Authors: Franklin W. Dixon
“Instead of pulling things out of thin air, you mean,” Joe said, lifting his head up. “Okay,” he said grudgingly. “What are the facts?”
Frank counted off on his fingers. “One. It looks like Rosen meant to pass his ball to Carl Nash, and that Nash probablyâ”
“Oh, no, you don't,” Joe interrupted. “No probablys. Just the facts.”
“That someone who happens to be an acrobat broke in here and stole Rosen's ball,” Frank finished.
“We also know that there are people at Circus U. who would benefit if Paul Turner lost his job because of these accidents,” Joe offered.
“Georgianne Unger, for one,” Frank said. “Even though Turner thinks she'd never get the job.”
“And Bo Costello,” Joe added. “Remember what Turner said about Bo being one of the people with the experience to do his job.”
“Right,” Frank said. “We shouldn't rule out Costello as a suspect.”
“None of this explains how Rosen is related to the accidents, though,” Joe said.
Frank pulled a slip of paper out of his shirt pocket. Joe leaned over and saw it was the coded message. “It's in here, somewhere,” Frank said. “The clue to Rosen's connection has got to be in this message.”
“Too bad we can't decode it,” Joe said glumly. “But let's have another go at it, anyway.”
He pulled his chair closer to the bed, and Frank unfolded the paper. Joe scratched his
head, looking at the series of initials and numbers for what felt like the thousandth time: CN/1220; JL/103; GU/214.
For the next hour, Joe and Frank played with combinations, rearranging the letters, connecting them to different numbers, adding and subtracting the numbers, and rearranging the letters yet again. “What if these numbers are actually dates?” Joe finally suggested. “I mean, it's a long shot, but it's possible.”
Frank looked over Joe's shoulder as Joe wrote them out. “Seeâtwelve-twenty. That could be December twentieth, right?”
Frank nodded, and Joe went on. “And one-oh-three. That might mean January third.”
“And two-fourteen could be February fourteenth,” Frank said.
“Exactly.” Joe checked his watch. He remembered they'd told Chet they would pick him up at six, and it was already ten till. Then the date on his watch caught his attention. It was December nineteenthâone day before the first date on the list.
“Hey, Frank,” Joe said, slowly turning to his brother with a huge grin on his face. “Guess what day it is.”
Frank leaned back in his chair. “I don't have to guess. It's the nineteenth. Heyâwait a minute. If we're right about this message, that means something is going to happen tomorrow.”
“You guessed it,” Joe said. “If we're right, it also means that the code has nothing to do with the sabotage,” he admitted ruefully, “since Nash's accident happened today, not tomorrow.”
Frank shrugged and smiled. “There goes your theory. Sorry about that.”
Joe chose to ignore his brother's comment. Instead, he grabbed his jacket. “We've got to pick up Chet. And since we know that according to Rosen's code nothing more is going to happen until tomorrow, I'm going to enjoy myself tonight. No mysteries, no theories, no false leads.”
“Just good honest fun, right?” Frank asked.
“Right,” Joe said firmly.
“I still think we should try to track down Rosen,” Frank said. “The sooner we find out what he's up to, the better. Besides,
is sabotaging the circus. We need to find out who it is and stop him or her.”
“Come on, Frank. One night's not going to make a difference,” Joe said. “We need some R and R.”
Frank seemed reluctant to give up on the investigation just yet. “I don't know if taking the night off is such a good idea,” he said.
“We probably won't be able to get backstage, anyway,” Joe reminded him. “Circus U. isn't in session, and there's no reception tonight. You should learn how to chill out.”
From the smile on Frank's face, Joe could see
he was starting to get through to his brother. “Okay?” he asked.
“Okay,” Frank said finally.
“Good. Let's go.”
â¢Â â¢Â â¢
The next morning, Joe talked with Chet the whole way to the Bayport Arena about the circus performance the night before. “I can't decide who was the best,” Frank said. “That guy doing back flips on the high wire, the bareback riders doing handstands on their horses, or the clowns.”
“The clowns were really a riot,” Joe agreed. “I can definitely see Chet up there spraying seltzer on the mayor of Bayport.”
“The mayor looked like he loved it,” Frank said.
“You should think about giving up detective work to become a professional circus performer, Joe,” Chet said.
“No way, Chet,” Frank said as he parked the van. “I need Joe in
Chet laughed as he jumped out of the van. “Think about it, Joe,” he said. “I've got to run. I have a juggling class.”
“Sorry, but we have to cut class again,” Joe said, zipping up his jacket against the cold. “We're going to take private lessons from our mystery jugglerâRalph Rosen.”
Chet laughed, and his breath billowed out in white gusts. “Good luck, you guys.”
“Thanks,” Frank said, watching Chet run off toward the back entrance to the arena. Joe and Frank headed in the same direction. When they stepped into the building, Joe said, “Maybe we should find Dean Turner and have him get us clearance. I don't want to run into that security guard again.”
“I don't see any guards this morning,” Frank said, opening the door slowly and looking around. “It looks like we won't need passes. I guess the guards don't go on duty until later.”
They headed down the hall, glancing to the left and right to see if Rosen was in any of the rooms they were passing.
“I hope Rosen is here,” Joe said. “I'm ready to have a nice long chat with him about what scheme he planned for today.”
“If Jim Jacobs is around, he can tell us where Rosen is,” Frank said.
“It doesn't look like anyone's around,” Joe said, glancing up and down the hallway. “This hallway's pretty deserted.”
Soon they were at the room the clowns called clown alley. Joe didn't spot Jim Jacobs, so he asked a woman if she knew where they could find Ralph Rosen. She pointed to a small room down the hall.
“For some reason, he rates his own dressing room,” the woman said, shaking her head as she walked away.
When they reached the room, Frank went up close to it, held his finger to his lips, and motioned for Joe to be quiet. Joe stood back from his brother. He looked up at the transom window over the door and saw that there was a light on in the room. “He must be here,” he called out to Frank in an excited whisper.
Frank nodded and took a few steps back. He stood on tiptoe, trying to see over the transom.
“If he's in, we'll just confront him with what we know, make him give us some explanations,” Joe said. “If not, we'll just let ourselves in and wait.”
Joe waited for Frank to answer. When he didn't, Joe glanced over his shoulder. “Frank?” he asked. “What do you think?”
Then he turned and saw why his brother hadn't answered right away. He had been knocked out and was lying faceup on the floor with an ugly red mark on his forehead.
Joe rushed over and knelt down beside his brother. “Frank!” he cried.
Then Joe sensed that someone had come up behind him. Suddenly he felt a whopping blow to his head. Joe sank to the floor, unconscious.
Frank Hardy felt himself coming to, and thought that his head felt as if someone had stored it in a freezer overnight. When he tried to move there was a cold, dull throbbing at his temples that could only mean one thing: he'd been knocked out.
Frank opened his eyes. He slowly realized that his hands and legs were tied to the chair he was sitting in. He glanced around and noted that he was inside a small room that looked to be about the same size as Rosen's.
“Ralph Rosen,” Frank mumbled to himself, trying to move as slowly as possible until he was fully awake. “It must have been him.”
“Mmmm,” Frank heard Joe murmur. Frank
turned as much as he could with his hands tied together behind his back and saw Joe lying on the floor next to him. His brother was tied up, too.
When Joe opened his eyes, he looked up and saw Frank looking at him. “Where are we?” Joe mumbled, trying to pull himself up to a sitting position. The effort was obviously too much, because Joe quickly eased himself back down to the ground. “My head's killing me.”
“Mine, too,” Frank said, stretching his neck to get his circulation going again. “Rosen really did a number on us.”
“Rosen!” Joe cried. “That guy's going to be in big trouble when I finally meet up with him.”
“Let's concentrate on getting out of here,” Frank said. “Do you think you could move over to the door and see if it's locked?”
“I'll try,” Joe said. He eased himself up in a sitting position. “Ouch,” he said, wincing in pain. “I don't think I'm ready to move yet.”
Frank scanned the room, looking for some kind of sharp object to cut the ropes that bound them.
“Rosen was crazy to do this to us,” Joe said. “This makes him look more guilty than ever.”
Frank didn't answer. He was still looking around the room for a knife or scissors.
“He's gone to a lot of trouble to put us out of commission,” Joe said. “It's almost like he wanted us out of the way, but only until he had
time to come back and figure out what to do with us.”
Frank spotted a bag leaning against the far wall of the room. “Do you think you could get to that bag?” he asked his brother, pointing to it with his head. “There might be something in the bag we can use to cut these ropes.”
Joe pulled himself up and edged over to the side of the room. He grabbed the bag's handle between his teeth and carried it over to Frank.
Frank leaned over as best he could to look inside the bag. He spotted more of Rosen's juggling balls and some bowling pinsâand then, underneath a clown wig, Frank saw a knife handle.
“There,” he said, pointing it out to Joe. “Look. There's a knife in the bag.”
Joe turned around, grabbed the bag with his fingers, and shook it until Rosen's props spilled out. A knife fell from the bag on top of the pile.
Joe turned around and faced the pile of props. “It's a stage knife,” he said.
Frank saw the plastic handle and realized his brother was right. “It might still work,” Frank urged. “Grab it and see if it's sharp enough.”
Joe twisted sideways and used his hand to pick up the knife. He turned with his back to Frank and tried working the knots. “Forget it,” he said finally. “There's no way this thing is going to cut through the rope.”
Frank gritted his teeth, sensing that they were wasting precious time. Whatever Rosen had planned, he stood a much better chance of succeeding with him and Joe tied up like this.
“Wait a minute!” Joe cried, twisting around and facing Frank.
“What?” Frank asked.
“I just thought of something.” Joe pulled himself to his feet and hopped over to Rosen's makeup table. “Yes!” he cried.
“What?” Frank felt himself getting frustrated. “Would you please tell me what it is that you thought of?” He twisted his head. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that Joe had his back to Rosen's table. In one quick move, Joe had picked something up from the table, let it drop to the ground, and stepped on it with his shoe.
“Perfect!” Joe cried, looking at the floor.
Frank followed Joe's gaze and saw a small hand mirror, shattered into several pieces, lying on the floor. “Good job,” Frank said. “But be careful.”
Joe nodded and eased himself down to the floor again. In a few seconds he'd managed to pick up a shard of the mirror and was edging his way back to Frank. “Don't move,” he urged his brother.
Frank waited silently, holding his breath, while he felt Joe work at the rope holding his hands together. “Almost there,” Joe said with encouragement. “Got it.”
“Way to go!” Frank shouted. He pulled his hands apart and felt the rope drop to the ground. He rubbed his wrists to get the circulation going again, and then leaned over to untie his legs. “You're next,” he told Joe.
Joe turned his back to Frank, and within a few minutes Frank had untied his brother's hands. Joe took care of the rope around his ankles himself. “Now what?” he asked Frank.
“If we're going to find Rosen, we'll need a cover.” Frank got up and started searching the room. “If we're in disguise, he won't know we're after him.”
“And he won't have a chance to get away,” Joe added.
Frank stopped short for a moment and turned to face Joe. “Hey, what did you say earlier about Rosen not being involved in the sabotage?”
Joe looked embarrassed, then confessed, “It doesn't make sense anymore. Why would he go so far to get us out of commission?”
Frank bit his lower lip, thinking. “He wouldn't. Not unless there was something specific he was up toâsomething he had to do today and he thought we might be in the way.”
“Because today's December twentieth,” Joe said.
“Exactly,” Frank replied. “And as we said before, Nash's accident happened yesterday. Rosen could still be behind the sabotage, but the
message must mean something different. We don't have time right now to figure out what it is, though.” He continued hunting around the trailer for a disguise. “I think I found it!” he said in a minute. “Look.”
Frank pulled a red and white polka-dotted clown costume out of Rosen's trunk. Under that costume was another one, with orange and black polka dots. Also in the trunk were two pairs of long shoes with flowers standing up at the tips and two more wigs. “These are perfect. I've seen clowns wearing costumes that look exactly like these. Rosen will never know these are his costumes.” Frank held out the red and white costume to his brother.