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As their two friends hurried off, Frank and Joe walked to their motorcycles and rode home.

As they dismounted in front of their garage, Aunt Gertrude appeared behind the back screen door, wringing her hands nervously.

“Hi, Auntie!” Joe called cheerfully. “Where are Mother and Dad?”

“Your mother has gone shopping and your father’s off on some more detective work! There’s a giant in the living room waiting for you.”“A what?” Joe asked, entering the house.

Aunt Gertrude made a sweeping motion with her arms. “A man,” she said, “a great big man!”

Laughing, Frank led the way into the living room. This must be Alf Lundborg!

The visitor’s huge frame certainly dwarfed the Hardys’ furniture. Grinning, he shook each brother’s hand in his crushing grip.

“I’m out of jail again,” he told them. “Sutton wouldn’t say I attacked him, so they finally let me go.”

“I knew you didn’t do it, Alf,” said Joe.

The stevedore’s good-natured face clouded. “No, I wouldn’t touch a little weasel like Sutton,” he agreed.

“But it makes me sore to be accused of doing it! What I came to tell you, though, is this-I know who did beat him up. It was one of his own pals!”

“Ben Stark?” Frank asked curiously.

“No, a fellow they call Pops. Remember I told you about the bunch who were always fighting with one another? Well, Sutton and Pops do most of it. Pops finally gave it to him good, but Sutton won’t tell the police.”

“That must mean they’re in something illegal together,” Frank reasoned. “How about this Pops, Alf-is he an old man?”

“No. Although he’s bald, he’s younger than Sutton-bigger and stronger. Talks loud, too. I don’t know why they call him Pops.”

Frank and Joe looked at each other excitedly

Both immediately thought of Ben Stark’s pal who was still at large. Could Pops be the Fizzle soda drinker?

“Thanks for telling us, Alf,” said Joe. “We’re glad you’re out of jail. You’ve been in twice and both times because of us.”

“You couldn’t help it,” replied their big friend, “and you spoke up for me both times. I appreciate that.”

After Alf had left, the brothers had some lunch, then headed for the waterfront on their motorcycles.

Tony and Jerry were already in the Napoli when the Sleuth came alongside the Prito dock. With serious, determined faces the four friends headed for Hermit Island.

As soon as they reached the ocean, the boys were confronted by a fast-darkening sky and choppy sea.

With incredible swiftness, black clouds, with chains of lightning snapping underneath them, moved in from the south. Large raindrops began to pelt the boys. In another moment the darkness closed around them like nightfall. Lightning flashed on the heaving ocean and the rain smacked down on them almost painfully.

“Why didn’t we bring slickers!” Joe exclaimed.

Through it all, Joe kept the Sleuth’s nose pointed northward. Presently, illuminated by the lightning, a rocky mass came into view.”There’s the island,” Frank called out. “A motorboat’s just pulling away, Joe!”

“Let’s chase it!” Joe cried. “Some of the gang may be aboard and are escaping.”

“Not now,” Frank cautioned. “Chet and Biff come first!” As the boys watched, the dark-brown craft disappeared in the distance.

As suddenly as it had come up, the black squall passed over. The Sleuth and the Napoli circled toward the island’s beach. By this time the rain had stopped.

The clouds parted, blue sky appeared, and the sun beat down again. Under its burning heat the boys’

clothes began to dry out.

“The storm’s probably driven that phony hermit under cover,” Joe said. “Let’s get ashore before he spots us.”

The boys found a small cove fringed with small, scrubby oak trees. Quickly concealing their boats in this cover, they debarked and set out on the path around the island.

This time no one disturbed them. The trail climbed and then dropped down to the level of the shore again. Overhead loomed the wet bluff.

Suddenly Frank stopped and pointed to a dark opening in the gray rock ahead. “A cave!” he said quietly.

The boys crept nearer. Just outside the cave’s entrance, Frank lifted a warning hand.

“Voices!” he whispered.

CHAPTER XVII

Hermit’s Hideout

HOLDING themselves rigid against the damp rock, the four boys strained to listen. Somewhere inside the cave a man was talking rapidly, but his words were muffled and indistinct.

“What’s he saying?” whispered Tony.

Frank motioned for the others to hold their places. Then he lay on his stomach and inched cautiously forward until his head was just outside the cave opening. From this position he could hear what was going on inside.

“Well, what’s happening?” Jerry whispered impatiently. “Tug at his ankle, Joe!”

But just then Frank came wriggling backward. He jumped to his feet, and clutching his sides, hastened some distance down the path.

Joe, Tony, and Jerry ran after him.

“Frank-what’s the matter?” his brother asked. “What was he saying?”Frank tried to speak, but his chest heaved with suppressed laughter. Finally he managed to tell them: “The fellow was saying . . . ‘B-buy B-b-butterfly Baby Foods’!”

“Wha-a-t!” The three boys looked at one another, completely mystified.

“We were listening to a radio,” Frank blurted out. “The announcer was giving a commercial!”

“You mean the hermit’s in there, listening to the radio?” Joe asked.

“I couldn’t see,” Frank replied. “Maybe Chet and Biff are there! It’s likely, anyhow, that their guard went in to avoid the rain. Now that it’s over, he’ll probably come out again. Our best move is to find a good spot to lie in wait for him.”

Near the cave mouth the boys found a large, brush-protected boulder and hid themselves behind it. For some time they waited. From inside the cave, snatches of music alternated with the announcer’s voice.

At last Joe could stand it no longer. “Maybe there’s nobody inside!” he burst out impatiently. “I’m going to have a look!”

“Careful!” Frank whispered, as his brother slipped out of hiding.

Joe darted to the path, lay down, and inched himself forward until he could see into the cavern. For several minutes he peered inside, then scrambled back behind the boulder.

“Somebody is in there!” he reported. “He’s asleep and forgot to turn off his radio.”

“Any sign of Chet and Biff?” Frank asked.

Joe shook his head. “No.”

“Do you think it’s the hermit?” Jerry asked.

“I don’t know,” Joe replied. “Anyway, he’s alone.”

“We could surprise this fellow while he’s asleep,” Tony said.

Frank nodded. “But Chet and Biff may be somewhere else on the island. Let’s search while the fellow in the cave is asleep.”

“Good idea,” Joe agreed. “Look for a hut or shelter where the boys might be prisoners.”

A brief examination of the gray bluff revealed a narrow cleft leading to the top of the precipice. Joe, ascending first, found himself on another path which seemed to rim the island from the top of the bluffs.

“Here’s the trail the hermit used to keep us in sight yesterday,” he told the others.

After scrambling up, Frank, Tony, and Jerry paused for a look about. Below them sparkled the bright ocean, extending to the mainland a few miles away. Behind lay a little plateau, overgrown with small pines and scrub oaks. In the center of the flat area rose a steep, rocky hill which gave the island its humping silhouette

“A hut would be easy to camouflage among those trees,” Frank remarked. “We’ll have to spread out and comb every foot of the woods.”

Though the youths worked carefully around the plateau, they found no sign of any shelter. On the island’sseaward side, where the growth was sparse, the boys checked the sides of the steep hill for caves. They saw none.

“It doesn’t look very hopeful,” Joe said at last. “If Biff and Chet were brought here, they’ve probably been carried off by now.”

“The robbers might still be using this place,” Jerry insisted. “It’s a perfect hideout.”

“They could have come here with the loot from the bank,” Tony added, “and used the phony hermit to scare off intruders.”

“Perhaps the gang is using the island merely as a stopping-off place,” Frank suggested. “With this hill right in the middle, a lookout could spot boats approaching from miles away.”

“Of course!” Joe took him up eagerly. “That’s how the hermit happened to be waiting for us yesterday.

Today is different. Don’t forget that boat we saw pulling away. Chet and Biff may have been put aboard!”

“Right,” said Joe. “Let’s climb to the top of the hill and determine how far we can see.”

Sparked by the new idea, the four boys attacked the steep hill at the center of the island. They worked their way among the rocks and pulled themselves upward by means of the short, tough brush.

“What a rough climb!” Jerry gasped.

As they climbed higher, the vegetation became too flimsy to use as support, and the hill’s cone became even steeper. Still the boys pressed upward, panting, with Frank in the lead. Finally he clambered onto a flat, wind-swept area at the top-about twenty feet across-and threw himself down to rest.

Joe’s head popped into view over the edge, and then Jerry’s. Suddenly, from below them, came a sharp cry.

“Tony!” yelled Joe and Jerry together.

Sitting up, Frank saw a cloud of dust and stones tumbling and bouncing down the hill. A whole section of ground slid like a carpet along the steep slope, with Tony in the middle of it!

Frank, Joe, and Jerry slid in pursuit, bracing their feet hard against the slope like skiers!

Partly covered by loose earth, Tony Prito lay on his back where the hillside leveled off. He grinned up weakly at his three chums.

“You okay, Tony?” Joe cried anxiously.

“Think so. Can’t seem to get up, though.”

“Where are you hurt?” Frank asked.

“Ankle,” Tony answered, rising to one knee.

Immediately a wince of pain crossed his face and he sank back again. Quickly Frank and Joe lifted their comrade to a standing position.

“Try now, Tony,” Jerry urged. “Put just a little weight on it.”Though Tony’s left leg appeared sturdy enough, the right one buckled at any pressure.

“It might be a fracture,” Frank said. “We’ll get you to a doctor, Tony.”

While Jerry steadied the injured boy, Frank and Joe made a chair for him by interlocking their hands.

Then they lifted Tony, who braced himself with one arm across each brother’s shoulder.

Slowly the little procession made its way down to the level of the plateau. Moving more rapidly now, they followed the path around to the mainland side of the island.

Once among the scrub oaks and pines, the trail became too narrow for three persons to move abreast.

Frank and Joe had to kick their way through the brush on each side as they advanced.

When they neared the beach at last, a small pine clump hindered Frank’s progress. He kicked out determinedly.

“Hey, what’s that?” cried Tony from his perch.

A dark garment, struck by Frank’s foot, flopped into the path!

“A sailor’s pea jacket,” Jerry reported, stooping down. “And here are some more, under this pine brush.”

“Pea jackets?” Frank exclaimed. “That’s what the bank robbers wore!”

CHAPTER XVIII

Hidden Watchers

“THE bandits have been here!” Frank exclaimed. “Fellows, we’re on the right track after all!”

“Wait till Chief Collig sees these pea jackets!” Joe exulted. “Pick ‘em up, Jerry. Boy, what a bundle of clues!”

Jerry gathered the five bulky, damp jackets in his arms and staggered forward. Almost immediately a low-hanging oak branch snagged one of the coats and pulled it from his grasp.

“We’ll never get to the boats at this rate,” he despaired.

Frank, however, was more interested at this moment in the number of jackets. “There were only four robbers,” he pointed out. “Who wore the fifth coat?”

“The driver of the getaway car, probably,” Joe said. “Here, Jerry! We’ll put Tony down for a minute. Why don’t each of us put on a coat and you can carry the other one. That’ll make it easier.”

Swiftly the boys donned the jackets. Now Jerry moved ahead without difficulty, and the Hardys followed with Tony as fast as they could.

When they reached the top of the bluff that overlooked the cove where the boats lay hidden, the partypaused for breath. Here was a fresh obstacle! Tony had to be lowered down the steep slope to the level of the beach!

“We’ll slide him down,” Frank decided. “Joe, you stay just below Tony, and keep his injured ankle from striking anything. Jerry and I can make a sling of our belts and lower him from one level to another.”

Slowly the injured boy was brought from foothold to foothold, down to the sand. When they reached the boats, Tony’s face was drawn and pale.

“Gosh, Tony-did we bump you too much coming down?” Frank asked solicitously.

“No, it’s not your fault, fellows,” their friend protested bravely. “My ankle’s just starting to throb a little.”

“Swelling, too,” Frank noted with a frown. “Here, Joe, let’s get him into the Sleuth. I’ll head it for the Coast Guard dock as fast as I can. You and Jerry follow in the Napoli.”

In another moment the Sleuth’s powerful engine roared to life. Hastily stripping off the pea jacket, Frank bent over the wheel. Tony sat beside him, suffering in silence. The sleek craft sped across open water toward Bayport.

Meanwhile, Joe and Jerry threw the other pea jackets into the Napoli. Starting her engine, Joe piloted the slower speedboat out of the cove and along the island shore.

“Joe!” Jerry pointed to a boat coming around the island toward them.

“Oh, boy, this is trouble!” Joe exclaimed. “Hang on!”

He brought the wheel around hard. The Napoli swerved and ran in straight toward shore.

Jerry gasped. “You’re running aground!”

Joe did not answer. He had noticed a narrow fissure which cut through the bluffs, making a tiny V-shaped opening in the shoreline. He ran the Napoli straight into the small slot of water, crashing through low-growing brush at its edges.

“Quick, Jerry,” he directed, shutting off the motor, “grab some of these pine branches and pull them down on top of us!”

Clutching the sticky, sweet-smelling limbs, the boys crouched low and waited. Soon the slow, regular throb of a boat’s motor could be heard. The strange brown boat, carrying two men, came into view.

The craft seemed to move with maddening slowness. Luckily the two men in it kept looking forward.

From his place of concealment, Joe studied them carefully. The one in the stern was a short, muscular fellow, whose shock of white-blond hair gleamed in the sunshine.

“Jerry,” Joe hissed, “I’ve seen those guys before! They were in Mr. French’s shop when we picked up our costumes!” He added in a whisper, “The blond one must be Fritz Stark. He looks just like Ben, except for the different-colored hair.”

Jerry gripped Joe’s arm. “He’s standing up! He’ll see us!”

But Fritz Stark pointed straight ahead of him and called out to the man at the wheel, “Nick, take her to the hidden inlet!”

The boys crouched tensely, watching the two men cruise slowly past them. When at last the dark-browncraft was out of sight, the boys took in deep breaths of relief. But the result was disastrous to Jerry.

“Kerchoo! Kerchoo!” The sounds echoed off the bluffs behind them and carried far over the water.

“Oh, golly, I’m sorry,” Jerry whispered. “I’m allergic to pine.”

“Sh! Keep down,” Joe warned. “Maybe they heard you, and maybe they didn’t.”

With hearts pounding, the boys waited. The gentle put-putting sound of the motorboat grew louder and faster, rising in crescendo to an angry roar.

“We’re in for it,” Joe groaned.

In another moment the prow of the brown boat knifed back into view. This time the men aboard scanned the shoreline suspiciously!

The boys clutched the pine branches in front of them. But it was no use. The Napoli’s hull was clearly visible to their pursuers.

“There they are!” Fritz Stark shouted. “In that boat!”

As the bandits’ craft swerved sharply and ran straight up on the concealed boys, Joe whispered, “Run for it, Jerry!”

The thick-growing brush, which had helped to conceal them, now became an obstacle to their flight.

Seizing the pithy branches, Joe pulled and squirmed until he could feel solid ground. But when he jumped up and walked, the thick growth clawed at his legs.

Thump! The robbers’ boat crashed into the Napoli. Then the brush began to shake as the men fought their way toward the boys. “Grab them!” Stark yelled.

Jerry caught up to Joe and for an instant the boys hesitated. All around rose the gray, rocky bluffs. Just in front of them, however, was a narrow ravine which Joe had noticed earlier.

“Come on! I think we can make it!” Joe urged.

The boys scrambled madly uphill, their pursuers only yards behind! Hand over hand, they clambered upward. Once Jerry stumbled and Joe paused to help him regain his balance. The short, muscular Stark was now gaining rapidly.

Joe uprooted a small prickly bush and fired it back. The bush hit Stark in the face. He cried out in anger, but kept staggering upward. In a moment he made a leap for Joe’s ankles!

“I’ve got you!” he cried as the boy slid backward on his stomach.

“Keep going, Jerry!” Joe shouted before turning to grapple with his antagonist.

At the same time the second man skirted them both, and disappeared over the top of the ravine, pursuing Jerry.

Though Joe fought savagely, Stark’s weight finally won out and soon the boy’s arms were pinned behind him and bound together with a belt.

Then Jerry appeared at the top of the ravine, his arms held securely by Stark’s henchman. “Get down there!” his captor ordered roughly.While he and the boy descended, Stark eyed Joe with an unpleasant smile.

“Hey, Nick,” the blond man called, “look who’s here!”

The henchman grinned as he recognized Joe. “One of the real Hardy boys!”

“What’ll we do with him and his friend?”

“Load ‘em in the boat. We’ll take ‘em to the cave.”

“We haven’t much time,” Nick warned him.

“Don’t worry,” Stark said in a hard voice. “We’re going to make quick work of ‘em!”

CHAPTER XIX

Rocky Prison

FEAR showed in Jerry’s eyes and his face paled. Joe stoically hid his emotions at Stark’s ominous threat.

The same thought raced wildly through the boys’ minds. What would these men do to them?

While the two men forced Joe and Jerry into the brown boat, Frank was sending the Sleuth full speed toward Bayport harbor. Looking behind him, he frowned, puzzled.

“Where’s the Napoli, Tony?” he asked. “Can you see it?”

Tony turned his head for a look. “No,” he answered.

“They shouldn’t be so far behind us,” Frank said.

From time to time he glanced back uneasily, and as they sped across the bay toward the Coast Guard station, he spoke up worriedly, “The Napoli isn’t that much slower than the Sleuth, Maybe the boat had motor trouble.”

“Don’t think so,” Tony said, tight-lipped. “Just had her checked.”

Frank throttled down his engine as the Sleuth slid in beside the pier. Making a line fast to a pile, he leaped onto the ladder and climbed up.

“Take it easy, Tony. I’ll get help,” he said, and sprinted along the wharf to the Coast Guard headquarters.

“I have a fellow in my boat with an injured ankle,” he told Lieutenant Parker breathlessly.

A few moments later four Coast Guardmen, two with a stretcher between them, were running with Frank to the end of the pier. Expertly, the rescue team carried Tony up the ladder and laid him on the stretcher.

“Okay, Tony?” Frank inquired.

“Sure,” came the plucky reply. “You’d better forget me, Frank, and think about Joe and Jerry. Somethingmust have happened to them!”

“We must get Tony to a doctor,” Frank told Lieutenant Parker, as both hurried along beside the stretcher.

“Our men will take him,” the young officer said. “We have an emergency vehicle ready at all times. But what was he talking about, Frank? Is something else wrong?”

“I’ll tell you in a minute,” the boy replied.

“We might need a cutter and some men soon. May I use your phone?”

Frank went into the Coast Guard station and called police headquarters.

“Chief Collig?” he began urgently. “This is Frank Hardy. I’m at the Coast Guard pier. Just got back from Hermit Island. We’ve found the jackets the bank robbers were wearing. I have two of them. Joe ought to be here with the others any minute.”

“What!” Collig cried in amazement. “Stay there. I’ll be right down,” he said.

After hanging up, Frank dashed out of the station and ran to the end of the pier again. Frowning, he scanned the waters of the bay. He could not see the Napoli, and he returned to the station.

“Our men have taken Tony to a doctor,” Lieutenant Parker told him. “Have you found some new clue to the bank robbers or your missing chums, Frank? If there’s going to be trouble, we want to help.”

Frank quickly gave details and ended with, “I’m worried about Joe and Jerry.”

“What do you think happened to them?”

“I don’t know. There was one member of the gang on the island when Tony and I left. Maybe more of them came back. The boys may have been trapped.”

“I’ll order the cutter at once,” Lieutenant Parker said.

“Thanks,” Frank replied. “If we don’t see the Napoli by the time Chief Collig gets here, we’d better move fast!”

Nervously the boy paced about the pier with his eyes fixed on the harbor mouth. Still no Napoli. Frank heard a siren wail and a black police car sped up to the Coast Guard station.

“Joe hasn’t come yet,” he told the chief. “I’m afraid something went wrong out at the island.”

“Then we’d better get there fast!” Collig snapped.

The powerful engines of a Coast Guard cutter were rumbling impatiently beside the pier. Frank, Chief Collig, and the two policemen he had brought along hurried aboard. Already a squad of seamen armed with rifles had taken their places. At a signal from Lieutenant Parker the cutter growled out into the bay.

On Hermit Island the two robbers had hauled Joe and Jerry along the path toward the cave. When they reached the entrance, they noted that the radio inside was still playing.

Stark’s face tightened with anger. “Hold them here with your gun, Nick,” he ordered, and disappeared into the cavern. The music stopped suddenly, and Stark came out a few moments later, pushing a heavy, bald-headed man, who blinked in the late-afternoon sunlight.”It’s the fellow we saw with Ben Stark in the Black Cat!” Joe thought.

He also noted that the man was wearing the same clothing the fake hermit had had on the day before. But this man was clean shaven and in his thirties! “He must have been wearing a false beard yesterday,” Joe decided.

Fritz Stark glowered at the bald man. “Listen, Pops,” he demanded, “how did these kids get on the island? You’re supposed to be keeping people away-not sleeping!”

“Pops!” said Joe to himself. “This is the fellow Alf told us about who beat up Sutton!”

The bald man answered Stark lamely. “I guess I was in the cave and didn’t hear them. I figured nobody would be nosing around during the storm.”

“You fool!” Stark returned harshly. “These kids found three of our jackets-I saw them in their boat. What if they had made it to the police?”

“Well, we’ve got ‘em now,” Pops said.

“No thanks to you!” Nick put in angrily. “You’re no good for anything but drinking soda and getting into fights!”

“Give him credit for buying postcards in Northport,” Stark said sarcastically.

Pops bristled. “I did my share! We wouldn’t have stolen the crate of Yokohama radios so easy, if I hadn’t first made the deal with Sutton.”

“We’d have been better off without that hothead,” Nick declared.

“He knew the docks,” Pops retorted. “Thanks to him we had inside help. If you guys hadn’t been so slow we could’ve taken more crates.”

“Oh, he was helpful,” Stark sneered. “He wasn’t satisfied with our bank loot. He brought the Hardys and the police down on our necks by planting a stolen radio on that big stevedore and making the whole bunch hot.”

“And fighting with you over his cut every night in Shantytown. Did that help?” Nick asked sourly.

“You were all pretty careless,” Joe egged them on. “We heard that an envelope from the Yokohama radio distributors was found in the Starks’ hotel room.”

Pops snorted in triumph. “You left that, Fritz!” he accused. “It was you who wrote pretending to be a purchasing agent to find out where their Super-X radio shipments came in.”

“But Pops left his broken soda bottle in the Sleuth” Joe prodded.

“That’s enough!” the bald man ordered. Roughly he shoved the captives toward the gaping cavern.

“Hold it!” Stark rasped. “First I have a bone to pick with this nosy kid.” Then he cuffed Joe on the ear and laughed wickedly.

“What was that for?” Joe complained, trying to draw the man out more.

“You’d like to know, wouldn’t you?” Stark sneered and pushed Joe so hard that he fell to the ground.”Cut it out!” Jerry protested, and lunged forward to help his friend. Nick seized the boy and held him fast.

Stark yanked Joe up by the shoulders and yelled at him, “You and your pesky brother-always interfering with our plans! I had things all worked out!”

“I’ll bet you did,” Joe retorted. “Who stole the car in Northport?”

“Nick did,” Stark replied, “while Ben and Pops took the Black Cat for a spin. Ben found out where your boat was kept, and later Pops took it.”

“He broke into our boathouse while the rest of your gang was robbing the bank,” Joe egged him on.

“That’s right, smart boy.” Fritz Stark sneered. “Ben was with us. Pops had the Sleuth waiting. We were going to head straight for Hermit Island.”

Despite their predicament, Joe and Jerry could not help but gloat. “Instead, you landed high and dry miles up the coast,” Joe said.

Stark’s face darkened. “Yeah. Well, that didn’t stop us. We hotfooted it back to Shantytown, picked up Ben’s car there, and drove around looking for another fast boat. We found one and ‘borrowed’ it.”

“Ben ran the boat up the coast to Shantytown while I drove back. I’d heard over the radio your father was working on the bank robbery case. Soon as Ben got back to Shantytown, I told him about it and that I’d seen you Hardys in the costume store.”

“So,” Nick broke in, “Ben got the idea of kidnaping you two to make your old man drop the case.”

“We told him what costume your brother was wearing,” Fritz went on.

“And he sent two bunglers to do the job,” Nick interrupted resentfully. “Moran and Duke! They drove to French’s place and made him tell where the party was. Then they nabbed the wrong boys!”

“Where are they now?” Joe demanded. For answer their captors merely laughed.

“When did you discover who they were?” Joe asked. “After you took them to Shantytown?”

Stark shot him a hard look. “You know that, too?”

“Whoever tried to burn the costumes and hid the robbery masks didn’t do a very good job,” the young sleuth commented. “They were found.”

“Duke’s carelessness again,” Pops muttered.

Nick cut in. “You fellows won’t ever find your two friends. And nobody will find you!”

The boys learned the crooks had spotted the Sleuth and pretended to ram her to find out her full power.

“We needed a fast boat for our getaway,” Stark said, “and we knew yours would do.”

Joe now said, “We saw you leaving the island during the storm. Why?”

Stark smiled briefly. “Nick and I had urgent business to check on in Bayport and no time to lose! We’ve got one more job to do tonight and then we’re clearing out.”

“And we need a fast boat to pull it,” Pops said.”You mean you’ll leave your own brother in jail!” Joe taunted Stark. “You’re a real pal!”

The man’s face twitched with rage. “Listen, kid, I don’t leave my brother in the lurch.” He turned to Pops and snarled, “Get these guys in the cave! We’ll take care of ‘em later!”

The thug reinforced the belt which held Joe’s hands with stout Manila rope. He tied Joe’s ankles too, and then moved on to bind Jerry. All the while Joe thought over what he had learned. “Stark says they’re doing one more job, and he won’t abandon his brother. That must mean they went to Bayport to plan a jail break, which they’re going to pull tonight. Then they’ll all flee together!”

“All right-inside!” Pops ordered gruffly.

Stumbling in the gloom, Joe and Jerry were dragged far back into the cave. The place smelled musty and damp.

Stark threw them to the ground and walked away.

The boys waited in silence until their eyes became more accustomed to the darkness. Then Joe felt a chill up and down his spine as he discerned the shape of someone lying beside him! Could it be Chet or Biff?

Wriggling over, Joe nudged the unknown prisoner. He moaned, as though dazed, and turned his face upward.

“Jumping catfish!” Joe whispered hoarsely. “It’s Mr. French!”

CHAPTER XX

Ambushing the Enemy

“MR. FRENCH, what happened?” Joe asked in amazement.

Painfully the costume dealer drew himself to a sitting position. “It was terrible,” he answered shakily.

“Where am I? I was blindfolded by the men who brought me here.”

“You’re in a cave on Hermit Island,” Joe told him. “How are you mixed up in this, Mr. French? I wondered once if you belonged to the gang.”

“No!” the man protested. “You must believe me, boy. The mental anguish I’ve gone through since I sold those men the masks for the robbery I I neglected my business entirely-didn’t even check my stock.

“Fritz Stark and Nick Glaser were in the shop when you stopped in for your costumes that afternoon.

They had come to pick up the masks they’d ordered. I asked if they were going to a party.

Glaser laughed and said, ‘Yes-a big surprise party!’ When I went in the back to get the masks, I heard them laugh again and mention the bank.”

“So you put two and two together,” Jerry said.

“That’s right. I guessed they were crooks.”“You should have tipped us off,” Joe said. “Why didn’t you go to the police?”

Mr. French said brokenly, “I had made the mistake of telling them my suspicions and who you were.

They said they’d kill me and harm my family if I talked. I sent my family away for safety.”

“Why did you come to our house that night?” Joe asked sympathetically.

“The other morning they began to use my store as one of their meeting places and told me to give my assistant a short vacation. I heard them bragging they were going to kidnap you and your brother. Later something snapped inside me. Robbery is bad enough, but I couldn’t let them get away with kidnaping no matter what they did to me. So I went to tell your father everything.”

“But Frank and I answered the door,” Joe prompted.

“Yes,” French agreed. “When I saw you were safe, it confused me. Besides, I had a strange feeling I was being followed. I didn’t know what to do, so I came away without telling my story.”

“What happened then?” Joe asked.

“Well, when Fritz Stark and Nick Glaser came to the shop early yesterday afternoon, I got my nerve back and told them I’d spill everything if they didn’t let me alone.”

“What did they do?” Jerry asked.

“Stark said they’d let me alone if I’d do two things for them. First he made me put the gorilla and the magician suits in the window. They were a signal to the rest of the thieves to knock three times at the back door. The gang was going to have a meeting about something.”

Joe laughed grimly. “Yes, to plan to kidnap Frank and me. I guess that’s why they used our costumes in the window.”

“There was only one costume-a skeleton suit -on display this morning,” Jerry remembered.

“Fritz Stark put it there last night. He took my key. I overheard him say a single costume meant ‘Danger.

Stay away,’” French explained.

“Stark put up the warning signal too late. He didn’t know then that half the gang was in jail.”

“That’s right,” the man said. “It was after he left the skeleton warning that he found out Ben and the others were captured.”

“I’ll bet the second thing they wanted you to do, Mr. French, was to sell three radios to the hi-fi shop,”

Joe guessed.

“Yes,” said the man, surprised, “and immediately. Glaser walked down to the shop with me and waited on the sidewalk. As I came out, Stark drove up in their car, forced me to get in, and blindfolded me. The last thing I remember before I came to in this cave was trying to break loose and jump out.”

“They must have slugged you,” Joe said. “But what good will it do you to know all this?” Mr. French said despairingly. “We’ll never get out of here alive. These men mean business!”

“So do we,” Joe promised grimly. In rapid whispers he told the despondent man how he and Frank, by offering themselves as bait, had trapped Ben Stark and his two henchmen. “But we haven’t been able to find Chet and Biff. Do you know where they are?”The costume dealer shook his head helplessly. “No. You can see for yourself they’re not in here. I wanted to look for the stolen money, but naturally I didn’t dare. This is the end for us, I’m afraid.”

Joe tried to reassure him. “My brother is free. When Jerry and I fail to show up, he’ll bring help.”

“I only hope he’s in time,” said Mr. French. “I heard these men planning to leave here in a little while.

They said they’d dispose of me before they push off.”

Jerry looked grimly at Joe. “That goes for us too, I guess!”

As dusk fell, the prisoners waited anxiously. While Joe tried to keep Mr. French’s spirits up, Jerry watched Stark and Pops passing and repassing before the entrance.

“Joe,” he said after a while, “I haven’t seen those two guys outside for the last ten minutes. Do you think something’s up?”

The three prisoners stiffened, all senses alert.

“Sh!” Joe hissed suddenly. “Listen!” In the distance they heard a motorboat.

“That’s a big one,” Jerry whispered excitedly. “Sounds like a cutter.”

“It’s coming here!” Joe said as the sound grew louder. Suddenly it ceased and they heard shouts in the distance, then closer.

“It’s Frank!” Joe exclaimed. “Sing out, everybody!”

“Halloo! Frank! Help! In here!”

Their voices rang and echoed hollowly against the rock walls. Before long, the beam of a flashlight pierced the cave opening.

“Joe! Jerry!” came an anxious, familiar voice. “You okay?”

“Back here, Frank!” Joe called eagerly to his brother.

Seconds later, Frank and two young Coast Guardmen were cutting the ropes that bound the prisoners.

“Mr. French!” cried Frank in recognition. “So the gang had you, too! Are Chet and Biff here?”

“No!” his brother replied worriedly. “And neither are the bank robbers.”

Already the cave was filled with men. Flashlight beams flickered up and down the damp walls. Seamen and policemen stood by with guns ready. Chief Collig and Lieutenant Parker hurried into the cave.

“You boys all right?” he demanded.

“We’re okay,” Joe answered, “but we must go after the robbers. Two of them-Fritz Stark and Pops-were here twenty minutes ago. And Nick Glaser, who drove the getaway car, was here too.”

“They probably spotted the cutter and headed for their boat or the Napoli,” said Joe.

Quickly he described the location of the hidden inlet where the Napoli and the robbers’ stolen craft were concealed. Lieutenant Parker immediately dispatched men to the spot.

“With a twenty-minute head start,” Joe said, “Fritz Stark and the other two probably will get away.”“But the cutter could pick them up easily,” Jerry put in.

“Right,” said Frank. “Those men know they haven’t a chance against the Coast Guard. I think they’re hiding here.”

“Where?” asked Mr. French.

“We’ll comb the island,” Lieutenant Parker said.

“Let’s search this cave first,” Frank suggested. “There’s a slight draft coming from the back. That might mean there’s another chamber.” Slowly Frank played the beam of his flashlight over the rear wall until he spotted a narrow crevice. He stepped quickly over and shone his beam into it.

“Look!” he exclaimed softly. Joe, Chief Collig, and Lieutenant Parker crowded around. In front of them, well inside the opening, hung a piece of burlap. Frank slipped into the crevice and pulled the rough curtain aside. A long rock passage was revealed.

“Come on!” Joe exclaimed. “Let’s go!”

As Joe stepped forward, Chief Collig clamped a hand on his shoulder. “Hold it,” the chief ordered. “Let the armed men go first. Those crooks are desperate and won’t hesitate to use their guns.” Reluctantly, all three boys heeded the order.

At Collig’s signal, Parker drew his service revolver and led the men into the narrow rock corridor. The chief and his two policemen followed, with Frank, Joe, and Jerry impatiently bringing up the rear.

The narrow passage twisted and turned. Only one kind of sound could be heard-the heavy breathing of the pursuers. Suddenly there came an earsplitting crack! A gunshot from up front!

“Halt!” Lieutenant Parker’s voice rang out. “Do not return fire!”

The file of men flattened against the rocks. The boys craned to see what was happening.

In a chamber at the end of the passage, their hands tied, stood Chet and Biff! Behind them were Stark and Pops, a cloud of gun smoke above them.

Though the two men were using the captives as shields, and the situation was desperate, Frank, Joe, and Jerry were jubilant. They had found their missing chums!

The Coast Guardmen and the police were forced to stand by helplessly, not daring to endanger Chet and Biff. But Joe saw a chance to change the situation. At a signal, he motioned Frank and Jerry to back out of the passage quietly. The three dashed from the cave.

“Stark and Pops got in there, somehow,” Joe said. “They didn’t come past us. There must be another entrance out here.”

Hastily, in the gathering twilight, the boys examined the irregular face of the bluff. Suddenly Frank pointed to a big dark crack in the rock. As they neared it, a man’s figure loomed in the opening.

Without hesitation the three boys hurled themselves on the man and bore him to the ground. He hit with a thud, the fight knocked out of him.

“It’s Nick Glaser,” Joe whispered as Jerry whipped off the man’s belt and bound his arms securely with it.”Okay,” Jerry replied, “I’ll watch him. Don’t worry, he won’t get away.”

The Hardys slipped into the dark crack from which the man had emerged. Snapping out his flashlight, Frank groped forward as fast as he dared. Soon he could make out the yellow glare of the rescuers’

flashlights, and the backs of Pops and Fritz Stark, standing behind Biff and Chet!

“For the last time, I tell you throw down your guns,” Stark ordered, “if you don’t want these kids hurt!”

Without pausing, Frank and Joe charged forward. Together they let drive with two bruising tackles. The legs of the criminals buckled underneath them. The revolvers flew from their hands and the men landed, dazed, on the floor of the cave. The police and seamen were upon them in a second.

“Frank! Joe!” cried Chet, overjoyed. As soon as his hands were untied, the stout boy grabbed his pals and hugged them in his excitement.

“O-of! Hey, don’t crush us!” Joe protested, laughing.

“We thought you’d never find us in this place!” Biff put in, rubbing his chafed wrists.

“We were plenty worried ourselves,” Frank admitted.

“They took us to Shantytown first in Stark’s car.” Chet spilled out the story. “Were they mad when they found out we weren’t you and Joe!”

“But they were afraid to let us go,” Biff went on, “so they took away our costumes and brought us here in a small boat.”

“On the way, they threw our masks overboard,” Chet said, “hoping you’d think we drowned.”

“We found yours,” Frank told him.

“Because it was made of rubber,” Biff put in. “Mine was only paper, so it was lost.”

“And the day we got here, Pops went for the postcards,” Chet continued. “Fritz Stark dictated what we had to write.”

“We told them you wouldn’t be fooled,” Biff added, “but Pops took the cards back to North-port and mailed ‘em, anyhow.”

“We found out a lot,” Chet continued. “This outfit is part of a national ring of bank robbers. Duke, Moran, and Glaser were sent first to ‘case’ the banks around here and decided on Bayport.”

“Do you know where the loot is?” Joe asked.

“Right here, I’ll bet!” Chet pointed at his feet. “I noticed loose earth the first day.”

Immediately Frank and Joe, aided by the two policemen, began to scoop away the earth with pocketknives and their bare hands. In a few minutes they had dragged out the canvas sacks filled with money!

“Now, one more thing,” Joe said. “Let’s search for the rest of the Yokohama radios.”

“They’re right over here,” Biff volunteered, and led the others to a shadowy corner of the cave where an opened crate stood. “Chet and I have been tied up next to them all the time. Those crooks were sure mad at Sutton-said it was his fault they only dared sell three.”“Jerry has the last member of the gang outside, Chief Collig,” Frank concluded. “Once you handcuff him, we can all go back home.”

Lieutenant Parker said he would take charge of the stolen boat and return the craft to its owner. A seaman was assigned to bring in the Napoli.

The evening shadows were lengthening as the rest of the party boarded the cutter. First of all, Frank told Jerry and Joe about Tony. They were relieved he had not been seriously injured. By the time the boat entered the wide mouth of the bay, the harbor lights were twinkling.

News of the capture had been radioed ahead, so the Morton and Hooper families were on the pier to embrace their sons. Fenton Hardy, too, came forward to congratulate Frank and Joe and their chums.

“A fine job,” he said. “And you’ll be glad to hear,” he went on, “that the bank robbery ring has been put out of business nationally as well as locally. The leader’s arrest this afternoon at a secret hideout in California clinched matters.”

A cheer arose from the whole group. Nodding modestly, Mr. Hardy explained, “The robbers we rounded up here talked, hoping for clemency, so that made the job simple.”

When Mr. Hardy finished speaking, Collig boomed out, “I congratulate you, boys. You solved three mysteries at once. And you even helped us round up two crooked dockmen.”

For a moment the Hardys were silent, wondering how soon another case might come their way. They were to find out in the near future while Hunting for Hidden Gold.

“There’s one question I’d like to have answered,” Joe said, coming back to the present. “Who were Stark and Moran waiting for on the pier the night Dad trailed them?”

“For Pops,” Lieutenant Daley replied. “He was supposed to meet them there in a small boat and help pull off another theft-this time valuable radios from Germany.”

Pat Muster chortled. “But the weather was uncertain and the big, bold bandit said he was afraid to make the trip!”

Frank spoke up. “One last question. Why was Pops called Pops, anyhow?”

“Because he drinks soda pop all the time,” replied Chet. “His favorite is some stuff named Fizzle.”

“I wonder,” said Joe with a grin, “if he’ll be served any Fizzle in jail!”

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