Authors: Franklin W. Dixon
He pointed toward a tall cliff overlooking Shipwreck Cove. The boys looked up.
“We'd be way over the islands up there.” Joe turned to Sprock Kerwin. “What do the rules say?”
“The rules are for me to interpret”âthe young filmmaker paused in thought for a momentâ“and I say that that would be a pretty decent place to get a good establishing shot of the whole bay.”
Frank steered back toward the cove while Joe
aimed the binoculars at the cliff. “We're in luck,” he said. “There's a stairway built onto the cliff face.”
Chet took the binoculars and observed the zigzag of the stairs up the craggy cliff. “Great,” he said without much enthusiasm. “It'll be just like climbing up to the fourth or fifth floor of a building.”
“You can handle it, Chet,” Joe told him. Chet was admittedly a bit out of shape.
“Yeah, but can those stairs handle
?” Chet took another long look. “They look pretty beaten up.”
“Only one way to find out.” Having made up his mind, Sprock Kerwin was raring to go.
Frank brought the
into the cove. Off to one side they found a set of private docks.
Joe wrinkled his nose at the smell of freshly waterproofed wood. “This looks brand-new,” he said as he tied up the boat.
“Let's hope that goes for the stairs too,” Sprock said.
They crossed a stony beach to the foot of the stairway. It was more rickety than the docks, but they could see that several stair treads had been recently replaced.
“Let's play it safe and spread out,” Joe said.
“I'll be last,” Chet promptly announced.
“And I'll be first,” Kerwin said. “That way I can shoot the bay with my camera, then catch you guys
on film as you climb up.” His lanky legs began taking the steps two at a time.
“Whoa, Sprock, slow down,” Joe called after him. “You'll wear yourself out before you get halfway up.”
Kerwin showed no sign of needing this advice as he continued to climb at top speed.
Frank was the next on the stairs. “I have no intention of racing after him,” he said. “We'll take this at a reasonable pace. Okay?”
“Fine with me,” Chet replied.
Joe waited till Frank had made the first turn on the stairs, then headed up. When he reached the first landing, he leaned over and called to Chet, “Ready?”
“Yeah. Great. Wonderful.” Chet started to make his way up.
Frank was as good as his word, climbing steadily without pushing the pace. Joe followed easily, although he began to feel a little tired after the first few flights. “How are you doing?” he called back to Chet.
“Okay.” Chet panted. “Remind me never to try one of those Stairmaster thingies the next time we're in a gym.”
“As if I could get you into a gym.” Joe laughed. He peered upward. “Good news. Only three more flights. Sprock is on the last one now.”
“Good news?” Chet croaked.
“Well, you don't want to be on these things after sunset, do you?” Joe asked.
The sun had been low in the sky as they'd turned back from the islands. The shadows on the cliff face were getting darker and darker, while the top of the stairs was bathed in brilliant orange light.
Up above, it was bright enough to see Kerwin make it to the top of the cliff. Sprock turned his back to the sun and brought up his camera to get a panoramic view of the bay. Joe could see him leaning against the handrail of the stairs as he began shooting.
Just then a shadowy figure tackled the filmmaker, and the two forms disappeared behind the cliff top.
The moment Sprock Kerwin disappeared from sight Frank charged up the last flight of stairs. Joe and Chet were doing their best to catch up.
Frank quickly reached the top and saw two figures rolling and struggling. He jumped on top of them, figuring he'd hold both down until the others arrived.
It didn't take long for Frank to be able to identify which of his prisoners was Sprock Kerwin. Frank wrapped his arms around the other guy and wrenched him around just as Joe threw himself into the fight.
“Help me hold him!” Frank gasped. He managed to get one arm, and Joe got the other, just as Chet appeared.
Their prisoner was still trying to tear loose. At the sight of a third antagonist the man lashed out with his foot. The toe of his shoe caught Chet right in the gut.
When Chet finally got his breath back, he let out an outraged howl. “What's the matter with you, Prito?”
Frank and Joe both stared. Sprock Kerwin's attackerâtheir prisonerâwas indeed Tony Prito.
“Let go of me!” Tony yelled, and the boys released their holds. Tony looked around. “Frank? Joe? Chet?”
Then he turned to Kerwin, who had retrieved his camera and gotten to his feet. “Help me get this guy before he gets away!”
“Whoa, Tony! Cool down.” Frank stepped between his enraged friend and the filmmaker. “What have you got against Sprock?”
“He's trespassing!” Tony shouted. “Remember my telling you how some of my dad's crew saw an intruder on the work site? I thought it was all a lie until I spotted this guy a couple of minutes ago.”
Frank looked puzzled. “Where did you spot him?”
“By the general contractor's field office.” Tony turned into the sun and pointed.
Now that his eyes had adjusted to the glare, Frank saw that they were standing at the edge of a huge
construction site. Trailers and earthmovers were parked around several large holes in the ground.
“Looks like quite a project,” Frank said. “Exactly where did you spot this âintruder'?”
“I came around the corner of this shanty.” Tony pointed to a modest trailer. “That's where they change their work clothes, wash up, and stash some of their tools. I saw this creep outside the general contractor office.”
He pointed to another trailer, which was larger and more elaborate than the first one. It had a big red logo and a sign reading
“He ducked behind a backhoe, and I lost him for a minute. Then I spotted him trying to get down the stairs.”
“Tony,” Frank said gently, “Sprock had just come up those stairs.”
Frank turned to Kerwin. “Is your camera okay?”
“Yeah,” Sprock said gruffly. He stabbed a finger at Tony. “No thanks to him.”
“Sprock, meet an old buddy of ours, Tony Prito. Tony, Sprock is one of the people making that film you didn't want to get involved with.”
Realizing he had made a mistake, Tony apologized. Then something occurred to him. “Wait a
minute!” he said. “Maybe I saw someone else, who's still around.”
“We'll help you look, Tony,” Frank told him. “We just have to take care of a few things first.”
While Sprock was getting his establishing shot, Frank stood on the clifftop, scanning every inch of the bay with his binoculars. He spotted the jet boat in another cove that jutted out from the bay. The girls were struggling to get the boat's canopy up, and Frank got a clear view behind the back seats. The McGuffin wasn't there anymore.
Frank carefully checked the beach along the cove. No trace of any recent digging. And Zack Harris's metal monstrosity was really too heavy to be lugged very far.
“I wonder where it is,” Frank muttered, turning the binoculars over to Joe.
“Until we know where it is, there's no sense tagging them,” Joe said, staring down into the cove. “Besides, they aren't going anywhere. Trisha is passing out food. It looks like they're going to camp on their boat.” He shook his head. “You'd think they'd want to sleep on the beach. Then they could enjoy a campfire.Â .Â .Â .”
Joe's voice faded, and he turned away. “Let's help Tony with this search, then get some sleep.” He gave Frank a sinister smile. “I may have an idea of
where to find the McGuffin, but it's going to mean a very early morning.”
They searched the work site until there wasn't enough light anymore. “I tell you, I saw a guy!” Tony insisted. But even he began to sound as if he had doubts.
They made a fire pit and cooked themselves a meal with food they had packed on the boat. Tony then let them spread their sleeping bags in his dad's trailer.
Before sunrise the next morning Joe woke the others. After checking that the girls' jet boat was still in place, the boys had a hurried breakfast and buried the fire pit.
Once on the
Joe changed out of his sweatshirt and jeans and into a rubber surfing suit. “I thought this might come in handy,” he said. “Let's see if I was right.”
While Joe collected a few more items in a net bag, Frank started the engines. In only a few minutes they'd reached their target, the other cove. Frank killed the engines and let the
drift. Joe slipped on diving fins and a mask and put a snorkel in his mouth. He slung his bag over one shoulder, slipped into the chilly water, and began swimming into the cove.
Even though he was wearing the surfing suit, the chilly water seemed to suck the warmth right
out of his body. Joe kicked and stroked as quietly as possible through a gray, predawn haze. Ahead he spotted a darker shape: the “babe boat.”
Joe took a deep breath and dived. Once he was underwater, he pulled a waterproof flashlight out of the net bag and shone it around. Okay. There was the anchor line, running up to the boat. And on the other endÂ .Â .Â .
His lips curled into a grin around the snorkel mouthpiece. Bingo! There was the McGuffin. The girls had hidden it by using it as an anchor.
Joe swam over to the McGuffin and reached into his bag again. This time he brought out the two extra inflatable life vests that Frank had stashed away on the boat. Joe attached them to the McGuffin and pulled the tabs.
The vests filled out like balloons. They didn't make the ugly sculpture float, but they made it a lot lighter. Joe took out a knife and began sawing at the anchor line.
The McGuffin soon came free, and Joe swam with it toward the mouth of the cove. Even with the help of the vests, the metal monstrosity was an awkward burden. Joe's lungs burned.
Holding on to the McGuffin with a rope, Joe surfaced for air. He needed three air breaks before he reached the
His friends and his brother, waiting eagerly for Joe, tossed him a line. He tied it to the McGuffin. The boys had the prize aboard before Joe managed to pull himself onto the deck.
Sprock Kerwin ran back and forth on the deck, trying to record the action and casting anxious glances at the rising sun. “This camera is supposed to work in low light,” he muttered, peering through the view-finder. “Heck of a way to test it, though.”
Chet grinned. “Do we give the girls a wake-up call? Orâ”
He was cut off by sounds of sudden commotion echoing across the water.
“They were anchored close to a sandbar that was hidden under the water at high tide,” Joe said. “To judge from the sounds, they just drifted into it.”
A second later they heard the jet boat's engine start, sputter, and die. Joe put a hand to his ear. “I'll bet the first blast jammed them farther onto the sandbar, and they can't start again.”
“Maybe we should take a quick spin past them,” Frank said, starting the
The crew of the jet boat began waving and calling for helpâuntil they recognized the other boat.
“I'd say this team got the McGuffin fair and square,” Sprock Kerwin shouted over, filming the
tousled girls. His fellow filmmaker Melody grabbed up her camera and began recording too.
Joe jumped up onto one of the seats on deck, waving. “Later, girls,” he shouted. “It was real!”
Frank headed the boat up the bay, toward the ocean. Chet was still laughing. “That was priceless,” he said, turning to Sprock. “Could I get a copy of that clip?”
“It gets better,” Joe said, turning up the volume on the harbor radio receiver. “The girls are sending out a distress signal!”
Frank shook his head. “All they have to do is wait until the incoming tide floats them again.”
Frank started changing their course. “I was heading for Bayport to hide in the boat traffic around there. Now I don't think we want to be too close to the harbor police.”
Chet nodded. “After talking with Willow and her friends, they might suspect us of getting the girls into their mess.”
“So, do we find ourselves another inlet or go right down the bay and catch lunch in that little townâ”
Joe abruptly grabbed the binoculars.
Joe's face was grim. “You wouldn't expect a fishing boat in this part of the bay, would you?”
“Not at this hour,” Frank replied.
“Then I think there's definite trouble. We've got a trawler heading our way.”
“Andy and his pal?” Chet asked.
“Can't tell. Those fishing boats all sort of look alike.” At that point Joe spotted a redhead sticking out of the cabin, pointing a camera their way.
“There's Zack,” he reported. “Maybe they were just heading down to check out Shipwreck Cove when they heard the SOS from the girls.”
“I guess they sped up to see what was happening,” Chet said.
Joe nodded. “Anyway, looks like they've spotted us.”
“No trouble.” Frank pulled the
into a tight turn. “That boat's a tub compared with ours. We can outrun them.”
Suddenly the radio crackled to life.
“Harbor police, this is powerboat five-six-three-K-three-H,” Willow Sumner's voice came from the speaker. “We're off the sandbar, and we're trying the engine again.”
Sound travels far across water. The boys could hear the snarl of the jet boat starting.
“All right,” Frank said. “Now we've got trouble.”
Joe nodded. The boys might have the McGuffin at that moment, but they were caught between two other teams that wanted it, too.