Authors: Franklin W. Dixon
BUTLER GAVE THEIR astonished faces his almost smile. "Yes, I am Al-Rousasa."
Tony, Joe, and Callie stared in shock and disbelief. But Frank's eyes narrowed. "So that's why you didn't understand when Joe made that crack about 'Kojak.' I wondered about that."
"Yes," said the unmasked terrorist. "I had to look that up. You see," he said, "we didn't have those television programs in my country."
"You were one of the guys who tried to nail us in the movie theater," Joe said. "And I bet you sent that van after us, too." "That interception cost me two operatives," Al-Rousasa said. "And so did the hijacking." "That's right." Frank frowned in thought. "The government guy talked to you. He must have mentioned where he was going, so you could guess just which flight he'd be on."
"Exactly," the terrorist replied. "They were going to eliminate him while I went to your house to take care of you. We had the element of surprise, I thought."
His voice grew angry. "It seems I was wrong. You went on the plane, and my people were surprised. And now I can't contact my superiors." He stared at Frank. "Are you responsible for that? Or is your gray friend responsible? You shouldn't have started associating with him. It's ... unhealthy. Look where it brought you and your friends."
"You followed us from the police station and tried to run Frank down on the Shore Road," Callie said. "And because you were a cop, you knew about the Lover's Lane on that turnoff."
"Yes, again." Al-Rousasa nodded. "Being a cop has been very useful. Since I was in charge of security for the candidate's visit, I had all the plans of the mall and plenty of time to explore. I didn't expect to find you on those service steps, though," he said to Tony Prito. "I hope you weren't hurt."
"You're pointing a gun at me and hoping I wasn't hurt!" Tony scowled at the gunman.
"What I don't get," Joe said, "is how you can have such a great record and pull off something like this. You're a cop and a terrorist?"
"I am an Assassin," Al-Rousasa said proudly.
"Samuel Butler was a cop. But Samuel Butler is dead. "
"D - dead?" Callie faltered over the word, staring at the man.
"I liquidated him and took his place." Al-Rousasa gave them his half-smile again. "That was easy. The hard part was finding a policeman with the right record, the right build, the right looks, and who was starting a new job. Samuel Butler was the perfect identity for me."
"But people knew Butler," Joe burst out. "There must be pictures of him. How could you - "
"The Assassins are very up-to-date on plastic surgery," Al-Rousasa said. "Beyond the state of the art, you might say."
"Plastic surgery. Well, that explains your stone face," Frank said. "Every time you get any real facial expression, you act as if it hurts. I bet it really does hurt."
The terrorist's lips thinned. "You're a very clever young man. Dangerously clever. Thanks to you and your brother, my whole mission has been thrown off."
Al-Rousasa glared at the Hardys. "It was so simple-coordinating a series of attacks in major cities. Then came the order to eliminate Philip Walker. "
"Since Butler ran the guard detail at the U.N., you'd be sure to get the security job when Philip Walker came to town," Frank said.
"Yes," replied Al-Rousasa. "But your father interfered, gathering information on the Assassins. So then came orders from the Central Committee to punish Fenton Hardy."
"Orders you followed by setting a bomb in his sons' car," Frank added.
The Assassin nodded. "Then there was a further complication. You didn't set the bomb off. Instead a stupid girl - " Joe lost his cool and lunged for Al-Rousasa. "You murdering - "
The terrorist neatly sidestepped him, ramming the pistol grip of the Uzi into the side of Joe's head. He fell, stunned, and Al-Rousasa turned the barrel of the gun on the others before they had a chance to move.
Hooking the toe of his shoe under Joe's ribs, Al-Rousasa rolled him in front of Frank and the rest of the group. "Enough complications. Now you will all lie down, before we have another outburst. "
The Hardys and their friends spent most of the next hour bound hand and foot, lying on their bellies while the Assassin worked in. the room. Craning his neck around, Frank saw Al-Rousasa bring in a ladder, then climb to the top of the pillar, carrying bricks of plastic explosive.
He strolled out of the room, leaving them alone for a while. Frank tried to squirm against his bonds, but the terrorist was obviously an expert in the art of immobilizing people. The wire loops around his wrists were beyond his strength. Frank was as helpless as a baby. He stopped his struggles when the Assassin returned, dragging the still drugged Chet Morton. "I thought you might be missing your friend," Al-Rousasa said, "so I brought him to join you." He climbed up the ladder again. "Just a few more adjustments, and I'm done."
Several minutes later, he came back down. "Now, the final cleanup." He hauled Frank to his feet, testing the wire that bound his hands.
"A little loose. You've been working on these. That won't do." The Assassin grabbed a roll of heavy duct tape, wrapping it around and around Frank's wrists. "That should take care of it," he said. Frank could hardly feel his fingers.
Al-Rousasa pushed Frank against the pillar, using more wire to tie him to it. "Very nice," he said. "I think your lady friend will be next. At least she won't need taping." Callie was quickly tied into place. Then the terrorist worked through the rest of the group, until they surrounded the pillar. Even the unconscious Chet was in place, sagging against his bonds.
"In case you're wondering, this pillar is right below the spot where they'll set up the podium for Philip Walker," Al-Rousasa explained. "He'll arrive at ten-thirty and start to speak. At exactly eleven o'clock, the plastic explosive I've so artfully arranged at the top of the pillar will detonate-all one hundred pounds of it. "
The terrorist's voice sounded almost disappointed as he went on. "Your interference has thrown me considerably off my timetable. I'd hoped to set up some antipersonnel bombs around the mall to add to the excitement. But now I'll have to do without them and spend my time cleaning up the mess you made in Lacey's."
He sighed. "As your poet says, the best laid' plans. . ."
Joe surged against his bonds, aiming a devastating kick at the Assassin.
But Al-Rousasa saw it coming and twisted aside, deflecting the kick off his hip. He grabbed Joe's chin in his hand, forcing his head back into the rough concrete.
"That was a very foolish thing to do." Al-Rousasa glared down into Joe's eyes, his face for once registering anger. "Don't mistake me for Inspector Butler. I'd have no qualms about slitting your throat."
Then his expression smoothed out again as he stepped back. "But I think I can find it in myself to forgive you. After all, you have so little time left before that bomb turns you all into history."
Al-Rousasa stepped to the door. "You notice I haven't gagged you. That's because no one will hear you down here. But I've decided you'll wait in darkness." He gave them his sadistic half smile as his hand went to the light switch. "Perhaps you'll find it romantic." He looked at Frank, then at Joe. "Goodbye. Inspector Butler has many things to do before the big day tomorrow."
His hand hit the switch, and the naked bulb went out. The last thing they heard was the sound of the heavy steel door slamming shut behind him.
Al-Rousasa HADN'T left them in complete darkness, Frank Hardy realized. A faint red glow came from overhead. After a moment he realized what it was. The bomb above them had a digital timer, and the glow came from the numbers as they counted down the time until the bomb exploded.
Time! Frank started to look at his watch, but of course his wrists were securely tied together. He tested his bonds again but found no flexibility at all.
Beside him, Joe strained wildly against the wire around his wrists, grunting in exertion.
Frank turned to him. "Can you loosen that wire?"
"Not a bit," Joe responded. "I think I'm cutting my hands off."
"Anyone else tied a little looser?" Frank asked.
From out of his field of vision came Tony Prito's voice. "That guy tied me so tight my hands have gone to sleep." They heard him struggle some more. "I've tried pulling, and I've tried twisting, and neither is doing a thing." He paused for a second. "And Chet's still in dreamland. I don't think we can hope for any help from him."
"Frank, I - I think I've got a little slack," Callie said. "When he started tying us up, I remembered something you had told me about trying to keep my hands as far apart as possible." Callie grimaced. "It hurt like anything, but I tried to keep the pressure up. What do I do now?"
"Press your wrists as close together as you can. Try to make one of those loops big enough to work your hand free," Frank said. Callie twisted in her bonds as she strained to get loose.
"Ugh," whispered Joe. "I cut myself that time." He worked against the wires on his wrists some more. "Hmm. I thought bleeding might help - might get my hand slippery. But it's just making things sticky."
Frank was still rubbing his sweat-soaked wrists together when he felt Callie resting her face against his shoulder. Her brown hair tickled the side of his face, but she didn't say anything. Then he felt the first spot of wetness hit his shirt. She was trying hard to hide it, but she was crying.
"C'mon, Callie," Frank whispered. "You've got to keep trying. You're our best shot." "I've rubbed my wrists raw, and it's no good." Her voice broke. "I was wrong, Frank. I can't get loose."
"Callie, you can," Frank said quietly. "Now, give it another shot."
He could feel her blinking the tears away. "Okay."
"Relax. Just let your hands hang there for a second." Frank could feel her shoulder loosen up.
"Good. Press your wrists together. Don't bunch them up." Frank felt her move beside him.
"Now, keep your right hand - limp, and see if you can move one of those wire loops down. Come on," he breathed into her ear. "Just slow and easy."
Callie's breath came in little sobs of effort. "Frank? Frank? I think I felt something slip!"
"Guys," said Frank, "I want you to give Callie as much slack as possible. Lean in toward her. Tony? Can you keep Chet from lolling over on her?"
"Okay," Tony said. "Come here, Chet, old man. "
"I - I've got one of the loops," Callie said breathlessly. "It's coming down, it's coming . . . it's off!"
"Way to go, Callie!" said Tony. "I don't believe it," said Joe, mortified. "All us guys working our tails off to get loose, and we've got to depend on a girl to get us out of this mess!" Callie laughed shakily. "Hey, you should be glad you agreed to let me come along!"
"That's right, Joe," Frank said with a grin. "Watch how you talk to Callie. She may just decide to leave you here." He turned to Callie. "Ready for the next one?" Even though she'd loosened one loop, Callie still had a long struggle against Al-Rousasa's expert knot job. No one was sure how long it took, but by the time she was almost done, Chet Morton had come groggily back to life. At last, after a couple of setbacks, Callie finally pulled one shaking hand free.
The job went much faster after that. Soon Callie had freed her other hand and frantically loosened the bonds that held her to the pillar. She staggered away, rubbing her wrists, then turned to Frank. She tore at the tape on his wrists. It didn't give. "I can't get to your hands," she said, her voice going high.
"There's a Swiss army knife in my pocket," Frank said. "Use that."
She dug out the knife and began slicing and sawing at his bonds. Soon he was free, too. "Anybody else have a knife?" he asked.
Callie was already at work on Joe. Frank got a pocket knife from Chet and set him and Tony free.
"Great!" exclaimed Joe softly, rubbing his wrists. "Now let's get out of here and over to Chief Collig. When he sees this setup, he'll hang Butler's hide out to dry."
Joe rushed to the door, grabbed the handle . . . and swore. "I'm getting tired of this," he said, twisting the knob with both hands. He turned around. "Guys, you're not gonna believe it. He locked the door."
"Find the light," Frank ordered. Joe fumbled around until he hit the switch. His brother examined the lock. Frank's face was grim as he looked up. "Tony, what did they expect to store in here? Bars of gold? This door is built more solidly than some vaults I've seen."
"Can't you take the lock apart from the inside?" Callie asked.
"Oh, sure," Frank said. "All I'd need is a cold chisel, or maybe a power drill to ream out these bolts. All we've got is a Swiss army knife." He glanced upward. "Of course, there will be a big hole in the ceiling in a few hours."
They all stared up at the bomb. "He didn't even leave the ladder in here."
"It's getting late now," Chet pointed out. "Our folks will start missing us. Maybe people will come looking."
"Sure," Joe snorted. "And the first place they'll look is the third subbasement of the mall after hours."
"Maybe it wasn't such a good idea, keeping this search a secret," Callie said quietly. "My folks won't suspect anything till morning, when they find the pillows I stuck under my bed covers. "
"There's got to be a way out of this," Joe said, stalking back and forth. "If only we could knock that door down."
"Actually, there is a way." Frank stared at the top of the pillar. "We could blow the door down."
The others followed his gaze to the bomb. "Use that?" Chet said. "How will we get to it? What if it goes off?"
"We'll have to form a human pyramid." Frank's eyes were still on the bomb. "And if it goes off, well, it just happens a little earlier."
"Okay," said Joe. "Chet and I will be the bottom, Tony and Callie the middle, and my brother the electronics genius will be the top, Come on."
He and Chet bent over, leaning against the pillar. Tony and Callie stepped on their shoulders.
"Oooohhh," said Chet as he felt Callie's weight. "I don't know what they put in those darts, but the aftereffects - " "I don't want to hear about them until Frank is done," Joe snapped.