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Authors: Franklin W. Dixon

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BOOK: Line of Fire
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Frank shook his head; he had called on the car phone. Barbara wasn't there, and neither was Denny.

"I'm afraid not, Mrs. Payson," he said.

"Please," Joe asked desperately, "think, Mrs. Payson. Is there anyplace Denny goes when he wants to think? When he wants to be alone? Maybe when he was younger?"

Mrs. Payson shook her head. "I really can't— Wait a second."

Frank and Joe turned to her.

"After the fire, Denny used to go to the old Crowell plant. I didn't like the idea, but he was stubborn. Even though I punished him, he refused to stop. He'd ride his bike over there, and just sit, looking at the ruins."

"Nobody's built there, have they?" Frank asked.

"Nope," Joe replied.

They stared at each other. "Let's go check it out," Frank said, heading out of the house and toward the van.

"Might as well," Joe said, following his brother.

Frank started up the van, heading for Shore Road. The old Crowell plant had been on Bar-met Bay. Back when the plant had been built, it had probably been the perfect place for dumping. Any chemicals they didn't want, they'd just pour into the bay.

Times had changed though. There were laws against dumping now. Frank remembered reading the federal reports about the new Crowell plant. It had an excellent reputation for the treatment and disposal of waste chemicals. But what about the old plant? What had been kept there?

Joe kept talking as they drove along. "You know, it's funny. Denny never could convince the police that Crowell and George were after him. But if we told the cops that Denny was out with his gun, you'd better believe they'd be scrambling all over town to find him."

"I hope we don't have to go that far," Frank said.

Joe's lips twisted. "If we tell the cops, Crowell wins."

"If we don't tell them, Crowell's dead," Frank said.

"This whole case stinks," Joe complained. "We've known who the bad guys were almost from the beginning, but we still can't prove a thing about them."

"And because of that, we've got a friend out there somewhere with a gun. With no one believing him, he may be desperate enough to use it." Frank pounded his fist against the steering wheel. "We've got to find him, Joe."

They came to the road for the old Crowell plant. Frank turned the van, and they started jouncing along. The road was rutted, the pavement cracked and overgrown. In some places, it was more weeds than road.

"Looks like nobody's been around here in a long time," Joe said.

"Wrong." Frank pointed ahead of them. "See those weeds? Something came through here and squashed them all down."

"Something like a car?" Joe said.

Frank nodded. "Let's hope it turns out to be Denny's car."

They bounced farther along the road, until they came to the rusty remains of a chain-link fence. It wouldn't keep anyone out now. Some of the fence poles were completely gone, and in places the fence sagged right to the ground.

The gateposts were still up, but the gates themselves hung off at drunken angles. Frank let the van roll very slowly into the plant parking lot. The concrete there was in even worse shape than that on the road.

"It's like some sort of weird garden," Joe said, staring at clumps of weeds that rose up as high as his head. Some of them looked like young trees.

Frank hit the brakes. "Over there. A flash of gray among all those weeds."

They drove over and pulled up beside a weed patch. Hidden behind it was Denny Payson's gray car.

"Well, now we know he's here," Joe said.

"And we know he doesn't want everyone to know it." Frank was already examining the shell of the plant building. He remembered watching the fire on television. The flames had billowed out the front windows, until the metal Crowell Chemical sign had twisted off.

The scorched, melted sign was a pile of red flakes now. And the front wall of the building had completely fallen in. There was no trace of a roof. It was probably a pile of ash left on the floor inside—whatever hadn't been blown all over town.

Frank remembered reading that parts of the plant had been found miles away.

"Come on," he said to Joe. "Let's go in."

Frank picked a big open hole, ducked his head, and walked inside. Joe was right behind him.

The outside of the wrecked plant looked bizarre enough. But inside it was like something out of a bad science-fiction movie. Heat, explosions, and weird chemical reactions had rearranged everything in the building. Big mixing vats had been turned into huge misshapen blobs of metal. Parts of the floor had apparently been dissolved.

For a second Frank thought back to the day when all this wreckage had happened. It would have taken a pretty brave man to go in and try to rescue the workers. Even if the disaster had been his fault.

Would Denny Payson ever believe that?

They walked around a fallen beam. "Hey, Denny?" Joe called. "It's us, Joe and Frank Hardy. Want to come out and talk?"

The only answer they got was silence.

Joe scowled. "Of course, he wouldn't want to do this the easy way." He raised his voice. "Come on, stop fooling around. We know you're here. We're parked beside your car."

They walked farther into the building, calling Denny's name.

"You know, we're going to feel pretty stupid if he sneaks out and drives away," Joe said.

"Don't worry about that," a voice above them said.

The Hardys whirled around. Standing on what was left of the building's second floor was Denny Payson.

Frank didn't need much to know Denny wasn't happy to see them.

The glittering pistol braced in Denny's hands told him that, and a whole lot more.

Chapter 13

"Down," Denny Payson ordered. "On the ground. Sit on your hands."

Frank and Joe didn't really have a choice. The heavy Colt was trained on them. Slowly they lowered themselves to the ground, tucking their hands under their legs.

"I learned that from watching TV," Denny said. "Everybody makes their captives sit that way. It's supposed to be almost impossible to get back on your feet very quickly."

Denny grinned as he started working his way down to them, using the fallen beam as a rough ladder. But it wasn't a friendly grin, and his gun remained trained on them all the way down.

"I suppose my mom told you I'd be here," Denny said when he finally reached the ground.

He stood over them, but not too close. Not close enough for Frank or Joe to lash out and bring him down.

"This was my secret place, you know," Denny went on. "My mom is the only one who knows about it. She hated the idea of my coming here. Partly it was fear that the building would fall on me, I think." He smiled. "And, of course, she was afraid of what it would do to my mind."

He shook his head. "You know what I used to do here? I'd bring my old plinking gun and shoot at cans. Just like my dad and I used to do. I guess it made me feel he wasn't completely gone — Don't," Denny suddenly said. He aimed his gun at Joe, who had been trying to edge closer to him while he made his speech.

Joe sat very still.

"Denny — " Frank said.

But Denny ran right over his words. "Know what I've been doing here now?" he asked. "Target practice."

He pointed to a row of cans set up on some pieces of torn and pockmarked concrete. "My firing range away from home. Actually, I was testing out something I'd read in a gun magazine. Sort of a New Wave pistol silencer."

Denny kicked something between the Hardys — an empty two-liter soda bottle. It was discolored and had a hole in its bottom.

"That's your basic hardware," Denny explained. "A big plastic bottle. Of course, you have to weaken the load in your bullets, too, so they don't make as big a bang."

"Which is easy enough for you, with your own reloading machine," Frank said.

Denny nodded. "You got it, Frank. It's really impressive. Hardly more than a pop when the gun goes off. But the bullets still move fast enough to do their job."

His face was grim. "It was just going to be an experiment, you know. A little reloading project. I had the forty-five shells fixed up a month ago and was waiting to borrow a friend's gun to see if the silencer really worked. Just for the fun of it."

He laughed bitterly. "Then, what luck on my birthday! I got a forty-five Army Colt from my mother. A laser sight from Crowell. And I find out the last five years are a lie. That the man who's been helping our family is the one who got my father killed."

Denny took a deep breath. "I've been a good shot for as long as I can remember. A winner at the sport of shooting." He smiled. "You know, I was never a hunter. I never felt like one. It was always a game. I've never shot at anything alive. Only at bottles or targets. And now I've got a gun, bullets, a silencer, and a reason to use them."

"You can't shoot Lucius Crowell," Frank said. "Even if he did let this place burn down."

"It's not like he lit a match, you know," Joe added. "And he did try to save everyone."

"But he didn't save everyone, did he?" Denny said. "He killed my father, just as surely as if he'd dropped him in one of the acid vats over there." Denny jerked his head toward one of the melted monstrosities in the corner.

"Oh, I know, he's spent five years trying to make it up to me. Our house. Money. Presents. He used to take me to shooting meets, getting me interested in the sport. He was even encouraging me to take up chemistry, so I could work for his company. That's how I recognized the chemicals he was keeping here, and what they would do if any ever got mixed together."

His hand was white on the grip of his gun. "It's lucky some of the stuff wound up in the bay. Otherwise, the whole town might have been blown off the map. It taught him a big lesson. Now he's got the safest plant in the country. Now, when it's too late. Well, he can try to make it up for five years or for five centuries. He won't bring my father back—and he's going to pay for it!"

"Denny—" Joe tried to calm his friend, but Denny wasn't even listening.

"And now he's running for supervisor on his record as a hero—and because he has such clean hands. The Times said as much in the Sunday editorials. Everybody I know is ready to vote for him." He laughed again. "Hey, I was going to vote for him until my eyes were opened."

Denny stared down at the Hardys. "You and I know the truth about Lucius Crowell. He's a killer, and he'll kill anyone who tries to tell the real story about him. Look what happened to Steve Vittorio."

He shuddered. "Vittorio was the one witness who wasn't afraid of Crowell. Back when the disaster happened, he started talking about safety violations. He got fired, and he couldn't get a decent job in Bayport. When I tracked him down in Philadelphia, Crowell had him killed."

"We don't think Crowell was in on that," Frank said. "It's his security chief — "

"George Swayne," Denny said. "He's in this whole thing up to his neck."

"Maybe over his head," Frank went on. "He's going beyond Crowell's orders. Beating you up. Killing Vittorio. Trying to kill us — "

"He messed up at the construction site," Joe said. "His first shot at the cable missed, and went into a bag of concrete. We've told the Philadelphia police, and they're looking for it."

Joe shifted around, trying to get some feeling into his hands, and found himself looking down the muzzle of Denny's gun.

"So, maybe if they find the bullet, maybe they'll be able to nail George. And I suppose you'll tell me that maybe he'll talk, and take Crowell down too."

Denny's fingers were white as he gripped his pistol. "Well, maybes aren't enough for me. I'm going to see Crowell go down. Because I'm going to make it happen."

"Denny, you can't do it that way," Joe said desperately.

"No?" Denny turned on him. "That's the way you guys do things. What about that terrorist guy who killed your girlfriend? I remember the stories in the papers. You nailed him after a big fight in the mall. If it's all right for you to waste the guy who murdered your girlfriend, why can't I take care of the man who killed my father?"

"I didn't kill Al-Rousasa," Joe said. "He was on the top level of the mall, trying to assassinate a presidential candidate who was speaking below. I tried to stop him before he could shoot, and in the fight, he went over the railing. In fact, before he fell, I tried to save him."

"If he hadn't tried to kill Joe, he'd still be alive," Frank said. "Instead, he fell to his death."

Joe's voice was tired as he went on. "Let me tell you something. I hated that guy, but I don't feel any better because he's dead. It still didn't bring Iola back."

"How would you feel if he'd gone to court and gotten off?" Denny wanted to know. "That's what's happening with the grand jury. Listen to this."

He pulled out a small radio and flipped it to the local all-news station. They caught the weather forecast, then the announcer said, "And now, back to our live coverage of the grand jury proceedings with Jane Taylor. Jane?"

"Thank you, Phil," the reporter's voice came out of the tinny speaker. "This whole afternoon has been a lesson in how hard it is to investigate a case that's five years old. Papers are missing, important witnesses have died, and a lot of people have just forgotten what happened at the Crowell Chemical plant."

"Or they're just afraid to remember," Denny growled.

"One odd note is that the young man whose accusations sparked this investigation has not been seen in the courtroom all day. Many people are wondering if there's any proof at all to back up those charges. Certainly, Lucius Crowell is confident that the case will come up empty. He's scheduling a news conference for six, in an hour's time, on the steps of the courthouse, where he'll make a public statement. Until then, this is Jane Taylor — "

Denny killed the radio. "Looks like your friends in Philadelphia didn't find that bullet. But Crowell's made my job easier."

He gestured with his gun. "All right, both of you, keys out of your pockets. Throw them over to me."

Staring at him, Frank and Joe obeyed his order.

Denny knelt to pick up the keys and waggled his gun at Joe when he tried to move. "Don't do anything stupid now, Joe. I'll let you up in a second, after I've got your car keys He dropped the keys in his pocket, his gun' still on the Hardys. "Okay, get up. And do it very slowly."

BOOK: Line of Fire
4.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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