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In Bridgewater the brothers stopped at a drugstore, had lunch, then purchased a town map which also had a list of the hotels in the immediate area. They were fewer in number than those in Bayport. The Hardys checked all but two in an hour. At this point, they entered one at the east end of town. The desk clerk immediately recognized Slagel’s picture.”Yes, he checked in today. Name of Wright. He just dropped his things off, then asked directions to the telegraph office.”

Frank and Joe headed for the office a block away. Inside, a woman behind a typewriter affirmed the fact that a Slagel had sent a message out, though she was not permitted to divulge its contents.

As the boys walked away, Frank said, “Joe, sometimes when a person sends a telegram, he makes a draft of it first.” He saw a wastebasket beneath a writing counter and hurried over. It took him only a second to find a torn piece of yellow paper with Slagel’s name at the bottom. When he found the second half, the boys left the office excitedly. Outside, they pieced the halves together and read the message: MORE NERVE NOW. TRYING FOR 8-CYLINDER STOCK. TAKING CARE OF TWO

FRIENDS. ATTEND TO THEM WHEN JOB DONE IN WEEK OR SO. EXPECT YOU FOR SHIPMENT TOMORROW.

The message was addressed to Carlton Melliman in New York City.

“Carlton Melliman-C. M.,” Joe mused. “Frank I He must be our mysterious visitor who wouldn’t give his name. And the ‘8-cylinder’ business-that cinches Slagel’s connection with the Shore Road gang!”

Frank nodded. “It fits. I wonder how Melliman figures in. ‘Two friends’ might refer to Mr. Dodd and Jack, which gives us only a week before- We’re going to have to work fast!”

“If we only knew what this ‘shipment’ is and where it’s going,” Joe murmured.

The Hardys stopped at an outside phone booth and Frank dialed his home. Mrs. Hardy answered. “I’m glad you called,” she said. “Your father phoned a little while ago, and gave me a list of things for you boys to look up in his file-information to help him on his case. He’s going to call back tonight at ten for your data.”

“We’re on our way,” Frank assured her.

When they reached home, the brothers washed and changed, then started work. Among the items their father had requested were the first dates of manufacture of various foreign weapons and ammunition, as well as serial numbers for certain guns made abroad.

The job took most of the afternoon. The boys had almost finished when Frank exclaimed, “Joe!

Remember? The grenade and those machine-gun bullets were of foreign make.”

“Sure enough! You think they have a connection with Dad’s arms-smuggling case?”

“Possibly, since we’re pretty sure they were used by thieves.”

After supper Frank and Joe handed Mrs. Hardy the data they had compiled and asked her to relay it to their father. “We’ll get back to our case now, Mother,” Joe explained. “Please give Dad our regards.”

The boys had decided to cycle along Pembroke Road. Seeing nothing suspicious, they returned to Shore Road. As they approached the intersection, the sun was setting. There was no traffic.

“Let’s cruise south,” Frank proposed.

“Right.”

The young sleuths turned onto Shore Road, with Joe in the lead. Some distance along they had reached a section of the road with a sheer drop to the left and a steep rocky formation on their right, when Joehappened to glance back out to sea. He gave a start, then beckoned Frank to turn around. When they were facing north, Joe pointed toward a high shadowed rock cliff that dropped to the ocean.

A spidery figure was moving slowly up the rock face!

The boys rode forward to get a closer look. A turn in the road made them lose sight of the figure. When their view was unobstructed, the spidery form had vanished. They watched the rock cliff a few minutes but saw nothing in the twilight.

“I’ll bet that was the spider Scratch told us about,” Joe declared.

“He looked half human, half spider,” Frank remarked. “I’d sure like to know where he went. Well, let’s go. It’ll be dark soon.”

Frank turned around and went ahead, increasing speed, and snapped on his head lamp. Presently he noticed a slight glitter over the center of the highway. As the reflection grew nearer, alarm coursed through his body.

Strung chest-high across the entire highway was a fine steel-wire net!

It was too late to stop. Frank ducked and closed his eyes, yelling as loudly as he could at the same time.

“Joe, look out!”

CHAPTER XI

Guard on the Cliff

FRANK swerved to safety an instant before his brother’s motorcycle crashed into the glistening wire. Joe flew into the air, as his vehicle twisted and smashed into a tree to which the net was tied.

“Joe!” cried Frank, leaping off his cycle and running to the still form in the roadway. Joe lay unconscious, blood oozing from his head.

Both of Joe’s legs were badly bruised, and Frank feared he might have suffered a concussion. Frantically Frank waved down an oncoming car. The driver offered to take Joe to Bayport Hospital. Frank followed on his motorcycle. Joe’s motorcycle lay in a tangled heap of gray steel and chrome.

An hour later Frank, Mrs. Hardy, and Aunt Gertrude stood at Joe’s bedside in the hospital. A physician watched Joe as he mumbled, moving his head slightly.

“He has had a nasty shock, but he should be coming out of it soon,” he reassured the others before stepping quietly from the room. “Just see that Joe gets plenty of rest in the next few days.”

After spending the night at the hospital, Joe was moved home. He had a slight limp and wore a large bandage on his head.

“How do you feel, partner?” Frank asked, as Joe rested on the living-room couch.

“A little weak.” He grinned. “But still in one piece. Who put up that wire?”“I wish I knew, Joe, but my guess is it was the work of the car thieves. They had the wire netting ready to string across the road.”

“Was there another theft?” Joe asked.

“Yes. This time they copped one from the Ely estate during a dinner party.”

“The Ely estate! Why, that place is walled in like a fortress!”

“Right. Those thieves are bold, all right. Joe, that barrier across the road reminds me of the nylon net Callie was trapped in underwater. I have a hunch one of the thieves is a skin diver.”

Joe whistled, then grinned. “You don’t think the thieves hide the stolen cars under water!”

Frank laughed. “It would be a good place! Maybe that spider-man owns an underwater garage!”

At that moment Mrs. Hardy and Aunt Gertrude came into the room, dressed to go shopping.

“Joe, promise me you’ll rest,” his mother said, her face much brighter than it had been the night before.

“Except for this limp,” he said, smiling, “I feel as if I could run ten laps!”

“Don’t you dare, Joe Hardy!” Aunt Gertrude scolded.

The two women had been gone half an hour when the boys heard the front door open and a familiar voice call, “Hello! Where is Joe?”

“Dad!”

Fenton Hardy strode with concern into the living room, his face relaxing when he saw Joe sitting up. After shaking hands warmly with his sons, he asked, “You all right, Joe? Mother phoned me about your accident.”

“I’m okay, Dad.” Joe grinned.

The brothers briefed their father on what had happened to date in the mystery. When they mentioned liquid gas, the foreign grenade, and machine-gun bullets, he started to say something, then changed his mind.

“I have some hunches. If I’m right-“ He stopped. “It’s my opinion you’re up against a highly professional operation. Promise me you’ll be careful, for the Dodds’ sake as well as yours.”

“How about your own case, Dad?” Frank asked.

“I’ll be doing some risky undercover work in the next day or so. Sorry I can’t tell you about it now, but you can reach me at the usual New York address. Meanwhile, you boys use the family car. I understand your motorcycle, Joe, is a wreck.”

Frank drove his father to the airport and came home for a light salad lunch. Mrs. Hardy apologized for the wilted lettuce. “Apparently a different farmer is supplying stores in town since the Dodds’

disappearance.”

Later, Joe persuaded his mother to let the boys go out in the Sleuth, promising he would be quiet. At the Prito boathouse they noticed that Tony’s boat was not in dock.”If we can find Tony, he may have some leads on that strange fisherman in the black boat,” Frank said, and drove on to the Hardy boathouse.

“I’ll take the wheel,” Joe volunteered. “That won’t hurt my legs.”

The Sleuth’s powerful engine droned smoothly as they cruised south to Willow Beach. Then they turned back across Barmet Bay and north.

Just past Beacon Point the boys caught sight of the Napoli. Waving to Tony, they drew alongside.

“Wow! What did Iola do to you?” Tony asked, looking at the bandage on Joe’s head.

“Somebody handed me a line,” Joe quipped, as Frank laughed. The Hardys told Tony of the accident.

He asked several questions but seemed eager to tell them something himself.

“Would you guys believe me if I told you I saw a-a huge spider-out here last night?”

Tony described a black form scampering into a crevice in a rock cliff farther up the coast.

Frank started. “We saw one too. Where exactly did you see the spider?”

Tony paused in thought. “On a cliff just south of that big seaside estate.”

“The Ely estate!” Joe exclaimed excitedly. “Frank, it was on that same cliff that we saw the spider-man!”

The Hardys mentioned the theft which had taken place at the estate the previous night and wondered what relation the “spider” could have to it.

“That’s not all,” Tony continued. “I’ve been watching our fisherman friend-the one you told me about.

Apparently he does some of his fishing at night. Sometimes he has one lamp on his boat, other times two.

He keeps on the move up and down the coast.”

“Is he fishing?” Frank asked.

“I guess so, or else trolling. I didn’t want him to catch on that I was watching and kept the Napoli at some distance.”

In the Sleuth the Hardys followed the Napoli north along the coast to the place where Tony had seen the “spider.” The ocean washed at the foot of a high rock cliff, atop which the Ely estate could be seen. The boys glided beneath an overhanging ledge.

“It’d take a skilled climber to scale that and steal a car,” Frank remarked, training his field glasses up the sheer wall.

Joe, meanwhile, noticed a gossamer-like pattern in the water. “Look, fellows!”

The three boys stared at the ghostly, weblike rope floating in the waves. With a pole, Frank pulled it aboard.

“It’s rope netting, probably for climbing!” Frank exclaimed. “I have a hunch our spider-man is an accomplished climber-“

“And car thief!” Joe finished. “He could easily -at dusk-look like a spider.”

“But still,” Tony put in, “that can’t account for the daylight thefts. Anybody swimming in or climbing aprecipice like this would be seen.”

Tony said he had also discovered that the fisherman moored at a small inlet to the north along the coast.

The Napoli and the Sleuth sped to the area.

A makeshift dock extended from a narrow crescent of sand at the base of a high bluff with a “No Trespassing” sign nailed to it. Several buoys dotted the water out from the shore.

As Frank gazed at the peaceful scene, he wondered: Could stolen cars be shipped out by sea from this beach? The possibility seemed unlikely. Not only was the water cluttered with buoys, but the only grassy slope leading down to the beach was too steep for cars to descend.

The two boats ran farther up the coast. Frank gazed at the shore through binoculars. Seeing nothing suspicious, they turned back.

They were passing along the fisherman’s secluded beach when Joe’s hands tensed on the wheel at an eerie sound. Something had scraped against the Sleuth’s bottom!

“I’m going overboard to take a look!” Frank said. He stripped to his shorts, kicked off his shoes, and dived in.

The scraping sound had stopped by the time Frank was under water and he found no sign of any rocks beneath the craft. Another thought occurred to him. Had somebody intended to sabotage the Sleuth as he had Jack’s boat? Frank could find no evidence of this on the bottom of the Sleuth.

Climbing back into the boat, he reported this fact, then suggested they move along the coast for more sleuthing.

As they left the area, Frank watched the coast through binoculars. Suddenly he said, “Joe! Slow down! I want to get a better look at the top of that bluff!”

Through the two eyepieces, he could see a lone figure peering, through similar glasses, at the boys. As the man removed his binoculars before disappearing into the brush, Frank’s recognition was instant.

Carlton Melliman!

CHAPTER XII

Planted Evidence?

“MELLIMAN!” Joe exclaimed.

The boys told Tony of their visit from the unctuous New York businessman.

“I wish we could trail him,” said Frank. “But we’d never catch him.”

“On whose property is that bluff?” Tony asked.

Joe referred to a map. “According to this, that beach is part of Birnham’s property! He owns land on both sides of Shore Road.”As Frank headed back to the Bayport dock area, he said, “Slagel, Birnham, a spider-man, and now Melliman-they’re like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. But I think we’re at least fitting some of them into place.”

Back in their crime lab, the brothers discussed the latest leads in the mystery.

“We must find out where the shipment mentioned in the telegram is to take place,” Frank declared. “It must be a load of stolen cars.”

Joe suggested the possibility of the cars being moved out of the Bayport area by truck.

“I’m thinking of Birnham’s covered produce job that blocked us. It’s big enough to carry two cars at a time.”’

Suddenly an idea came to Frank. “When Chet and I had that narrow squeak with Birnham’s tractor I noticed a truck-maybe Birnham’s-heading south on Shore Road past us.”

“Let’s call Chief Collig and suggest his patrols take a look inside the truck.”

“Good idea.”

The Bayport chief proved reluctant at first to conduct the search, largely because the farmer himself had been the first victim of the automobile thieves. But at length he promised to do so.

Collig mentioned that the police, too, were being flooded by letters of protest over the continuing thefts.

Another car had been stolen-and recovered-in Bridgewater that morning.

“Jack Dodd’s identification bracelet was found under the front seat,” he added.

“Planted, of course,” said Joe. “The poor guy.”

“We’re inclined to agree,” Collig said. “We’re running twenty-four-hour patrols, and, with the Bridgewater department, several roadblocks. I hope we’ll have some word on your friends or their uncle soon.”

But when the chief called after receiving reports from his men, the result was a disappointment to the boys. The Birnham truck, returning from Bayport to the farm, had been halted but only empty crates had been found inside.

By suppertime Joe said he was completely recovered and suggested that they watch Pembroke Road that night.

“Joe,” said Frank, “remember your idea about the gang’s decoy tactics? We may be up against the same trick at Pembroke. The postmark on that last note, tire marks near Pembroke, maybe even Slagel’s moving to Bridgewater-it’s just too pat. A couple of those thefts could be phonies to draw the police and us away from Shore Road!”

Joe agreed, and they decided to watch only the farm that night. The boys wired their father in code about the net and Melliman, then changed into fresh sport clothes and telephoned Chet they wanted him along.

They picked him up in Mr. Hardy’s car, and stationed themselves beyond a rise in the road. From there they had a better view of the dirt lane leading to Birnham’s farm.

Shortly after midnight, it began to rain, and the boys shivered under wet ponchos for four hours. Finally, having spotted nothing suspicious, they returned to the car and drove back toward Bayport. Chet looked longingly at an open frankfurter stand as they passed it.”How’s the diet?” Joe asked. “You’ve lost weight. But it’ll be a phenomenon when one Chester Morton loses his appetite!”

“My spirits, not my appetite are dampened,” Chet chattered, as he huddled in the back seat with a large box of raisins. “Do you th-think Birnham, Slagel and Company are Maying Mow for a wh-while?”

“Could be,” Frank said. “They may have found out we weren’t at Pembroke Road tonight. Not knowing where we were, they decided to play safe.”

The sun had not yet risen as they passed the vacant Dodd farmhouse silhouetted ominously against the dawn sky.

“Frank, somebody’s inside the house! I just saw a light flicker in an upstairs window!”

Applying the brakes, Frank reversed direction and drove as silently as possible down the farm road.

Chet seemed disposed to stay locked inside the car but finally accompanied the others quietly around to the backyard. Above the shadowed screen porch, a slight glow was visible in Jack’s second-floor bedroom.

The back door was locked. Joe tried a window. “It’s open!” he whispered. He noticed Chet trembling.

The stout youth swallowed.

“I’m n-not scared. Just c-cold!”

Joe preceded the others through the window, where they paused and listened. They heard the faint thump of footsteps overhead.

“Careful!” Frank whispered.

Tiptoeing, he led the way through the kitchen.

They had just reached the foot of the stairs when Chet sneezed. Both Hardys winced as the raucous sound echoed through the house. The footsteps above stopped for a moment, then resumed at a rapid pace. Soon they ceased altogether. There was only silence.

Flushing and gesturing apologetically, Chet followed the brothers hurriedly up the stairs into the darkness of the hallway. Motioning Joe to guard the stairway, Frank played his flashlight into Jack Dodd’s abandoned room. When the beam touched a half-open drawer, he flipped on the wall switch.

The room was empty. Frank crept down the carpeted hall, searching one by one three other rooms before returning with a shrug to the others.

Chet, his face pale with fear, was the first to break the silence. “N-nobody here. Let’s go!” He started for the stairs but was beckoned back.

While Frank beamed his flashlight down the stairs to spot anyone coming up, Joe and Chet looked around Jack’s room. Except for the open drawer, there seemed to be no disorder. Joe was about to open the closet door when Frank called out in a loud voice:

“I guess nobody’s up here. Let’s head back to the vein of gold.”

Sensing his brother’s strategy of flushing out anyone inside the closet, Joe led Chet to the hall. Turning off the lights, the three boys walked downstairs. They had just turned toward the kitchen when a deep voice came from the top of the steps.”Excuse me, are you the Hardy boys?”

Both brothers’ flashlight beams revealed a mustached man dressed in slacks and a navy-blue hooded sweater.

Joe, starting cautiously up, answered, “Yes. Are you-“

“Martin Dodd.” The man smiled. Turning on the lights, he came down and shook hands cordially with each of the boys. “I’m sorry about the cloak-and-dagger game, but I had to be careful.”

There was no doubt but that the tall, middle-aged man was the professor whose picture they had seen.

He led them to a small den in the rear of the house.

“When I got word of my brother’s and nephew’s arrests, I knew somebody had plotted against them. I could have gone to the police but thought I might be able to find them by working undercover. And also,”

he added, “because a private mystery is involved. Moreover, I didn’t want any publicity because of my position at the college.”

“Then it was you who left the Pilgrim clue at our house!” Frank said.

“That’s right. I hoped to get your father’s help, but finding he was away, I decided to leave you the clue in the hope that-separately-you two or I might hit upon its solution. I couldn’t chance your giving me away to the police.”

The energetic professor agreed that his relatives had been victims either of an accident or a kidnapping, though he failed to see how news of the lost Pilgrim treasure could have reached other ears. Of the Shore Road thefts, or Slagel or Birnham, he knew little.

“Then you didn’t reach Bayport until after your relatives had disappeared?” Chet asked.

“No. I heard the news over the radio. It was then that I decided to leave my car in another town and camp in the northern Bayport area. With authorities already dragneting the region for my relatives, it seemed best for me to work from the Pilgrim-clue angle. While I’ve had little success in decoding it yet, I feel strongly that something may have happened to them while tracking down-or being forced to track down-the clue.”

As Martin Dodd spoke, a cordial relationship began to develop between the boys and the astronomy professor.

He went on, “Jack had written to me about trying to get your help on our mystery, but I didn’t know you and wanted to be extra careful.” The professor smiled. “That is why I watched you several times when I heard your voices in the woods.”

“Then it was your footprints we spotted,” said Frank, “and you who inquired about the gold in Bayport.”

Dodd nodded. “I’ve used a disguise whenever I went into town. I wish you and I had had more success with the black-willow clue or the plant drawing.”

Martin Dodd told the boys he was interested in astronomy and carried telescopic equipment on his trips.

He now unfolded a small piece of paper and handed it to Frank. It was a photostat of a note in the same handwriting as that in the Pilgrim clue, except that it contained several numbers, angles, estimations, and the words: “the evening ftar erefcent.”

“I owe you boys an apology,” the professor said. “I didn’t give you this, which is also part of Elias Dodd’slast message, and refers to the position of the planet Venus in the late summer of 1647.”

“Which might help locate the treasure site?”

“Yes. Elias Dodd attempted, before dying, to cite his position relative to that of Venus. If his estimation was accurate, it may indeed pinpoint the location.” The professor paused. “I believe I am on the verge of solving these calculations, which seem to be leading me farther east each day.”

Chet mulled over the piece of paper. “These sure are complicated numbers!”

“That is why I didn’t include them with the rest of the message,” Martin Dodd replied. “The fact that he called Venus the ‘evening star’ indicates its crescent was in a period of eastern elongation.

As you may know, the motions of Venus are irregular, with identical phases for a given month recurring only about every eight years.”

“Then there is a deadline for solving the Pilgrim mystery!” Frank exclaimed.

“That’s right, Frank, and time is running out, since this particular phase of Venus won’t be seen in August again for another eight years. Boys, the progress you’ve made so far astonishes me. I think by working together we may find the treasure, but more important, my brother and nephew before it is too late.”

“Let’s meet early tomorrow afternoon,” said Frank. “We’ll come here.”

“Very good.”

On the way home Chet dozed in the back seat. When they arrived at his farm, he asked, “What’s hatching, guys?”

“Some work for you. Game?” Joe said.

Chet was cagey. “Tell me first.”

“Will you try to follow Birnham’s truck on its rounds today? It’s big and red.”

“Oh, sure,” Chet agreed.

The Hardys arrived home to find a hearty breakfast awaiting them. As they ate, the brothers discussed the purchase in Harpertown of a used car as part of a plan for solving the case. “I’ll go,” Frank offered.

Joe remained at home and greeted Chet when he stopped in before his reconnaissance errand.

“Chet! You look starved!” Aunt Gertrude observed.

“Suppose so.” He yawned. “Do feel kind of empty. But no food, thanks. I’ve decided I’m not so interested in land vegetation any more.”

“You mean you’re going to break your diet?” Joe asked.

“Certainly not! But I think I’ll become an algologist.”

“An algologist?”

Chet brandished a green book with a picture of the ocean on its cover. “Algology is the study of marine vegetation-seaweed and stuff.”Joe grinned. “By this time next year you’ll be a poor fish?” Chet gave his friend a black look.

At that moment the mail arrived. One letter was addressed to the Hardy Boys. Joe showed the envelope to Chet. “Another Bridgewater postmark.” Quickly he tore it open to find a handwritten message: Frank and Joe-Jack and I have escaped criminals. We want to give ourselves up but not before talking with you. Meet us alone beneath Saucer Rock on Pine Road at 12 P.M. today. Please be there!

CHAPTER XIII

A Hungry Sleuth

“Do YOU think the message is another trick?” Chet asked as Joe studied the note.

“Could be. The handwriting’s not Jack’s, but it could be Mr. Dodd’s. What do you think?”

Chet shrugged. “It sounds like Mr. Dodd, but I still think it’s suspicious. You’re not going to go, are you?”

Joe paced the room. “If only Frank were here!” He looked at his watch. “It’s almost noon now! That doesn’t give us much time to decide!”

At last he made up his mind to go to the rendezvous. “I can’t afford not to go-I wouldn’t sleep tonight if I just dismissed the possibility that the Dodds really may have escaped. There isn’t time to check the handwriting. Keep your fingers crossed. If you don’t hear from me by four, get out to Saucer Rock with Frank as fast as possible! Meanwhile, good luck in town and don’t let Birnham’s driver see that you’re tailing him!”

After seeing Joe off on Frank’s motorcycle, Chet was called by Aunt Gertrude to the kitchen. She handed him a wrapped, warm box.

“What’s this?” he asked.

“Since you’re going into town, you won’t mind dropping this cake off at Mrs. Bartlett’s house on Kent Street, will you?”

“I’ll be glad to.”

When Chet reached the business district, he pulled his jalopy over to the curb. “Guess I’ll deliver the cake later,” he said to himself. Chet felt very empty. “Should’ve had a bigger lunch.”

He squared his shoulders and took out a list of Bayport markets supplied by local farmers. He hoped to pick up the trail of the Birnham’s produce truck.

“Guess I’ll start with Max’s Supermarket.” From his pocket he took out some watercress and munched on it.

There was no red truck bearing the name Birnham at the large, block-long store. Chet drove on to the Food Fresh Market three blocks away. Seeing only a blue truck unloading vegetables, he headed farther down the street to a smaller store. He checked vehicles parked at the rear. No luck.Back in his jalopy, Chet looked longingly at a pork-roll sandwich stand crowded with customers.

“Boy! I could go for a nice, juicy, well-done …” Quickly he drove out of sight of the stand.

At Castagna’s Grocery near the waterfront, Chet obtained the names of stores usually supplied by the Dodds’ now jobless truck driver.

“These must be some of the places giving Birnham business now,” the youth concluded, stuffing the list into his pocket. In the car again, he spread the paper out on the front seat, moving Aunt Gertrude’s cakebox over. For a moment he eyed it hungrily, then drove off.

By two-thirty he had covered five of the nine listed stores without seeing the red truck. He shut off the motor and relaxed. His stomach rumbled. “Should have eaten something at the Hardys’,” he thought, and again looked at the cakebox.

Taking out a pencil, Chet crossed out the stores and markets he had already covered. He sighed wearily.

“The vegetable deliveries may be over for today. Wonder what kind of cake Aunt Gertrude made. Four places to go. Wonder . . .”

He lifted the lid of the white box and sniffed. “Chocolate fudge-my favorite!” He sighed, then started the motor and proceeded to Frankel’s Market.

“Birnham’s truck just left here,” the manager told him. “About five to ten minutes ago. I think he goes to a place on the west side of town after us.”

“That must be the other Food Fresh store,” Chet thought. Getting into the hot car, he again sniffed the cakebox. Slipping the string off, he opened the cover, and beheld the luscious whipped chocolate frosting. His stomach growled as he wiped his forehead. “Maybe a little taste-“

Finding a large gob of frosting that had fallen off he thumbed it. Carefully he picked it up and laid it on his tongue. “Mmm,” he murmured.

When Chet reached the Food Fresh Market on Kennedy Street, he learned that the Birnham truck had not yet made its delivery. The man in charge of the produce department told him it was uncertain when the truck would come.

“Guess I’ll wait,” Chet said, but almost immediately returned to the car. Untying the string again, he took a small dab of frosting.

After half and hour Chet got out, stretched, and paced back and forth in front of a restaurant. Then he got back in. He felt weak with hunger.

The car was very warm. As the cake frosting became stickier in the heat, occasional breezes wafted its fragrance to Chet’s nostrils. He opened the box. “Just one more lick.”

By now, he had eaten all the uneven gobs of chocolate. Chet sighed. Slowly he ran his finger lightly around the cake in a complete revolution, chuckling. “Mrs. Bartlett won’t even notice.”

After licking the frosting off his thumb, he studied the cake again. One part of the swath he had made was wider then the rest. With his finger he made another circuit to even the groove, but in his eagerness dug in too deeply at one place.”Uh-oh, now I’ve done it!” he moaned.

Glancing out the window, he still saw no sign of the red truck. His eyes returned to the inviting cake.

“Can’t just leave it that way, he mused. Then he swallowed. “Morton, get hold of yourself!”

Chet got out and plodded to and fro. No red truck. Sighing, he climbed into the front seat and uncovered the cakebox again.

“If I just cut off that little gouged piece, I can tell Mrs. Bartlett I snitched a tiny bit.”

Chet sat back, tucked a handkerchief into his T-shirt, and having no knife, made a small wedge of two pudgy fingers to push down through the thick, melting frosting. A minute later his hands and chin were daubed with chocolate. The hungry boy surveyed the damage.

Several thumbprints surrounded the drooping surface near the small missing segment. Besides, his fingers had cut wider and wider on their paths toward the plate.

“Got to even it off.”

Twenty minutes later Chet was still evening up the wedge and making it larger and larger. Suddenly he heard a heavy motor and saw a huge, red truck marked BIRNHAM pull into an alley next to the store.

He climbed out and crossed the street.

Chet leaned heavily against a mailbox. He had a clear view of the back end of the truck as it was unloaded by the driver and two store employees. This appeared to be the truck’s final delivery, for its eight or ten remaining vegetable crates were removed and taken into the store.

“That truck’s big enough to carry two cars all right,” he said to himself.

The tough-looking driver started the motor and began backing out. Chet hastened to his car, his stomach feeling a bit uncomfortable. Behind the wheel, he loosened his belt.

“Wonder where that driver’s going,” Chet thought.

A block from Barmet Bay he saw the produce van pull into a large, dilapidated, brown-shingle warehouse surrounded by a vast, junk-filled lot. The faded sign over the door read: KITCHER’S JUNKYARD.

Chet cut his ratchety engine and looked warily up the street toward the building. He heard the truck door slam.

“What could Birnham have to do with a rundown place like this?” he wondered.

Chet decided to take a closer look and shuffled up the street. Nobody was in sight at the wide entrance.

Swallowing dryly, Chet hitched his trousers up, and after peeking in the warehouse, tiptoed inside.

The faint murmur of voices came to him from behind a closed door to the rear. Next to the parked truck was a black sedan Chet recognized as the one driven by Slagel. He peered in its rear window.

On the floor lay a small, vinyl phonograph record near a small generator. “A clue! I’ll give it to Frank and Joe.” After glancing toward the office, he reached in and picked up the disk, then slid it inside his T-shirt.

Chet turned to the musty flaps on the back of the truck. His face red with exertion, he clambered up and squeezed through the flap opening, letting some light into the rank-smelling interior.On the stained, bare floor were scattered splinters of wood and random, rotted greens. “If these vegetables don’t prove to be clues,” he thought, “I can use them for samples of botanical deterioration.”

As he scooped the various greens into his pockets, Chet noticed, on the scratched floor, muddied, ridgelike patterns.

“Tire-tread marks!” he gasped.

Then he heard the voice of an approaching man, calling back to the office. “No, the kids’ll fall for the trap. Slagel’s waitin’ out at Saucer Rock to take care of them!”

“Good night! Joe! Joe’s out there!” Chet realized, suddenly feeling sweat on his forehead. His heart thumped wildly. “I must get back!”

Just then the truck flap flew open and light flooded the interior. Glaring in at him, Chet saw the hard face of a stocky, red-haired man!

CHAPTER XIV

Sea Clues

SAUCER Rock, a broad, flat overhang above a deserted dirt road outside Bayport, was known to most people in the vicinity. Joe reached the spot ten minutes before his appointed meeting with the Dodds.

Parking the motorcycle, he approached the large, sunlit, limestone rock and sat down on a smaller one underneath it. Then, thinking of a possible trap, he got up and walked around.

The surrounding woods were quiet except for the twitter of a few orioles. Joe looked at his watch. It was 12:35.

As Joe neared the overhang, a glittering object nearby caught his eye. Stooping, he picked it up.

“Jack’s high school ring!”

At that instant a sound like crackling fire reached Joe’s ears. Tensing, he noticed a large moving shadow engulfing his! He spun around to face Saucer Rock.

A station wagon was toppling off directly toward him!

Darting back, Joe barely escaped the plunging car. Then came a shattering crash. Pieces of broken glass flew by him, as he looked up the slope. The sound of rushing feet along a nearby road stopped with the slam of a car door. The motor roared off into the distance.

The roof of the toppled car, its three remaining wheels still spinning, was completely crushed in. A shudder passed through Joe. “It’s the Dodds’ station wagon!”

Fortunately, the vehicle was empty. Joe inspected some curious deposits on the fender. “Saltwater corrosion! I must report this!”

He ran to his motorcycle. After telephoning Chief Collig from a farmhouse, he drove home.Frank returned from his trip moments later. He was stunned by his brother’s story. “The men must have timed it, knowing we wouldn’t have a chance to study the handwriting on the note. I hope Collig’s men can nab them.”

“I’ll bet it was Slagel’s work and now he’ll probably lie low and keep away from his ‘job’ at Birnham’s.”

“What about your trip?” Joe asked. “Any luck?”

“Some. I saw several good used cars. We might buy one.”

Just then the Hardys heard a familiar chugging sound in the driveway, then the heavy plodding of two feet through the kitchen and into the living room.

“Chet, how did it go?” Joe welcomed their friend. “Say, you don’t look very happy.”

“Joe, you’re home! You’re safe!” Chet exclaimed.

He collapsed into the large green armchair. “Whew! Have I got an earful for you fellows!”

Fanning himself with a magazine, Chet told the Hardys of his adventure. They leaned forward when he mentioned the junkyard.

“And when I saw this guy glaring at me, I decided it was now or never. So I landed on him.”

“Landed on him?”

Chet nodded, pride swelling his chest. “Just took a run, sailed off the end of the truck, and knocked him off balance. Then I dashed to the car. He didn’t know who I was, so nobody chased me.”

Joe laughed. “It’s a good thing you’ve been keeping in training on that diet.”

“My-diet?” Chet gulped. “Oh yeah, that.”

At Chet’s report of the tire tracks inside the Birnham truck, Frank jumped up. “That proves it! The gang is shipping the hot cars into Bayport in that truck at night. Were there autos in the junk lot, Chet?”

“I never noticed. I did get these.” Standing up,

Chet unloaded frayed, discolored greens on the coffee table. Frank was about to groan when Chet’s eyes riveted on one of the greens. “Hey, this isn’t produce-it’s a piece of seaweed!”

“Seaweed?”

Chet checked his pocket-sized algology book. He nodded. “Yes. Not exactly seaweed, but it’s a form of marine vegetation.”

Joe recalled the salt-water traces he had detected on the crushed Dodd station wagon. When he related his findings to Frank and Chet, the three boys tried to correlate the two sea clues.

“I wonder-“ Joe thought. But when he compared the sea leaf with the Pilgrim drawing, they proved to be dissimilar.

“The stolen car hideout-and maybe the place the Dodds are being held-must be somewhere not far from the ocean!” said Frank. “But where?”

“Probably north along the coast,” Joe suggested. “There are miles of beach, but we’ve scouted most of it.The police have checked all the buildings, public and private, north of the Barmet beach area.”

“How about the waterfront?” Frank asked.

“It’s possible. But where could they hide cars, even repainted, right in the face of Collig’s heavy police lookout?”

Again recalling the shipment mentioned in Slagel’s telegram to Melliman, the Hardys decided to watch Kitcher’s Junkyard that night.

Suddenly Chet remembered the small phonograph record. “Got something else,” he told the others excitedly. He stood up and slipped it out of his T-shirt.

He groaned. The edges of the black vinyl disk had curled up from heat.

“I hope it will still play,” Frank said, going to the record player.

From the speaker came the warped sound of a loud automobile collision!

“The collisions in the woods!” Joe exclaimed. “This must be how Slagel or his pals decoyed the police off the track-by playing this record and making them look for an accident instead of chasing a stolen car.”

“The paint flecks must be part of the same idea!” added Frank.

The brothers poured thanks on Chet for his reconnaissance work. But his pride was being snuffed by the beginnings of a stomach-ache. As he rose to leave, he heard Aunt Gertrude’s footsteps coming down the stairs.

“Well, guess I’ll be leaving,” he said quickly, almost sprinting to the back door.

But a friendly voice stopped him. “Oh, Chester”- Miss Hardy smiled-“I want to thank you for delivering my little gift to Mrs. Bartlett.”

“Oh, I-Yes, I delivered it. I-I-“

“It was an errand I shouldn’t have burdened you with, but she’s a lovely woman, as you could see, and I always try to send her one of my chocolate-fudge cakes.

“Before you go,” she continued, holding a second cake up to Chet’s nose, “I insist you have a piece of Laura’s delicious caramel cake. This silly diet of yours has gone far enough, and I know you like pecans and marshmallow fill-“

“Yes, yes,” the youth muttered, and to the others’ surprise rushed from the house.

That night Frank and Joe drove to the waterfront area, parking in a cobblestone alley behind a fish store.

Their position afforded a good view of Kitcher’s Junkyard.

“If there’s any kind of a shipment here tonight, we should be able to spot it,” Joe whispered from behind the wheel.

The air was cold. Damp gusts from the foggy bay, just visible down a small hill, chilled the air. Both boys shivered, having neglected to bring sweaters.

Through the mist a light was visible inside the junk warehouse. Occasionally a gaunt figure appeared in the light and lounged in the doorway.”That’s probably Kitcher,” Frank said. A moment later it began to drizzle lightly.

A black sedan moved slowly down the street and parked in front of the junkyard. The brothers leaned forward as they recognized Slagel emerging from the car, its motor still running.

“Guess he’s not staying long,” Frank whispered.

Kitcher and several other men appeared in the light of the doorway and conversed with Slagel. The burly ex-convict shrugged. He held up his hand to the rain which by now was heavy, and shook his head. Then he returned to his car and drove off.

“Looks as if he doesn’t plan to come back,” Frank said. “Think we should follow?”

“I’d rather find out what’s going on here,” Joe answered. “I’d say Slagel’s appearance proves that if there is to be a shipment, it will be to Kitcher’s.”

The street became silent, but the lights in the warehouse remained on. During the next hour Kitcher emerged several times to look at the rain. Another hour passed, then two. Except for the periodic drone of a distant foghorn, the only sound was that of gurgling gutters.

Shivering, the boys rolled up the windows, leaving them open a crack. Joe turned on the heater, hoping the engine noise would not give away their presence. After the car warmed up, they listened to the mesmerizing patter of raindrops on the roof. Soon Joe fell asleep.

Yawning, Frank kept his eyes fixed on the junkyard area, feeling more and more sleepy. He felt a sensation of dizziness when he nudged his brother to take the next shift.

“Come on-I’m falling off. Wake me in- Joe?”

His brother’s eyes remained closed. Frank shook him more vigorously. “Joe!”

Feeling his own eyes dimming, Frank tried to rouse Joe. He could not awaken him. Panic seized him. Joe was unconscious and Frank felt himself slumping to the floor!

CHAPTER XV

Double Attack

DESPERATELY shaking his head, Frank pushed open the door and pulled his brother outside into the rain. Leaning against a wall, he breathed in large draughts of air.

Mumbling, Joe revived. “What happened?”

“Don’t know, but I have a fair idea.” Frank shut off the car motor and opened all the windows wide. “My guess is carbon monoxide.”

“I don’t get it. We left the windows open enough so we shouldn’t have had that much CO inside.”

“Somebody may have clogged our exhaust.” Frank investigated but nothing was stuffed into it now.The warehouse was dark. “I wonder when the men left,” Joe said, disappointed.

The brothers crossed the silent, dark street. The warehouse door was locked, so the Hardys peered over the fence into the lot. The yard was strewn with junk, including numerous heaps of rusted piping and battered automobiles.

“Well, chalk off one wasted night,” Joe said as they returned to the car.

“It wasn’t exactly dull.” Frank smiled. “I have a hunch our friends’ shipment may come off tomorrow night. Maybe the weather changed Slagel’s mind.”

By late the next morning the weather had cleared. After wiring their father, the boys repaired the car exhaust which, they found, had been punctured in several places.

“I wonder when those crooks did this,” said Frank. “Probably before we left here last night.”

After lunch Frank and Joe drove out to the Dodd farm for their appointment with Martin Dodd. Parking near the barn, they got out and waited.

Presently Frank looked at his watch. “The professor should have been here by now.”

Fifteen minutes later the brothers walked to the back of the house. Here the ground was still muddy from the previous night’s rain. Frank pointed out a confused jumble of footprints and suddenly Joe stumbled on a hard object in the mud. Looking down, he gasped in alarm.

It was the broken half of a smashed telescope!

“The professor must have been in a scuffle I” he said. Nearby Frank found a dead bat. Both boys recalled the one they had seen on the beach some days before. “I may be crazy,” said Joe, “but I wonder if somebody’s leaving these dead bats around on purpose.”

Finding no clues to Martin Dodd’s whereabouts, Frank and Joe drove away. “I’m worried, Joe,” said Frank. “If Slagel and his gang have captured the professor, every move we make may endanger the lives of three people.”

“I wonder,” Joe replied, “if the professor came upon a clue to the car hideout.”

“Or the answer to the Pilgrim mystery,” Frank added.

The Hardys stopped at headquarters to report the professor’s seeming disappearance. Chief Collig was concerned, and said he would order his men to conduct a search. Back at the house, Frank and Joe found a coded telegram had arrived for them. “It’s from Dad!” Joe said.

BOYS–HAVE LEARNED WE ARE WORKING ON THE SAME CASE. MELLIMAN MEMBER OF GANG SMUGGLING GAS, WEAPONS TO HIDDEN ARSENAL SOMEWHERE NEAR

BAYPORT. WATCH DOCKS.

“The same case!” Joe exclaimed. “Melliman’s traffic in gases could explain the liquid gas.”

Frank went for Slagel’s telegram to Melliman and read the opening aloud: “ ‘More nerve now, trying for 8-cylinder stock.’”

The words seemed to take on a different meaning and a far graver one.”Eight cylinders of nerve gas,” Frank said grimly, “probably smuggled and then shipped up the coast to Slagel’s gang!”

“That must be why Dad wants us to watch the docks!”

The young sleuths decided to watch both the junkyard and the docks that night. They phoned Chet and asked him to come over. When their stout friend arrived, he entered the crime lab hesitantly.

“You fellows been cooking up something?”

Joe grinned. “Chet, have you ever heard of the wooden horse?”

“Sure. Wasn’t that the roadblock the people of Troy used to keep out the attacking Greeks?”

“Not exactly.” Frank laughed. “It was a huge gift from the Greeks to the Trojans. But they had really packed the horse with soldiers. When the Trojans accepted the gift, the Greeks were able to get inside the city walls and defeat them.”

“What of it?” Chet shrugged.

“We have a similar plan.” Frank clarified his remark. “We’ve decided that if everything else fails, there’s one way we might blow this case wide open. That’s to buy a car and allow it to be stolen!”

“Buy a car!” Chet exclaimed.

“Yes. Joe and I have enough money to buy a secondhand sedan at Harpertown, where we’re unknown.

If it’s flashy enough, Slagel’s gang may steal it out on Shore Road-and us too. Our car will have a large trunk and we’ll be in it!”

Chet shook his head. “And I suppose you’ll ask me to drive it.”

The Hardys grinned but did not answer. Instead, they said they wanted Chet to help them that evening.

They would use Mr. Hardy’s car.

By nine o’clock the car was parked between two automobiles a block away from the junkyard.

Presently Slagel arrived and great activity became evident around the lighted lot. Kitcher moved about, making notes on a clipboard as men carried metal junk inside the building. Melliman was nowhere in sight.

“I guess he works behind the scenes and is the brains of this whole operation,” Frank whispered.

Soon several tow trucks bearing Kitcher’s name rolled out of the warehouse and headed downhill toward the docks. Tied behind each of them were five battered cars.

“They couldn’t be stolen,” Chet said. “Nobody would buy them.”

As the warehouse doors closed, the boys decided to follow the shipment and Frank drove off.

Reaching the docks, he parked near a row of steel drums, behind which the boys stationed themselves.

The lights of a barge glittered in the waters of Barmet Bay. The name Arachne was painted on its side in white letters. The dilapidated cars were being unhitched from the tow trucks and rolled toward the barge.In an hour all the junk cars had been loaded onto the barge. Several loads of rusted wire and sheet metal followed. Slagel and Kitcher returned to their car. A whistle sounded over the churning water, then slowly the Arachne backed into the dark bay toward the south.

“Come on. Let’s take the Sleuth!” Frank motioned.

The boys reached the Hardy boathouse in record time. A minute later the Sleuth’s motor roared to life. A night wind fluttered at their backs as they reached the mouth of Barmet Bay. Joe peered through field glasses.

“There it is!” he cried out.

The lights of the Arachne moved slowly down the coast. Her bow and stern lamps off, the Sleuth increased speed. When Frank had swung farther out to sea he headed parallel to the coast. Abreast of the barge, he throttled down to six knots.

“We can’t do this forever!” Chet protested. “They’ll catch on!”

Frank slipped off his shoes. “I’m getting a closer look at what and who’s on that barge.”

“You’re crazy!” Joe protested. “You wouldn’t have a chance against all of them!”

“I’ll be careful. Keep the Sleuth on course and give me about twenty minutes.”

Before Joe could say more, Frank was overboard and swimming toward the ghostly lights. He was midway between the two crafts when Joe saw the black fishing boat. Joe stiffened with fear as he deciphered the international code message which was being flashed by lights from the fishing boat to the barge.

“O-n-e o-f H-a-r-d-y k-i-d-s s-w-i-m-m-i-n-g t-o-w-a-r-d y-o-u. S-t-o-p h-i-m.”

Joe jumped into the water instantly and swam toward his brother. Frank, fighting strong currents, had not noticed the warning. Minutes later, he reached the barge and caught his breath. Then, grasping the damp wood with his wet hands, he pulled himself up and slid noiselessly over the side next to a braced car.

Suddenly someone struck him a hard blow on the head. His next sensation was of falling to the water.

Frank blacked out before he reached it, but revived as he felt two arms grab him and take him to the surface.

Desperately, Joe bore his brother through the waves to the darkened Sleuth as the noise of the barge motors became fainter and fainter.

Joe was almost at the end of his strength when he touched the hull of the Sleuth. Chet leaned over and hauled Frank, semiconscious, aboard.

The next instant, Joe heard Chet cry out and saw him topple backward out of sight.

Grabbing the rail, Joe swung into the stern of the boat. To his horror, Chet lay motionless beside Frank.

Joe whirled to face the attacker-a muscular, black figure in a glistening skin-diving suit.

The man raised a sharp, dripping piton and lunged at Joe!

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