a joy ride.”

“Well, the bottles make it likely that the robbers are connected to this place,” Joe amended. “But let’s scout around some more.”

The two boys, hands in pockets, strolled casually among the shacks. Although they looked closely at the few squatters hanging around, they saw no one they recognized. Disappointed, the brothers circled back to the trash heap.

“We’re getting nowhere,” said Joe, disheartened.

Suddenly Frank’s body tensed. “Sh! Listen! Hear that?”

“All I hear is the ocean.”

“Someone is groaning!”

Still listening intently, Frank turned and looked all around him. The nearest building was a gray, windowless shack with a closed door. Abruptly he strode toward it, Joe behind him.

Reaching the handleless door, Frank gave a tentative push and it swung open. Warily he stepped inside and blinked for a moment in the darkness.

“Joe! Quick!”

A man lay huddled on a cot. His face and the blanket he clutched were smeared with dried blood, and he moaned and heaved for breath.

“The man’s unconscious,” said Frank as he took the limp wrist for a pulse. “Find water, Joe. Maybe there’s some in the jug on the table.”

Joe looked into the container. “We’re in luck!” He soaked his handkerchief and bathed the injured man’s face. As the blood and dirt came away, the boy gave a gasp of surprise.

Hank Sutton!

“He’s badly hurt,” Frank observed. “Cuts and bruises on the head, and shock. Might be fractures, too,”

“I’ll call the police ambulance,” Joe volunteered. “We passed a house about a mile down the road. They must have a phone.”

“Hurry!” Frank urged. “I’ll stay here.”

Joe sprinted for his motorcycle. While he was gone, Frank searched the dim hut for clues to an assailant, but found nothing.

Soon an ambulance, its red lights blinking, was speeding toward Shantytown. A police car followed.

When they passed the house where Joe had telephoned, he zoomed after them.

At Shantytown he led an intern and two stretcher-bearers across the sand to the hut where Frank waited with the injured Sutton.

“How is he?” asked the doctor quickly on entering. “Is he conscious yet?”“No, he’s delirious,” Frank said. “He keeps mumbling something over and over-a man’s name.”

“Whose?” asked Joe eagerly. He had appeared in the doorway, with Chief Collig behind him.

Frank looked up at them with a frown. “Alf Lundborg’s, I’m afraid.”

“So he took his revenge on Sutton,” the chief concluded. “That’s bad.”

The intern hustled everyone out of the way. Expertly the injured man was transferred to the stretcher and borne across the sand to the waiting ambulance.

Chief Collig and the boys trailed along. “We’ll have to pick up Alf,” the chief remarked. “He had the perfect motive for assaulting Sutton.”

“Just the same I don’t believe he did it,” Joe declared stoutly.

“Sorry, fellows,” the chief said regretfully as they reached the road, “but regardless of the suspicions against Sutton, I have no choice.”

Frank and Joe walked sadly back to the pine grove, mounted their motorcycles, and rode home. They ate lunch quietly, puzzling over the case.

“What now?” Joe asked glumly. “All we did this morning was to get Alf in trouble.”

“Great detectives we are!” said Frank, disgusted. “How about walking downtown? I have another idea.”

“About what?”

“The Fizzle soda. Since the person who had a bottle of it was in our boat-the bald fellow or someone else-he was in Bayport. Maybe he did buy some here.”

The two set off and strode briskly along the sidewalk. At the first grocery store they turned in. “Do you carry Fizzle soda?” Frank asked.

“No, I don’t.”

The young detectives went into all the drugstores, markets, and lunch counters along their way. Always they asked the same question, and received the same answer. Nobody sold Fizzle soda.

At last they entered a downtown sweetshop which was a meeting place for many of their friends. “Hi!”

called Tony Prito from a booth where he was seated with Jerry Gilroy.

“Hello, fellows,” Frank greeted them. “We’ll be over in a minute.”

Meanwhile, he asked the soda clerk about Fizzle, but received a negative answer. “Only place I’ve ever seen it anywhere around these parts is Northport. I live near there.”

Northport again!

Frank and Joe walked over to their friends.

“Any news of Chet and Biff?” Tony asked.

“Nothing but a postcard,” Frank answered.

“What do you think really happened to them?” Jerry asked worriedly. “Did they go off on a mission oftheir own? Or were they kidnaped?”

“We don’t know,” Frank confessed. “But there haven’t been any ransom notes.”

“It’s dull around here without the fellows.” Tony sighed. “We were going on a nice camping trip.”

“Chet and Biff told us about it,” said Joe. “Frank and I have an idea maybe they’re being hidden on one of the coast islands.”

“Could be,” Tony said. “I remember Biff mentioned Hermit Island-the one owned by a queer old recluse who lives on it.”

“He mentioned that to us, too,” Joe recalled. “I wonder if that old man has seen any sign of Chet and Biff?”

“Say!” Tony’s face suddenly lighted up. “Why don’t we get your boat and go out for a look at Hermit Island? It’s early enough yet. How about it?”

“Good idea!” Jerry exclaimed. “Right!” Frank said enthusiastically. Joe was already on his feet. “Come on! Let’s go!” To Frank he said, “The mystery of Mr. French’s mix-up last night can wait.”

Jerry and Tony paid for their ice cream, and the four hurried out to Jerry’s car. A short drive brought them to the Hardy boathouse.

“Let’s take both our boats,” Tony proposed. “We might need them-if we find Chet and Biff.” They piled into the Sleuth and Frank steered the craft down to the dock where Tony kept the Napoli. Just as the two boats were ready to cast off, Callie Shaw and Iola Morton walked out onto Tony’s dock.

“Oh, are you boys going for a ride?” Callie asked. “May we come along?”

“Gosh, Callie,” Frank said doubtfully, “this isn’t exactly a pleasure cruise. We’re bound for Hermit Island to look for Chet and Biff.”

“Oh, then you have to take us,” pleaded Iola. “After all, Chet’s my brother.” Her eyes filled with tears.

“Please, Frank.”

“Iola’s right,” Joe agreed. “The girls want to find Chet and Biff as much as we do.”

“Okay,” said Frank. “Pile in, then!” Iola cheered up at once and the Hardys helped the girls into the stern of the Sleuth.

The boats moved swiftly out the harbor, with Frank leading the way in the slightly faster Sleuth. Before long, the shore islands came into sight, with their white, drifted sand, scrubby vegetation, and huge, barren rocks.

Hermit Island, a big craggy pile, loomed out of the water higher than all the others. It was attractive but wild looking.

“Too rough on this side to land,” Frank called over to the Napoli. “Good beach on the lee shore, though, I believe. Follow me!”

The search party rounded the island. After the girls had stepped onto firm sand, the four boys tied their mooring ropes to trees at the edge of the beach. All went ashore and gazed at the lonely spot.

“This is a spooky place,” commented Iola, looking around her uneasily.”It does give one the creeps,” Callie agreed.

The boys laughed but felt they should proceed carefully. With Frank and Joe in the lead, they set off on a faint path that wound along the shore at the base of the steep, rocky hill which formed the heart of the island. Above the searchers loomed jagged cliffs, cut here and there by deep ravines, thick with pines and coarse grass.

At times Joe cupped his hands and shouted, “Hallooo . . . Bi-iff . . . Che-e-t!”

There was no answer. “Looks hopeless,” Joe commented.

At last the path began to rise steeply. The four boys moved upward much faster than Iola and Callie.

Finally the girls dropped behind. The boys continued on, clambering and puffing, forgetful of everything but the tough terrain they were fighting.

Suddenly a sharp scream rang out from below. “Callie!” cried Frank, whirling.

CHAPTER XIII

The Threatening Figure

TUMBLING and sliding, the four boys rushed pell-mell down the steep path to Iola and Callie. The girls clung together in fright.

“What is it, Callie?” cried Frank.

Speechless, the girl pointed upward. From the top of the bluff a wild-looking old man with a long, dirty white beard was pointing a shotgun at them.

His clothes were torn, and he wore a battered felt hat. The weird figure stood motionless, silhouetted against the blue sky. The afternoon sunlight gleamed on the barrels of his weapon.

“He must be the hermit,” muttered Joe.

“Git off my island!” came the strong, deep voice of the old man. The shotgun jerked threateningly. “Git, I say!”

“We’d better do as he says,” Frank advised.

He took Callie’s arm. Joe grabbed Iola’s. The six young people scooted for the beach.

As they followed the path, the Hardys and their friends could see the strange man darting from rock to rock along the top of the bluff above them. He did not let them out of his sight. When they reached the boats, Frank and Joe quickly helped the girls safely aboard the Sleuth.

Joe took the wheel while Frank cast off. The Sleuth and the Napoli were run just out of shotgun range, then throttled down while their passengers took another look at their adversary. The old man stood in the same threatening attitude on the hilltop.

“You know,” Frank noted, “for an old fellow he has a powerful voice.”“He’s plenty spry, too,” Joe added. “Did you see how he jumped across those rocks? He’s nimble as a goat!”

“And did you notice his shotgun?” Frank asked. “It was very well cared for; not like his beard and clothes!”

“There was no nonsense about that gun,” Joe agreed. “I’d like to know what the man’s trying to keep us away from!”

“Maybe he just wants to be left alone,” Callie suggested.

“After all, he is a hermit,” added Iola.

“Whatever he is,” declared Joe, “I’d like to get a closer look at him sometime.”

Joe put on power and the Sleuth shot forward over the water. The Napoli trailed close behind.

As the island dropped astern, Frank remarked, “I can still make out the hermit. He’s standing motionless on that hilltop.”

The two speedboats crossed the wide expanse of Bayport harbor and came to rest at Tony’s dock.

“Say, you fellows don’t have any transportation down here,” Jerry recalled. “Shall I pick you up at your boathouse?”

“No, thanks,” Frank replied. “Joe and I came out to do some sleuthing. We’ll walk. We have a few stops to make.”

“Okay, we’ll give Iola and Callie a lift, then.” They helped the girls ashore and Frank and Joe waved good-by.

After locking the Sleuth in her berth, Frank and Joe walked to the center of town. “Let’s stop at headquarters,” Frank suggested as they approached the familiar stone building. “Maybe there’s some new word on Sutton.”

The boys found Chief Collig in conference with Lieutenant Daley.

“It’s all right. Come in, fellows,” the chief invited. “Daley’s been over at the hospital. Sutton has regained consciousness.”

“What did he say?” Frank inquired eagerly.

“He claims he doesn’t know who beat him up,” replied Lieutenant Daley. “Says he was hit from behind and never saw his attacker.”

“But that can’t be true!” Frank protested. “The bruises I saw were mostly on his face.”

“Oh, he knows who did it, all right,” Lieutenant Daley agreed. “Only he’s covering up for somebody.

Why should he try to protect that big fellow he tried to frame last night?”

“How about Alf?” Joe broke in. “What’s his story?”

“We have Lundborg in a cell,” Lieutenant Daley answered. “Of course he denies any part in the beating.”

“We can’t hold him much longer,” put in Chief Collig. “There’s no evidence against him.”“Of course not! Alf wouldn’t beat up a fellow half his size,” Joe declared.

“Then why did Sutton mumble Lundborg’s name in his delirium?” the chief countered.

“Sutton had a grudge against Alf. It must have been on his mind,” Frank suggested.

“That could be,” Chief Collig conceded. “How have you two boys been making out? Any new dues on Chet or Biff? We have none.”

“No, we haven’t,” Frank answered. “We went out to Hermit Island on a hunch this afternoon, but had no luck there, either.”

“Do you know anything about that hermit, Chief?” Joe inquired.

“A little,” the chief returned. “Remember him, Daley? Queer old bird. Somebody left him the whole island in a will. He said it was just the place he wanted, to get away from the crazy world!”

“Yes.” The tall lieutenant chuckled. “He moved out there for good some years ago. Never let anybody land on his island.”

“We found that out. He chased us off pretty fast this afternoon,” Joe said.

“Wha-a-t?” drawled the lieutenant, turning for a good look at the boy.

“Who are you kidding?” Chief Collig grinned.

“What’s so funny?” Joe asked. “He threatened us with a shotgun.”

“That’s impossible,” Chief Collig said flatly. “He’s dead!”

Frank and Joe looked at each other in astonishment. “Then he’s a mighty spry dead man,” Joe declared.

Chief Collig shook his head. “The hermit died last fall and the Coast Guard brought him back to the mainland for burial. He had no one to leave the island to, so it belongs to the state.”

“Wow!” Joe cried out. “Then the man we saw isn’t the real hermit and had no right to order us off.”

“Right,” Chief Collig agreed. “It’s state property. Anyone can go there. My jurisdiction doesn’t cover it.

Report this man to the Coast Guard.”

“We will, if he bothers us again,” Frank stated.

After leaving the police station, the young detectives walked along Bayport’s main street toward Mr.

French’s costume store.

“That phony hermit wasn’t joking,” Frank said. “He wanted us off the island and no fooling. What do you think he’s up to?”

Joe stopped short and said excitedly, “What if Chet and Biff were taken to Hermit Island?”

“Then this faker might know about the kidnaping. Is he in on the game, too?”

“The old guy could be holding them prisoner,” Joe went on. “That’s why he chased us away! He didn’t dare risk having us looking around.”

“Hermit Island isn’t very far away from Shantytown,” Frank said. “The rubber mask we found could havefloated out from one place as well as from the other, depending on the tide.”

“But how about the pieces of the boys’ costumes the police found among the shacks?” Joe asked, perplexed. “How do they fit in with the Hermit Island theory?”

“Chet and Biff could’ve been transported to the island from Shantytown,” reasoned Frank.

As he spoke, the brothers came to the costume shop. “I hope Mr. French is here,” Frank said. “We’ll ask him why he-“

The boys suddenly gasped and stared in amazement at the big display window of the store. In it were a gorilla and a magician costume!

“The same kind of suits we were wearing the night Biff and Chet disappeared!” Frank cried out.

“Yes,” Joe agreed in high excitement. “And that was the night of the bank robbery!”

CHAPTER XIV

Signal Three

“THERE’S something queer about this costume store,” Frank said positively. “Maybe the bank robbers got their masks here!”

“And Mr. French came to our house in the middle of the night to tell us about it, then lost his nerve,” Joe added.

“Why are the same costumes in this window as those we wore?” Frank wondered. “Are they a signal to somebody?”

“There’s one way to find out,” Joe replied. “We’ll ask Mr. French himself.” He pushed the heavy glass door.

It was locked. Peering inside the store, the boys saw that it was deserted. A shaft of light from the back room pierced the late-afternoon shadows within. Joe banged on the heavy glass with his knuckles but no one came.

“Let’s try the back entrance,” Frank muttered.

An alley separated the costume store from the next building. The boys slipped along this cobbled passageway to a dingy yard behind the shop. Quietly they stepped up to the rear door. Voices could be heard inside.

As Joe raised his fist to knock, Frank grabbed his arm. “Wait! Listen!”

A man’s voice droned on indistinguishably, then snapped out a single, sharp word.

“Kidnap!”

Breathless, Frank and Joe strained to hear more.”You fools!” said a new voice derisively.

A third speaker broke in harshly. The phrase “no second mistake” rasped out clearly.

”. . . signal three . . .” came another snatch.

The Hardys listened intently but were unable to catch any more of the conversation.

Silently Frank beckoned Joe into the alley. “I have a hunch!” he said. “Chet was wearing a gorilla suit just like mine. What if he and Biff were kidnaped in place of you and me?”

Joe’s eyes widened with excitement. “Then the kidnapers are the bank robbers-and they would still be out to get us!” he exclaimed. “That’s what they meant by ‘no second mistake’!”

Frank nodded. “They’re probably holding Chet and Biff because they’re afraid to let them go!”

“But why were they after us in the first place?” Joe asked, puzzled.

“I don’t know,” Frank admitted. “But I have a plan. Come on! We must act fast!”

The boys ran from the alley and hailed a passing taxi. When they reached home, the brothers found that their father had just returned and was in his study. Fenton Hardy listened in concern and amazement to his sons’ discovery.

“How I’d like to pick up those thugs and question them!” he exclaimed. “But that would only tip them off.”

“And we haven’t enough evidence to hold them,” Frank added.

Mr. Hardy frowned. “The best we can do is put a police tail on them and hope to find out more that way.” He reached for the phone.

“Wait, Dad!” Frank pleaded. “I have a scheme. Joe and I will go back to the shop. We’ll let them kidnap us. Then Collig’s men will really have something on the gang and can nab them.”

“I don’t know,” their father considered. “It’s plenty risky.”

“Please, Dad,” Joe urged. “The faster we crack the case, the sooner we’ll find Chet and Biff.”

Fenton Hardy was concerned for his sons’ safety, but was proud of their willingness to risk capture for the sake of their missing chums.

“All right,” he agreed. “I’ll alert the police. We’ll station ourselves outside the store. As soon as the gang tries to take you away, we’ll close in!”

“Good,” said Frank, satisfied.

As their father dialed headquarters, he checked his watch and said to Frank and Joe, “Give Collig and me twenty minutes from now to get set. Then go into the store.”

The boys sped downtown on their motorcycles, parked near the costume shop, and slipped down the alley. The men were still talking inside the back room of the store. The brothers waited, eyes fixed on their wrist watches.

“Now!” Frank whispered at last. “Let’s take the chance that ‘signal three’ means knock three times!”The boys walked to the back door and Frank gave three hard raps.

Immediately the voices became silent. A lock clicked and the door swung a few inches inward. A man’s face peered out at the boys. He was the speedboat pilot with the slicked-back hair-the one Mr. Caine had identified as Ben Stark!

Frank and Joe gave no sign of recognition. Stark’s eyes, however, widened in astonishment.

“I know the store is closed,” Frank said to him, “but we need something desperately. We’re the Hardy boys. May we come in?”

Stark’s expression changed from amazement to oily politeness. “Of course, boys!” he answered, and swung the door wide. “Come right inside!”

Frank and Joe passed into a dim storeroom, lighted by a single bulb overhead. On one side, two tough-looking men they had never seen before eyed them in stunned silence. Ben Stark closed the door and stood with his back against it.

“So you are the famous Hardy boys!” he said, smiling widely. “Of course I’ve heard of you, but I don’t think we’ve met before.”

Stark looked hard at them, but the boys’ expressions betrayed nothing. He indicated his companions.

“This is Mr. Moran and Mr. Duke,” he said. Moran nodded. Duke, a lanky, pale-faced man, merely stared.

“Haven’t I heard that you’ve been working on a new case?” Stark asked. “What do you suppose has happened to your missing friends?”

Recognizing the attempt to pump them, the young sleuths played along.

“They must have drowned,” Frank replied sadly. He made no reference to the postcard in Chet’s handwriting.

For a moment Stark looked puzzled. Then he said with exaggerated sympathy, “Isn’t it strange there’s been so much excitement in town lately? Even a bank robbery!”

“That won’t be a mystery for long,” Frank boasted to test the man’s reaction. “My father, Fenton Hardy, has it practically solved. The robbers had better watch out!”

Ben Stark’s oily smile faded. He looked hard at his two companions by the wall. Catching the signal, the men left their places and casually drew nearer to Frank and Joe. Both boys sensed the coming attack and summoned all their will power to appear nonchalant.

“By the way, where’s Mr. French?” Joe asked, glancing casually around the room. There was no answer.

The next instant the three men lunged forward and leaped on the brothers!

Boxes tumbled from shelves in the struggle, and the single light bulb swung crazily from the ceiling. Frank pretended to be fighting off his assailants, but finally he allowed his arms to be pinioned.

Joe, meanwhile, had been thrown against a bank of shelves and had fallen to the floor as though stunned.

Panting, the men quickly bound, gagged, and blindfolded the two young detectives.

“Now,” gloated Stark, “if your old man and the police don’t call off the hunt for the bank robbers, they’llnever see you again!”

Frank and Joe listened intently, hoping to learn more, but the men said nothing further.

A door slammed. There was a short, silent wait. Then they heard a car engine running in the yard behind the store.

“Okay!” came Stark’s voice. “Coast is clear!”

Frank and Joe were lifted up, carried a little way, then dropped on the floor of the automobile.

Tensely the two boys waited to hear police whistles and Chief Collig barking orders. But the car began to move, rolling swiftly out the alley, and away.

“What happened to our plan?” Frank wondered. “Where’s Dad?”

“We must have gone in too soon,” Joe thought, dismayed. “The police couldn’t get here in time!”

As the car drove on, Frank and Joe recognized the sounds of heavy traffic all around them. Gradually the vehicle picked up speed. The engine purred steadily, and the tires whined along on what could only be open highway.

Presently the car swerved, bumped over uneven ground a short distance, and stopped. In the sudden silence the blindfolded youths could hear the sound of surf on the beach.

“We’re near the shore,” Frank reasoned. “Shantytown perhaps. The time it took getting here seems about the same as when we came before.”

The car doors were opened. Again the boys were lifted and carried. A minute later each of them felt a jarring pain as he was dropped on a wooden floor. Rough hands ripped away their blindfolds.

Although tightly bound, the Hardys struggled to sitting positions. They were in a small board shack. A little light came through a tiny window high up in one of the walls.

Ben Stark and Moran were going out the door. Stark looked back. “Keep your eyes open, Duke,” he ordered sharply. “Those kids are slippery.”

“Don’t worry,” the pale-faced man replied insolently.

After his two companions had left, he went to a water bucket in one corner, dipped in a tin cup, and drank thirstily. Then he sat down in a wooden chair and tilted back lazily against the wall.

Frank and Joe listened anxiously for sounds of rescue. They could hear the sea, but nothing else.

Carefully they looked over their prison. The shack was crudely built out of broken crates and old two-by-fours. Long, sharp points of nails stuck through the wall near Duke’s chair. At the rear of the room was a little squat wood-burning stove.

Cramped and helpless, the boys could only wait. As night came on, Duke stood up and lighted a kerosene lantern hanging on the wall. Then he sat down and tilted back his chair again.

“Might as well face it,” thought Frank. “Rescue isn’t coming.” He looked at Joe with silent urgency, and his eyes said plainly, “It’s up to us!”CHAPTER XV

Outwitting a Suspect

ALTHOUGH bound and gagged, the Hardys exchanged messages. Frank’s glance slid to their guard, tilted back in his chair against the wall. Then he looked at his brother.

Joe nodded slightly to show he understood and looked toward the lantern. The glass was turning black with soot and the room was in deep shadow.

“Lucky it’s dark in here,” he thought, “because we’ll have to get these ropes off without being seen.”

Frank’s eyes fastened on the long nails he had seen sticking through the wall near the chair legs. If only he could get his back to those sharp points I

Cautiously he inched toward the wall. Duke, who appeared to be asleep, did not stir. Joe also moved.

Bit by bit, the brothers worked their way closer to the protruding nails.

At last Frank sat with his back against the wall, not far from the guard’s chair. Hardly daring to breathe, he felt behind him until a tenpenny spike pricked his wrist. If he was lucky, his scheme would work!

Frank eyed his captor. The man was still asleep. Quickly Frank rubbed the rope against the sharp point.

He could feel the strands separate, one at a time. His arms and back ached, but he kept on doggedly.

Finally the rope was severed. His hands freed, he removed the gag, then pulled out his pocket-knife and cut the ropes around his ankles. Reaching over, he cut Joe’s bonds.

Then Frank seized a leg of Duke’s tilted chair and jerked it out from under the guard. Slam! Duke fell on his back and cried out.

Frank and Joe leaped on him together, but he rolled away. As he bounced to his feet, Joe brought him down with a tackle.

Fighting desperately, the guard kicked, bit, scratched, and finally broke away. Gasping, he backed into a corner. As Frank went after him, Duke grabbed the kerosene lantern and hurled it. The boys ducked.

Crash! The glass shattered and kerosene drenched the opposite wall. A flame licked up the side of the shack.

“Water!” Joe yelled. “The bucket!”

He tore off his shirt and tried to beat out the flames. At the same time, Frank and Duke grappled for the pail. Duke jerked it away and flung it at Joe. The bucket narrowly missed him, slamming against the wall.

The water splashed over onto the flames with a hissing sound.

“You young fools! I’ll get you for this!” Duke picked up the chair and raised it over his head. But Frank swung a right-hand haymaker. It caught Duke in the solar plexus and he went down in a heap.

“He’s out cold!” Joe cried, whipped off his shirt, and finally smothered the flames. “What a sock that was!”Duke moaned and stirred. Swiftly the boys felt around until they found the cut ropes. Panting, they bound their prisoner’s hands and feet.

“That should hold him,” said Joe as the boys stood up.

“Now, let’s see where we are,” Frank suggested.

Cautiously he opened the shack door and the brothers slipped outside.

“It’s the edge of Shantytown,” Joe whispered after a quick look around.

Across a whitish stretch of sand they could see the dark shacks and beyond them a red glare from beach fires. A nearly full moon sailed in and out of heavy clouds.

Suddenly a figure detached itself from the shadow of the shanties and glided quickly across the sand toward them. Fists ready, Frank and Joe set themselves for a fight!

“Put up your hands!” came a firm command. “You’re under arrest!”

At the same moment, moonlight fell upon a familiar face. “Pat Muster!” Frank exclaimed joyfully. “Are we glad to see you!”

Pat Muster was a plain-clothes man on the Bayport police force. The brawny, red-haired man turned his flashlight on the bruised, disheveled boys. “So you fought your way out, eh?” he said, putting away his revolver. “Too bad you didn’t yell for help. My men and I were staked out by the shacks, keeping an eye on this place.”

Frank grinned ruefully. “I wish we’d known that. We didn’t call out, because we were afraid of bringing more of the gang.”

“Where’s our father?” Joe asked.

“He took a squad of police and followed Stark and the other fellow. The chief went back to headquarters.”

“I see,” said Frank. “When you didn’t close in at the store, we thought the plan had backfired.”

“Your father suggested that we follow you, on the chance of locating the rest of the gang. Sorry I left you in the shack so long,” he added. “I was hoping some more of these tough birds would turn up and we’d make a bigger haul.”

“We have one of them for you,” Joe said, “all trussed up and ready to go.”

Pat Muster chuckled. “I’ve got to hand it to you, boys,” he said. “You always deliver the goods!”

He turned toward the shanties and gave a low whistle. Here and there a half dozen figures appeared from the shadows and crossed to join the boys and Muster at the shack.

“Wait here,” the officer ordered his men. He and the Hardys entered the shanty. The detective beamed his flashlight on the prone figure of Duke, who blinked and scowled.

“Now that you’re awake,” Frank said, “you’d be smart to tell us where our missing chums are.”

The man glared and did not answer.”Don’t waste time on him,” Joe advised. “Let’s search this place. Maybe the bank loot is hidden here.”

Frank and Joe borrowed flashlights from two of the men outside and began to help Detective Muster.

They inspected the crude walls and flooring. Finally, they stood up, disappointed.

“Nothing,” Frank said, “and there’s no other place to hide anything except in the little stove.”

At this, Duke darted an apprehensive look at the stove. In two quick strides Frank reached it, lifted the stove lid, and plunged his hand inside.

“There’s something here!” he exclaimed. He pulled out a limp object. “A rubber mask! I think there are morel” he added quickly, reaching in again. One after another, he brought out four additional false faces.

Joe whistled. “The bank robbers’ masks! What a find! This shack must have been their headquarters-for a time, at least!”

“Great work, Frank!” Detective Muster congratulated him. “There’ll probably be plenty of fingerprints on those masks.” He pulled a large folded paper sack from his pocket and opened it. “Drop them in here.”

The detective summoned two of his men to unbind the prisoner Then they handcuffed Duke and led him to the police cars hidden in the pines on the other side of Shore Road. Muster and the boys followed.

When they reached headquarters, Chief Collig sent the rubber masks to his lab for immediate fingerprint analysis. Finally he turned to the Hardys. “Letting yourselves be kidnaped was a daring stunt, boys. But you got results.” He looked at Duke, who sat beside him, scowling.

Frank drew the chief aside and asked quietly, “How about Dad and his men? Have they located Chet and Biff?”

The chief shook his head. “They should have radioed in by now,” he replied. “Let’s see what we can get out of the prisoner.” He walked over and stood in front of Duke. “If you know what’s good for you-“ he began but was interrupted by a clatter of feet outside.

The next moment Ben Stark and Moran, handcuffed together, entered the chief’s office, followed by Fenton Hardy and two policemen. “Dad!” cried Joe. “Did you find Chet and Biff?”

“No,” said his father quietly. “Are you boys all right? You look as if you’d had a rough time.”

“We’re okay,” Frank assured his father quickly. “Tell us your story.”

“We followed Stark and Moran from Shanty-town,” his father explained. “They drove down to the docks and sat there, apparently waiting for a boat. When it didn’t show up, they headed back to Shantytown.

So did we. As soon as I saw that Pat was missing from his station, I knew you boys and your guard had been brought here. We arrested these two right in the shack.”

“Do Stark and Moran know where Biff and Chet are?” Joe asked.

“I think they know all right,” Fenton Hardy said grimly. “But they’re not talking.”

Frank and Joe looked disappointed.

“Cheer up,” Chief Collig advised them. “You’ve done a terrific job. We can hold these three on a charge of kidnaping you. After we’ve checked the prints on the masks you found, we’ll probably be able to identify them conclusively as the bank robbers.”

After the sullen prisoners were taken away. Frank and Joe told their father and the police what hadhappened to them. Then the Hardys left the station and piled into the detective’s car.

“We’ll pick up our motorcycles tomorrow,” Frank said.

When they reached home, the three shared a late supper of cold chicken, milk, and apple pie. Then they went straight to bed.

The next morning, as the boys were coming downstairs to breakfast, the telephone rang. “I’ll get it,” said Mr. Hardy, picking up the receiver.

A few minutes later he joined the boys in the dining room. “That was Chief Collig,” the detective announced. “The fingerprints of Ben Stark, Fritz Stark, Duke, and Moran-all wanted by the police-were on the masks. One set of prints is unidentified.”

“They probably belong to the big bald fellow,” said Frank. “The one Mr. Caine mentioned.”

“Caine!” exclaimed their father. “In all the excitement I forgot to tell you that Mr. Caine phoned yesterday just after you left for the costume shop. He wants you to call him.”

At this news the boys hurried to the hall and Frank dialed the long-distance call to Northport. In a few seconds Frank was speaking to the friendly dock manager.

“You remember those fellows who rented the Black Cat from me?” he asked. “Well, one of ‘em left an empty envelope in his hotel room. I own the hotel, that’s how I found it. Thought it might help you to track ‘em down. Fritz Stark’s address is on it.”

“That’s wonderful, Mr. Caine!” Frank cried out, and said to Joe, “He has what might be the Starks’

address.” Turning back to the telephone, Frank asked, “Where was the letter from?”

“Let me see . . .” the dock manager said. “It’s from Worldwide Radio Distributors, Yokohama, over in Japan!”

CHAPTER XVI

Skeleton Symbol

“MR. CAINE,” said Frank in a puzzled tone, “may I have the address on the letter?”

After jotting down the information, Frank thanked him and said good-by. He told Joe, “Just a San Francisco hotel. But the sender was the distributor for radios in Yokohama.”

“Sutton had a Yokohama radio!” Joe exclaimed. “And we saw him talking to Ben Stark that day at Shantytown.”

“The radio seems to be a connection between them,” Frank pointed out. “I think we’d better go back to the hi-fi shop, and find out more about the identity of Yokohama Super-X purchasers.”

After eating breakfast, the boys hurried off, first to pick up their motorcycles, then to go to the hi-fi shop.

When they entered the store, the young clerk was glad to see them.”Change your minds, fellows?” he asked hopefully. “Like to buy one of those sets?”

“We would like to look at them,” Frank replied.

Immediately the clerk bustled off and returned with four of the compact little radios. “Go ahead,” he invited. “Try them.”

While Joe flicked the button on one set, the young man said, “These are neat. As I told you the other day, we buy them from a distributor in Japan.” In response to Frank’s query about who had purchased them, the clerk gave the customers’ names, all familiar to the Hardys. None of them could be suspect.

“Three of these radios came in yesterday afternoon. I could give you boys a good price, since we bought them at a big discount.”

“How come?” Frank asked.

“Well, we didn’t buy these from the distributor,” the clerk admitted. “These were brought in by a fellow who wanted to sell them at a secondhand price, even though they’re brand new. My boss snapped up all three. He knows a bargain.”

“I see.” Frank nodded. “No questions asked.”

“Oh, it’s not anything illegal,” the clerk hastened to say. “They were brought in by a respectable businessman, Mr. French, who owns the costume store down the street.”

“Mr. French!” the boys echoed in amazement.

“Yes. What’s so strange about that?”

“Oh, nothing, I guess,” Frank replied. “You just reminded us that we must see Mr. French ourselves right away. The radios will have to wait. Come on, Joe!”

While the mystified clerk stared after the Hardys, they bolted from the shop and hurried along the sidewalk toward the costume shop.

“Mr. French again,” Joe muttered, shaking his head. “Is he one of this gang?”

“Somehow I trust him,” Frank replied. “Maybe the robbers are forcing him to play along with them, and have threatened harm to his family unless he does.”

“He didn’t look very happy the afternoon we picked up our costumes,” Joe recalled. “Those men in his shop were threatening him. And when he came to our house in the middle of the night, it was no mistake!”

“He knows Dad’s a detective,” Frank said. “I think he wanted him and was confused when we answered the door.”

“Well, we’ll soon find out,” Joe said as they neared the shop.

“It looks closed,” Frank remarked. The heavy door was shut and the blinds drawn. Going closer, the boys saw a sign in the window:

CLOSED INDEFINITELY

“I wonder why,” said Joe. “Has Mr. French gone out of business?”“Hey,” Frank cried out, “where are the gorilla and magician outfits that were in the window yesterday afternoon?”

Only one costume was now on display-a skeleton suit, which stood up with outspread arms, like a scarecrow!

“I hate to think what that costume means, if it’s a signal,” Joe said.

“Never mind,” Frank said. “We must find Mr. French. Perhaps he lives over the store.” Frank strode to a door at one side of the building. “Yes, here’s his name on the bell plate.”

Impatiently the young detective jabbed with his thumb at the button. The bell sounded loudly but no one answered.

“Hey!” came a sharp voice. “What are you two doing here?”

Frank and Joe whirled to face their two chums Jerry Gilroy and Tony Prito.

“We’re sleuthing around,” Joe replied, and grinned. “What are you fellows up to?”

Tony explained that he and Jerry were on an errand for Mr. Prito, then asked, “Have you found out anything more about Chet and Biff?”

“We found out plenty!” Joe exploded. “Chet and Biff were kidnaped by the bank robbers, who mistook them for Frank and me.”

“What!” cried Tony and Jerry. While they listened intently, Frank and Joe gave the details of their adventure the night before.

“But where is the gang holding them?” Jerry wondered. “Could it be Hermit Island?”

“Could be,” Frank said. “We found out the hermit we saw is a fake. The real one’s dead.”

“And when Dad trailed Stark and Moran last night,” Joe put in, “they went to the dock and waited for a boat. That could mean the rest of the gang-and Chet and Biff-are some place only accessible by water.”

“Then what are we waiting for?” urged Jerry. “Let’s head for Hermit Island!”

“Yes-and no girls this time,” Tony added. “That phony hermit carries a shotgun, and if the robbers are there, the danger is double.”

“Right,” Frank said. “We’d better take both boats, Tony. In case of trouble, we’ll be able to split up, or help each other.”

Tony agreed eagerly. “Then we’ll meet you at your dock at one-thirty,” Frank told him.

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