Authors: Franklin W. Dixon
“Hey, Frank,” Joe said slowly, his excitement building.
“What?” Frank asked, facing Joe.
Joe pointed down the long hall to where the juggler was still standing, his back to them, waiting for an elevator.
“Don't look now,” he said, “but I think we just found Ralph Rosen.”
“Hey!” Frank called out. “Hey, you!”
The young man turned around to see who was shouting at him. Despite the fact that the juggler wasn't wearing clown makeup, Frank was sure it was Rosen. The costume was the same as the one he'd seen the previous night. As soon as Rosen saw Frank, he turned to the left and ran down the hall.
“He knows exactly who we are!” Frank shouted to Joe. “Let's get him,” he said, taking off at a clip.
He saw Rosen turn into a stairwell that led up to the backstage area and the arena. Frank ran up the stairs after him, keeping an eye on Rosen's fleeting green pants. Joe and Chet were close
behind. Soon they were chasing Rosen through the crowded arena, and people were flying out of the way on either side of them.
“Stop that clown!” Frank shouted to a woman who was just about to walk in front of Rosen. “Don't let him get away!”
The woman heard Frank, but too late. Rosen pushed her aside, and she went flying to the floor. As Frank ran past her, he slowed down briefly to make sure she was okay and then picked up speed again as Rosen darted through the red velvet curtain into the arena.
Frank pushed the curtain aside and came to a quick stop, searching for Rosen's green striped pants. Rosen was nowhere in sight. Instead, Frank was greeted by the sight of two animal cages. Inside the cages were a lion and a tiger. Then Frank spotted something elseâa trapdoor in the center ring that had been left open.
“So that's where he went,” Frank said aloud. “Down the trapdoor the clowns use to fool the audience into thinking tons of people are getting out of a little car.” The nearby tiger let out a low growl, making Frank jump.
“I'm outta here,” Frank said under his breath. Where were Joe and Chet? he wondered.
He was about to turn back to look for them when a voice at Frank's side said sharply, “You bet you're out of here!” Frank felt someone grab his arm and steer him around.
“Hey! What do youâ” Frank began.
The woman who had a hold on his elbow was dressed in a security guard uniform. She had the greenest eyes Frank had ever seen. At her side were Chet and Joe, looking glum.
“This area is off limits,” the woman went on, tightening her grip on Frank's arm. “I don't know who you kids are, but you obviously don't belong here.”
Frank felt himself turn red, then he breathlessly tried to explain. “We're students at Circus U. We were just going to try out that trapdoor the clowns use.”
“Yeah, right,” the woman said, glaring at Frank, Joe, and Chet. “And I'm the Queen of England.”
“We really are students,” Joe insisted.
“I saw you chasing that guy,” the woman said. “You nearly hurt someone back there. I don't know what you're doing here, but you'd better leave before I call security.”
“I'm trying to tell you,” Frank said. “We're students.”
From the look on the woman's face, Frank could tell he wasn't getting anywhere. He pulled himself out of her grip and stood by Joe with his arms folded. The tiger in the cage across from them sank down onto the floor, crossing his paws under him and giving them all a wary look.
“I have a student pass,” Chet said, digging into
his pocket and pulling out a card. He showed the card to the woman. “My friends here are brand-new students and they don't have passes yet.”
The woman looked at Chet's pass and nodded. “Okay, but you three are still not allowed in the arena without a Circus U. instructor. This area,” she continued, gesturing toward the animal cages, “is very dangerous right now. The animals are about to rehearse with their trainers, and only professional circus people are allowed here.”
Frank realized it was useless to try to convince her to let them stay. He sighed, looked toward the trapdoor, and knew they'd have to go after Rosen some other way. “Right,” he said, turning away. “Come on, guys. Let's get out of here.”
“Thanks, Chet,” Joe said as they walked away. “You probably saved us from being kicked out of the building for good.”
“No problem,” Chet said. “But you guys had better get yourselves a couple of passes.”
Frank nodded. “Up till now, we've been lucky. We've either been able to sneak past security guards or no one's noticed us.”
“What are we going to do now that we've lost Rosen again?” Joe asked his brother as they left the arena through the front exit and began to round the building toward the parking lot.
Frank stopped for a moment and rubbed his chin. “We know Rosen's still around the circus. When Dean Turner gets back, he can get us those
passes. Maybe we can get him to write out special passes that will allow us to go everywhere in the building.”
“We can also ask the dean to get us access to Rosen's file. Let's stop by his office before we leave for lunch to find out when he'll be back.”
The three boys made a quick detour back into the building to Dean Turner's office. The dean's secretary, who was using the office next door, informed them that Turner wouldn't be back that afternoonâhe was running late and he had to meet another donor out of the office later that afternoon.
“Rats,” Frank said as they headed down the hall toward the exit. “Where does that leave us?” he asked.
“Hungry, for one,” Chet said, holding his stomach. “The pangsâthey're too much,” he added dramatically, bending over.
“What's that?” Joe asked his friend. “Rehearsal for when you play the tragic clown?”
“Give me a break!” Chet cried, heading off down the hall. “Detecting is hungry work. You said so yourself before we ran off chasing Ralph Rosen.”
Joe shrugged, looked at Frank, and followed Chet out the door. “He's right, you know. Even detectives have to eat.”
Frank stopped for a moment and tried to think of a way through the dead end they were in.
Turner was out, Bo Costello wouldn't help, Georgianne UngerÂ .Â .Â .
“Hey,” he called out to Joe and Chet. “You guys, hold it.”
Joe turned around. “What's up?” he asked.
Frank jogged up to where Joe was standing. “We haven't questioned Georgianne Unger yet. After all, she's a prime suspect. Maybe she's the one helping Rosen out.”
Frank watched his brother think for a moment, then shake his head slowly. “No good. She's not going to give anything away if she's involved in the sabotage.”
“I guess you're right,” Frank admitted. “We'll just have to get those passes from Dean Turner and do some more searching. It kills me to waste so much time, though.”
“Come on,” Joe urged. “We'll grab a bite and have another look at the message. Maybe we can make some headway there.”
Frank gave in and followed Joe. In a few minutes, they were all back in the van on their way to the burger place in downtown Bayport. After downing two burgers apiece and some extra-large fries, Frank and Joe dropped Chet off at home. His classes were done for the day, and he was going back to Circus U. that night for the performance of the Montero Brothers Circus.
“You guys are going to come tonight, aren't you?”
Chet asked as he hopped out of the van. “It should be a fantastic show.”
Frank nodded. “It'll be a good chance to see Turner and do some more investigating,” he said.
“I'm glad I didn't go for the foot-high burger at lunch,” Chet said with a grin. “Now I'll have more room for some great circus food tonight. Peanuts, popcorn, cotton candy, franks, sodasÂ .Â .Â .”
“Uh, we'll pick you up in two hours,” Joe interrupted, rolling his eyes.
“Great,” Chet said. “That gives me time to practice what I learned today.”
“You're not going to the performance in clown makeup, are you?” Joe asked. “You wouldn't embarrass us like, that, would you?”
Chet let out a huge laugh. “Just you wait and see,” he said, racing up the sidewalk to his front door.
Frank was quiet as he drove the rest of the way home. By the time he parked the van in the driveway, Joe had rattled off all the facts of the case, but Frank had hardly paid attention. He kept thinking that there was something he should be remembering about what he had seenâa connection he should be making.
“Oh, well,” he said absently, unlocking the front door. “I guess it will come to me.”
“What will?” Joe wanted to know. He looked
at his brother. “Have you been listening to a word I've been saying the whole way home?”
“Not really,” Frank admitted as they headed upstairs. “I think I'll lie down for a while before we have to pick up Chet.”
“Me, too,” Joe said, opening the door to his room.
From the hall, Frank heard his brother let out a loud yell.
“What is it?” Frank cried, rushing to the door of Joe's room.
Inside, he saw what had made Joe yell. The room was a shambles. Papers were strewn all over. The window was broken and glass was everywhere.
Then Frank looked down and gasped. His brother lay facedown on the floor in the middle of the room. A masked man in a black, hooded jumpsuit held Joe's arms behind his back. The man had Ralph Rosen's gem-studded juggler's ball in his hand and was about to knock Joe out cold with it!
Before Frank could react, the masked man let go of Joe and rushed to the window. Rosen's ball was in his left hand, and his right hand reached out the window for a piece of rope that was hanging by the frame.
“We've got to stop him,” Joe called to his brother. Joe hurried to the window, but the masked man had already sailed through it, airborne, the rope carrying him to a tree ten feet away.
Joe leaned out the window, careful to avoid broken glass, and felt a blast of cold air. “He's climbing down the tree!” he cried. “He's getting away!”
“Not if I can help it,” Frank said, running from
the room. Joe followed him down the stairs, out the door, and into the cold. They rushed around to the side of the house and spotted the masked man running across the backyard.
Frank and Joe picked up their pace, determined not to let the man get away. They chased him through the backyard and through the neighbor's. Soon, they were on a street, and Joe saw the man running for a car.
“He's getting away!” Joe cried out to Frank.
Joe dashed across the street to where the masked man was getting into a blue sports car with Texas plates. Joe caught up with him just as the man had closed his door. The man started the car and put it into gear. Joe saw Rosen's ball lying on the seat next to him. It was their only leadâand it had been stolen right out from under them.
With a squeal of tires, the car turned sharply to the left, knocking Joe down. Then it sped off down the street.
Frank rushed over to where Joe lay on the pavement. “Are you okay?” he asked his brother, giving him a hand up.
Joe got up and dusted off his jeans. “I'm fine. I just wish that guy hadn't gotten away.”
“Me, too,” Frank said, following the speeding car with his eyes. “Come on,” he urged. “Let's go back home and see what the damage is.”
Back inside his room, Joe surveyed the scene. The ball was gone. His papers were all over the
floor. The room was getting cold from the broken window. Joe went over to the window and looked at the rope that hung from the nearby tree.
“Whoever this robber was, he sure was pretty agile,” Joe said as Frank stepped into the room with a dustpan and broom.
“Like someone in the circus,” Frank offered.
“A trapeze artist, say?” Joe asked, suddenly thinking of Carl Nash's accident early that day.
“Exactly,” Frank said. He started sweeping up the broken glass and putting it in a trash can. “The car had Texas plates. Didn't Carl Nash say he was from Texas?”
“That's right,” Joe said. He began to pick up the papers on the floor. “What if Rosen and Nash are accomplices?”
“It's an idea,” Frank admitted. “Except that we don't know why Rosen would have been passing that ball to Nash, or what Nash is helping Rosen do.”
“Sabotage,” Joe said, frustrated. “I've been trying to tell you that Rosen wants to foul things up at Circus U. because he got kicked out.”
“Look, Joe,” Frank said. “You keep assuming that Rosen's message has to do with the accidents, but according to Paul Turner, these accidents started in Florida six months ago. Where was Rosen all that time? And the Montero has only been on tour for a few weeks.”
Joe had to admit his brother had a point. He
picked up the trash can, gave the broken window one last look, and sat down at his desk. “What if Rosen's been passing instructions to Nash in the balls all this time?” Joe asked finally. “What if this is just one in a series of messages?”
Frank shook his head slowly. “You really want to make your theory about the coded message work, don't you?” he said with a smile. “Assuming Rosen was hanging around Circus U., it still doesn't make sense that he would take the trouble to pass messages in a juggler's ball. Why not make a phone call? Why not meet Nash in secret?”
“I don't know,” Joe said with a sigh, holding his head in his hands.
“And why would Nash's initials be on the list anyway, if he were Rosen's accomplice?” Frank continued.
“All right already,” Joe said in an exasperated tone. “I give up. I can't answer any of those questions, and I'm even willing to admit my theory has some holes in it, but we're not getting anywhere on this mystery.”
Frank sat down on the bed across from Joe. “I think we need to get back to the facts,” he explained. “See what we can piece together from what we know.”