Read Line of Fire Online

Authors: Franklin W. Dixon

Line of Fire (7 page)

BOOK: Line of Fire
8.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Hanging up the phone, he turned to Joe. "The grand jury hearing starts in about an hour, and Denny was supposed to go with his mother. He hasn't shown up at home."

Joe immediately headed out of the room. "Let's find out if anybody's seen him."

Getting in the van, they searched the usual hangouts in town, but no one had noticed Denny Payson.

At the Mr. Pizza in the mall, Liz Webling blocked their way out the door. She'd left her slice on the counter and pulled out a pad when she heard the Hardys questioning people.

"Do you think he's disappeared?" she asked them. "Could this have something to do with that fight last night?"

"Liz, give us a break," Joe said. "This is a friend we're talking about."

"Hey, Liz," said Callie Shaw, joining the group, "isn't that your slice Chet's picking up?"

Liz turned, and the Hardys and Callie beat a hasty retreat. "She's going to be a long time forgiving me for that," Callie said. "What's going on?"

Frank quickly explained as they headed back to the van.

Callie thought for a moment. "Have you talked to Barbara Lynch?"

"Good idea," said Joe, veering off to a set of pay phones.

They were lucky. Barbara was home. But she hadn't seen Denny all day. "The last I saw him was when I drove his car to his house last night," she said.

"We talked for a little bit then. He was pretty depressed. Here we'd spent the whole day tracking down people from this list he'd made of potential witnesses for the grand jury and nobody'd come forward. Denny had only one name left, a man who lived in that run-down neighborhood."

"Wait a second," said Frank after Joe passed on this message. "He never made it to that person. He got ambushed. Ask Barbara if she remembers the address."

Joe asked, then shook his head. "She says it wasn't even on his list. He'd gotten it from the widow of one of the workers who died."

Frank thought for a moment. "Mrs. Gunther?"

Joe nodded.

"Thank her and then let's go. I've got Mrs. Gunther's address in the van."

They drove up to Mrs. Gunther's. Frank jumped out of the van and headed up the path to the front door.

At the first ring of the bell, a gray-haired woman appeared. She looked at him warily through the screen door.

"Mrs. Gunther?" Frank said. "I'm Frank Hardy, a friend of Denny Payson's. Denny's mother needs him and I think he's at the address you gave him yesterday. I hate to bother you, but it's very important."

"I sent him to see a man who was a friend of my husband's," Mrs. Gunther said. "Steve Vittorio." She gave Frank the address. It was just beyond where the two punks had jumped Denny.

"Thanks, ma'am," Frank said, already hurrying back to the van. "Thanks very much."

The neighborhood looked less threatening in broad daylight, but shabbier than ever.

"Twenty-nine South Bay," Frank said, pointing to an old apartment building. "That must be the place."

Leaving Callie to guard the van, Frank and Joe entered the building. Half the mailboxes had broken doors. None of them had names.

Joe pointed to a sign taped to the wall. "Apartment available," he read. "Inquire at apartment One-A." He grinned. "Maybe we could inquire about Vittorio there."

They knocked at apartment 1-A, and the door opened to reveal a tall, skinny man in a coverall that looked about two sizes too large for him. He Scratched the stubble of beard on his chin as he squinted at the Hardys. "You here to see the apartment?" he asked.

"We're here to see Steve Vittorio," Joe said.

"Well, you can't," said the janitor. "He moved out, and he didn't leave anything. What's your problem? He owe you money?"

"We're not bill collectors," Frank said. "A friend of ours was looking for Vittorio, and we thought we'd catch up with him here."

"Skinny kid with red hair?" asked the custodian. "He was here early this morning. But Steve ain't been here for months. He was living here after he quit at that big chemical plant—'

"Crowell?" Joe asked.

The man nodded. "And he finally got a shot at a decent job in Philly. Foreman on a building project."

. "Philadelphia?" said Frank.

"That's what I said." The man shook his head. "Never seen a guy get so popular so long after he moved away. You're the third guys to come asking for him today."

Joe stared at the janitor. "Somebody else came asking about Vittorio?"

"Yeah. Big bruiser. Mean looking. I thought he was a bill collector, for sure."

"Balding guy?" Frank asked. "Scar on his cheek?"

"That's him." The custodian shivered. "He got pretty mad when I couldn't tell him where Steve was living in Philly." He shrugged. "People from here don't usually leave a forwarding address."

"When did this second guy show up?" Joe asked.

The man shrugged again. "It was a while after the kid left. I don't really know."

"Well, thanks for your help," Frank said, grabbing Joe's arm and heading out of the building.

"What do we do now?" Joe wanted to know. "Get into the van and get moving," Frank answered.

They reached the van and brought Callie up to date. "I suspect Denny is heading for Philadelphia," Frank said as he finished his story. "The problem is, so is George. We've got to check it out."

"Can't the police — " Callie began.

"What can the cops do?" Joe asked. "Neither of them is suspected of a crime—yet."

"But he threatened you guys and shot at you," Callie insisted.

"Proof—we don't have any, and it's our word against his," Joe answered.

"We need you to organize things on this end," Frank said. "Keep on the lookout for Denny. And maybe you and Barbara can make sure Mrs. Payson gets to the opening of the grand jury."

"Real exciting," Callie said. Then she shrugged. "But necessary, I guess. I hope you guys catch up with Denny."

"Before George does," Joe muttered.

The drive to Philadelphia took a couple of hours. All the way the Hardys' stomachs reminded them that they were missing lunch. Finally, near the Pennsylvania border, Frank pulled the van over at a truck stop.

"Get some burgers and something to drink for both of us," he told Joe.

"What are you going to do?" Joe asked.

Frank got out his lap-top computer and modem, and pointed to a nearby pay phone. "I'm going to talk to a few data bases to see if I can find out anything about a new foreman named Vittorio." He grinned. "We may be running behind in the race, but we might be the first ones to reach the finish. Find Vittorio, and sooner or later, Denny and George will appear."

By the time Joe came back with the food, Frank was stowing away his computer with a satisfied smile. "I think I have our man. A Stephen Vittorio recently was hired as foreman for a construction project on Market Street." He showed Joe the address. "We should be able to catch him on the job. They won't have knocked off yet."

Traffic was heavy as they drove through the Philadelphia streets. It slowed the Hardys down, and they had a terrible time finding a parking spot. At last, however, they were walking toward the construction site.

It was easy enough to find. A huge crane in the middle of the block made a hard-to-miss landmark. The crane's engine roared into life, and a pallet of cinder blocks and sacks of concrete started rising to the upper floor. At the foot of the crane, a man in a hard hat wrote something on a clipboard.

"Looks as though that guy is in charge around here," Joe said. "Maybe he can steer us in Vittorio's direction."

Since the sidewalk was blocked off, they had to step into the street to get to the man. He ' looked up from his clipboard as a guy on the second floor of the unfinished building shouted down to him.

"Hey, Steve," the construction worker yelled, "we need some sweepers up here."

Frank looked at Joe. "Steve! Maybe he's the guy we're looking for."

The Hardys quickened their pace. Just as they reached the rear of the crane, they saw someone approaching from the opposite direction. Denny Payson!

His eyes were fixed on Steve Vittorio as he hurried up.

"Well, Denny found him," Frank said.

' 'I just hope George didn't," Joe muttered.

As if in answer to Joe's comment, a flash of red light came from across the street.

"Denny! Duck!" Frank and Joe both yelled.

Even as they hit the dirt, they realized that the laser, and the two shots that followed, were aimed high over their heads.

They looked up to see the crane's load start to tilt. The shots had been aimed at the metal cable holding the pallet.

With a metallic twang, the strands parted— and a ton of concrete blocks fell toward them!

Chapter 10

Denny Payson threw himself backward. So did Frank and Joe. But the man with least warning was Steve Vittorio. He had barely started moving as the concrete came whistling down.

Denny's voice was a shriek. "You miserable, murdering — "

His words were drowned out by the roar of concrete hitting the street. The cinder blocks came down like an urban landslide. Some smashed onto the covered walkway, turning its wooden roof into toothpicks. Other loose blocks crashed into the crane itself, making the whole structure quiver. But most of the blocks came cascading down right in front of the Hardys. Frank and Joe hugged the ground. They coughed in the gritty cloud of concrete dust that mercifully blotted out the scene.

As the choking cloud settled, they could see a figure rising in the distance. For a wild second, Joe thought he was seeing a ghost. It looked like Denny, but the face and clothes were all white. Then he realized that he was covered with dust and noticed that he and Frank were just as badly covered.

"Denny!" Yelling the name tore at Joe's grit-clogged throat.

But Denny was paying no attention to him. He stared wide-eyed and silent at the spot where; Steve Vittorio had stood. It looked as if a giant child had dumped all his blocks in one untidy pile after playtime. But there was nothing playful about what lay buried there.

Even though they knew it was hopeless, Frank and Joe started pulling the blocks aside, raising another cloud of dust. Joe turned, expecting to see Denny run to help. Instead, he saw his friend tearing like a madman down the street.

But the construction workers were joining in, shifting the blocks away. Joe stepped back, coughing from the dust. And when he looked up again, he was staring at a heavyset guy helping to clear the debris — he was paying special attention to the concrete bags. Joe couldn't believe it. George!

Joe nudged Frank. "Look. First he kills Vittorio, then he joins the rescuers. We've got to get the police."

Frank stared at George. "No. We will — in a minute." Frank watched him a little longer. "He's searching for something." His eyes narrowed. "There were two shots. Suppose one ^missed the cable altogether and wound up in one of those concrete sacks? A spent bullet could be checked by the police ballistics lab. It would be proof that he killed Steve Vittorio."

He looked eagerly at Joe. "We've got to stop him from finding that bullet. But how?" A slow smile spread over Joe's face. "I'll [ show you. Just follow my lead." } Joe headed across the wreckage, to an area George hadn't searched yet. Several bags of concrete lay around. Miraculously some had held together. Others had spread their contents across the street. Joe stooped over and began poking through them.

Then he yelled, "Hey, George!"

The big guy looked up, startled, just in time to see Joe snatch something up from the ground. He pocketed it and smiled. "Too late. I've got your little souvenir."

George's hand went under his coat. Then he hesitated, glancing around at all the people around him.

Joe took off running, right into the construction site, with Frank on his heels. They turned for an instant to see George hurrying after them.

All work had stopped on the site as the workers swarmed to try to rescue Vittorio. The Hardys dashed past a row of concrete pillars, then took a sharp right, hiding behind a rough cinder-block wall.

"You're sure it was a good idea to leave the safety of the crowd?" Frank asked.

"We'll lose him in here, then we have to get the cops," Joe said. "I don't think those hard-hats would believe us if we started telling them about shots and lasers."

The sound of pounding footsteps behind them made the Hardys push off and start to run again. "Come on. He won't be able to keep up with us," Joe said, breathing hard.

But somehow, George did stay with them. He didn't draw close enough to risk a shot, but he had the long-barreled pistol with the boxy laser sight mounted on top in his hand.

"We can't get past that machinery. Let's go over," Joe whispered, pointing to a flight of stairs in the center of the unfinished building. They started up silently, but soon the clang of bare metal gave them away. George came charging after them.

They started to jump off on the open side of the stairs, then saw the red flash of the laser sight. If they got off, George would have a clear f'shot at them.

"Didn't think about that," Joe admitted as they pushed themselves up another flight.

The building was less and less finished the farther up they went. The next floor they reached had hardly any walls at all, just vast fopen spaces. It would be a killing ground if George caught up with them.

"We're running out of hiding places," Joe gasped.

"And stairs," Frank said grimly, looking up. The only other stairs were on the far side of the building. On every floor they'd passed, an empty oil drum had been left for use as a garbage can. Luckily, one was on this floor as well.

In wordless agreement, the Hardys raced to the drum, turned it on its side, and sent it rolling down the stairs.

They heard George yell as it came bouncing down, but they knew they had won only a brief delay.

Chest burning, Joe tore across the wide expanse of concrete, Frank right at his side. Behind them, they could hear George mounting the stairs again. They'd never reach the stairs on the far side of the building.

Then Frank was grabbing Joe's arm, pulling him off course. He led him to a set of large square holes in the floor, set in the middle of the building. Without letting go of Joe, Frank threw himself over the edge.

BOOK: Line of Fire
8.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Forbidden Love by Maura Seger
A Necessary Action by Per Wahlöö
The King of Mulberry Street by Donna Jo Napoli
Why We Broke Up by Handler, Daniel
Spin by Bella Love
The Guardians (Book 2) by Dan O'Sullivan
Hunted (Riley Cray) by A.J. Colby
Gray Ghost by William G. Tapply