Authors: Franklin W. Dixon
“Chet, you're really serious about learning to become a clown, aren't you?” Frank Hardy said to his friend.
“Definitely!” Chet Morton exclaimed. He readjusted the fuzzy orange wig on his head. A huge grin spread across his wide, painted red clown mouth. “Circus Universityâbetter known as Circus U.âis the biggest thing to hit Bayport in years.”
“That costume's pretty big, too,” Frank's younger brother, Joe, said with a smile. Joe shook his head as he stared at the polka-dotted clown costume Chet wore. The costume had huge ballooning arms and legs, and a big, white pleated collar. Chet's a big guy to begin with, Joe
reflected, and that costume makes him look even bigger.
“Give Chet a break, Joe,” Frank said. “Circus U. has trained some of the most famous clowns in the country.”
Frank, who was six-foot-one and eighteen years old, ran his hands through his dark brown hair and looked around the backstage area of the Bayport Arena. Circus performers passed by, carrying props and leading trained animals. Every so often, applause could be heard from the arena, where the opening-night performance of the Montero Brothers Circus was in progress.
A blond woman dressed in a tuxedo led a striped tiger on a leash to the table where Chet and another young man were serving soft drinks and popcorn to circus performers, Circus U. students, and a group of guests who had been invited to mingle with the performers backstage.
“Be careful,” Joe said jokingly, pulling Frank out of the tiger's way. “We wouldn't want anything to happen to Bayport's finest detective.”
Frank smiled as the tiger blinked at him sleepily. “This guy doesn't look too dangerous,” he said. The tiger yawned and pawed the ground.
“Don't be so sure,” the blond woman warned, leading the tiger away. “Let's go, Grumpy. We're on next.”
“Grumpy! That's a great name,” Joe said, his blue eyes lighting up with amusement. Joe had
blond hair and, at seventeen, was almost as tall as his brother.
“This is really exciting, isn't it?” Chet asked his friends. He gestured to the crowd of performers milling around them.
“It sure is,” Frank agreed. The backstage area was beginning to fill up with performers waiting to go out to the arena. There were acrobats and clowns and a man dressed like Uncle Sam walking on stilts. Frank saw a clown-faced juggler wearing a blue wig, an orange T-shirt, and baggy striped pants with suspenders toss five gem-studded metal balls high in the air, catch each ball, then grin and bow as a small group of guests applauded.
Frank peered through a crack in the red curtain to his right.
“What's happening out there?” Chet asked, standing on tiptoe to look over Frank's shoulder.
“Grumpy is doing his act,” Frank reported. He watched as the blond woman guided her trained tiger through a hoop.
“Let me see,” Joe said, pushing past Frank to look through the curtain. “He's jumping through two hoops. Incredible!”
Frank stepped out of his younger brother's way. He liked the circus, but it wasn't nearly as exciting as investigating a case, which was what he really enjoyed. He and Joe were well known around Bayport, and beyond, as detectives. Being without a mystery to solve made Frank restless.
“The Montero Brothers Circus has to be the best there is,” Chet shouted over the noise of the applauding crowd in the arena.
Joe turned and asked his friend, “What makes this circus so special?”
Chet readjusted his wig. “Boy, does this thing itch,” he said with a grimace. He poured a soft drink for another clown, then turned back to Frank and Joe. “I did a lot of research on the Montero Brothers Circus before I applied for this clown internship,” he said. “The circus was started by two trapeze artists, Carlos and Armando Montero, back in the nineteen-fifties. It's one of the most famous circuses in the country.”
“Why would you need a clown internship?” Joe asked. “You were already voted class clown last year.”
“Ha, ha,” Chet said. “Laugh now, but once I'm done taking these classes at Circus U., there's a chance I might someday go to the university full time to become a real clown.”
clown?” Frank asked, pointing at Chet's costume. “What are you now? A fake clown?”
“No. I mean yes. Come on, guys, give me a break.”
Frank laughed, and Joe said, “Okay, Chet, we'll lay off. Tell us about Circus U.”
“Circus University trains the top circus performers,” Chet explained. “Most of the performers you're seeing today got their start at Circus U.”
“People actually study to do this?” Frank asked, pointing to a nearby juggler. “Can't you learn all these tricks on your own?”
“The tricks look easier than they really are,” Chet said. “You have to learn how to do these tricks correctly and safely. Circus U. teaches you everything there is to knowâjuggling, clowning, trapeze, high wire, the works. And it brings in outside performers to teach the students, people who are famous for their work in circuses all across the country.”
“Pretty impressive,” Joe said. “What's the connection between Circus U. and the circus that's performing today?” he asked.
“Circus U. is based in Florida, but it travels around the country for several months each year offering classes to high school students who might be interested in becoming circus performers some day,” Chet explained. “Circus U. travels with the Montero Brothers Circus so that full-time students and part-timers like me can see what it's like to work with a real circus.”
“When the Montero Brothers Circus leaves Bayport, will Circus U. go with it?” Frank asked.
Chet nodded his head yes and his orange wig
nearly fell off. He reached up to straighten it. “But some of the faculty will head back to Florida to get ready for spring semester.”
Frank peered through the red curtains again. The performance in the arena was coming to an end. The crowd was giving the circus performers a standing ovation, and the applause and cheers were getting louder. Off to Frank's right, a television camera was catching the last bows of the circus performers.
“You guys should come back tomorrow and watch the whole show from out front,” Chet shouted over the noise of the crowd.
“Maybe we will,” Joe said. “I never got to see the clown acts tonight.”
“Who are all these guests backstage?” Frank asked Chet as they moved back toward the refreshment table. “Do they work for the circus or are they students at Circus U.?”
“Both,” Chet said. “The circus is hosting this opening-night reception for their performers and Circus U. employees and students. There are also some Circus U. VIPs here and guests from the community.”
“So when do you start school?” Joe asked. “You must be pretty excited.”
“You bet,” Chet agreed. “I start tomorrow. A whole week of training with the best clown teachers in the business. I can't wait.”
“I can't believe you're spending the whole week of winter vacation learning to become a clown,” Joe said, shaking his head.
“Hey, isn't that what vacation's forâclowning around?” Chet asked, grinning.
Joe laughed, “I guess you're right.”
Chet reached down under the table. “Look what the university gave me.” He held up a red, white, and blue tote bag. The words “Circus University” were printed on the side of the bag in bright orange lettering. “It's for my clown gear,” he explained. “And I get to keep the clown suit after my classes are over.”
“A week of Chet acting like a clown,” Frank said to Joe. “What are we in for?”
Joe nodded. “I know what you mean,” he said. “Let's just hope he stays far away from us when he's learning the seltzer trick.”
The backstage area was beginning to fill up with performers and guests. “I'd better get back to work,” Chet said, stowing his tote bag back under the table. “I would hate to have Bo Costello see me goofing off when I'm supposed to be handing out refreshments.”
“Who's Bo Costello?” Joe wanted to know.
“My boss,” Chet explained. He pulled a bag of ice from under the table and started filling up a pitcher with fresh punch.
“Your boss is named Bo Costello?” Frank said.
“Well, he's not my boss, exactly,” Chet said. “Can I get you guys some punch?” he asked. “A soda? Glass of water?”
“I'll take a soda,” Joe said. “So, who
“He's only the director of admissions at Circus U.,” Chet replied.
“Sorry, Chet, but Joe and I aren't exactly up on who's who at Circus U.,” Frank said with a grin.
“Costello's one of the most important people at Circus U. When I stopped by his office yesterday to get the class schedule and a catalog, he mentioned that he needed people to work the refreshment table tonight. When he said I'd get to wear my clown gear, I volunteered.”
“Look out,” Frank warned. The clown-faced juggler he'd seen earlier was about to step right into Joe. Frank pulled his brother from the path of the juggler.
“Sorry,” the juggler said, dropping several of his gem-studded balls. Each ball had different colored gems, and they sparkled brightly under the lights. The juggler's striped green pants were covered with flecks of rhinestones that matched the studs on the ball.
“I guess I wasn't watching where I was going,” the juggler said apologetically as he leaned over to pick up the balls.
“That's okay,” Frank said. “We were in your way.” He leaned down to pick up a ball that had
fallen at his feet, but the juggler grabbed the ball off the floor before Frank could touch it. Shoving the balls into the pockets of his baggy green pants, the juggler then quickly rounded the table to find another ball that had rolled underneath it.
“So what kind of classes are you taking?” Joe turned to ask Chet.
“Let's see. Juggling, of course. And some magic tricks. There's a makeup class, too.”
While Chet went on, Frank stepped around to the side of the table. He spotted the juggler kneeling on the ground behind the table. “It's right there,” Frank told him, pointing to the ball that was lying next to Chet's Circus U. bag.
But the juggler didn't hear him, and Frank quickly figured out why. He was too busy rifling through Chet's bag!
“Hey! Get your hands out of there!” Frank yelled. “That's my friend's bag.”
“What's going on?” Joe said as soon as he heard Frank's shout.
The juggler looked up and saw Frank standing over him. He leaped up from his crouch beside the table and pushed Frank aside.
Frank fell onto the refreshment table, and it collapsed under him with a crash. The crowd that had gathered jumped out of the way. Then Frank felt cold drinks and popcorn spilling on top of him.
“Frank!” Chet cried. “Whatâ”
Frank pulled himself off the table. “Later,
Chet!” he exclaimed. “Come on, Joe. We've got to stop that juggler.”
The Hardys pushed their way through a crowd of circus performers who were coming backstage through the red velvet curtain. Frank spotted the juggler's blue wig weaving through the crowd. When the juggler reached the curtain that led to the arena, he paused to let a group of men and women in matching spangled leotards and tights go around him.
“There he is,” Frank said, pointing him out to Joe.
“Let's get him!” Joe cried.
Just then, the juggler disappeared through the curtain. The Hardys pushed their way through the crowd and followed the juggler into the arena. Their progress was slowed by the parade of performers that was continuing to move toward the backstage area.
“We're going to lose him in this crowd,” Joe said.
“Not if I can help it,” Frank muttered between his teeth.
Frank tried to keep his eye on the tall, broad-shouldered figure of the juggler, but a man in a tuxedo and a woman dressed in an acrobat's costume cut in front of them. By the time Frank had pushed past them, the juggler was gone.