Authors: Franklin W. Dixon
“Good pitching, Joe!” Frank Hardy called to his younger brother. “One more out. That's all we need.”
Frank watched from his position at shortstop as Joe turned his back to the batter. He lifted his cap with one hand and wiped his blond hair out of his eyes with the other.
Frank heard their third baseman snap his gum nervously. A couple of spectators in the bleachers clapped and shouted encouragement.
“Come on, Bombers!” someone yelled.
The summer-league game had been a pitching duel from the beginning. Joe had eleven strikeouts, and the rival pitcher had been almost as good. The Bombers led 1-0 on Biff Hooper's solo home run in the fifth, but the Tigers were threatening
with players on second and third with two out.
Joe carefully adjusted his cap and stepped onto the pitching rubber. The Tigers' cleanup hitter dug into the batter's box with his spikes. The barrel of his bat twitched like the tail of an angry cat.
Hiding the ball in his glove, Joe took the signals from Biff behind the plate. Frank saw Biff flash one finger toward the batter. He knew that meant an inside fastball.
Frank crouched down. Joe wound up slowly, then fired forward. Frank saw a puff of dust explode from Biff's mitt and heard the snap of the ball hitting leather. The batter stood frozen.
“Stee-rike one!” the umpire called.
“That's it, Joe. Sit him down,” Frank called. “He can't even see that heat.”
Biff tossed the ball back as the batter stepped out of the box and glared menacingly at Joe. He took a couple of mean cuts at the air, then stepped back in. Joe watched the runners out of the corner of his eye, keeping them close to their bases.
Frank watched as Biff flashed two fingers downâthe curveball. No, Frank thought. Shake him off, Joe. Go with the heater again.
Instead Frank saw Joe nod his head slightly and adjust his grip on the ball.
Frank remained on his toes, waiting. Joe went
into his windup and released a wicked curveball. The ball seemed to sail right for the batter's head. Frank felt his stomach clench at the last second as the ball began its sharp arc down and in toward the plate. He expected the batter to bail out, but the guy hung in there, still as a tree.
At the last second, the batter exploded into motion, whipping the bat around. Frank saw the ball rocket toward him before he heard the crack of the bat. He dove hard to his left, extending his glove as far as he could.
Joe heard the bat slap the ball, then the gasp of the crowd. He couldn't believe itâhe had just given up the game.
As he hit the ground, Frank felt the ball drive into the webbing of his glove. The power of the line drive snapped his arm back like a whip. He jumped up from the cloud of dust, holding his glove high. The ball was in the top of the webbing like a scoop of vanilla in an ice-cream cone.
The Bombers fans cheered as the Tigers' cleanup hitter threw his bat down in disgust.
The Bombers gathered around Frank, slapping him on the back.
“Great catch!” Joe said. “You really bailed me out.”
“As usual,” Frank teased, handing the game ball back to his brother.
After shaking hands with the sullen Tigers, Frank and Joe picked up their stuff and headed for their van. As Joe dumped the bats and gloves in the back, Biff Hooper came up, still dressed in his catcher's pads. He was sweating in the June heat.
“Hey,” he said, lifting his chest protector over his massive shoulders. “How about we celebrate this victory with dinner at Mr. Pizza?”
Joe was about to second the motion when Frank cut him off. “Sorry, Buddy,” Frank said. “We've got to pick up our mom's car at the repair place before it closes at six o'clock. We're late already.”
“That's a drag,” Biff said. He grinned. “I'll be sure to eat a couple of extra slices with double pepperoni just for you guys.”
Joe's stomach growled as he watched their friend Biff and some other teammates pile into cars and take off for their favorite pizza place.
“Thanks a lot, Frank,” he grumbled.
Frank tossed his cap and spikes into the back and brushed the dust off his uniform and out of his brown hair. At eighteen, he was a just a year older than Joe, but his personality sometimes made him seem much older.
“Get in,” Frank said, climbing into the driver's seat. “If we hurry, we might be able to meet the guys after we get Mom's car.”
The strip mall with the auto center was set back about a hundred yards from the road. As Frank wheeled the van into the parking lot, the bank and the auto center were just about to close for the day. Several restaurants were starting to attract dinner crowds, though.
“I'll get Mom's car,” Frank said. He parked the van and jumped out. “Then you follow me to Mr. Pizza.”
Joe nodded and slid over to the driver's seat. While he waited, he turned on the radio, running the dial through news and talk shows until he found a good rock station.
He listened to music and replayed the final out of the game in his mind. He wondered if it would help his game to videotape his pitching motion. The van was loaded with all kinds of surveillance gadgetry that the brothers used to help their father, a former New York City police officer and now well-known private detective, solve crimes. All he'd have to do, Joe figured, was set up the video camera and turn it on while he pitched. It would be great to watch himself strike some guy out with his blazing fastball.
Joe noticed a black sedan pull up in front of the First City Bank at the far end of the mall. He watched as a thickset man in black jeans and a black T-shirt stepped out of the front passenger side door and walked slowly up to the bank.
“Bad luck, dude,” Joe said to himself. “Bank's closed.”
The man pulled at the doors, then cupped his hands over his eyes and peered in through the glass. He returned quickly to the car and got in. Joe watched as the sedan slowly cruised past the van, turned, and drove out the front exit of the parking lot.
Weird, Joe thought. He turned the radio down. Looks like he doesn't want to leave.
Sure enough, a minute or two later, Joe saw the sedan again. This time it pulled off a side street and glided silently down the service drive that led to the back of the mall.
Come on, Frank, Joe thought. You may miss some excitement. He tried to see inside the auto shop, but the glare of the sunlight reflecting off the plate glass was too bright.
After putting the van in gear, he eased out of his parking space and followed the black sedan. When he got around the corner of the auto shop he stopped and jumped out next to a green Dumpster. He scooted along the brick wall, listening carefully. All he could hear was the traffic humming along the road in front of the mall.
He peeked around the corner. The black car was parked behind the bank, its engine idling. The burly guy Joe had first seen was standing on the cement steps leading up to the steel service
door. He held what looked like a long tire iron in his hand.
He's breaking in! Joe realized.
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After waiting four or five minutes for the mechanic to add up the bill, Frank paid it, then drove his mother's car out of the service bay. He didn't see Joe anywhere.
“Don't tell me he went to Mr. Pizza already,” he muttered to himself.
He scanned the parking lot, then turned right and drove slowly toward the exit. As he passed the end of the building, he spotted their van out of the corner of his eye. Then he saw Joe, who was waving him over and motioning for him to be quiet.
Frank cut the engine and drifted up to the van. Joe ran to the open window.
“What's up?” Frank whispered.
“There are two guys breaking into the First City Bank,” Joe said. “Come on.”
Joe started around the back of the mall, then abruptly stopped as a piercing wail ripped through the air. At first it sounded like an air-raid siren.
“The bank alarm!” Frank shouted. “They set it off.”
A split second later the black sedan roared out from behind the mall, missing Joe by inches.
“Get in!” Frank shouted to his brother. The bank robbers fishtailed out of the parking lot and shot down the main road, tires smoking.
Joe rushed to the van, grabbed his video camera, and then jumped into the car. Frank floored it.
Joe aimed the camera at the back of the getaway car, trying to get the license plate on tape. Frank wrestled with the wheel, working to keep up.
“Get closer!” Joe shouted. “I can't see anything.”
Frank gritted his teeth in concentration. The black sedan wove dangerously through the traffic ahead of them.
“They're headed out of town,” Frank said. “Toward the bay.”
Up ahead, the sedan rocketed through a red light. The brothers watched in horror as a station wagon clipped the back of the sedan, spinning it all the way around. The driver regained control and kept going.
The station wagon lurched to a halt, steam pouring from its radiator. Frank slowed enough to make sure the driver was okay, then charged back into the chase.
Using all his driving skills, Frank crept up on the crooks' sedan. Soon he was only a couple of car lengths behind it.
The two cars next rocketed over some railroad
tracks, catching air. They hit the ground hard. Sparks shot out from under the black sedan like fireworks, and Frank had to swerve to miss the tailpipe as it flew off and bounced along the road in front of him.
Traffic thinned as they reached the town limits.
“They're slowing down,” Joe said, incredulous.
Frank was right on the sedan's bumper.
Suddenly it veered off the main road and crashed through the gate of an eight-foot-high chain-link fence. Stacks of cars, crushed pancake-flat, rose up on both sides of the Hardys as they followed the black car. Stray wheels and old tires were strewn along the sides of a narrow dirt road.
“We're in a junkyard,” Joe said. He worked to keep the camera focused as their car lurched and bounced over ruts and potholes. The sedan ahead was spraying them with dust and rocks.
A dim red glow appeared through the dust cloud.
“Brake lights!” Joe shouted.
Frank slammed on the brakes, locking up all four wheels. They skidded to a halt less than a foot from the back bumper of the black sedan.
“They're bailing out!” Frank yelled as the two thugs jumped from the sedan and ran. He heard a faint hydraulic whine outside the car. “What's that noise?”
Joe was yanking at his door handle. “I can't get my door open,” he shouted.
As the dust cleared, Frank could see that they were on some sort of cement platform. A framework of steel girders rose up on both sides of the car.
The sound outside grew louder, moving up in pitch. A dense web of cracked glass formed across the windshield. Then it exploded in on the Hardys, showering them with thousands of round pellets of glass.
Joe held his hands up in front of his face, expecting someone to swing a bat or a club into the car. No one was out there, though.
“What's going on?” Joe shouted. He still couldn't get his door open, and now the roof was buckling. The noise grew even louder.
“We're in an auto compactor!” Frank hollered back. The doors started to press in on them. “If we don't get out of here, we'll be crushed flat like those junk heaps outside!”
The car shuddered as two giant steel jaws rose up on either side, completely blocking the side windows. Metal creaked and the plastic dashboard popped and crackled. Joe felt his door pushing into him as the powerful jaws squeezed shut.
Frank glanced over his shoulder. The rear window had popped out just as the windshield had. “This way, Joe!” he shouted. He leaned his seat all the way back and crawled into the back.
The rear window opening wasn't its normal rectangular shape anymore. The roof had buckled upward, turning the space into a narrow triangle. Frank scrambled out onto the trunk and reached back for Joe.
He grabbed his brother by the wrist. Joe had to
turn sideways to fit through the opening as the triangle grew smaller and smaller.