Red Versus Yellow

BY THE time the Hardy boys and Chet had raced from the Mortons’ kitchen, the prowler was not in sight. Thinking he had run across one of the fields, the three pursuers scattered in various directions to search. Joe struck out straight ahead and pressed his ear to the ground to listen for receding footsteps. He could hear none. Presently the three boys met once more to discuss their failure to catch up to the man, and to question why he had been there.

“Do you think he was a thief?” Joe asked Chet. “What would he steal?”

“Search me,” the stout boy replied. “Let’s take a look.”

“I believe he was carrying something, but I couldn’t see what it was,” Frank revealed.

The barn door had not been closed yet for the night and the boys walked in. Chet turned on the lights and the searchers gazed around.

“Look!” Frank cried suddenly.

He pointed to the floor below the telephone extension in the barn. There lay a man’s gray wig.

“The intruder’s!” Joe exclaimed.

“It sure looks so,” Frank agreed. “And something must have scared him. In his hurry to get away he must have dropped this.”

Frank picked up the wig and examined it carefully for a clue. “No identifying mark in it. Say, I have an idea,” he burst out. “That man phoned you from here, Chet.”

“You mean he’s the one who threatened me?”

“Yes. If you know how, you can call your own telephone number from an extension.”

“That’s right.”

Chet was wagging his head. “You mean that guy bothered to come all the way here to use this phone to threaten me? Why?”

Both Hardys said they felt the man had not come specifically for that reason. There was another more important one. “We must figure it out. Chet, you ought to be able to answer that better than anybody else. What is there, or was there, in this barn to interest such a person?”

The stout boy scratched his head and let his eyes wander around the building. “It wouldn’t be any of the livestock,” he said slowly. “And it couldn’t be hay or feed.” Suddenly Chet snapped his fingers. “Maybe I have the answer. Wait a minute, fellows.”

He disappeared from the barn and made a bee-line for the garage. Chet hurried inside but was back in a few seconds.

“I have it!” he shouted. “That guy came here to get the spare tire for the jalopy.”

“The one you had is gone?” Frank asked.

Chet nodded. He suggested that perhaps the man was not too far away. He might be on some side road changing the tire. “Let’s find out,” he urged.

Although the Hardys felt that it would be a useless search, they agreed to go along. They got on their motorcycles, with Chet riding behind Joe. The boys went up one road and down another, covering the territory very thoroughly. They saw no parked car.

“Not even any evidence that a driver pulled off the road and stayed to change a tire,” Frank remarked. “No footprints, no tool marks, no treads.”

“That guy must have had somebody around to pick him up,” Chet concluded with a sigh.

“Cheer up, Chet,” Frank said, as they walked back to the house. “That spare tire may turn out to be a clue in this case.”

When the boys entered the kitchen again, they were met with anxious inquiries from Callie and Iola.

“What in the world were you doing-dashing out of here without a word?” Callie asked in a shaking voice.

“Yes, what’s going on? You had us frightened silly,” Iola joined in. “First Chet gets a threatening phone call, and then suddenly all three of you run out of the house like madmen!”

“Calm down, girls,” Frank said soothingly. “I saw a prowler, and we were looking for him, but all we found was this!” He tossed the gray wig onto a chair in the hall.

Suddenly there was a loud wail from Chet. “My Welsh rabbit! It’s been standing so long it will be ruined!”

Iola began to giggle. “Oh, you men!” she said. “Do you suppose Callie and I would let all that good cheese go to waste? We kept that Welsh rabbit at just the right temperature and it isn’t spoiled at all.”

Chet looked relieved, as he and the others took their places at the table. Although there was a great deal of bantering during the meal, the conversation in the main revolved around Chet’s missing jalopy and the thief who evidently wore hair disguises to suit his fancy.

Frank and Joe asked Chet if they might take along the gray wig and examine it more thoroughly. There might be some kind of mark on it to indicate either the maker or the owner. Chet readily agreed.

But when supper was over, Callie said to Frank with a teasing gleam in her eyes, “Why don’t you hot-shot sleuths examine that wig now? I’d like to watch your super-duper methods.”

“Just for that, I will,” said Frank.

He went to get the wig from the hall chair, and then laid it on the kitchen table. From his pocket he took a small magnifying glass and carefully examined every inch of the lining of the wig.

“Nothing here,” he said presently.

The hair was thoroughly examined and parted strand by strand to see if there were any identifying designations on the hair piece. Frank could discover nothing.

“I’m afraid this isn’t going to help us much,” he said in disgust. “But I’ll show it to the different wig men in town.”

As he finished speaking the telephone rang and Iola went to answer it. Chet turned white and looked nervous. Was the caller the man who had threatened him? And what did he want?

Presently Iola returned to the kitchen, a worried frown on her face. “It’s a man for you, Chet. He wouldn’t give his name.”

Trembling visibly, Chet walked slowly to the telephone. The others followed and listened.

“Ye-yes, I’m Chet Morton. N-no, I haven’t got my car back.”

There was a long silence, as the person on the other end of the line spoke rapidly.

“B-but I haven’t any money,” Chet said finally. •”I_ Well, okay, I’ll let you know.”

Chet hung up and wobbled to a nearby chair. The others bombarded him with questions.

The stout boy took a deep breath, then said, “I can get my jalopy back. But the man wants a lot of money for the information as to where it is.”

“Oh, I’m glad you’re going to get your car back! Callie exclaimed.

“But I haven’t got any money,” Chet groaned.

“Who’s the man?” Frank demanded.

There was another long pause before Chet answered. Then, looking at the waiting group before him, he announced simply, “Smuff. Oscar Smuff !”

His listeners gasped in astonishment. This was the last thing they expected to hear. The detective was selling information as to where Chet would find his missing jalopy!

“Why, that cheap so-and-so!” Joe cried out angrily.

Chet explained that Smuff had said he was not in business for his health. He had to make a living and any information which he dug up as a detective should be properly paid for.

Frank shrugged. “I suppose Smuff has a point there. How much does he want for the information, Chet?”

“His fee is twenty-five dollars!”

“What!” the others cried out.

After a long consultation it was decided that the young people would pool their resources. Whatever sum they could collect toward the twenty-five dollars would be offered to Oscar Smuff to lead them to Chet’s car.

“But make it very plain,” Frank admonished, “that if it’s not your jalopy Smuff leads us to, you won’t pay him one nickel.”

Chet put in a call to Smuff’s home. As expected, the detective grumbled at the offer of ten dollars but finally accepted it. He said he would pick up the boys in half an hour and take them to the spot.

About this time Mr. and Mrs. Morton returned home. Chet and Iola’s father was a good-looking, jolly man with his son’s same general build and coloring. He was in the real-estate business in Bay-port and ran the farm as a hobby.

Mrs. Morton was an older edition of her daughter Iola and just as witty and lighthearted. But when she learned what had transpired and that her son had been threatened, she was worried.

“You boys must be very careful,” Mrs. Morton advised. “From what I hear about Smuff, this red-haired thief could easily put one over on him. So watch your step!”

Chet promised that they would. “Good luck!” Callie called out, as Smuff beeped his horn outside the door. “And don’t be too late. I want to hear the news before I have to go home.”

Frank, Joe, and Chet found Smuff entirely uncommunicative about where they were going. He seemed to enjoy the role he was playing.

“I knew I’d be the one to break this case,” he boasted.

Joe could not resist the temptation of asking Smuff if he was going to lead them to the thief as well as to the car. The detective flushed in embarrassment and admitted that he did not have full details yet on this part of the mystery.

“But it won’t be long before I capture that fellow,” he assured the boys. They managed to keep their faces straight and only hoped that they were not now on a wild-goose chase.

Twenty minutes later Smuff pulled into the town of Ducksworth and drove straight to a used-car lot. Stopping, he announced, “Well, here we are. Get ready to fork over that money, Chet.”

Smuff nodded to the attendant in charge, then led the boys down a long aisle past row after row of cars to where several jalopies were lined up against a rear fence. Turning left, the detective finally paused before a bright red car.

“Here you are!” said Smuff grandly, extending his right hand toward Chet. “My money, please.”

The stout boy as well as the Hardys stared at the jalopy. There was no question but that it was the same make and model as Chet’s.

“The thief thought he could disguise it by painting it red,” Smuff explained.

“Is that your guess?” Frank asked quietly.

Oscar Smuff frowned. “How else could you figure it?” he asked.

“Then there’ll be yellow paint under the red,” Frank went on. “Let’s take a look to make sure.”

It was evident that Smuff did not like this procedure. “So you doubt me, eh?” he asked in an unpleasant tone.

“Anybody can get fooled,” Frank told him. “Well, Chet, let’s operate on this car.”

The detective stood by sullenly as Frank pulled out a penknife and began to scrape the red paint off part of the fender.