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Authors: Franklin W. Dixon

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BOOK: Three-Ring Terror
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Joe craned his neck to watch Nash. The student seemed to take Costello's advice to heart. As soon as Justine made her next pass, with her legs hooked around the bar and her arms outstretched, Nash jumped from the platform and went sailing toward her. Joe sucked in his breath as Justine and Carl reached each other. Carl let go of the bar and grabbed Justine's arms.

“All right!” Chet cried out, watching Justine and Carl swing through the air.

“Nice move, Carl,” Costello yelled. The students around him clapped politely.

On the next pass, Nash let go of Justine's arms as she grabbed hold of another swing. He then
landed back on the platform. Justine swung back to a platform across from Nash, jumping from the trapeze and landing squarely on the platform. She threw the swing toward Nash, who caught it and held it tightly as he stood on the platform.

“Ready when you are, Carl,” Costello told his student. “Upside-down swing and reverse twist.”

“Huh?” Joe said aloud.

“Circus lingo,” Frank said with a wink. “They're famous for it, remember?”

“Right,” Joe said, turning back to watch Nash.

The trapeze student grabbed the swing, laced his legs onto it, and let go. As he went sailing from his platform to the one Justine was on, Nash picked up speed. He was flying fast between the two platforms, his arms swinging free. Then, in a flash, Joe saw him unhook his legs from the trapeze.

A few seconds later, Nash had done a midair somersault and was reaching out with his hands for the trapeze swing. The move was solid and sure, and after the somersault, Nash's hands reached familiarly for the swing. He grabbed hold of it and kept swinging, not missing a beat.

“Bravo!” Costello called out.

“Wow,” Chet said breathlessly.

Joe couldn't take his eyes off Nash. “The guy's incredible,” he said, mesmerized by the sight of Nash swinging back and forth with ease.

All of a sudden, Joe saw the trapeze student
lose his grip. The trapeze started to swing crazily. Nash wrestled with it, fighting to hold on. One end of the swing came unhooked from the chain that supported it. Nash dangled in midair, barely holding on to the wooden rod that until a minute ago had been attached to chains at both ends.

Even from where Joe stood below, he could see the look of horror and fear on Nash's face. Several students around the net gasped in fear.

“Nash!” Joe heard Costello cry out. “Hold on!”

But Joe could tell it was too late. Before his eyes, Carl Nash lost his grip and began to plummet through the air.

“Oh, no!” Costello shouted. “He's going to miss the safety net!”

8 The Airborne Acrobat

Joe saw that Costello was right. Nash was falling so that he was a few inches outside the net. Several students held their hands over their eyes, afraid to look.

Joe stood by, helpless. Then, before his eyes, he saw Nash twist his body around. A second later, he had fallen backward into the net. Nash's acrobat's costume flashed red as he bounced up and down, up and down in the net.

“I can't believe he did that,” Joe found himself saying in a hoarse whisper.

“Incredible,” Frank said. “That was some trick.”

“Truly awesome,” Chet said, shaking his head slowly. “I was convinced Carl was a goner.”

“I think he's okay,” Joe said, pointing toward the net. “See? Bo Costello's with him.”

Frank saw Costello help Nash over the net and give him a hand to the ground. Justine had dashed down the ladder from the platform and was standing by them. Costello put his arm around Nash and led him and Justine through the group of students to a nearby seat.

“I'm going to find out what happened to that trapeze,” Frank told Chet and his brother. He headed off to the seats where Bo and Nash were sitting.

“We're coming with you,” Joe called out.

As Frank got nearer to Nash and Costello, he heard Carl say to his teacher, “I'm telling you the truth. It just fell apart. Right in my hands. Just like that.”

Costello's expression was one of shock, and Justine hid her face in her hands. One look at the trio told Frank that this wasn't the time to talk to them—they were much too upset. Instead, he pulled Joe and Chet aside and told them what he had overheard. “Isn't CN the first set of initials on the list?” Frank asked.

“You don't think this was an accident,” Joe concluded.

“Not after what Nash just said,” Frank replied. “Come on, let's take a look at that trapeze.”

He and Joe took off toward the net. Chet
caught up with them at a run. “What do you mean about CN being the first initials on the list?” he asked.

Joe explained to Chet his hunch about the coded message being Rosen's list of accomplices at Circus U. “JL and GU might refer to Justine and Georgianne,” Joe finished.

“But Justine was swinging on that trapeze, too,” Chet answered. “She could have been the one to fall. Wouldn't Rosen's accomplices pick someone to fall who's
not
listed on that paper?”

“Chet's right,” Frank said. “Besides, your theory still has some other holes in it.”

“Such as?” Joe asked.

“It doesn't explain what the numbers mean after the initials,” Frank said. “And it doesn't explain why Rosen is passing information to his accomplices.”

Joe let out a long sigh. “So there are holes. When you two figure out something better, let me know. Until then, I'm following my hunch. Which means that
this
incident was an accident. Let's see if I'm right.”

Joe started climbing the ladder that led to the platform where Nash had been standing. When he reached the platform, he stepped off the ladder onto it. The broken trapeze was still hanging from high above the platform. He reached out to grab at the trapeze's dangling bar
and heard Chet's voice from below, warning him to be careful.

“We don't want another accident!” he shouted up to Joe.

“Thanks, Chet,” Joe muttered to himself. Not daring to look down, he grabbed for the trapeze. He managed to keep his balance as he pulled the trapeze in close. He examined the broken end of the wooden bar. The metal hook that the rope was tied to was broken. Someone had obviously bent the metal several times, weakening it until it could break easily.

“So much for my theory,” Joe said as he untied the other end of the” wooden rod from the rope. He stuck it in his back pocket and made his way down the ladder.

“What did you find?” Frank asked when his brother was on the floor again. When Joe showed him the rod, Frank nodded in understanding. “It looks like Circus U.'s been struck again,” he agreed.

“And it looks like the people on the list are victims, not accomplices,” Joe added. “Unless Nash
is
Rosen's accomplice, and his plan to make Justine fall backfired.”

“But then why are Nash's initials on the list?” Frank asked.

“And Georgianne, too,” Joe said. He looked over at where Justine and Nash had been sitting with Costello, but the three of them were gone. Apparently Costello had dismissed the class,
because the other students were walking toward the backstage area.

“We should tell Dean Turner about this incident,” Frank said.

“That's a good idea, except that Dean Turner had an appointment, remember?” Joe pointed out.

“True,” Frank said, running his hands through his hair. “What's our plan, then?”

Joe thought for a moment. “We can still follow up on Ralph Rosen. Dean Turner told us that Bo Costello could give us some information about him. I still think he's an important link in the accidents here,” he insisted.

“We don't know that for sure, but I agree we should talk to Costello,” Frank said.

“What about lunch?” Chet asked.

“As soon as we talk to Bo,” Joe said with a laugh, “we'll grab a burger.”

“Okay,” Chet said grudgingly.

Joe led the way down to Costello's office. When they got there, they knocked on the door. There was no answer. Joe opened the door a crack. He saw that Costello was on the phone, and heard him tell the person on the other end to “take it easy and be careful.”

Bo spotted Joe, Frank, and Chet, and quickly said goodbye into the phone.

“Come on in!” Bo called heartily. “You guys are the Bayport High students, right?”

Joe nodded, guessing that Turner had told
Costello that he and Frank were in training along with Chet.

“I was just talking to a former student,” Costello told them when they were inside his office. “I like to stay in touch with my students. See how they're doing, you know.”

Joe saw his brother smile. “They must like hearing from you, too,” Frank said.

Bo laughed. “Oh, they do. Sometimes they even stop by when we're on tour, if they're in the area.”

Joe ran his eyes around the room, surprised at how much stuff Bo had crammed into the tiny space. All along one wall was a huge bulletin board covered with maps, photographs of what looked like Bo in his circus days, head shots of former Circus U. students, and all kinds of schedules and dates of the winter tour.

“Those are lists of all the major circuses across the United States,” Costello explained, following Joe's gaze. “Their schedules, their personnel, everything. Even though we're on tour, we still have to run Circus U.”

“Is that how you keep track of your students?” Chet asked, pointing to the bulletin board.

“Yep,” Bo said, nodding. “It's all there. If I see that one of them is heading toward us in Florida or when we're on tour, I'll try to track him or her down, tell the kid to stop by and say hello.”

“That's really nice,” Joe said. “I bet they appreciate your interest.”

“Oh, they do.” Bo paused and gave Joe a curious look. “Is there something I can help you with?” he asked.

Joe turned his eyes from the bulletin board. “Yes, there is,” he said, realizing he had to be careful about what he said. Because he and Frank were undercover, it wasn't a good idea to tell Costello the whole truth.

“Last night a juggler with the Montero Brothers Circus named Ralph Rosen dropped a ball in Chet's tote bag,” Joe explained. “Inside the ball was a message. And, well, we were thinking that maybe, just maybe, the message has something to do with the accidents here at the circus. We thought you should know because the people listed in the message are connected to Circus U.”

“We also thought you might be able to tell us if Ralph Rosen is the kind of guy who might try to cause these accidents,” Frank said. “Dean Turner mentioned that he had been kicked out of Circus U. We think he might be trying to get back at people there.”

Costello sat down on the edge of his desk. He was silent for a moment. “I'm shocked,” he said finally. “I knew Ralph Rosen had problems, but I would never have suspected that he would stoop so low.” Costello shook his head sadly. “I'm also
appalled to think that a former Circus U. student would do such a terrible thing.”

Costello paused for a moment, then gave the Hardys and Chet a curious look. “Why are you all interested in figuring out why we've been having these accidents, anyway?”

Joe glanced at Frank and saw his brother's warning look. He turned back to Costello.

“As students here, we're anxious about the accidents that have already happened,” Joe said carefully. “First the cannon misfired and Dean Turner nearly suffocated. And then, when we saw what happened to Carl Nash on the trapeze just now, we started thinking. Since you're director of admissions, we figured if anyone would know about Ralph Rosen, it would be you,” he finished.

Costello let out a hearty laugh. “Doing a bit of amateur detecting, eh? Well, while you boys are at Circus U., why don't you stick to clowning and learning about other kinds of circus performing. Don't worry. We'll manage to settle our problems.”

“Do you have some background info on Rosen in your files?” Joe pressed.

Costello stood up from the edge of his desk and shook his head slowly. “I might, but that information is confidential. Only Dean Turner can release it. Come on, guys,” he said finally. “I really appreciate what you're trying to do, but why don't you leave all this stuff to the people in
charge? Kick back, relax, and enjoy your classes here. You won't get another chance like this in—

Before Costello could finish his sentence, his phone began to ring. “Excuse me,” he said to the three of them.

Joe stood up and headed for the door, realizing they weren't going to get anywhere with the dean of admissions. Frank and Chet followed. “We'll let you get back to work,” Frank said.

“Thanks,” Costello said, picking up the phone on the third ring. “Take my advice: Enjoy yourselves and don't worry, okay?”

“That was a big waste of time,” Joe said when the three of them were back in the hall. “We didn't even get a look at Rosen's application.”

“We'll just have to find out about Rosen another way,” Frank said, trying to reassure his brother. “We can ask Jim Jacobs where he's staying.”

“Uh, do you guys mind if we get some lunch first?” Chet said. “I don't think I can go on much longer without some fuel inside me.”

Joe laughed. “Okay, Chet. Frank and I know that clowning around is hungry work.”

“So is detecting,” Frank said. “Let's head over to that new burger place on Main Street.”

“Great,” Chet said. “I hear they have foot-high burgers.”

“They must have thought of you when they came up with their menu,” Joe said with a grin.

With Joe in the lead, they walked past the elevators, then down the hall toward the exit that led to the parking lot. When they reached the exit, Joe turned to say something to Frank and Chet. Suddenly, a figure at the end of the hall by the elevators caught his eye—a figure wearing green striped baggy pants dotted with rhinestones and an unmistakable blue wig.

BOOK: Three-Ring Terror
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