The Speed Demon
FRANK and Joe Hardy clutched the grips of their motorcycles and stared in horror at the oncoming car. It was careening from side to side on the narrow road.
“He’ll hit us! We’d better climb this hillside- and fast!” Frank exclaimed, as the boys brought their motorcycles to a screeching halt and leaped off.
“On the double!” Joe cried out as they started up the steep embankment.
To their amazement, the reckless driver suddenly pulled his car hard to the right and turned into a side road on two wheels. The boys expected the car to turn over, but it held the dusty ground and sped off out of sight.
“Wow!” said Joe. “Let’s get away from here before the crazy guy comes back. That’s a dead-end road, you know.”
The boys scrambled back onto their motorcycles and gunned them a bit to get past the intersecting road in a hurry. They rode in silence for a while, gazing at the scene ahead.
On their right an embankment of tumbled rocks and boulders sloped steeply to the water below. From the opposite side rose a jagged cliff. The little-traveled road was winding, and just wide enough for two cars to pass.
“Boy, I’d hate to fall off the edge of this road,” Frank remarked. “It’s a hundred-foot drop.”
“That’s right,” Joe agreed. “We’d sure be smashed to bits before we ever got to the bottom.” Then he smiled. “Watch your step, Frank, or Dad’s papers won’t get delivered.”
Frank reached into his jacket pocket to be sure several important legal papers which he was to deliver for Mr. Hardy were still there. Relieved to find them, Frank chuckled and said, “After the help we gave Dad on his latest case, he ought to set up the firm of Hardy and Sons.”
“Why not?” Joe replied with a broad grin. “Isn’t he one of the most famous private detectives in the country? And aren’t we bright too?” Then, becoming serious, he added, “I wish we could solve a mystery on our own, though.”
Frank and Joe, students at Bayport High, were combining business with pleasure this Saturday morning by doing the errand for their father. Even though one boy was dark and the other fair, there was a marked resemblance between the two brothers. Eighteen-year-old Frank was tall and dark. Joe, a year younger, was blond with blue eyes. They were the only children of Fenton and Laura Hardy. The family lived in Bayport, a small but thriving city of fifty thousand inhabitants, located on Barmet Bay, three miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean.
The two motorcycles whipped along the narrow road that skirted the bay and led to Willowville, the brothers’ destination. The boys took the next curve neatly and started up a long, steep slope. Here the road was a mere ribbon and badly in need of repair.
“Once we get to the top of the hill it won’t be so rough,” Frank remarked, as they jounced over the uneven surface. “Better road from there into Willowville.”
Just then, above the sharp put-put of their own motors, the two boys heard the roar of a car approaching from their rear at great speed. They took a moment to glance back.
“Looks like that same guy we saw before!” Joe burst out. “Good night!”
At once the Hardys stopped and pulled as close to the edge as they dared. Frank and Joe hopped off and stood poised to leap out of danger again if necessary.
The car hurtled toward them like a shot. Just when it seemed as if it could not miss them, the driver swung the wheel about viciously and the sedan sped past.
“Whew! That was close!” Frank gasped.
The car had been traveling at such high speed that the boys had been unable to get the license number or a glimpse of the driver’s features. But they had noted that he was hatless and had a shock of red hair.
“If I ever meet him again,” Joe muttered, “I’ll -I’ll-“ The boy was too excited to finish the threat.
Frank relaxed. “He must be practicing for some kind of race,” he remarked, as the dark-blue sedan disappeared from sight around the curve ahead.
The boys resumed their journey. By the time they rounded the curve, and could see Willowville in a valley along the bay beneath them, there was no trace of the rash motorist.
“He’s probably halfway across the state by this time,” Joe remarked.
“Unless he’s in jail or over a cliff,” Frank added.
The boys reached Willowville and Frank delivered the legal papers to a lawyer while Joe guarded the motorcycles. When his brother returned, Joe suggested, “How about taking the other road back to Bayport? I don’t crave going over that bumpy stretch again.”
“Suits me. We can stop off at Chet’s.”
Chet Morton, who was a school chum of the Hardy boys, lived on a farm about a mile out of Bayport. The pride of Chet’s life was a bright yellow jalopy which he had named Queen. He worked on it daily to “soup up” the engine.
Frank and Joe retraced their trip for a few miles, then turned onto a country road which led to the main highway on which the Morton farm was situated. As they neared Chet’s home, Frank suddenly brought his motorcycle to a stop and peered down into a clump of bushes in a deep ditch at the side of the road.
“Joe! That crazy driver or somebody else had a crack-up!”
Among the tall bushes was an overturned blue sedan. The car was a total wreck, and lay wheels upward, a mass of tangled junk.
“We’d better see if there’s anyone underneath,” Joe cried out.
The boys made their way down the culvert, their hearts pounding. What would they find?
A close look into the sedan and in the immediate vicinity proved that there was no victim around.
“Maybe this happened some time ago,” said Joe, “and-“
Frank stepped forward and laid his hand on the exposed engine. “Joe, it’s still warm,” he said. “The accident occurred a short while ago. Now
I’m sure this is the red-haired driver’s car.”
“But what about him?” Joe asked. “Is he alive? Did somebody rescue him, or what happened?”
Frank shrugged. “One thing I can tell you. Either he or somebody else removed the license plates to avoid identification.”
The brothers were completely puzzled by the whole affair. Since their assistance was not needed at the spot, they climbed out of the culvert and back onto their motorcycles. Before long they were in sight of the Mortons’ home, a rambling farmhouse with an apple orchard at the rear. When they drove up the lane they saw Chet at the barnyard gate.
“Hi, fella!” Joe called.
Chet hurried down the lane to meet them. He was a plump boy who loved to eat and was rarely without an apple or a pocket of cookies. His round, freckled face usually wore a smile. But today the Hardys sensed something was wrong. As they brought their motorcycles to a stop, they noticed that their chum’s cheery expression was missing.
“What’s the matter?” Frank asked.
“I’m in trouble,” Chet replied. “You’re just in time to help me. Did you meet a fellow driving the Queen?”
Frank and Joe looked at each other blankly.
“Your car? No, we haven’t seen it,” said Joe. “What’s happened?”
“It’s been stolen!”
“Yes. I just came out to the garage to get the Queen and she was gone,” Chet answered mournfully.
“Wasn’t the car locked?”
“That’s the strange part of it. She was locked, although the garage door was open. I can’t see how anyone got away with it.”
“A professional job,” Frank commented. “Auto thieves always carry scores of keys with them. Chet, have you any idea when this happened?”
“Not more than fifteen minutes ago, because that’s when I came home with the car.”
“We’re wasting time!” Joe cried out. “Let’s chase that thief!”
“But I don’t know which way he went,” Chet protested.
“We didn’t meet him, so he must have gone in the other direction,” Frank reasoned.
“Climb on behind me, Chet,” Joe urged. “The Queen can’t go as fast as our motorcycles. We’ll catch her in no time!”
“And there was only a little gas in my car, anyway,” Chet said excitedly as he swung himself onto Joe’s motorcycle. “Maybe it has stalled by this time.”
In a few moments the boys were tearing down the road in pursuit of the automobile thief I