Read The Last Laugh Online

Authors: Franklin W. Dixon

The Last Laugh (11 page)

BOOK: The Last Laugh
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Joe tensed, then jumped with his arms and legs spread wide. He half-expected to crash down onto the fan, but to his astonishment he felt himself rising toward the skylight.

Joe was soon high enough to grab a piece of a thin metal support framing the skylight.

"Okay!" he shouted as the kidnappers threw themselves against the door again.

Joe watched as Chet climbed up on the pile of boxes. Chet glanced up at him nervously, then leapt with his arms and legs wide. He hung suspended in midair for a long moment, then began to rise, although more slowly than Joe had.

Joe tracked Chet's rise until he was close enough to reach. Grabbing a metal support and bracing his feet, Joe held out his hand to Chet, who grabbed it. Joe pulled his friend close enough so that Chet, who was white-faced and sweating, could grab another support with his free hand and clamber up into the support struts.

Looking down, Joe saw that Frank had strapped the netgun across his chest. Then he heard the Dreadnought discharge his revolver into the supply-room door. The big handgun crashed twice in a row, splintering the wooden handle that had been holding it shut.

Looking over his shoulder at the door, Frank clambered up onto the crates and leapt, letting himself be carried upward on the column of air.

Before Frank had risen high enough for Joe to reach him, the Dreadnought slammed into the door again. This time the door swung open.

Taking one look at Frank, the Dreadnought strode over to the wind machine and popped off the protective grille that covered the blade. Joe watched in horror as the Dreadnought shut off the machine.

"Frank!" Joe reached out for his brother's hand and felt their fingertips brush for a second.

Then Frank began to sink toward the naked blades of the wind machine, which were still slowly turning.

Chapter 16

Frank felt himself falling. Then, a split second later, Joe's hand snaked down with lightning speed and grabbed Frank's wrist. He felt a strong jolt in his shoulder, but somehow he managed to clamber up beside Joe and Chet in the supports. Flame Fiend fired a bolt of flame up at them, but it fell short.

"Quick! Let's get out of here!" Joe exclaimed.

The boys hurried over to the skylight and boosted themselves through it to the catwalk that ran along the outside of the roof.

There's a ladder there," Joe said, pointing as he, Frank, and Chet got rid of their wings.

"We'll have to split up," Frank said. "Chet, you get the cops. Joe and I'll find a way to hang the kidnappers up till the cops come."

"The catwalk goes all the way around the building, Chet," Joe told him. "Go around to the other side. There's probably another ladder. Find a phone and get the cops here. Got it?"

Chet answered with a thumbs-up sign, then hurried along the catwalk as Joe and Frank headed for the near ladder.

As they reached the ladder, Frank heard someone scrambling up it. He spotted a pair of short smokestacks jutting up from the roof above the factory entrance. He and Joe flung themselves behind the stacks, and Frank kept the netgun trained on the ladder.

Soon he heard the soft clanging sounds of someone climbing the ladder much closer. A moment later Lenny Goldson's face appeared over the top. He had taken off his helmet, but was still wearing the rest of his Human Dreadnought costume.

When Goldson reached the top of the ladder, Joe shouted, "Now, Frank!'

The netgun made a whooshing pop sound as it fired, and the net expanded instantly, carrying Goldson backward off the ladder.

Frank heard Goldson hit the ground with a meaty thud. "Come on, Joe, let's make sure Goldson's out!" he called over his shoulder as he ran over to the ladder.

Frank and Joe saw that Goldson was wrapped in the net, unconscious at the bottom of the ladder.

"You knocked him out colder than a mackerel," Joe said with a grin.

"Don't waste any time patting me on the back, Joe," Frank said. "We still have to catch the other two kidnappers."

Frank and Joe sneaked back through the skylight. Silently they dropped onto a pile of empty cardboard boxes. On the other side of the factory they heard a commotion.

"Hey," Frank whispered to Joe, "that sounds like it's coming from where I left Johns and Parente."

"Let's get over there!" Joe said, racing out the door.

They slowed to a crawl as they came up behind a row of machines. From there they could see that Flame Fiend was holding his flamethrower on Johns and Parente, while Whip Scorpion was guarding Syd Kaner.

Frank reached into his shoulder bag, pulled out his tape recorder, and silently switched it on. " ... can still collect the ransom for Parente," he heard Johns say.

"I don't know," Flame Fiend responded dubiously.

Johns took a step toward Flame Fiend, saying, "Parente's ransom is the only money you'll have for a getaway."

Whip Scorpion's masked head bobbed up and down as he nodded. "Yeah. That makes sense."

Flame Fiend and Whip Scorpion grabbed Parente and Kaner and dragged them off, with Johns nervously trailing behind.

Joe shot Frank a surprised look, and Frank whispered, "Johns is in on it, too, Joe. Every time I thought about it, that was the only thing that made sense. Now I know for sure."

"What now?" Joe asked.

"Let's shadow them and wait for an opening. If we rush them, Parente and Kaner might get hurt."

The Hardys had gone only a few yards when the sound of sirens cut the air. Joe saw headlights shine into the factory, silhouetting Flame Fiend, Johns, and Parente where they stood.

Two black-and-white San Diego P.D. cars pulled up in front of the factory entrance, and four uniformed officers piled out of the cars, led by a huge black man wearing a rumpled suit. Frank recognized Sergeant Hanlon immediately.

"Police! Freeze!" Hanlon barked.

"Whew!" Frank let out a sigh of relief as Flame Fiend and Whip Scorpion raised their hands. "I never thought I'd be so glad to see Hanlon's ugly face."

"Me, either," Joe agreed.

"Don't shoot, Hanlon," Joe announced as he and Frank came out from behind the machinery. "It's the Hardys."

Hanlon looked at them and waved for them to come over. As Frank and Joe approached, Hanlon stuck out a hand. "Good work, Frank, Joe."

"Thanks, Sergeant," Frank said, "but don't you think your men should put cuffs on the gang's leader, Barry Johns?"

Johns's face grew pale. "That's absurd! I'm just an innocent victim!" he sputtered.

"Oh, really?" Frank answered sarcastically. He pulled his mini tape recorder from his shoulder bag, rewound the tape, and played back the fragments of Johns's conversation with Flame Fiend.

Johns's face went even whiter, but he remained indignant. "That doesn't prove anything! Who are you going to listen to, Sergeant, me or a couple of kids?"

"Wait, there's more," Frank announced. He told Hanlon about Morrie Rockwitz's purchase of Johns's art collection.

"Did you have the police lab analyze the age of that page fragment Frank gave you?" Joe asked.

"Sure," Hanlon responded. "The lab boys said it was only a few years old."

"Then it's a fake," Chet said. "A real Golden Age page would be forty or fifty years old."

"We know that Johns had been selling off his collection for years, whenever he needed money," Frank said. "He replaced the originals with forgeries. Johns wanted to collect on the insurance policy for his collection, so he had himself kidnapped and arranged for the forgeries to be burned during the kidnapping."

"Okay, I've heard enough," Hanlon said. Turning to one of the other officers, he instructed, "Put the cuffs on Johns, Willy."

***

An hour and a half later Joe, Frank, Chet, Parente, and Kaner sat in Hanlon's office making their statements.

"You'll have to ask Johns about this, but our theory is that he had several reasons for grabbing his staff. For one thing, Johns was greedy. He wanted the ransoms to add to his take from the insurance," Joe said.

"For another thing," he continued, "Johns was really vain. He wanted people to think he'd been doing all the work on his company's titles, even though Parente and Kaner were doing most of it. He hoped to shut them up permanently and also to stop the lawsuit they were bringing against him."

"That's true!" Jack Parente said emphatically. "Me and Syd here were both suing to get out of our contracts and to recover the royalties he was cheating us out of."

"Yeah," Kaner agreed. "For years Barry had us ghosting stuff that he signed his name to. We both got sick of it."

"What about Harry Saul?" Frank asked.

"Harry was helping us sue Johns," Parente explained. "He hates Barry so much he'd do anything to get back at him."

"It's just coincidence that you saw Harry pass my house the day of the kidnapping. He was coming over to drop off some papers from our lawyer," Kaner put in.

"But why was Saul with Rockwitz?" Joe asked in a puzzled tone.

"I can explain that," Chet answered. "Just before we came in here, I called Tom. He told me he'd tracked down Rockwitz. Rockwitz said Saul wanted one of the pieces from Johns's collection. A cover of a Golden Age comic Saul had published. Rockwitz wouldn't sell it because it was evidence, so Saul threatened him."

"How about blowing up Zenith's office?" Hanlon asked. "Was that just for the insurance?"

"Yes," Frank answered, "and to cover the theft of any equipment from the Zenith offices that Johns used in the kidnappings, like the computer and printer we found. Besides, the bombing made it look like there was a vendetta against Johns and his company."

"That fits." Hanlon nodded. "And the kidnapping attempt on Dewey Strong was supposed to look like part of the vendetta, too, huh?"

"Partially," Joe put in. "But Johns might also have been afraid that Strong might confess to stealing Metaman and give Saul a chance to reopen his plagiarism suit."

"But why go to all the trouble of having the kidnappers fake superpowers?" Hanlon asked.

"Johns had them dress like Terrific Comics characters to cast suspicion on Harry Saul," Frank said. "The supervillains got into their parts so much that they couldn't even attack us in the warehouse without changing into their outfits."

"Johns may have been greedy," Joe observed, "but he was shrewd, too. He faked being a prisoner so he'd have a perfect alibi. He was a prisoner while the crimes were being committed. And if the scheme worked, he would have enough money from the ransoms and the insurance to pay off his debts and start another company."

"What about Mrs. Johns? Was she in on it, too?" Chet asked.

Hanlon said she'd been taken in by her husband, too. "Got somewhere you need to be?" he asked Chet after Chet had checked his watch for the fourth time.

Chet looked at him eagerly. "Well, I was kind of hoping we'd get out of here in time to catch the dance at the comic con. Seduction of the Innocent is playing - that's a band that's made up of all writers and artists from the comics business."

Hanlon flipped his notebook closed. "I guess we're done with all of you. You just might make your dance."

"I'll go with you, Chet," Joe volunteered. "After three days of nothing but chasing crooks, I'm ready for a little fun!"

"You can count me in, too!" Frank said.

***

The next morning Frank, Joe, and Chet lay in the sun at Ocean Beach. Chet was stretched out on his Metaman beach towel, with his white beach hat pulled down over his eyes, snoring loudly.

"All that sleep he missed during the con must have caught up with him," Frank said to Joe.

When Joe didn't answer, Frank looked past Chet to where Joe's towel was and did a double-take. Instead of watching the many bikini-clad lovelies all around him, as Frank expected his brother would be doing, Joe was intently reading an issue of the Green Cyclone.

"Say, Joe," Frank called with a grin. "Are you studying to become a superhero?"

"Nope," he replied, "but after Chet saved us with a trick from a comic book, I figured I'd better bone up on my comics for our next case!"

 

The End.

 

Frank and Joe's next case:

While attending an international summer school at England's Oxford University, the Hardys learn just how much times have changed. Frank's roommate, Pyotr Zigonev, is the USSR junior chess champ, and he has become a pawn in an international power play. But just as the boys rally to Zigonev, they discover that the CIA has joined forces with the KGB!

The American and Soviet spy masters are out to foil a master of terrorism, and Frank, Joe, and Zigonev are caught in the middle. One false move and they'll lose the ultimate game - a danger-packed contest played out in the cold gray shadows of Stonehenge ... in Strategic Moves, Case #43 in The Hardy Boys Casefiles®.

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