Chapter 1: Out of the Blue
"You think we'll survive this?" seventeen-year-old Joe Hardy asked his older brother as he felt the muscles in his back tense up.
"I don't know." Frank Hardy stood grinning, surrounded by shopping bags. They were everywhere. "They've got us outnumbered four to one. It does look hopeless."
"It wouldn't be, if you two would stop procrastinating and load those bags," a stern voice insisted.
Frank and Joe smiled sheepishly. The voice belonged to their ever-efficient aunt Gertrude, their father's only sister. "It's four o'clock, and we still have three more stops to make before dinner."
The two brothers quietly groaned and finished loading the shopping bags in through the rear of their custom van. The boys often used the van to chase down crooks, but things had been quiet lately, as if all criminals had taken a holiday.
They couldn't help feeling a little disappointed, as this was the second day of their weeklong school break and they had hoped to spend it doing something -- anything -- more exciting than shopping.
It was a beautiful early fall day, perfect for biking, skateboarding -- not for playing errand boys.
"Hey, Frank, Joe, what's up?" Tony Prito called out as he cruised by in his car. "See you down at Mr. Pizza later?"
"Not likely," Joe replied. "We've got more...important things to do."
Tony grinned. "Yeah, I can see that. Later."
"This wouldn't be bad if it were just down time between cases," Frank said. "But things have been too quiet lately."
"I'm extremely happy you two are not involved in any murder and mayhem," said their aunt. She crossed several items off her list of errands. "It's bad enough Fenton courts danger, without his sons following suit."
Fenton Hardy, the boys' father, was a well-known and successful private investigator. It seemed as if his skills had rubbed off on the boys. Robbers, kidnappers, and saboteurs -- Frank and Joe had tackled them all and with tremendous success.
"If only something would happen," Joe continued. He stepped over to a sidewalk newspaper dispenser and purchased a paper. The headline was in bold black type.
"'City Council wants to bring more business to Bayport,'" Joe read out loud. "Our senator is lobbying for better ecological management of our shoreline. As I said, nothing earth-shaking."
"Senator Ogilvy is a good man," Aunt Gertrude declared. "I volunteered in his last campaign. He really cares about his constituents. In fact, he spends more time here than he does in Washington."
Frank Hardy shrugged his shoulders. "That's great, Aunt Gertrude," he said, "but a lot of politicians say and do anything to get elected."
"Well, not our senator, he -- " Suddenly Aunt Gertrude glanced at the big clock on top of a store down the street. "Oh my, it's later than I thought, and we still have a lot to do before dinner."
Joe winked at Frank. "So maybe we should skip the rest of the list," he said.
Aunt Gertrude gave her nephew a look that said that was not an option.
"Okay, okay," Joe said sheepishly. "Scratch that idea." He walked around to the side of the van to hold the door for his aunt. "Okay, Aunt Gertrude," Joe said. "Let's get this show on the road."
Joe looked around. Where was his aunt? She was no longer standing behind the van. Movement caught his eye, and he turned to see his aunt running down the street. "Aunt Gertrude, where are you going?" Joe called out.
"What's up?" Frank asked.
Joe pointed to their aunt, who was now half a block away, in front of the mini mall they had just left. "I've never seen her run like that before," Joe said.
Frank grabbed his brother by the arm and took off after her. He thought he knew what had caused his aunt's running off. Then Joe spotted what Frank had seen.
Just beyond Aunt Gertrude three men were fighting. As the brothers drew closer it became clear that two of the men, one blond and one dark-haired, were attacking the third one. The two men then started to drag the third by the arms toward a white van parked at the curb.
Before Frank and Joe could catch up to their aunt, she had reached the men. The dark-haired one, tall and lean, had just raised his hand above the victim's head. Joe spotted a blackjack in the attacker's hand, ready to come down hard. That was when Aunt Gertrude shocked the boys for the second time. She reached up and quickly grabbed the man's arm, and held on with all her might.
But the man was strong, and the boys knew that it was only a matter of seconds before he'd break her grasp -- and the first thing he'd strike would be her.
Copyright © 2001 by Simon & Schuster, Inc.