Authors: Franklin W. Dixon
“The channel!” Frank burst out. “He's heading for the channel!”
From atop the cliff, it was easy to pick the safe way out of the cove. A thin bluish gray line stood out clearly against the yellow-brown of the sandbars.
But Pete Buckmaster wasn't taking the safe way out. He was hurling the
headlong onto one of the dangerous sandbanks. The yacht was no
agile jet boat, able to hop over an obstruction. It stood deeper in the water than the Hardys'
Buckmaster's yacht hit the sandbar with a sickening, grinding crunch that could be heard clearly up on the clifftop.
The sound set Frank's teeth on edge.
But somehow, even as it tore its guts out, the
made it across the obstruction to deeper water. The yacht struggled on, rolling wildly.
Then something on board went up in a shattering explosion. The ship was consumed by a fireball!
An elbow caught Joe Hardy in the shoulder, temporarily distracting him from the fiery spectacle below. He turned to find Zack Harris standing beside him. The awed filmmaker had his camera up to his eye, recording the scene.
People came bursting out of the trailers at the sound of the explosion on the bay. The site manager tore into the Matling field office, then rushed for the stairs.
“Where's Buckmaster?” he demanded. “Where is he?”
“Heâhe'sâ” Chet gasped, pointing at the flaming, sinking hulk below.
“He took the easy way out,” the man said bitterly. “After taking all of us for a ride!”
“What do you mean?” Frank said.
The site manager cooled down a little. “I keep the radio on while I work, the all-news station. They just had a big business report. Federal investigators moved in on Buckmaster's company. The customer accounts are all messed up, and nobody seems to know where all the money is. Millions of dollars may be missing.”
The manager pressed his lips together. “One thing's for sure. There'll be no more dollars poured into this money hole!”
As word of the financial and explosion disasters spread, the site grew quiet. Contractors began to understand they weren't going to get paid for this job. Workers realized they'd be losing their jobs.
Very soon the backhoes and bulldozers began heading out the gateway. Contractors called their crews together and signed the workers out. A steady stream of people began heading home.
As the boys watched the construction workers leave, Zack beckoned Melody Litovsky over. “I need your car keys!” he said.
She stared at him. “Why?”
“I caught what happened to Buckmaster on tape! This is worth good money to the newspeople. I want to get the bidding started as soon as possible.”
Melody dug into her jeans pocket and pulled out a key ring. Zack snatched it from her hand and ran for the gate.
“Well, goodie for him.” Willow Sumner had come up in time to overhear most of what had been said. “Where does that leave the rest of us?”
Andy Slack and his friend Hal Preston joined the group. “If this rich dude is dead, and no one knows what's going to happen to his land, I want to get my boat away from his dock.”
“I hope he didn't damage my dad's boat.” Willow glared at Melody. “Or this flick will be more dead in the water than it already is.”
Melody flinched, but she tried to defend her project. “You can't pull out now,” she said. “Not when we've come so far.”
Sprock Kerwin rushed in. “We'll definitely be going on with the film. And you all heard Mr. Buckmaster promise the use of his dock.”
“Yeah,” Trisha Eads said. “Until somebody else comes along and tells us to get out, that is.”
Frank and Joe stayed out of the argument. Not surprisingly, Chet weighed in on the filmmakers' side. Melody and Sprock showed more diplomacy than Zack ever had. They convinced the skeptical kids to stick with the program and leave their
boats at the dock, at least until a meeting with Zack the next morning.
“All right, then,” Andy finally said. “Till tomorrow at eleven.”
The group broke up. Willow and her clique headed for Willow's car. Sprock offered Melody a ride, and Andy and Hal went off to a beat-up old car.
Chet watched them march through the now-unmanned gate. “You think Tony is going to be showing up?” he asked.
Joe laughed. “What would he be guarding now? You think his father is afraid someone will get in and steal the dirt?”
Chet didn't answer; he just kicked a stone out of the dirt. “Are we heading out then?”
Frank frowned, looking off into the distance. A wall of ugly clouds was piling up at the entrance to the bay; it was a warning of bad weather coming in off the ocean.
“Looks like we've got a squall on the way,” he said. “Maybe we should go down and make sure the
Chet looked confused. “I thought that's what you were doing before the disaster.”
“Now you know the true problem with older boats.” Joe grinned. “They're even worse than Willow Sumner. Pretty, but
They headed for the stairway again. Joe turned to wave a joke good-bye to the now-deserted work site. From the corner of his eye, he caught sight of a shadowy figure darting behind the Matling Construction trailer.
“You're not going to believe this, guys,” Joe whispered. “But I think I just spotted our intruder.”
“Where?” Chet demanded.
“Ducking behind the Matling mobile office,” Joe replied.
“Chet and I will head straight for it, then swing around either side,” Frank whispered.
Joe nodded. “Meanwhile I'll go along and see if I can outflank him.”
The boys moved silently, crouched over, trying to stay undercover as much as possible. Just as Frank and Chet got into position, the rain clouds rolled in. Water began pouring down on them.
Huge raindrops created watery craters in the dirt around Joe's feet. In moments the construction area had turned into a sea of mud.
“Frank! Joe! He's headingâ” A sudden gust of wind blew the rest of Chet's words away.
Joe spotted his friend slogging his way through the new swamp. Then, ahead of Chet, Joe saw another figure.
There's our pigeon,
he told himself.
The intruder was having as hard a time as Chet moving through the mud. The bulldozers had scraped away just the top layer of soil, creating an artificial hill of dirt and construction debris by the clifftop. What the diggers had revealed was a layer of clay. Now, as Chet and the uninvited guest were discovering, rain turned that clay into something with the consistency of glue.
Chet began hopping around on one foot. “My shoe!” he yelled.
The trespasser grimly plodded onward through the mud.
Joe tried to figure out the guy's course. He seemed to be heading away from the gate.
This dude is heading for the cut in the fence.
The problem was, the intruder was closer to the mock escape hatch than Joe or Chet.
The edge of the cliff was solid rock. Joe could run along that and along the grass by the chain-link fence. He could possibly outrun the creep and cut him off.
The only problem was getting to the cliff edge. The pile of bulldozed debris stood in Joe's way.
Dirt mud should be better than clay mud,
Every step he took caused a loud, sucking sound as he fought his way through the rain. The wind
was cold and wet. The mound of topsoil, concrete chunk, wood, and other construction junk was squishy instead of sticky. In fact, as Joe floundered his way up, he found the stuff downright slippery.
Easy does it,
he warned himself after falling flat on his face into the dark goo.
Almost to the top now.
At least the pounding rain washed his face clean. He pulled himself to the summit of the debris pile and took a look to check the intruder's progress.
The guy was still stuck in the mud. Chet was falling farther behind, but Joe could still make it. It would be close, very closeÂ .Â .Â .
Just then the huge pile of junk beneath Joe shifted as a critical mass of the dirt became waterlogged. The mound began to disintegrate and started to wash away. It was like the mud slides on the hills in California. Except this mud slide was on a cliffÂ .Â .Â . and it was going to drag Joe over the edge!
Joe desperately thrashed his arms and legs against the tide of goo. In spite of his effort, the mud dragged him along. The ground under him was slippery; there was no place to hold on to.
Suddenly there was nothing under Joe's legs. He'd reached the edge of the cliff!
The ground here was rocky and broken up. A stone thrust up from the ground. Joe wrapped his arms around it and hung on for dear life.
A torrent of gooey mud washed over him, bringing with it rocks, chunks of concrete, and even a couple of pieces of lumber. Joe kept his head down and held his breath as the flood tried to tear him loose.
At last it stopped. Joe raised his face to be washed by the still-pouring rain. He felt as if he'd been trampled by elephants. Everything around him was still slippery, slimed with mud. How could he pull himself back up? His feet slithered on the slick rock, unable to find a ledge. He felt chilled to the bone, and his arms were starting to get tired.
“Help!” he yelled. “Frank, ChetÂ .Â .Â . somebody!”
He heard nothing but the cold, blustering winds blowing in from the bay. He clenched his muscles, trying to will some feeling back into his hands before they lost all sensation.
When he saw the end of a board coming at him, his heart sank.
This will finish me,
But the board didn't move on a new flow of mud. Instead it hopped and shifted as it came closer.
Joe looked up and saw Chet Morton at the other end of the piece of wood. Chet looked exhausted. Reddish mud stained his legs up past the knees, and he'd lost both his shoes. But with determination he pushed against the board, turning to yell over his shoulder for Frank.
Within minutes Frank was on the scene. Together, Chet and Frank maneuvered the board to a place where Joe could get first one arm around it, then the other. The two boys were now able to haul Joe to safety.
“Just happened to see you when that mound of stuff collapsed.” Chet almost had to yell in Joe's ear for his voice to be heard in the wind.
“Thanks,” Joe said, brushing himself off. “Thanks, both of you.”
The intruder was long gone now, and the trip down the stairs just seemed too much to consider. The boys changed course, heading for the grassy patches along the edge of the fence to get to their van.
They all felt better once they were out of the rain, but Joe noticed that Chet seemed quieter than usual.
“What's the matter?” Joe asked Chet. “You're a hero. So what if you lost your shoes?”
“You really were great out there,” Frank said with a nod of admiration.
Chet sighed. “Yeah, for the first time since we got involved with
I did something
filming. And of course there was no camera there!”
“If Sprock had been there, he'd have probably been blown off the cliff,” Joe said with a laugh.
“And I don't care how good those cameras are,” Frank added. “I don't think they'd have filmed much in a Barmet Bay squall.”
The Hardys dropped Chet off and drove through
the continuing downpour until they reached their home. A long shower, some hot food, and dry clothes helped Joe feel human again. Later on he and Frank sat in the living room, watching television. The local news broadcasts had shown Zack's tape several times. When the national news started, the boys saw another rerun of the tape. The death of a Wall Street bigwig interested the whole country.
Joe looked at his brother as the reporters switched to the more boring financial details behind the case. “Zack must have held up the network for a good chunk of change,” he said. “They're trying to get as much mileage out of it as possible.”
“That's the news cycle,” Frank said. “They'll probably forget all about Buckmaster by tomorrow.”
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But as they drove to the construction site for their eleven o'clock meeting, Frank was proved wrong.
“Yikes!” Chet said as they pulled up in the van. The road outside the gate was clogged with news vans. As the boys walked closer, they saw camera crews jostling one another for the best views. Grave-looking reporters spoke into microphones.
“Here we are at the scene of the tragedy,” a thin young woman in a red blazer said.
Nearby an older guy in a blue jacket was
finishing his story. “The man known as the Buccaneer lived large and died the same way. Accident? Suicide? All we know is that he vanished in a blazing ship, like a Viking funeral.”
Joe rolled his eyes at that.
“We've got a real, live media frenzy,” Frank said. “Everybody must be trying to get fresh tape for noon news.”
He spotted Zack Harris standing inside the gate. Their director was talking with one camera crew. As the Hardys neared the gate, they had to pass a gauntlet of microphones.
“Are you working on the film? How involved was Mr. Buckmaster?”
“Did any of you talk to Buckmaster before he took his life?”
“How did he seem?”
Frank and Joe just kept their heads down and pressed on. For Chet, although he'd spent the most time on camera, facing so many cameras at once seemed to bring on a case of stage fright.
Finally the boys got through. The three of them were happy to put the fence between them and the news vultures.
Willow Sumner and her friends were next to arrive. The three girls looked happy to be in front of the cameras. But Willow, Trisha, and Christy
really didn't have that much to say. They hadn't seen Buckmaster or his yacht. All they could describe was the sound of the explosion.