Read The Last Laugh Online

Authors: Franklin W. Dixon

The Last Laugh (9 page)

BOOK: The Last Laugh
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***

The Hardys decided to head back to the convention center to pick up Chet before checking out the health club. If Goldson was as dangerous as Wolfe said, they would need all the help they could get. Frank spotted Chet sitting alone behind Rockwitz's table in the dealers' room. A tall stack of artwork was piled in front of him. Rockwitz wasn't there.

"Hi, Chet. What are you doing behind Rockwitz's table?" Joe asked.

"Tom and I are keeping an eye on Rockwitz's stuff for him. Tom'll be right back. He just went to get some sodas."

"Where's Rockwitz?" Joe asked.

At that moment Tom came running up to the table. "You wouldn't believe who I just saw Rockwitz with," he said breathlessly. "Harry Saul."

"Where?" Frank asked.

"I saw them in the lobby, so I followed him into the little parking lot just outside the lobby," Tom explained.

Frank gave Joe a startled look. The theory that Saul and Rockwitz were in on the kidnappings together was suddenly sounding more probable.

"We'd better check this out," Joe said, moving toward an exit.

"Stay here, Chet," Frank called over his shoulder. "We'll be right back."

They ran past startled conventioneers into the lobby. Frank spotted the door Tom had mentioned, and motioning for Joe to be quiet, he cautiously opened it a crack, scanning for any sign of Saul and Rockwitz.

At the other end of the parking lot, near the street, Frank saw Saul and Morrie Rockwitz standing beside a green BMW. Saul seemed agitated. He was talking heatedly and shaking his fist in Rockwitz's face.

Rockwitz backed away from Saul and shook his head. He said something Frank couldn't hear and started to walk away, but Saul stepped toward Rockwitz and grabbed him by his T-shirt. Rockwitz pulled away easily and strode off. Saul started to go after him, but caught sight of Frank watching him. He glared ferociously at Frank, then turned and stalked back to his car.

"Let's see if we can persuade Saul to talk to us," Frank said to Joe.

But as Frank stepped through the doorway, Saul's green BMW took off.

"What about Rockwitz?" Joe asked. "Where did he go?"

Frank scanned the direction Rockwitz had taken, but he had disappeared, too.

"Gone," Frank said. "And we don't have time to look for him. It's almost four already. Let's get Chet and head over to Hercules and Company."

***

Frank checked his watch as he, Joe, and Chet ran toward the convention-center parking lot.

"The address Wolfe gave for Goldson's gym is only a few blocks from here, Joe. How fast can you get us there?" He was uncomfortably aware of how little time they had until the kidnappers' deadline ran out at midnight.

Joe grinned over his shoulder at his brother. "How's Mach Three?" he quipped.

Joe jumped behind the wheel and in a flash they were heading down Second Avenue toward the gym. As they weaved through traffic, Frank turned to Chet to ask, "What did you guys learn today, Chet?"

"Rockwitz wasn't kidding when he said Johns had sold him his entire collection. We went through the last batch of art Rockwitz says he got from Johns, and we found the originals for about half the pieces that supposedly got burned up on Thursday."

"But remember," Frank cautioned, "we still don't know which ones are fakes, the ones Rockwitz has or the ones that got burned."

"Here's the gym," Joe announced. He pointed out a three-story redbrick structure right on the corner of Front and Hawthorn streets.

"Keep your head up, Chet," Frank cautioned.

Joe pulled the car into a metered parking space. "Dave Wolfe warned us the guy we're going to see is a pretty rough customer."

The boys entered the building's lobby, and after consulting the building directory, Frank punched the button for the third floor.

"Chet, you stay in the lobby and keep an eye peeled for Goldson's accomplices," Frank instructed.

He and Joe rode the elevator to the third floor, and a pretty redhead wearing a Hercules & Co. T-shirt directed them to the weight room.

Frank said, pausing before going in, "Wait a minute, Joe. If Goldson really is the Dreadnought, as we suspect, he'll probably recognize us."

Joe clapped Frank on the back and said, "Don't sweat it, Frank. Goldson's big, but he can't take both of us."

The weight room was huge, with wood floors and overhead fluorescent lighting. It was empty except for a huge muscular blond man sitting at a Nautilus machine.

As Frank and Joe approached the man, Frank sized him up. He couldn't help wondering if they were making a big mistake approaching the guy so directly.

"Hi," Joe said, flashing a friendly smile.

The man returned the smile, but his eyes were cold and beady.

"Hello," he said in a deep voice.

"Aren't you Lenny Goldson, the special-effects wizard?" Frank asked, adopting an eager, fanlike tone.

"Yeah, that's right, fellas," he said in a cheerful gravelly voice. Then Goldson's hand shot out, hitting Joe in the chest and sending him tumbling backward over a weight-lifting bench.

Frank jumped on Goldson's broad back and locked his hands under Goldson's arms and behind his head in a hammerlock.

Goldson strained against the hold, and Frank felt his grip slipping. Goldson was able to reach around to grab Frank. The next thing Frank knew, he was being flipped over onto his back, and Goldson was towering over him, holding a thick stack of weights overhead.

Joe managed to scramble to his feet. He looked around wildly for a weapon. Grabbing a weight bench, he charged Goldson, holding it in front of him like a battering ram.

He rammed Goldson as hard as he could, letting out a kamikaze yell, and the big man keeled over, dropping the weights to the floor with a splintery crash. Despite the force of the blow, Goldson got back to his feet fast.

By now Frank had gotten to his feet, and he was circling around beside the larger man.

"Goldson!" Frank shouted.

As the big man started to turn his head, Frank's hand flicked out and clipped him on the side of the neck.

Goldson dropped like a stone and lay on the wooden floor, breathing heavily.

"Boy, Wolfe was right about Goldson. I don't think either one of us could have handled him alone," Joe said.

"You're probably right," Frank replied, wincing as he massaged his temple. He glanced down at Goldson's unconscious form. "I'd better call Hanlon right away. You keep an eye on Sleeping Ugly here."

Joe was watching Frank go through the doorway into the lobby, when he felt something close around his ankle and pull. He fell forward hard, barely catching himself on his hands. With a quick twist of his body, Joe managed to roll away from Goldson. He readied himself for the next attack - but it never came.

The massive weight lifter had whirled around and was charging through the swinging double doors that opened into the lobby.

Joe took off after Goldson, reaching the lobby in time to see Frank run for the stairs.

"I'm right behind you!" Joe called.

Frank ran down the two flights of stairs to the main lobby at top speed, but when he got there he found Chet sprawled on the floor, and Goldson's broad back disappearing through the front doors of the building.

"He blindsided me!" Chet complained as Joe appeared behind his brother. Frank helped Chet up, then threw open the front doors just in time to see Goldson leap into a red Mercedes convertible. The Hardys quickly piled into the front seat of their rental car, with Chet hopping in the back.

"Don't lose him, Joe," Frank said.

"Ha!" Joe responded. "No way! That car is like a big red Follow-Me sign."

Goldson sped south on Front Street, weaving in and out of slower traffic.

"He's driving like a maniac!" Frank shouted.

"He's going to shake us unless we go as fast as he is!" Joe replied.

The Hardys' sedan shot into the passing lane and roared forward, but they were still half a dozen car lengths behind Goldson's convertible. Joe poured on the speed to try to catch up.

The red Mercedes made a quick right at the next traffic light, and Joe managed to follow just as the light turned red, taking the corner with screeching tires. The gap between the Hardys' car and Goldson's Mercedes was narrowing.

"Yaa-hoo! We've got him!" Joe cheered. At that moment Goldson made a sharp left turn and disappeared down a wide alley next to an old factory.

"He's not losing me with that trick!" Joe said between gritted teeth as he spun the wheel hard to the left.

As soon as they turned the corner of the alley, Frank saw that they were in trouble. Not only had the red convertible vanished, but the alley was a dead end!

Joe slammed on the brakes, but Frank knew with dead certainty that they'd never stop in time.

Frank breathed in big gulps of air, trying to fight down the fear he felt as the brick wall at the end of the alley loomed larger by the second.

Chapter 13

"Brace yourselves!" Joe shouted. Frank and Chet sat back in their seats and threw their arms up in front of their faces. An instant later the car smashed into the brick wall - and easily tore right through it.

Joe kept his brake floored, and the car fish tailed to a stop inside a cavernous, dimly lit factory. It was only then that he realized the wall was a fiberglass-and-wood fake that had given way under the car's impact.

Joe finally remembered to breathe as he turned off the ignition. He checked to see if Frank and Chet were all right and watched as Chet fought to unbuckle his seat belt. Frank was opening his door. They both seemed to be dazed but unharmed.

"Well," Frank said as he cautiously slipped out of the car, "if they went to the trouble of concealing this entrance, there must be something back here."

Joe nodded, then pointed into the factory's dim interior. The aerodynamic shape of a new van was visible. It was being painted tan, but half of it was still silver. Behind the van, Joe made out the shape of a small hydraulic jack mounted on four small metal wheels. Goldson's red Mercedes was parked just beyond the van. The engine was turned off, and the driver's door was open.

"I think we hit the jackpot, guys," Frank whispered. "Stay sharp. Goldson should have heard that crash, and he may be ready and waiting for us. Fan out and let's search," he said. "But take it slow and easy. This could be a trap."

"Oh, I'll be careful, all right," Chet said. "This dump gives me the serious creeps."

Peering around cautiously, Joe crept over to the half-painted van. He peeked through the open side door, but there was nothing inside except a drop cloth, a couple of cans of spray paint, and a compressor and paint-spraying equipment.

At Goldson's Mercedes Joe glanced inside and saw on the front seat a garage-door opener. Of course! That explained how Goldson had gotten in. The "brick wall" rolled up into the ceiling and was operated from a standard opener.

"Joe, over here." Joe glanced up at the sound of his brother's voice and saw that Frank was standing beside a computer. A work station had been improvised, with the computer resting on a makeshift table of boards and sawhorses. Frank pointed to the back of the computer monitor and read "Property of Zenith Publishing. Do not remove from premises."

"The kidnappers must have stolen it from Zenith when they bombed the place," Joe said, keeping his voice low.

"I don't think so, Joe," Frank whispered. "There's something about this that strikes me as funny. Look," he said, tearing off a sheet of paper that stuck out of the printer. "Doesn't that type look like the ransom notes?"

Joe examined the letters on the page and nodded that Frank was right. He told Frank about the garage-door opener.

"Joe, Frank, over here," Chet called, interrupting them in a hoarse whisper. He was holding a length of cable like the cable the crooks had used to make Whip Scorpion "crawl" up the building wall. Joe looked up and saw that it was suspended from an overhead rafter and had a mountain climber's D-ring attached to the hook at the end. The cable ran to a winch that was identical to the one they'd found on the roof of the apartment building.

"This must have been where Whip Scorpion practiced his wall crawling," Frank speculated.

"I'd feel safer if we'd found Flame Fiend's flamethrower," Chet said with a nervous smile. "Then I'd know it wasn't pointed at us. Where is that Goldson? He had to hear us."

"Easy, Chet," Joe whispered reassuringly. "Maybe he thought we wouldn't follow him down the alley - he might not have heard us. But if we keep moving, it'll be hard for them to sneak up on us."

Frank pulled a penlight from his shoulder bag and set off into the dark area of the huge factory. He quickly swung the beam of his flashlight along one wall of the factory, and it fell on some small equipment sheds. Then he switched it off.

He pointed to the sheds, indicating that they should check them out. Joe and Chet nodded.

The first shed was locked with a stout padlock. His ear pressed against the door, Frank could hear rustling and indistinct muffled tones.

"I think someone's in there, Joe," he whispered excitedly.

"Do you have any lock-picking tools in your magic shoulder bag?" Joe teased.

"No, but I saw a screwdriver over on that bench. We can take off the hinges."

Joe worked as quickly and quietly as he could, and within a minute he pulled the door open. Frank stood behind him, shining his penlight into the shed.

In the bright circle of light Joe saw a man with a white gag tied around his mouth. His wrists and ankles had been bound with gaffer's tape. The bound man lay on a beat-up cot in an empty storeroom.

Frank quickly tore away the gag.

"Thank God you've come," the man said in a feeble voice. "I was afraid they'd kill me."

Joe and Frank helped the man up into a sitting position. Then Joe slashed the tape around his ankles with his pocketknife, and Frank did the same to the tape around the man's wrists.

"Are you Syd Kaner?" Frank asked.

The man nodded. "Who're you guys?"

"I'm Joe Hardy, and this is my brother, Frank," Joe answered.

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