Read The Last Laugh Online

Authors: Franklin W. Dixon

The Last Laugh (10 page)

BOOK: The Last Laugh
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"I'm Chet Morton," Chet added. "I've always been a big fan of your work, Mr. Kaner."

Joe glared at Chet. "Save the hero worship, Chet," he said. "We're not out of the woods yet."

While Frank helped Kaner stand, he asked him, "Are any of the other kidnap victims here?"

"I don't know," Kaner replied. "I was blindfolded when I came in, and they've kept me locked up in this room."

Frank turned to Joe. "Let's check the other rooms."

"I'm way ahead of you, Frank," Joe said as he picked up the screwdriver. At the next shed, he didn't need to use the screwdriver. He could just pull the pins from the hinges. Except for piles of paint-spattered tarps, the room was empty.

After he opened the door to the third shed, he called softly, "Hey, guys, come here!"

Frank and Chet hurried over and saw another man on a cot. Frank recognized him immediately as Jack Parente.

"Thanks a lot, kids," Parente said gratefully as they cut the tape loose from his wrists and ankles.

"You can thank us later," Joe told him, looking around. The funny feeling in the pit of his stomach was growing. It made him nervous that they hadn't come across Goldson or any of the other crooks. "We should get out of here and call the cops. I know Goldson must be planning something. Do you know if Johns is here anywhere?"

"I think he's here somewhere," Parente told him.

Leaving Chet with Kaner and Parente, Frank and Joe went quickly down the row of doors, knocking and listening for sounds. They heard nothing until they came to the last one.

"Anybody inside?" Joe whispered hoarsely as he rapped on the door.

There was an answering rustle of movement, then a long pause. Then Frank and Joe heard a faint voice answer, "It's Barry Johns."

Joe smiled. He was about to work on the hinges when he noticed that the padlock dangled open from the metal loop. Joe pulled the door open.

Barry Johns stood just inside the doorway, dressed in white sweatpants and a green warm-up jacket. He looked tired and drawn, but Joe noticed that, unlike Kaner and Parent, Johns was clean-shaven.

"Who are you?" Johns asked.

"I'm Joe Hardy," Joe replied. "I'm here to help."

"Oh," Johns said softly. He stared nervously at Chet when he appeared a moment later with Kaner and Parente.

Frank was busy checking out Johns's room. It was not a bare little cell like the other two rooms had been. The bed was a comfortable-looking camp bed with a new sleeping bag spread over it.

A five-inch color television and a VCR were perched on a crate at the end of the bed, and an office refrigerator and microwave oven were set up against one wall. There was a pile of microwave dinner wrappers in the corner of the room.

"Well, well, Barry, it looks like you got the kidnappers' deluxe accommodations," Parente quipped, peering into the room. "You always did go first class."

Johns said nothing.

"The creeps didn't even feed me," Kaner complained.

"We'll get you some food as soon as possible," Chet assured him. "Come to think of it, I could use a burger or something myself."

"It'll be burgers all around once we get out of here," Joe said. "And I think Sergeant Hanlon should spring for them. After all, we've just cracked one of the biggest kidnapping cases in San Diego history."

Frank frowned as he continued to glance around Johns's room. Something wasn't right, but there wasn't time to figure it out.

"I wouldn't start patting yourself on the back yet, Joe," Frank warned. "We still have to get out of here. I think Mr. Goldson may have a little surprise for us."

Frank led the silent group toward the shattered door into the factory. He tried to hurry the kidnap victims toward the exit, but Kaner was stiff from his confinement, and he and Johns moved very slowly. Johns didn't seem especially thrilled about being rescued, Frank noted.

As they passed the van, a pair of powerful searchlights suddenly flooded the factory with blinding white light. Unable to see for a minute, the boys froze. They did hear a metal door slide shut with an ominous clang.

Shading his eyes with his hands, Joe peered out and saw their only exit blocked by a locked metal gate. Then his attention was caught by Whip Scorpion's shiny form as he stepped out of the darkness into the light. He flicked his bullwhip with a sharp pop and brandished a ninja star in his other hand. Joe turned again as Flame Fiend appeared on the other side of them, shooting a burst of fire from his hand.

"Now we settle accounts," a gravelly voice announced from behind the boys. "We played you kids just right - like a cat does a mouse. You thought you were getting away, but we watched you the whole time."

The Human Dreadnought was standing on the roof of the van. The boys were surrounded.

Chapter 14

Frank had taken a step back when Flame Fiend and Whip Scorpion emerged from the shadows. His eyes adjusted to the light quickly, and he noticed some equipment piled up on the crates next to him. On top of the pile was a small laser, and it was aimed right at the Human Dreadnought. Without turning his head, Frank caught his brother's eye. Joe was checking out a large circuit breaker on the wall next to him then.

Frank made an almost imperceptible gesture with his chin at the laser beside him. Then he tossed his head in the direction of the circuit breaker. Joe nodded. The brothers were so close that they understood each other without having to say a word.

Joe reached out and yanked down the master switch on the side of the circuit breaker, plunging the factory into darkness. At the same moment Frank shot his hand out and flicked a switch on the side of the laser housing. It hummed to life and spat out a brilliant blue beam of light that hit the Dreadnought right in his visor. He shrieked in pain, ducking out of the laser's beam.

It was sunset by now, and only a few dim rays of light leaked through the cracks on the factory's painted-over windows and skylights.

"Joe, meet me back here after you hide Kaner," Frank whispered. He grabbed Johns and Parente and pulled them off into the blackness deeper inside the warehouse.

It was almost completely dark, but Joe remembered seeing a row of lockers on the far wall. He just hoped it was clear going. If they tripped over anything or made any noise, they were dead. They had to move fast, too, and hide before the lights went back on. Keeping his ears cocked for any sound of pursuit, Joe grabbed Chet and Kaner and carefully made his way across the width of the factory. They reached the lockers, and coming to the nearest one, Joe eased the door open and helped Kaner inside.

"Stay there and don't open the door unless you know it's one of us," Joe whispered. Then he led Chet back to the spot where Frank had told him to rendezvous.

***

Frank led Johns and Parente toward the far end of the factory, where he remembered seeing a pile of garbage. It would make an excellent hiding place. He picked his way carefully through a labyrinth of tall, rusty machinery. It bothered him that Johns was moving so sluggishly, but Frank pushed him forward.

"Get down under that garbage and keep quiet!" Frank whispered when they reached the spot. He piled black plastic garbage bags over both men. Then he turned and crept back to meet Joe.

"Where's Chet?" Frank asked when he found his brother.

"Right here," Joe whispered back. "I picked up a little weapon."

"What?"

Joe held out a can of spray paint for Frank to touch.

"Let's get under cover before they get the lights back on," Frank whispered.

Just as Frank, Joe, and Chet were arranging some dusty plastic tarps over their prone bodies, the lights went back on. The trio drew in their breath and held it as they heard the heavy footsteps of the Human Dreadnought approaching.

"Okay, now that the lights are on again, I want you to find those kids, pronto," the Dreadnought growled.

"They could be anywhere in this maze of junk," Flame Fiend grumbled.

"We'll find them," said the Human Dreadnought. "And when we do, it'll be adios to the whole bunch."

"What about Johns?" asked Flame Fiend.

"Him, too," the Dreadnought snarled. "The whole thing's gotten too complicated. I say we off the whole bunch, then collect the ransoms and hightail it down to Baja. The cops'll never find us down there. You, Scorpion," the Dreadnought went on, "throw your stars to kill. We don't need any witnesses to complicate things."

"Gotcha," Whip Scorpion replied.

Frank tried to lie as still as possible. Feeling Chet twitching next to him, Frank elbowed him to remind him to stay still. When Chet's twitching became more pronounced, Frank turned his head to see what was wrong. Too late, he realized Chet was about to sneeze.

"Aaaa - chooo!"

Frank didn't have any time to think before the tarps covering them were ripped aside and he found himself staring up into the face of the Human Dreadnought.

The Dreadnought made a horrible, muffled laugh inside his dark-visored helmet, then lowered his revolver so it was pointing right at Frank. There was an ominous click as the Dreadnought drew the hammer back.

"No slipups this time, kids." He chuckled. "This is the end of the line."

Chapter 15

Frank caught a whiff of gun oil and could see the ugly, blunt tips of the bullets inside the revolver's chambers.

"Well, well, well. What a fine bunch of chickens I've caught here," the Dreadnought said in a mocking voice.

"How are we going to cook these chickens, boys?" he asked Whip Scorpion and Flame Fiend.

"How about we fry them?" Whip Scorpion gave a high-pitched, crazy laugh that made Frank's skin crawl.

The Dreadnought swiveled his head back to laugh, and Joe saw his chance. Without wasting a second, he brought up the can of spray paint and let the Dreadnought have it, covering his visor. Then he caught the other two in the face as Frank dodged out of the way of the Dreadnought's gun and lashed out with a karate kick that sent the huge man tumbling backward.

Joe and Frank and Chet were on their feet and running in an instant.

They sprinted into the dark recesses of the huge factory toward the maze of machinery at the far end of the floor, Flame Fiend and Whip Scorpion moving after them. Moving as silently as possible, Joe, Frank, and Chet wove in and out of the rows of rusty machines that loomed over them. Joe scanned the factory walls for exits as he ran, but all the doors and windows were boarded up. He could hear the Dreadnought's angry voice bellowing behind them, and it sounded to Joe as if they were all getting close.

Joe looked frantically around for a way out.

"Over there!" he heard Frank cry.

Joe turned in the direction Frank was pointing and strained his eyes against the dimness. Finally he spotted a light-colored door against the rear wall of the factory.

"Let's go!" Joe said. He ran for the door, letting out a sigh of relief when he tried it and found it wasn't locked.

Joe had the door open and Chet was through it when Whip Scorpion appeared on top of one of the banks of machinery.

"Boss, they're over here!" he shouted. Joe saw Whip Scorpion reach into his belt.

"Run!" Joe shouted to Frank.

As the brothers raced over the threshold, Joe saw something flash, and a ninja star thudded into the doorframe just above his hand. Joe slammed the door closed, and Frank shoved a heavy broom handle through the inside door handle and rested both ends against the doorframe.

He turned and scanned his surroundings. They were in a storeroom of some kind.

"Check behind you on that shelf, Frank," Joe called.

The butt of a gun was visible, but when Frank grabbed the gun butt and pulled it off the shelf, it turned out to be a strange-looking weapon with a flaring cone-shaped muzzle.

"What's this?" Frank asked, puzzled.

Joe studied the strange weapon for a moment, then said, "Wolfe's inventory mentioned a netgun. Maybe this is it."

"What does it do?" Frank asked.

"It shoots a big net, I guess," Joe said.

"Well, it'll only take out one of them at a time. We need a better weapon than this," Frank said, leaning the netgun against the wall by the door.

"Hey, fellas, I think I got something!" Chet called excitedly.

He was standing next to a large machine at the far end of the room. It looked like a huge fan mounted on a pivoting base.

"A wind machine," Joe commented. "So what? You want to blow the kidnappers away, Chet?"

"It could get us out of here, Joe," Chet insisted. "I got the idea from this comic I read. There's a scene where the Human Dreadnought's got some of the Green Cyclone's friends trapped in a box canyon. The Cyclone uses his wind powers to lift them out of danger. Maybe we could use the wind machine to carry us up to that skylight." Chet pointed at a painted-over skylight directly above the little storage shed.

Joe shook his head. "Not a bad idea, Chet, but it wouldn't work. We'd need some kind of wings to provide the lift."

Frank snapped his fingers. "Wait a minute! Maybe we could make some 'wings.' "

He went over to a pile of light canvas drop cloths and began cutting them into six-foot squares with his pocketknife. When he'd cut three squares, he looked over at Chet and Joe. "Well, what are you two waiting for? Let's get flying."

"What do we do first?" Chet asked.

Wham! There was a terrific impact on the storeroom door as the Human Dreadnought hurled himself against it. The thick broom handle held, but the Dreadnought hurled himself against the door again and again.

"We'd better get this show on the road," Joe said, taking one of the pieces of cloth from Frank.

Joe finished tying the square of cloth around his wrists and ankles while Frank and Chet moved the fan into position below the skylight.

The kidnappers hurled themselves against the door with redoubled fury, and Joe heard the handle begin to splinter.

"I'm ready!" Joe said, clambering up on the makeshift platform Chet had thrown together from some packing boxes. "Is that wind machine ready?"

Frank flicked a switch, and the wind machine's huge blades began turning, quickly increasing in speed.

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