Authors: Franklin W. Dixon
“You've got it!” Jacobs shouted. “There you go. All right.”
“Way to go, Joe,” Frank added.
“Keep your eyes on them,” Jacobs said.
As soon as Jacobs directed him, Joe began to think about what he was doing, and he faltered. One by one, he dropped the balls. Soon they were all bouncing and rolling on the ground.
Joe looked at his brother. Frank's expression was a mixture of amusement and sympathy. “You almost had it,” he said, barely holding back a smile. “Next time, don't think.”
“Let's see you try,” Joe said, passing the balls to Frank.
“No thanks,” Frank said, holding up one hand. “I'll pass on this one.”
“Come on, Frank,” Joe urged. “Just do it.”
“Your brother here almost had the hang of it,” Jacobs said.
Frank shook his head. “We've got a class to go to.”
“Chicken,” Joe whispered under his breath. Then he said to Jacobs, “Thanks for the lesson.”
“No problem,” Jacobs said. “Come back any time.”
“We'll do that,” Joe told him as they walked away. “Thanks for setting me up like that, Frank. You're a real pal.”
Frank grinned at his brother. “You did pretty well. I didn't know you could juggle.”
Joe smiled wryly. “Neither did I. It's amazing what you can do when you try.” He ran his hands through his blond hair and thought for a moment. “With Rosen gone, this case is shot.”
“Not necessarily.” Frank counted off on his fingers. “One, the guy might turn up. From what Jacobs said, it sounds like he needs this job. Two,
we still have the code to crack. And three, there's the sabotage to investigate. We're not out of the business yet.”
“Leave it to Frank Hardy to look on the bright side. Come on. We'd better get to Chet's class.”
Frank nodded. “And after class, I think we should ask Dean Turner some more questions about the sabotage. And I want to talk to his assistant, Georgianne Unger, too.”
The Hardys made their way toward the prop classroom Chet had shown them earlier. There was a sign on the door that read Clowning in Session. Through the glass pane Joe spotted Chet along with the other clowning students. Joe eased the door open and, being careful not to disturb the class, he and Frank stepped inside.
The classroom was large, with a high ceiling and bright lights. Along one wall there were workbenches set up with all kinds of materials, including wood, Styrofoam, and paint. Joe remembered what Chet had told him about the clowns making their own props.
The class was concentrating on stilt-walking. Ten students were gathered around Paul Turner, who was up on ten-foot-high stilts and walking smoothly around the room.
“I didn't expect him to teach these classes,” Joe said.
“You mean the dean?” Frank asked.
Joe nodded. “He's good, too. Just don't volunteer me for this stunt, okay?”
Before Frank could answer, Turner had jumped off the stilts and was speaking to the class. “No clown walks on stilts this high right away,” he said. “That would be like a baby running before it could walk.” The class laughed nervously as Turner went over to some shorter stilts that were leaning against a wall. “We start with these,” he said, holding up a pair of five-foot-high stilts. “Who wants to go first?”
Joe waited for someone in the class to volunteer. No one raised his hand. Then Chet's hand shot up. “I can't believe it,” Joe said to Frank. “Chet's a great football player, but I can't see him mastering a skill like this. The only other time he got up on stilts, he fell off them.”
“He can handle it,” Frank said. “Chet may be big, but he's not clumsy.”
“We'll see,” Joe said. With Turner's help, Chet stepped onto the stilts.
“The trick here,” Turner explained to the class, “is to pretend these sticks are just another part of your legs. They won't bend,” he said. “And they won't break, either.”
“I sure hope not,” Chet said, taking a small step.
Joe held his breath, then let it out slowly as Turner let go of the stilts. Chet started moving
around the room. He wobbled and the stilts started shaking under him. With every step he took it looked as if he might fall, but then he began to get the hang of it.
“Hey,” Joe said, watching Chet walk around the room. “He's not bad.”
“I told you,” Frank countered.
As soon as the words were out of Frank's mouth, he heard a yell. Frank and Joe looked over and saw Chet swaying back and forth. Several members of the class let out a gasp. One woman held her hand to her mouth.
“Chet!” Joe shouted, rushing toward his friend.
But before Joe could reach him, he saw the stilt under Chet's right leg snap in half. It broke in two, and Chet fell to the ground in a heap.
“Chet!” Frank called out, following his brother to where Chet was lying on the floor. “Are you all right?”
As Joe was pulling Chet up, Paul Turner rushed over to them. “I'm so sorry,” he said. “I should have been spotting you better.”
“That's okay,” Chet answered, rubbing his elbow and grimacing. “I just fell on my funny bone, that's all.”
The rest of the class had crowded around, looking at Chet to make sure he wasn't hurt.
Dean Turner turned to them and announced, “It's okay, everybody. Can you all please stand back and give us a little room?”
The class edged back a bit, and Frank put his arm around Chet. “Are you sure you're all right?” he asked in a concerned tone.
Chet nodded silently, but his face turned slightly red. “It's a little embarrassing,” he confessed as he slowly got to his feet. “I mean, these stilts weren't exactly tall.”
“You're not the first clown to take a fall,” Turner told him, a smile crossing his face. “And you won't be the last.”
“Dean Turner's right,” Joe said reassuringly. “What's more important is that you're okay.”
Frank spotted the stilts lying on the ground next to Chet. The sight of one of them, split clean in half, made him wonder. What if Chet's accident was another example of the sabotage at the circus?
Frank went over to the broken stilt and picked it up. A quick glance at it confirmed his suspicion. The stilt had obviously been sawn halfway through.
“Hey, Joe,” he called out to his brother. “Check this out.”
Joe came over, Chet at his side. When Joe took one look at the stilt, he let out a low whistle. “This was no accident,” he said. “That stilt's been sawn partially through.”
Chet's eyes widened with fear. He swallowed hard as he stared at the stilt. “You mean someone wanted that stilt to snap in half?” he asked in a shaky voice.
“That's right, Chet,” Frank said grimly, examining the saw mark.
“Is something wrong, boys?” Dean Turner asked, appearing at Frank's side.
Frank nodded. “I'm afraid there is,” he said, showing the stilt to Turner and pointing out the saw mark. Frank saw a flash of alarm pass over the dean's face, but Turner recovered quickly and turned to the class.
“We've almost reached the end of our class time,” he said, checking his watch. “I'm going to dismiss you early so you can have a short break before your next class.”
As the class filed out, Turner faced Frank. “This was no accident,” he concluded. “But who could have done this?” he added in a desperate tone. “And why?”
“Don't worry, Dean Turner,” Chet said. “Frank and Joe will find out.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Joe muttered.
“Who had access to these stilts?” Frank asked, pointing to them.
“I collected them myself from the prop room this morning,” Turner told him. “Before my speech. I didn't notice anything wrong with them then,” he added weakly.
“So they were in here the whole time you were making your speech?” Joe asked.
“I assume so,” Turner said. “But I really can't be sure.”
“And could anyone have come into the classroom during that time?” Frank asked.
“That's right,” Turner said softly. He looked at the broken stilt and shook his head. “Oh, this is terrible. I just don't know what to do.”
“Maybe you could help us come up with a solid lead,” Joe said firmly. “Like the name of someone who might have a reason to cause these accidents.”
Turner sighed. “I can't think of anyone offhand. Look, I have to go back to my office now. I'm expecting a very important phone call. Why don't you boys come by in a few minutes? We can sit down and talk at length about these incidents.”
“Good idea,” Frank said. “I know my brother and I have a lot of questions to ask.”
“Like what?” Chet asked.
“Well, Dean Turner still hasn't told us how the other accidents happened,” Frank said. “We need to know all the facts before we can start to narrow in on a list of suspects.”
“Oh, I really don't like that word,” Turner said, shaking his head sadly.” âSuspects' sounds soâso criminal. I just cannot believe there's some kind of criminal running around here trying to sabotage the circus. In fact, I refuse to believe it.”
“But you've just seen evidence that points to sabotage,” Frank said, trying not to sound impatient.
The dean was a nice man, Frank thought, but he didn't seem to have a clue about what was going on right under his nose.
“Your assistant said no one had gotten hurt,” Joe said. “But the next victim might not be so lucky. He or she might get more than a lungful of smoke or a bruised elbow.”
The dean looked at them for a moment. Then he nodded abruptly and said, “All right. Come to my office and we'll talk.” He turned and headed out of the classroom.
“Well,” Chet said, watching the dean walk away, “I hate to leave you guys in the lurch like this, but I have to take off, too. I'm going to be late for my clown makeup class.”
“You sure you're okay?” Frank asked him.
Chet rubbed his elbow and laughed a little. “I'm fine, really. You want to have lunch when my class is over?” he asked.
“Sure,” Frank said, knowing how much his friend liked to eat. In fact, he was amazed that Chet had gone this long without stopping to grab a bite. “We'll meet you in the arena after your class. What time?”
“About an hour and a half,” Chet said, turning toward the door. “And good luck.”
“We're going to need it,” Frank said. “Especially at the rate we're going.”
“Yeah,” Joe agreed. “First the juggler
disappears, then it turns out our list of suspects for the person who cut that stilt in half includes everyone appearing in the Montero Brothers Circus, plus the students at Circus U.”
“The only people we can rule out are the Bayport High students,” Frank said. “Because the incidents started before the circus arrived in Bayport.” He headed for the door. “Let's go talk to Turner. He's got to have some idea of who might be out to get him, or the circus.”
“I hope so,” Joe agreed, starting off down the hall.
“You know where we're going?” Frank asked.
“Sure,” Joe said, as he turned right at the elevators. “Remember this morning Chet said this is where the Circus U. offices were?”
Frank nodded as he followed Joe. They passed by a door marked with Georgianne Unger's name. Next to it was Bo Costello's office. A little farther down the hall, Joe found a door with Dean Turner's name on it.
The dean had just hung up the phone when Frank and Joe reached the doorway. Turner looked up and motioned to the Hardys to come in.
“Sit down,” Turner said, indicating two chairs that faced the desk. “I was just on the phone with one of our Circus U. donors. He wanted to have his name put on a bleacher in our big top in Florida.”
Turner laughed and raised his eyebrows. “I suggested he might want to contribute more money and have a whole classroom with his name on it.”
Frank smiled. “Let's talk about possible suspects, Dean Turner,” he said, getting right to the point. “Can you think of anyone who might want to ruin your reputation? After all, you're not only dean of Circus U., but you're also managing the Montero Brothers Circus tour this year.”
Turner paused for a moment. Then he said, “I hate to suggest this, but Georgianne is a good possibility.”
“Georgianne Unger?” Joe asked, remembering the name on the door they'd passed. “You mean your assistant?”
Turner nodded and went on. “She's not only my assistant. She's also a former circus performer and teaches makeup classes at Circus U.,” Turner explained.
“Why do you think she might be responsible?” Frank asked.
“Well, for one thing, the first incident took place in her class,” Turner replied.
“Tell us about it,” Joe said, leaning forward in his chair.
“It happened about six months ago in Florida. Apparently the clown face makeup the students in Georgianne's class were using made them
break out in a terrible rash. It didn't seem significant at the time, until some other things started happening.”
“Like the tiger getting loose and the prop room catching on fire,” Frank offered, remembering the conversation he'd overheard between Turner and his assistant.
Turner nodded slowly. “Exactly. But before that happened, there was also a small explosion in one of Bo Costello's classes.”
“What do you mean by a small explosion?” Joe asked.
“Bo was outside, teaching his students about fireworks,” Turner continued. “Some circuses use small fireworks displays to keep the crowds entertained during scene changes. Anyway,” he went on with a small shrug, “there was a small uncontrolled explosion. Maybe the students weren't being properly supervised, although Bo insists that wasn't the case. Anyway, no one was hurt. End of story.”
“And the tiger getting loose?” Frank asked, storing up the information about the explosion. “How did that happen?”