Read The Last Laugh Online

Authors: Franklin W. Dixon

The Last Laugh (8 page)

BOOK: The Last Laugh
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***

As they walked out to their car, Joe tossed Frank the car keys. "Why don't you drive back to the hotel, Frank?"

Frank caught the keys. As he and Joe got into the car he saw a metallic glint at the top of the hill. He thought he saw a flicker of movement, but it was so quick he couldn't be sure that he actually saw anything.

He was steering up the hill from the Johns house when he looked ahead, and his mouth fell open.

The Human Dreadnought was standing at the top of the hill, and he was hefting a giant boulder with his bare hands. Frank couldn't believe what he was seeing. The Dreadnought braced himself with his left leg forward, then leaned back, holding the boulder high overhead.

"What the - " Frank began, but he stopped short when, with a mighty effort, the Dreadnought threw the boulder in their direction.

The huge boulder hit the street not far from the Dreadnought and rolled right toward their car, picking up speed as it bore down on them.

"It's going to plow right into us, Frank!" Joe shouted.

Chapter 11

Frank cut the wheel sharply to the left, careening off the road and onto a green lawn just as the boulder rolled by. He slammed on the brakes, just missing a wrought-iron lamppost. He got the car under control and brought it to a halt back on the road.

The Hardys jumped from the car as the boulder continued down the hill, heading straight for the Johnses' house.

"Frank, it'll cream the house! Mrs. Johns - "

The huge stone bounced up over the edge of the sloping curb, then rolled right up against the front of the house.

Joe tensed, prepared to see a hole in the house. But although the boulder made a loud crash when it hit, it wasn't very destructive.

Joe looked quickly up the hill, but as he'd expected, the Dreadnought was gone. Then he and Frank raced back down the hill to the house.

There was no visible damage. The boulder had bounced and was sitting in the front yard a few feet from the house. Joe went over to examine it.

"Hey!" he called to Frank. "It's a fake! This boulder's made from some kind of plastic."

Frank came up to stand beside his brother, and when he rapped on the side of the boulder with his knuckles it made a hollow sound. "It's fiberglass, Joe, like the prop boulders in movies."

The front door of the house opened, and Phoebe Johns stuck her head out.

"What's going on?" she asked fearfully.

"You just had a visit from the kidnappers," Joe told her. "One of them rolled this into your house."

"Hey, what's this?" Frank asked, dropping to his knees beside the boulder. There was a ripping sound; then Frank turned to his brother, holding a heavyweight manila envelope with strips of silver tape stuck to either end.

"Looks like duct tape," Joe noted.

Frank shook his head. "It's gaffer's tape. Electricians in movies use this to attach stuff to light stands."

"Interesting," Joe said. "Another movie connection."

Phoebe Johns held out her hand. "Give me that envelope."

Joe and Frank both watched closely as she tore it open. Inside was a piece of white paper with a computer-printed message: Deliver the ransom in $20s, $50s, and $100s to the garbage can near the stern of the Star of India by midnight. Come alone. No police, or your husband and the others will be killed instantly.

The Human Dreadnought.

"The Star of India's that old sailing ship moored down by the Embarcadero, isn't it?" Joe asked his brother.

Frank nodded. "Putting the ransom drop-off along the waterfront allows the kidnappers plenty of ways in and out of the area."

Phoebe Johns looked down at the ransom note blankly. "I can't pay this," she said in a flat voice. "What am I going to do?"

"I think the first thing you should do is go inside and sit down," Frank told her. "Then I think you should call Sergeant Hanlon and tell him about this note."

Phoebe Johns nodded. "I'll do that."

"We'd appreciate it if you could do one thing for us, Mrs. Johns," Joe told her. "Don't mention our visit to Hanlon. He doesn't really understand that we're only trying to help."

"Boys, if you can rescue Barry, I'll do whatever I can to help you. Right now, I don't have much confidence in the police or the FBI." With that, Phoebe Johns turned and went inside her house, locking the door behind her.

"If the cops or FBI are coming, we'd better make ourselves scarce, Frank," Joe said, starting to move back up the hill toward the car.

Frank held up his hand to stop him. "Hold on a minute, Joe. I want to take a closer look at this boulder."

Frank went to the boulder and rolled it completely over so he could see all of it.

"Aha!" he exclaimed.

Joe hurried back over, and Frank showed him a flat rectangular area on the boulder.

"What is it?" Joe asked.

"I'm not sure," Frank replied. He took out his pocketknife and began scraping the paint off the flat area, exposing a small impression that read, Luxor Special Effects Corp., S.D., Calif.

Frank showed the impression to Joe. "We'd better check out this Luxor Corporation," he said.

***

Joe spotted the Luxor Special Effects Corporation as soon as he turned their car onto the street where it was located. It was a huge warehouse with a snarling gargoyle, seemingly made of stone, projecting from the front of the building. Joe shook his head as he and Frank got out of the car and headed for the entrance. If this is California architecture, you can have it, he thought.

The first person they ran into was a dark, athletic-looking man wearing jeans and a cutoff sweatshirt.

"Can you tell us where to find the head honcho?" Joe asked.

The dark-haired man nodded. "That'd be Dave Wolfe, and you're looking at him. What can I do for you guys?"

"Just a little while ago we almost got run over by a giant boulder with your company's name on it," Frank told him.

Wolfe's bushy eyebrows shot up. "A boulder, huh?" he said. "Was it about eight feet across?"

"That's it," Joe replied. "How'd you know?"

"It was stolen from here about a month ago," Wolfe explained, "along with a bunch of other stuff. I'm still making an inventory for the insurance company."

Frank pulled out his notebook. This might be the break they'd been waiting for. "Do you have any idea who did it?" Frank asked.

"Yeah, but it was such a slick job I can't prove it. I think it was Lenny Goldson, my old pyrotechnics man. The burglary happened a few months after I fired him," Wolfe told him.

"Why was he fired?" Joe asked.

"His special effects always looked good, but he was careless. On the Metaman flick, an explosion went off prematurely and a couple of stuntmen had to go to the hospital with burns."

"Did you work with Barry Johns?" Frank jumped in.

"Sure," said Wolfe. "Johns produced it. But the picture was never finished. Johns ran out of money. I got paid, but a lot of other people didn't and are still suing Johns to get their money."

Frank's brow furrowed and he chewed his lower lip. "Mr. Wolfe, did Barry Johns and Lenny Goldson meet while making the picture?" he asked eventually.

"Yeah," Wolfe answered. "They were on the set at the same time for a couple of weeks. Why?"

"Just wondering," Frank said, quickly adding, "Can you tell us what else was stolen from here?"

"Yeah," Wolfe replied with a shrug. "If you're really interested. Come on." He turned and went into the warehouse, waving for the Hardys to follow him. Leading them to a cramped, tiny office at the rear of the warehouse, Wolfe showed Frank and Joe a clipboard with a sheaf of typewritten sheets on it.

"Here's a mostly complete list of what was stolen," Wolfe told them.

Joe scanned the top sheet and gave a low whistle. "That's a lot of equipment, Mr. Wolfe."

Frank leaned over Joe's shoulder. "Yeah, and look at what kind of equipment - power winches, a wind machine, a couple of compact hydraulic jacks, smoke grenades, lasers, and a mini-flamethrower!"

Joe ran his eyes down the list with growing excitement. Here was the break they'd been hoping for. The kidnappers had used most of the equipment on the list of stolen goods. Joe's mind clicked into action, fitting the pieces together. There were several hydraulic jacks on the list. No doubt the Dreadnought had used one of them to tip their car down the hill. The winches, cables, and mountain-climbing gear on the list had been used by the gang to make it seem like Whip Scorpion "crawled" up the wall of the big building.

Joe pointed to the mini-flamethrower noted on Wolfe's list. "That's got to be the one Flame Fiend used," he said excitedly.

"Mind telling me what you're talking about?" Wolfe asked.

Frank shook his head. "I can't really say right now, Mr. Wolfe. But trust us, it's not just idle curiosity."

"If Lenny Goldson is mixed up in something, then I'd steer clear of it. He isn't somebody to mess around with," Wolfe warned, his dark face serious. "Ever get a look at him? Goldson's six-feet-six and weighs about two-eighty, all muscle. He's a championship-level bodybuilder."

"He sounds big enough to be the Dreadnought," Joe told Frank. Turning back to Wolfe, he asked, "Do you know where we can find him?"

Wolfe looked skeptical. "It's your funeral, guys. Personally, I wouldn't come within a mile of Goldson. He's bad news."

Wolfe checked his address file and wrote down Goldson's address and phone number, handing the paper to Joe.

"Did Goldson have any close friends that you knew about?" Frank asked Wolfe.

"Lenny wasn't a very friendly guy," Wolfe answered, "but I guess he was pretty chummy with a couple of stuntmen who worked on the Metaman flick, Ted Basilio and Wally Trent. They're bad news, too. Ted used to work as a knife thrower in a circus, and he still likes to toss knives around. Wally's pretty weird, too. He used to do all the fire stunts Lenny rigged, right? But even off-camera, he was always playing with matches, you know? Doing little magic tricks and stuff."

"Thanks for the information, Mr. Wolfe," Frank said, jotting down the names in his notebook. "If we're going to track down Goldson, we'd better get going."

Wolfe nodded and led them toward the front of the warehouse.

As they made their way through the assortment of fake boulders, racks of monster costumes, catapults, and medieval war machines, Wolfe turned his head and said, "Oh, yeah, there's something I forgot to tell you guys about Goldson-"

Wolfe stopped in midsentence as a loud creaking sound cut the air. "Hey, what's - "

Joe turned toward the noise and saw that one of the war machines, a wheeled rack containing twenty arrows, was being trained on them.

In the next instant his blood ran cold as he heard the screech of the arrow catapult being cocked!

Chapter 12

Joe dived for Wolfe, tackling him out of range of the arrows, which whistled harmlessly overhead. Joe looked around for his brother.

"Frank!" he called out, sudden fear chilling him. "Frank!" he yelled again.

A tall shield leaning against a pile of suits of armor stirred and fell to the floor, revealing Frank.

"You okay?" Joe asked worriedly.

"I'm fine," Frank answered. "We better move and get whoever cocked that - "

The sound of clattering at the front of the warehouse drew the boys' attention. Frank and Joe took off instantly in the direction of the sound, with Wolfe lumbering behind them.

Flame Fiend was framed in the huge open doorway of the warehouse, freeing himself from a tangle of plastic pipe he'd stepped in. When he saw the Hardys and Wolfe approaching, he turned and fled up a ladder on the outside of the building.

"He'll escape over the roof!" Wolfe cried.

Joe reached the ladder first and scrambled up, with Frank close behind. Wolfe shouted, "I'll call the cops!"

Joe and Frank climbed as quickly as they could, keeping their attention on the scarlet form ahead of them. When Flame Fiend reached the roof, he sprinted along a narrow catwalk at the edge of the warehouse's sloping roof. Joe was still about fifty yards behind when Flame Fiend came to the edge of the building. Flame Fiend hesitated only a second before he hurled himself across a five-foot space to land on the flat roof of the neighboring warehouse.

Joe was right behind him. When he came to the edge of the Luxor warehouse, he paused just long enough to gauge the distance before jumping. Seconds after Joe's leap, Frank, too, landed safely on the other roof to follow Joe and Flame Fiend.

They ran the length of that building, then leapt off it to land heavily on a lower, flat-roofed building next to it. Frank realized with satisfaction that he and Joe were gaining on Flame Fiend.

Flame Fiend had now reached the door that led to some interior stairs. Luck was with the Hardys, and the door was locked from the inside. Cursing, the costumed man turned to flee, but the heel of his black boot stuck in a glob of sun-softened tar, and he fell flat.

Frank saw Joe pounce with lightning speed, grabbing Flame Fiend by the shoulder, but Flame Fiend lifted his left palm toward Joe and let loose a blindingly bright burst of light. Then Flame Fiend struck Joe across the temple, and Frank saw his brother slump over.

Before Flame Fiend could do anything more, Frank leapt on him from the side. But in the next instant Frank yelled in pain as his eyes were dazzled by a burst of searing white light. He swung blindly at Flame Fiend, who dodged easily and came back with a strong left to Frank's jaw. Frank felt consciousness slipping away. He managed to grab the sleeve of Flame Fiend's costume, and felt something tear as he blacked out.

***

When Frank opened his eyes, he saw Joe sitting near him rubbing his temple and shaking his head to clear it. Frank rubbed his aching jaw and searched the immediate area. Flame Fiend had vanished.

"I can't believe it!" Joe raged. "We almost had him!"

"Well, at least he didn't make one of us into a human pincushion, or fry us," Frank commented. "That is funny - he could have fried us with his flamethrower, but he didn't. I wonder why?"

"Maybe he couldn't, Frank," Joe suggested. "Maybe the flamethrower and that dazzle gadget he used just now are too heavy to carry at the same time.

"Good guess, Joe," Frank said. "I just wonder what his 'dazzler' was."

After the Hardys made their way back to the Luxor warehouse, they described their battle with Flame Fiend to Wolfe.

"Yeah," Wolfe said with a nod. "That sounds like an effect I came up with for the Metaman movie. The gear for it was stolen, too."

"How does it work?" Frank asked.

"It's pretty simple," Wolfe told them. "Under your costume sleeve you wear a small laser that fires into an optical fiber that runs down to a flexible plastic mirror in the palm of your hand. You can fire the beam in any direction, depending on where you point the mirror."

"Does it weigh much?" Frank asked.

"The laser doesn't," said Wolfe. "But the power pack for it weighs about thirty pounds."

Frank extended his hand to Wolfe. "Thanks, Mr. Wolfe. Your help has been really valuable."

Wolfe started to shake Frank's hand, then snapped his fingers.

"Oh, yeah, I almost forgot! I was starting to tell you another place where you could find Goldson, when that crazy character fired the catapult. Goldson usually works out at Hercules and Company, a health club on the corner of Front and Hawthorn streets."

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