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CHAPTER XVI

Retreat Trick

BLOCKING the thrust of the spike, Joe threw all his remaining strength into a hard-fisted uppercut. The blow sent the diver reeling against the fan-tail of the Sleuth. Staggering, the black figure noticed Chet beginning to revive. In a flash he dived overboard and disappeared.

Joe hurried over to Frank, who by now was sitting up groggily. “Thank goodness you’re all right,” he said. “Chet, you okay?”

Chet winced and rubbed his jaw, but smiled gamely. “You Hardys are the ones I’m worried about!”

“You can’t keep us down!” Joe said with a grin as he helped Frank to his feet.

“Thanks for saving my wet skin,” Frank said.

Shivering, Joe crouched out of the wind and started the engine. He pointed to starboard. “Look!”

Fifty yards away the fishing boat idled in the waves, its lights extinguished. Through the darkness, the boy could see its pilot pulling another figure aboard. Then the boat sped in the direction of Bayport.

“Let’s go!” Frank said.

The Sleuth followed. It was just closing the gap near the mouth of Barmet Bay when the motor began sputtering. The gas gauge read empty. In disgust the boys watched the black boat vanish down the coast.

“How are we going to make the boathouse?” Chet asked nervously.

Frank pointed to the emergency oars. “The tide’s coming in, so that’ll help us row.”

Joe was angry about the fishing boat and its occupants getting away. Frank consoled him. “At least we’ve learned the owner of that boat is in on this racket. Also, I’m sure we had our first meeting with the spider-man!”

“Who?” chorused Joe and Chet.

“The skin diver-he’s powerful enough to scale cliffs. And that pike he had is used for mountain climbing.”

Chet shuddered. “Or a weapon.”

“He’s the one who trapped Callie in the net,” Joe added.

Frank expressed disappointment at his failure to get a look aboard the barge or at the man who had knocked him into the water. “We’ll have to tackle the problem from another angle.”

“Not tonight!” Chet begged. “We’ve had enough.”

The Hardys agreed and the boys rowed wearily to the boathouse.

First thing the next morning Frank checked with police headquarters. There were no leads to any of the missing Dodds. The brothers were discussing what move they should make next, when the telephonerang. It was Tony Prito. He excitedly asked the boys to come to the Napoli’s boathouse at once. “It’s important!”

When they met him, Joe asked, “What’s up?”

“Can’t tell you yet.” Their friend, wearing swimming trunks, hurried them aboard his motorboat and steered north out of Barmet Bay. He slowed down just past Bay Bluff.

“I think I saw something out here yesterday, and if it’s what I suspect-“

Tony headed toward the shoreline, studying the water closely. Suddenly he cut the motor and leaned over the side. The Hardys followed his pointing finger.

“Down there!”

Beneath the gray surface of the water, a slight glimmer of light was visible. Straining their eyes, Frank and Joe could make out part of a green-and-white object. Their hearts jumped.

“Jack’s boat!” Frank exclaimed. “Do you think-“ He did not voice the dreadful thought that crossed each boy’s mind.

Tony said tersely. “We won’t know until one of us goes down there. I’ll go!”

Tensely Frank and Joe watched Tony’s lithe body cut the water and his distorted image vanish into the depths. They waited in grim silence.

When Tony’s head broke the surface, the look on his face brought vast relief to the Hardys. “It’s the Dodds’ boat all right, but nobody’s in it.” He climbed aboard the Napoli. “Do you think their kidnappers scuttled it?”

“Probably,” Frank guessed, “they wanted the boat out of the way so that the police would think the Dodds had escaped in it. We’d better report this right away.”

Tony drove back to Bayport and the brothers went home. They had just entered the kitchen, door when the telephone rang. Joe answered it.

“Joe Hardy speaking.”

The voice at the other end said crisply:

“Kid, you and your brother have meddled enough. If you ever want to see your friends alive again, get out of town and stay out for five days- it might be good for your mother’s and aunt’s health too. This is your last warning! And be sure to take a look out your front window before leaving”

When Joe heard the receiver click, he hung up and told Frank of the threat. “It was Slagel, I’m sure.”

The brothers ran to the front windows.

Between two trees along their quiet street, a black sedan was parked. Two strangers sat silently in the front seat watching the Hardy house.

Joe was upset. “We can’t just obey Slagel-but we can’t ignore a threat to Mother and Aunt Gertrude, either. What choice have we? Maybe we should call the police.”

Frank thought a minute, then his eyes lighted up. “Not yet, Joe. Let’s try our wooden-horse operation!”The boys suddenly realized how well their secret plan would work during the present predicament. Joe led the way upstairs. “Of course! If we leave now for Harpertown, we could buy the car while we’re ‘vacationing.’ And then-“ he grinned-“gallop into Troy!”

The boys brought down suitcases from the attic and packed them hastily. While Frank changed into Bermuda shorts and a light jacket, Joe opened a closet and brought out a fishing rod, surfboard, and an air mattress. “We may as well make it look good.”

Frank was sober. “We’ll have to let Mother and Aunt Gertrude know why we’re leaving, but I hate to worry them.”

“We’ll have to tell them for their own safety. Besides, it’s the best reason we’ve had for a vacation in a long while!”

Twenty minutes later, their bags and gear at the foot of the stairs, the brothers went into the kitchen and told the two women of the threat. “But we’ll be able to return to Bayport in less than a week,” Joe added.

“We’ll phone you as often as we can,” Frank assured them. “It will be the only way for us to know you’re both safe.”

Mrs. Hardy’s pretty face showed worry, but she forced a smile and kissed them. “Frank-Joe- take care of yourselves. You promise you’ll be able to return in a few days?”

“We may be home sooner than you think.” Joe chuckled.

Aunt Gertrude’s face wore an expression of militance. Removing her apron, she took a large frying pan off a hook.

“Just where are these two men watching our house?” she asked, brandishing her weapon. “Who do they think they are, threatening my nephews I”

It took Laura Hardy’s help to restrain their courageous relative from marching outside. Finally she replaced the frying pan.

“Aunty,” said Frank, “this isn’t really a Hardy retreat. It’s sort of a strategic withdrawal.”

The boys made two quick telephone calls, one to Chet, and the other to telegraph their father. Then they took some cash which they kept in the house safe. Picking up a suitcase, Frank turned to Miss Hardy.

“Aunty, you and Mother can help by showing a lot of emotion out at the car. We want to impress those men.”

The two women did their part. When the boys had loaded all their luggage and vacation equipment into their father’s car, Mrs. Hardy embraced them fervently. Aunt Gertrude’s eyes were red as from weeping.

In each hand she held a concealed onion. From their car, the two men watched the well-staged scene.

Amidst much waving Frank and Joe pulled down the driveway and drove up the street. The black sedan moved out and followed.

When the boys reached the highway beyond the city limits, Joe glanced back at the car following. “Next stop Harpertown,” he said. “Then the wooden horse!”CHAPTER XVII

The Wooden Horse

FRANK kept the car at a leisurely speed. In the rear-view mirror he and Joe could see the black sedan fifty yards behind them.

“If we go any faster,” said Frank, “those men will think we’re trying to shake them. I want them to keep thinking we’re just going on a vacation.”

Using Route 10 and then the State Highway, the Hardys rolled along toward their destination. They had ten miles to go when Joe murmured, “They’re still trailing us.”

In Harpertown the Hardys headed for the beach resort area. Soon they drew up before a large seaside motel.

Frank took several bills out of his wallet and handed them to Joe. “We’d better pay for a week to make it look good.”

Frank stayed behind the wheel while Joe went in to register. When he came out again, they took their luggage from the trunk.

“Our friends are still along,” Frank whispered.

Joe could see the black sedan parked to their rear half a block away. Paying no attention, the boys carried their gear in two trips up to their second-floor room. On the last trip, Joe overheard the sedan’s driver checking the Hardys’ length of stay with the desk clerk.

In the room the boys changed into swimming trunks. “It’s a shame we can’t enjoy what we paid for “ Frank smiled. “But we’ll put on a good act for our two friends.”

When the Hardys returned from a brief swim, the black car was gone. “Think we’ve convinced them?”

Joe asked.

“Yes. They’re probably hightailing it back to Bayport to attend to their-er-business.”

It was early afternoon when the brothers walked to a used-car lot in the Harpertown business district-the one Frank had scouted on his previous visit.

They looked over several late-model cars. Joe smiled. “It doesn’t seem possible we’re actually going to own a car.”

“You’re right.”

The heavy, round-faced owner approached them. His manner was friendly and he talked volubly.

“Thought I remembered one of you fellows,” he said, walking around with them. “What kind of car are you looking for?”

“Something pretty flashy, if it’s not too expensive,” Frank said.”At least a year old,” Joe added, recalling the points common to the cars stolen on Shore Road. “And nothing foreign.”

The man knit his brows, then pointed out several large cars. He came to the end of a row. “Here’s a nice Booster six-cylinder job, white walls, power steering-“

The boys regarded the two-tone brown sedan, then shook their heads. “None of these are as sharp-looking as we wanted. Have you anything else?”

The owner led them to a far corner of the lot. He pointed to a handsome, sea-green Chancellor, a model two years old. Excited, both boys walked around it several times.

“She’s a real limousine all right,” the dealer acknowledged. “But her engine’s not the best and the carburetor could use some work. Wouldn’t buy her myself, but if you boys want a flashy car, that’s the one.”

The Hardys climbed inside, then got out again. There was no question of the car’s luxurious appearance.

Excited, Joe looked at his brother. “What do you think?”

Frank checked the trunk before replying, then grinned. “I think we’ve found our horse!” Frank exclaimed.

He turned to the man. “What are you asking for her?”

“I’ll give you a fair price.”

An hour later the Hardys happily closed the deal on the Chancellor. They had the bill of sale and new license plates. As the boys proudly received the keys and got in, with Frank at the wheel, the man leaned in the window.

“Can’t understand why you care just about the car’s appearance. But I wish you lots of luck.” He started away, then looked back. “By the way, if you fellows are heading south, you’d better watch this baby near the Bridgewater-Bayport area. Been lots of thefts down there, and this is the sort of car they’ve been taking.”

“Thanks for the tip.”

Back at the motel, Frank and Joe rechecked the entire parking area for the black sedan. But it seemed to be gone for good. They now locked their father’s car securely. “We’ll have to leave this here in case those men return,” Frank said. In their own handsome car, they were soon on the road back to Bayport.

“How does she drive?” Joe asked.

“A little slow starting. Otherwise, no trouble. After paying for a ‘week’s vacation’ and a risky purchase, do you know how much money we have left?” Frank shook his pocket. “Three dollars and forty-seven cents!”

“Not much for a sleuthing trip,” Joe commented. He traded places to try the car.

Frank switched on the radio in time to hear the end of a news bulletin.

“The car had been parked near a public-telephone booth at Ocean Bluff on Shore Road.”

“Slagel’s men are still in operation. That’s a good sign-for us, anyway,” Frank remarked.

The Hardys stopped along the highway at a small diner for a quick bite to eat, then phoned Chet. Hepromised to meet them in his car near a Shore Road camping area.

Dusk was falling when his jalopy rattled to a stop near their car behind some trees at the Pine-wood Campsite.

“Jumpin’ catfish!” he exclaimed. “She’s a real beauty!”

The Hardys gave him the details of their being followed and the purchase. They directed Chet to park his car in an inconspicuous spot on the other side of the highway.

The boys’ plan, though dangerous, was simple. If one of the gang took the “bait” and drove off in the Hardys’ new car unaware of the brothers in the trunk, Chet was to follow cautiously at some distance.

When he was sure of the thief’s destination, he was to notify the police as quickly as possible.

“Of course I know the real reason you guys want my car parked over here.” Chet winked as the Hardys wished him good luck at his post. “You’re afraid my four-wheeler will tempt Slagel’s man away from yours.”

Joe grinned. “Fat chance.”

When darkness fell, the brothers climbed inside the trunk of their car and closed it. Joe had punched minute air holes in the metal near the seams. Although the air was very close, Frank and Joe were too tense to notice any discomfort.

Several hours passed, as they crouched in rigid silence. The only sounds were those of cars passing north and south on Shore Road.

The luminous dial on Frank’s watch read one-thirty when they detected approaching footsteps. The Hardys stiffened.

The crunch of feet on gravel became louder, then stopped. After a silence, the boys felt the car door being opened and an added weight in front. Joe bit his lips.

The motor turned over weakly, sputtered, and died.

Several more attempts were made, but the engine only whined futilely. Both boys recognized the voice of Slagel complaining loudly. The car door slammed and the man’s footsteps faded away.

The Hardys were bitterly disappointed. When they were sure Slagel had gone, the boys climbed out.

“Guess that ends our wooden-horse bit tonight,” said Joe in disgust as they signaled to Chet by flashlight to join them.

“What a bad break!” their friend said. “Can we try again tomorrow night?”

“You bet!” Frank answered. “Next time this car won’t fail us! By the way, can we borrow a little money from you to tide us over?”

“Sure thing, but I only have ten dollars.”

Tired and stiff, the Hardys primed the motor and reluctantly it started. They bid good night to Chet and drove back to their motel in Harper-town. In the morning they had breakfast and attended church. The Hardys spent the balance of the day working on the car engine.

Periodically they listened to radio newscasts, but there was no report of thefts.After supper the brothers set out once more. “Cross your fingers and hope this car will be stolen!” Frank said as they left Harpertown.

The three boys had decided upon another spot for their mission-near a deserted fishing area on Shore Road somewhat south of the place used the previous evening. Chet arrived and took up his position in the dark woods.

This time Joe had placed an air mattress on the floor of the trunk and each carried a flashlight. As the Hardys climbed in, threatening storm clouds blotted the night sky. They snapped down the lid. Again the brothers imposed a rigid silence upon themselves.

Few cars came by, and only the faint sound of the sea reached their ears during the slowly passing hours.

Once Frank and Joe heard the voices of two night fishermen on their way down to the beach. Then it was still again. A boat whistle tooted mournfully from far out on the bay. Another hour dragged by.

A car approached, slowed down, and stopped. Then a door opened and shut quietly before heavy footsteps came toward the hidden boys. After a pause, Frank and Joe heard the front door of their own car close. They waited in an agony of suspense. Would the boys’ plan to capture the thieves work?

The engine roared to life!

In a moment the boys’ car was being backed up. Then it spun around and headed south on Shore Road.

About a mile farther on, the Hardys braced themselves as the car turned sharply and headed in the opposite direction.

Frank held up his fingers in the shape of a V and grinned. The brothers tried to detect the sound of Chet’s rattling jalopy to their rear, but could not do so above the noise of their own engine.

Joe watched the second hand of his watch, trying to estimate the distance north the car was covering.

After eight minutes had passed, they slowed down. Frank heard a loud rattling sound like that of machinery. “A tractor!” he thought, and hastily whispered:

“Birnham’s farm!”

It soon became clear that the car was not continuing toward Pembroke Road, Route 7, or Springer Road. Remembering Birnham’s dirt lane, both Hardys anticipated entering this. But instead, the car slowed almost to a stop, then veered sharply to the left and began to bounce up and down, apparently going over bumpy terrain. At one point, Joe grimaced as his head struck the trunk lid. After a time the car hit a short, smooth stretch, then went downhill before the driver stopped and let the motor idle.

The Hardys heard a man say, “Okay in the gully!”

The boys were thrown forward as the car resumed its descent, and the roar of the ocean became louder.

Their next sensation was of a soft, smooth surface before the car came to a halt. The engine was shut off.

“Nice work, Ben. She’s a pretty one. Where’d you pick her up?”

“About five miles south-a real cinch.”

“Anything valuable in the trunk?”

“Don’t know. Didn’t have time to check. Let’s take a look.”A sinking feeling came over the Hardy boys! Holding their breaths, they clenched their flashlights.

The key was inserted into the lock of the trunk!

CHAPTER XVIII

Prisoner Rescue

FRANK and Joe crouched in the trunk, poised to defend themselves. At that moment there came a call from a distance, then the scrape of the key being withdrawn.

“We’d better go,” said one of the men.

After their footsteps had faded, all was silent.

“Let’s get out of here before they come back!” Frank whispered.

Raising the lid, the brothers climbed out and found themselves in darkness. They stood on the beach.

“This is where that black fishing boat docks!” Joe whispered. “It’s anchored out in the cove now!”

As the boys watched it, Frank said, “We cased this inlet from the Sleuth and didn’t see anything suspicious.”

The brothers crouched behind upjutting rocks and beamed their lights upward. There was a short gully from the beach to the grassy slope.

“Look!” Frank hissed.

Pegged into the soil near the foot of the slope was the end of a long stretch of thick netting.

“It must go to the top!” he said. “That’s how they get the stolen cars down! The net would give the cars traction. Slagel’s Army hitch probably taught him this type of operation.”

Frank reasoned that the bumpy part of the boys’ trunk ride had been through Birnham’s unplanted field to its far end. “To cover tire tracks of stolen cars pronto,” he added, “the thieves had Birnham use his tractor and disk harrow over the ground. That explains his night farming. Next, the thieves crossed Shore Road for the descent and Birnham brushed away any tire tracks across the road.”

Joe nodded. “The same truck must transport cars at night to Kitcher’s before shipping them south of here-probably to New York. But that junk we saw put onto the barge puzzles me.”

“Perhaps,” Frank suggested, “Kitcher was moving it to make room for Slagel’s booty.”

“Let’s find out where those men who brought us here went!” Joe urged.

Hugging the cliff base, the brothers proceeded in darkness along the beach. Presently they came to the mouth of a tunnel covered with hanging rockweed.

“No wonder we didn’t know about this place,” Joe whispered.The boys noticed a strange odor of explosive powder and several dead bats.

“Dynamite!” said Frank. “It was probably what killed the bats we’ve found-one of them managed to fly as far as Oceanside Beach, the other died when it reached the Dodd farm. Slagel’s gang must have enlarged this place to be used as headquarters.”

A large rock just beyond the entrance apparently stood ready to be rolled into position as extra concealment for the mouth of the tunnel.

The boys, their eyes still on the launch, moved farther along the base of the sheer rock cliff hunting for additional evidence. Joe’s eyes suddenly narrowed as he saw some mossy vegetation near a cluster of rocky projections. Wading out, he halted and covering the beam of his flash with his hands, held the light directly over the moss.

He was about to nudge Frank when they heard a motor start. Joe put out his light. The black fishing boat, a lighted lamp in the stern, began to move to the dock.

“Quick! Behind these rocks!” Frank urged his brother.

The boys crouched as the boat glided in. After the craft was moored, two men jumped from it and walked toward the tunnel entrance. One was the belligerent fisherman. The other, in a black skin-diving suit, they recognized as the man who had attacked them in the Sleuth. When the two disappeared through the rockweed, the Hardys followed them up the passageway.

A hundred feet in, cold air carried the smell of fresh paint, and presently they began passing newly painted cars. As the Hardys proceeded, with flashlights off, each boy had the same thoughts: Were they about to solve the mystery of the stolen cars? Was Chet safely on his way to the police? Would the next few minutes lead them to the three Dodds?

Suddenly Frank detected footsteps to their rear. He grabbed Joe’s shoulder and they threw themselves flat against the wall, holding their breaths so as not to make a sound.

The steps came abreast of them.

Slagel!

Fortunately, his light beam kept to the center of the tunnel and he soon passed ahead. As Joe breathed out again, he said, “That was close!”

“Too close!” Frank murmured.

Walking forward even more cautiously, the Hardys rounded a bend and sidestepped a pile of broken shale. At several places the passageway was roof-beamed against cave-ins. Chipped-out hollows in the walls held automobile tools and rifles.

The tunnel came to an end in a large chamber, dimly lighted. Frank and Joe slipped into a narrow side passage, where Frank spotted a small, natural peephole in the wall. He peered into the room.

Against the opposite wall three men lounged on boxes near a row of cots. One of them stopped reading a newspaper aloud. Next to them stood several glistening machine guns, an oddly designed mortar, and numerous stacks of lighter shoulder weapons.

“They must be the foreign arms Melliman is trading with Slagel in return for the cars,” Joe thought as he took a turn at the peephole.Suddenly the high-pitched whine of a sanding machine caught the boys’ ears and they saw a workman in a spotted white jacket start removing paint from a large, new sedan. Near him another man was spraying a car with green paint.

Their appearance evoked Frank’s excitement. He thought, “That cinches it-those battered-looking cars on the barge were stolen! Instead of just repainting them to look new, Melliman has the color changed and then has the cars made to look worthless without really damaging them, so he can fool the local police. No doubt he spruces them up again when they reach New York!”

Two cars along a side wall caught Joe’s attention. He recognized the model and year of one as being similar to Jerry Gilroy’s stolen car! “But this one looks really beat up!” The car was severely corroded by fire and rust.

“Anyway,” Joe decided, “this explains why brand-new cars weren’t stolen. It’s easier to damage a used car. But why do all this disguising? Melliman must think it’s worthwhile. There’s something more to this whole deal than we’ve figured out yet. Maybe the cars will be sold in a distant foreign market.”

Slagel stood in the center of the cavern conversing with the skin diver. When the sanding machine was turned off, the boys heard Slagel refer to him as Reb. They also detected garbled voices below them but had no view of the speakers.

Having seen everything close at hand, the young detectives turned to the more important concern of trying to find the Dodds. Silently they moved off down the narrower side tunnel. Holding their arms before them, Frank and Joe found the passage widened only slightly, then ended at a blank rock wall.

Frank switched on his flashlight for a moment and almost cried out.

Bound and gagged only inches from his foot lay Professor Martin Dodd!

The man’s face showed astonishment and relief as Frank put a finger to his lips, then dropped down to untie the professor. At the same time, Frank felt a nudge from Joe who pointed. Against a side wall lay Jack Dodd and his father!

The boys rushed over to unbind them and remove the gags. Both looked thin and haggard from their ordeal, but their faces lit up as the Hardys helped them stand.

“But how-“ Jack whispered.

Joe cut him off and murmured in his ear, “Chet should be on his way here with the police by now. Let’s get outside before the fireworks begin. Is there another exit besides the main tunnel?”

“I’m afraid not.”

“We’ll have to chance it then,” Joe said.

Mr. Dodd stumbled with his first step, his limbs weak from the tight ropes. He muffled a cough as he took a few steps to regain his strength. Then he nodded that he would be all right.

The Hardys switched off their flashlights. Martin Dodd and Frank led the way out, followed by Jack and his father. Joe took the rear.

They were halfway down the side passage when the glare of four flashlights almost blinded them. An affected voice rang out.

“Why, my friends the Hardy boys! And here I had thought you weren’t interested in taking myconfidential easel”

Melliman!

CHAPTER XIX

Hopeless Escape

CONFRONTED by a submachine-gun barrel, the Hardys and the Dodds were strong-armed by a dozen henchmen behind Melliman and shoved into the main cavern. The prisoners’ hands were quickly tied while two thugs trained guns on them.

“A pity,” Melliman began, “that you should work such a splendid plan-and have it all come to nothing!

Your unexpected visit, I am afraid, causes us a certain inconvenience.” His eyes glittered.

Slagel thrust himself in front of Frank and Joe and flashed the blade out of his cane. “You little punks!

You’ve caused us more trouble than all the cops in the area! For two cents I’d-“

“No violence, Slagel!” snapped Melliman, restraining the gangster. “At least, not for the present.”

He turned to several of the men, including the husky skin diver the boys knew as the spider-man, and the red-haired man Chet had seen at Kitcher’s. “Get the cars ready for barge transport south- we’re moving everything out tonight. Reb, you and Montrose take the boat to Kitcher’s dock. Wait for the barge, then send her here immediately to the inlet.”

The diver nodded and ran down the tunnel to notify the fisherman.

Slagel voiced discontent. “Are we gonna close up shop just because a couple of kids-“

“We have no choice,” Melliman cut in as four men hastily lined up the refinished cars for movement down the tunnel. “Unfortunately, the Hardys may have relatives and friends who know they gave up the generous vacation we urged them to take.”

Slagel protested that a storm was brewing at sea, but the unctuous Melliman soon convinced him by saying. “The arms and tanks of nerve gas are yours to do with as you like.”

“You double-crosser!” Slagel yelled. “You’re not leavin’ me to take the rap!”

The two finally agreed that the lethal gas would go on the barge as usual, carefully packed in the trunks of the cars, and accompanied by Melliman. Slagel and the other henchmen would head south in Birnham’s large truck, taking the weapons with them. They would meet Melliman’s barge in New York. A thug was dispatched to inform Birnham of the evacuation of the hideout.

While Slagel and Melliman stood with two guards near the prisoners, three men worked quickly on one of the unfinished cars near the paint rack, removing two door windows, sanding down the hood, and replacing its new tires with old ones. Both Frank and Joe noticed one man applying peculiar reddish and black compounds to the roof and sides.

Slagel pointed his cane at the five captives. “What about a halfway trip for ‘em on the barge?”Melliman removed his spectacles. “For the Dodds and the esteemed professor, perhaps. It might prove diverting for the police to find their bodies washed ashore. But we reserve a special treatment for the famous Hardy boys.”

Melliman turned to the guard holding the automatic weapon. “Take them all into the gas alcove.”

As the Dodds were pushed into line behind them, Frank whispered to Joe, “Try to keep Melliman talking until Chet and the police arrive- it’s our only chance!”

The prisoners were led past a trunk of gas masks into a small corner previously not visible to them. Joe felt a shiver when he saw twenty metal cylinders against the damp wall. Most were black or orange, and a few, near their nozzles, had round meters. He could barely make out their chemical symbols and some foreign words.

Since Melliman planned to take the Dodds on the barge, only the Hardys’ legs were bound. One of the men ran to the tunnel entrance to watch for the incoming barge.

Frank spoke to Melliman. “Maybe you won’t mind telling us why you framed the Dodds.”

“Not at all.” The man smiled. “We noticed the boy Jack often snooping along the coast around here. We couldn’t afford to have him find our setup.”

“So you had your spider-man sabotage his boat off Oceanside Beach?” Joe asked.

“Yes. Unfortunately, it didn’t prove successful. Since your friends live on Shore Road, we conveniently made them suspects and-shall we say? -arranged for them to jump bail.”

Immediately the Hardys realized that the gang had not known of the Dodd Pilgrim mystery when they captured the farmer and his son. They were surprised, therefore, when Jack said: “I never got a chance to tell you fellows my ideas about the treasure clue. I had looked inland and thought I’d search along the coast.” He frowned. “Guess I was wrong.”

Frank was about to suggest that Jack say no more, when Melliman interrupted. “Oh, yes, my friends and I first learned about this treasure when the Dodds came here as our guests. Jack was rather heated about our understanding of his coast prowling and let it slip out. But since then, both he and his father have been uncooperative in sharing their family secret with us.”

Frank changed the subject and asked Melliman, “What led you to postpone your car shipment last Thursday at Kitcher’s docks?”

“The weather,” Slagel put in, surprised to learn the boys had been there.

“Yes,” Melliman said. “I conceived our ingenious car disguises, although my partner here has helped considerably with his knowledge of camouflage. I figured if his rust and char coatings did not wash off in rain, weather would be of no concern to us. Nevertheless, we have tarpaulins on the barge, and tonight’s impending storm should cause us no difficulties.”

“And the fisherman was a lookout along the coast for parked cars-just as Slagel was on his trips up and down Shore Road?” Joe asked.

“Exactly. Since terrain or circumstances sometimes presented problems, we also made use of Montrose’s colleague, Reb, with his swimming and climbing abilities.”And that’s where the lamp signals from the fishing boat figured?”

“Yes. During daylight Montrose signaled tips to Slagel by his anchoring at various places off shore. As for the lamps, they made the boat easily identifiable at night.”

Melliman grinned mockingly. “You recall the signals before Paul Revere’s ride? One light if an attack was coming by land, two if by sea? When Slagel saw two flashes, he knew Reb had spotted the police or you boys on the water and stopped bringing any stolen cars down the hillside! Our spider-man was a good go-between.”

“That’s right,” said Slagel. “And I left the brown paint flecks and car tracks to fool the police. But 7 was a fool to lose my glove on the beach.”

Melliman remarked, “Birnham has been most helpful. He disked out the stolen car tracks from his field and brushed them off the road when we brought the cars down the slope. He had the idea of his car being ‘stolen’ to throw suspicion elsewhere. Birnham had already told us of this tunnel and cave, which were ideal for a smuggling operation. We blasted it out for our needs. His truck to transport shipments to Kitcher’s and his blockades were effective too.”

Joe glared at Melliman. “And you’re bringing guns and nerve gases into the United States for use by subversive gangs?”

Melliman scowled. “You’re too smart. But it won’t help you now. You boys should have accepted that assignment I offered you-it would have taken you safely out of town. Even your illustrious detective father can’t do you any good now. We have eluded him.”

The Hardys were told that Slagel had sent two men to put the brothers, and later Scratch, to sleep with gas. “You and the old geezer were in our way.”

“You didn’t get our dad’s car,” Joe needled.

“True,” said Slagel, but added he had thrown the dud grenade into the Hardys’ lab, and shot at the boys in the plane. He and Reb had pushed the Dodds’ station wagon off Saucer Rock. He himself had tied up the two fishermen, and strung the wire netting into which Joe had crashed. The skin diver had damaged Jack’s boat.

When footsteps sounded in the tunnel, Martin Dodd turned to the boys and whispered, “I guess it’s all over for us-and solving the Pilgrim mystery-but I want to thank you for-“

Frank was about to tell the professor of their hopes invested in Chet when three figures entered the chamber. Frank and Joe paled.

Held prisoner between two men stood Chet!

“This is the kid I saw in the truck at Kitcher’s,” one said. “He took our record. We just caught him at the top of the slope. Lucky thing, or he’d have brought the police.”

“Aha, a loyal friend of the Hardys!” Melliman pushed the petrified Chet against the wall and turned to his captors. “Isn’t the barge here yet?”

“Just comin’ now.”

“Good! Get these three Dodds out to the beach.Then clear that car out of the entrance. It hasn’t been coated yet. Next start these other autos down the tunnel. Quick!”

The Dodds were seized and led into the main tunnel. Chet and the brothers remained with Slagel, Melliman, and a fat, armed henchman.

“Well”-Melliman rubbed his hands-“we’ll have to part company now. I’ve decided to let you boys enjoy your last hours here together! Slagel, have one of your men wire the remaining dynamite at the tunnel entrance.”

Slagel snickered as Melliman went on, “Boys, we’ll even provide a little atmosphere.” He winked at the fat henchman and pointed to the three cylinders. “When we call, you’ll know what to do.”

After Melliman and Slagel had left, Chet turned dismally to Frank and Joe.

“I’m sorry, fellows. I wasn’t quick enough. I was heading for my car when those creeps nabbed me.”

“We’re not cooked yet,” Frank consoled him in a whisper as he watched the squat man guarding them.

“We must get out of here! Joe, did you notice that two of those worn metal cylinders against the wall are different from the others?”

Joe glanced to his right. His eyes widened. “They’re just plain oxygen!”

“Right. Probably from the spider-climber’s aqualung gear. Melliman must have left them here because they’re empty,” Frank whispered. “But maybe our guard doesn’t know that!”

Not only were the oxygen cylinders of the same height and black color as the ones containing poisonous gas, but their labels were not visible to the guard.

“Hey, cut out that talking!” the gunman barked. “I’ve got to listen to know when to blow that gas and leave this joint-fast!”

Actually he seemed to be paying little attention to the tied-up boys. After a moment Frank checked with Chet, then nodded to Joe.

Shuffling quickly to an upright position, Joe swung his body wildly, pretending to get his ropes up on the sharp rock. Instead, he bumped purposely into one of the oxygen cylinders and forcefully toppled it over.

The slender metal valve at the top smashed hollowly against the stone. The rolling cylinder clattered along the ground. By the time the startled man had spun around, all three boys were coughing violently.

“You fools!” he cried. His eyes filled with fear, he hesitated. Then, cupping his mouth, he raced out of the cavern and down the tunnel.

Immediately Frank crawled to the painting area of the cavern. He turned on the abandoned sander, wincing as the ropes smoked and finally broke between his hands. In seconds he had untied the other boys.

“Let’s get to the Dodds!” Joe urged. The boys had just taken a step forward when three men rushed in from the tunnel. Though all of them wore white cloths over their faces, Frank recognized two as the fleeing guard and the surly fisherman named Montrose. The third wore a barge pilot’s uniform.

He cried out, “Gas? There’s no gas here! These kids tricked you!” The men pulled down their masks and advanced. “Let’s finish ‘em off right here!”The boys were trapped!

CHAPTER XX

Roundup and Treasure

MONTROSE whipped out a blackjack and advanced on the boys. The next instant he felt himself yanked around. An iron fist crashed into his jaw and dropped him unconscious to the floor.

The astonished boys saw that his attacker was the bargeman who had ripped off a mask, revealing the face of Fenton Hardy! Over his shoulders were several coils of rope.

Losing no time, Joe rushed the equally astonished guard. Blocking a wild swing, he drove a punch into the man’s solar plexus. He doubled up and fell to his knees.

“Quick! Let’s get these men tied!” Frank urged. He grabbed the rope from his father and with Chet’s help bound both men securely. Mr. Hardy gagged them.

Chet exclaimed, “Mr. Hardy, you’re a magician! How did you ever-“

“When I got my sons’ telegram about the wooden-horse plan I was just finishing the last stage of my undercover work on Melliman’s operations. I thought you might need help, so I stowed away on that barge when it docked at Kitcher’s to deliver smuggled arms that were going to Slagel.”

Frank briefed the detective on the excitement of the past few hours. “But Chet never got to the police!”

Mr. Hardy smiled. “I have good news. They should be on their way here right now! When that man in the fishing boat signaled an emergency call to the barge, I kayoed the barge pilot, then borrowed his uniform and came ashore. But first I alerted the police over my short-wave radio to grab Kitcher and watch where the fishing boat headed.”

“And then you heard the ‘gas’ alarm from this guard when you docked?” Joe asked.

“Right. One of the thugs on the beach suspected it might have been an empty oxygen tank you boys had knocked over. But when they took the precaution of putting handkerchiefs over their faces, it gave me a chance to come along undetected by doing the same thing.”

Leaving the thugs securely tied, Mr. Hardy led the boys toward the beach.

“It’s my guess,” said Frank, “they have the Dodds in one of those cars they’re loading onto the barge.”

“Then we’ll have to stand them off until Collig’s men arrive!” his father said.

He and the boys halted just inside the entrance and peered out through the curtain of rockweed.

The barge rocked gently at the tip of the dock, its lights out. A few cars were already aboard. The Hardys’ own automobile stood nearby, while Birnham’s truck was parked at the end of the gully. Guns and crates were being loaded into it quickly, as black storm clouds rolled ominously over the scene.

“Do you think the gang’s lookouts may spot the police?” Frank murmured.”Could be,” his father whispered. “How many routes are there off this beach?”

“Just one-that gully over there,” Chet answered. “It connects with the grassy slope to the top of the cliff.”

A short time later the barge was fully loaded. A man began untying its mooring rope.

Mr. Hardy fastened his handkerchief over his face. “I’m going to draw some of them into the tunnel.

Think you boys can cause them a little trouble out there on the beach?”

“I’ll handle the gully,” Joe whispered.

“Chet and I will watch the barge,” Frank offered.

When the boys had backed against the rock wall near the tunnel, the detective ran toward the barge and gave a muffled shout.

“Hey, quick, some of you guys give me a hand with these kids in here!”

At once several footsteps pounded down the ramp onto the dock. Mr. Hardy dashed back into the tunnel. In a moment four men raced in after him. At once Frank, Joe, and Chet sprang into action.

Joe ran toward Birnham’s truck, which was guarded by two men. After landing a stunning punch to one thief’s jaw, he blocked the other with an upturned crate. Like lightning Joe leaped to the right-front tire and drove his pocketknife deep into the thick rubber until it collapsed. Yanking out the knife, Joe bounded into the gully.

Meanwhile, Frank and Chet were sprinting to the barge ramp. As Frank glanced back, he saw Chet trip, and the stocky figure of Birnham rushing to tackle him. Chet threw him off, however, and Frank rushed onto the ramp. Two men on the barge charged him.

Sidestepping the larger thug, Frank recognized the second man as Montrose. The boatman raised a tire iron, but got no further as Frank’s head rammed into his midriff. With a groan, Montrose toppled backward onto the dock.

The next second Frank felt a sharp blow on his shoulder and the two strong arms of Slagel dragged him out to the beach. Slagel thrashed at Frank with his cane and the two rolled over and over in the wet sand.

Suddenly the sound of wailing sirens put an end to the struggle. Slagel leaped up and bolted toward the tunnel. At the same time came a shout. “Cops!”

Dazed, Frank staggered to his feet in time to see four men climb into the brothers’ car and race it into the gully!

Searchlights flashed on the beach and policemen swarmed down the grass slope. Just then a figure darted past Frank onto the barge. Melliman! Before Frank was halfway up the ramp, Melliman had kicked out the tire braces of one of the cars and rolled the car over the edge into the water.

For an instant Frank wondered why. Then he thought, “The Dodds must be inside!”

Melliman now leaped aboard the adjacent fishing boat. By this time Frank was in the water swimming in the direction of the sinking vehicle. When he reached it, Frank could see the three helpless Dodds within.

The water was rising rapidly. Frank pulled on a door, but the pressure against it was too great!

“Hold on!” he yelled.

Fortunately, two policemen had followed Frank. Together, they pulled the door open, yanked the Doddsout, and bore them safely through the rising waves to the beach.

Chief Collig rushed up. “Are you all okay?”

“Fine, thanks, sir,” Jack gasped as he was cut loose. His father and uncle, having swallowed some water, coughed violently but soon were able to stand up.

“The crooks escaped in our car!” Frank exclaimed, starting toward the gully.

Collig stopped him. “Your brother pulled a fast one on them. He waited at the top of the cliff until they were halfway up the slope, then unfastened the netting. As it slid down, they couldn’t move, and our men caught them. Your dad, after tunneling up half the gang, also took care of this fellow with the cane. He was still out cold when we handcuffed him!”

Just then Joe ran up, his face flushed with excitement and relief at the Dodds’ rescue. When Mr. Hardy joined the group, the others learned that Melliman had not escaped in the fishing boat. “Apparently he couldn’t get it started.”

“And why not?” asked a familiar voice with a proud ring in it.

“Chet!”

Soaked to the skin, Chet added, “A knowledge of botany goes a long way-especially in learning to knot seaweed into a boat propeller!”

By now, Slagel, Melliman, and the rest of the prisoners had been led away to police cars on the cliff above. Only Collig and another officer remained on the beach with the Hardys and Dodds. The tide was rolling in now, and jagged streaks of lightning could be seen.

“How can we ever thank you Hardys and Chet enough!” Mr. Dodd said.

Collig added, “You boys will be receiving a handsome reward for your work.”

Joe’s eyes glistened. “I think there’s another case we’re going to solve tonight-the Pilgrim mystery.” He sloshed through the surf which had almost covered the beach. Chet, Frank, and the Dodds joined Joe as he pointed to some leaves along the cliff. Puzzled, Mr. Hardy and Collig watched from the remaining strip of dry sand.

“I noticed this algae earlier tonight, and if I’m not wrong, it matches the leaf in the Pilgrim message,” Joe declared.

“You’re right!” Jack exclaimed. “But the message seems to indicate a place on land.”

“Maybe we’ve been on the wrong track,” said Frank. “Professor Dodd, can you remember the last words of the clue?”

The tall professor knew them by heart.” ‘Crash of countless breaking black-‘”

” ‘Billows’! Not willows!” Joe finished. “Waves would break in a hurricane as well as trees.”

“Joe!” the professor cried excitedly. “My calculations on the position of Venus-which is now obscured by clouds-had led me to this area of the coast a short time before I was seized by Slagel’s men!”

Chet pulled a soaked book from his pocket. “That growth is chondrus crispus-Irish moss.”Frank exclaimed, “It was several hundred years ago when the Pilgrim family perished! Since that time, this coastline may have fallen several feet and water may now cover the location of their shelter.”

“Then there may be a cave in the slope near where we’re standing!” Jack cried out.

Another streak of lightning could be seen in the distance and the waves were rising over the moss-covered rock.

“Let’s look before the storm gets here!” Joe urged.

With flashlights turned on the scene by the men, the four boys kicked off their shoes, stripped to their shorts, and dived in. Suddenly Frank came up and shouted, “I see something!”

Chet, Jack, and Joe swam over to him. Then all four vanished beneath a rough wave. Twenty seconds later they surfaced, holding a heavy object. Treading water, they maneuvered the object to the beach.

It was a steel-bound wooden chest!

Excitedly they set it down in the sand beyond the incoming tide, as the rest of the group rushed up. The metal had rusted almost to powder, and several holes gaped through the rotting wood. With Joe’s help, Jack raised the wobbly lid, and everyone stared in wonderment.

Piles of green and blue jewels, strings of ruby beads, and rotted pouches of gold coins glistened with sea water amid brown weeds and Irish moss. Near one corner lay a large, algae-covered object.

“Look!” Martin Dodd exclaimed excitedly.

It was a bottle! He handed it to Jack’s father, who carefully unstoppered it and removed a long roll of worn papers. The others gathered around as he read the first words aloud: “ ‘The Record of a Perilouf Voyage in Fearch of the Horfefhoe-Fhaped Inlet, in the Year of Our Lord 1647, by Eliaf Dodd.’”

“We’ve found it!” Jack exclaimed.

As a streak of lightning creased the black skies, Frank glanced up at the cliffs. Suddenly he cried out, “There’s the answer to the clue’s last words!”

At the next flash the others looked up at the glistening rock. It had all the appearance of a vein of gold!

Drenched but happy, everyone walked toward the brothers’ car. Each of the four boys bore a corner of the chest. Frank and Joe wondered if any case as exciting as the one just solved would ever come their way. They were soon to find out, when challenged by The Secret of the Caves.

Frank now smiled at the Dodds. “How about a lift?”

“Only if you’ll promise to share Thanksgiving with us this fall,” Jack answered. “We’re going to have a feast that would make our ancestors proud! And you’re going to join us too, Chet. We’ll even have a special seaweed menu for you!”

“No roast turkey and sweet potatoes and-“ Joe asked.

“Or chocolate cake with frosting,” Frank added.

Chet groaned. “Stop it! Anything but seaweed!”

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