Authors: Franklin W. Dixon
Hardy Boys Casefiles - 25
The Borderline Case
Franklin W. Dixon
"WHAT IS THIS STUFF, ANYWAY?"
Joe Hardy held up a fork holding something he'd speared from his lunch plate.
His older brother, Frank, glanced up at the fork. "I believe it's squid, Joe."
Joe dropped the fork as if it were red-hot and stared down in mock horror.
"Squid? You serious, or just trying to gross me out?"
Frank leaned forward. "If you look closely, you'll see the little suckers on the tentacles — "
Joe continued to stare. "I knew I shouldn't have ordered anything I couldn't pronounce." Joe was talking about the food in Greece on his summer student exchange trip. He shoved the plate away.
"Lighten up," Frank replied. "Hamburgers and pizza will still be at home when we get there. You might give Greece and its food a chance before you put it down."
Sitting next to Joe was the Hardys' friend Chet Morton. He looked up from his plate long enough to observe, "You know, it really isn't bad. And this pink stuff is great on bread."
Frank laughed. "Chet never met a meal he didn't like."
The Hardys were part of a group of Bayport students sitting around a big table at an outdoor restaurant in Piraeus, the port of Athens. It was their first day in Greece. Later that afternoon they would board a ship to Salonika, Greece's second-largest city. Salonika was in the north, only forty miles from the border of Yugoslavia.
The exchange students included another good friend of Frank and Joe's, Phil Cohen, and a boy of Greek heritage, Peter Stamos, who spoke up then.
"That 'pink stuff is called taramosalata, and it's made from fish eggs and oil — "
"Peter, please," Joe cut in. "There're some things it's better not to know."
The chaperon of the Bayport group was a fussy-looking man with glasses — a Professor Morton Prynne. He had been frowning at Joe from his place at the head of the table. "One purpose of student exchange is to learn about the customs and habits of other lands. It wouldn't hurt you to try the food."
Joe muttered under his breath.
"Come on, Joe," Frank urged. "Don't you remember Dad telling us about eating camel hump in North Africa and rattlesnake in Arizona?"
Their father, Fenton Hardy, was an internationally known private eye. His work took him to all parts of the world.
Morton Prynne cleaned his glasses, then tapped the table with a spoon. "May I have your attention for a moment? As long as we have time before we board our ship, we might go over our schedule for the next few days."
"Bor - r - r - ing," Chet said through clenched teeth.
"After lunch we will go directly to the pier, where we will go aboard. The luggage is already loaded. We leave the harbor at three this afternoon, and reach Salonika at two P. M. tomorrow. You will be sleeping two to a cabin. You should already have your room assignments. If anyone has misplaced his or hers, please see me after lunch.
"We will be met in Salonika by Mr. Spiros Stamos, who will lead a Greek contingent of students to America. I remind you that Spiros Stamos is the uncle of our own Peter Stamos. They have never met, and in honor of that meeting, and to celebrate our arrival, there will be a party tomorrow night, hosted by Mr. Stamos and his son and daughter.
"For the next two days, Mr. Stamos will be our guide for the many interesting sights in Salonika and the area."
Joe Hardy stifled a groan. "Ruins," he stated darkly. "Ruins and more ruins — we'll be climbing over piles of old rocks."
Prynne interrupted Joe's gloomy prediction. "Please remember—especially you, Joe—that you represent American youth. Whatever Mr. Stamos may have planned for this visit, I expect that you will behave in a way that will reflect positively on our country. You will treat Mr. Stamos with more respect than you have given me."
Phil Cohen grinned. "In other words," he whispered, "shut up and eat your squid."
Opposite Prynne sat a Greek school teacher named Nicholas Kaliotis, serving as the professor's assistant and, when necessary, as an interpreter. He looked up, his broad grin taking some of the sting out of Prynne's stuffy speech.
"I'm told that we'll be visiting one of the many excellent beaches near the city." He smiled. "We Greeks want you to know that we have more than monuments and ruins. I might even be able to find some American-style hamburgers in Salonika."
As Kaliotis had hoped, the mood of the group brightened.
Chet tapped Joe on the shoulder. "If you don't plan to eat any of that," he pointed to Joe's untouched lunch, "do you mind if I take some of that . . . whatever the pink stuff is called?"
Joe slid the plate over. "Here you go, big guy. I'll stick to bread and water for now."
"Right," Frank said, "you go ahead and soak up some Greek culture, Chet."
Phil Cohen turned to Peter Stamos. "You've never met any of your relatives in Salonika? At all?"
Peter shook his head. "My father went to Greece for visits once or twice. But I've never been to Greece before."
"Do you speak any Greek?" asked Frank.
"I speak some, and I understand a little more. My folks didn't use it around the house—except when they didn't want us to understand what they were saying."
"Hey, Peter," said Joe. "Maybe you can help us out while we're on the boat with some basic vocabulary. I'm still having trouble with 'please' and 'thank you.' "
"Sure. I guarantee that by the time we reach Salonika, you'll be saying 'please' and 'thank you' just like a native. Maybe even — "
The raspy shout cut off all conversation. On the sidewalk, behind a low white-metal fence, three scruffy men glared at the group. They wore old and dirty denim pants, and two had dark blue peacoats. The third wore a shabby sweater. All three looked as if they hadn't shaved or showered in the past few days. All three looked like sailors.
"What are you doing here, Americans?" the guy in the sweater snarled in heavily accented English. "Nobody want you in Greece! Why you don't go home?"
A second one joined in. "Go away, Yankee pigs. Greek people sick of you!"
Prynne leaned in toward the students. "Pay no attention. It seems they've been drinking. If you ignore them, they'll leave, but if you answer, it will only get worse."
"Hey, talk to me, Americans!" The first taunter leaned over the fence. "You think you too good to talk to me?" He spat on the ground near the table—right by Joe's foot.
Joe sat still, but his face flushed under his blond hair.
"Hey, pretty boy, what's the matter? You don't like Greeks now, pretty boy?"
The ringleader had an ugly grin on his skinny, pockmarked face.
"Joe — " Frank warned, his dark eyes flashing.
But Joe just held up his fork. "Greeks, yes," he said. "You, no."
Nicholas Kaliotis jumped up, shouting something in Greek, and the three toughs vaulted the low fence. A waiter rushed to intercept them but was knocked flat by one of the three with a disdainful backhanded swipe.
Suddenly there were large, ugly knives gleaming in the thugs' hands. They stalked toward the Americans, murder in their eyes.
JOE LEAPED TO his feet as one of the men came for him. The thug stopped a few feet from Joe, sizing him up, staying in a half-crouch and occasionally feinting. His knife hand lazily moved from side to side, making short jabs toward his target. Then he stepped forward quickly, with his knife aimed at Joe's stomach.
Chet Morton, sitting unnoticed, had quietly picked up a Coke bottle. Now, moving with a speed and agility unexpected of someone his size and weight, he brought it down with a chopping blow on the wrist of the man's knife hand. The weapon clattered to the ground as the attacker grunted in pain, cradling his injured wrist in his other hand.
Wasting no time, Joe caught his enemy on the jaw with a right that had all his weight and strength behind it. The man hit the pavement like a sack of cement and lay motionless.
Meanwhile, a second assailant was going for Prynne. He circled the students, then zeroed in on the head of the table, his knife in front of him, edge up, as experienced blade-fighters keep theirs. Prynne scrambled out of his chair and backed up one step, staying just beyond range of the sharp point and looking terrified. His attacker grinned—this little fellow in the eyeglasses seemed like an easy mark.
But as the attacker started his lunge, Prynne snatched a cup of hot tea from the table and flung the steaming contents into the thug's face. Screaming, knife and attack forgotten, the man went down, clutching his scalded face.
The last of the attackers, the ringleader, had hung back. Now, seeing how things had gone, he spun away, cleared the fence in one bound, and took off running down the street. Frank sprang up, intending to chase him down.
Prynne called out as Frank started to move: "Frank! No!"
Frank wheeled and looked at Prynne in surprise. "Why not, Mr. Prynne? These guys should get arrested. I can have that one back here in — "
"Frank, that'll do! Just leave things alone," snapped Prynne. Then he softened slightly, explaining, "You haven't spent time in Greece, Frank. You can't imagine the amount of red tape we'd get tangled up in with the police. We might be stuck here for hours, even days. We'd miss our ship, wreck our schedule. The entire tour would be ruined, and all over a foolish business with a few men who had a few drinks too many. Best not to get involved."
Rubbing his bruised knuckles, Joe said, "What about the two guys lying here? Are we going to let them go, too? Maybe we owe them an apology for being so hostile — I mean, all they did was try to stick us with those Greek toothpicks!"
Prynne glowered at Joe. "Certainly we won't let them go. I'll just have a word with the manager here and see to it that they're turned over to the authorities. In the meantime we can be on our way to the pier. Justice will be served, and we won't have to be involved."
With that he signaled to the manager and drew him aside. As they talked, Joe tapped Chet on the shoulder.
"Hey, thanks for the help. I owe you one."
Chet blushed and smiled. "I already owe you a few, remember?"
Prynne paid for lunch, and for the damage done by the attackers. Then the manager shook hands and called out two waiters and a busboy to take charge of the thugs. Meanwhile, Prynne hurriedly got his students to their feet and - shepherded them off the terrace and toward the pier.
Half an hour later the American students stood at the pier at the end of a long line of passengers. The procession moved very slowly — each would-be boarder went through a rigorous examination before being allowed to proceed.
Joe watched the lack of progress with growing impatience. "I don't see what all the rush was for back at the restaurant," he complained. "We could have spent the whole afternoon clearing that mess up with the police and still have been in plenty of time for this."
Frank sighed and ran his fingers through his brown hair. "Well, Prynne's right about one thing," he said. "We've never been to Greece, and he has. Maybe he's right about dealing with the local law. Let's just take it easy and assume he knows what he's doing."
"Okay." But Joe still wasn't very happy. "It fast feels weird, ducking out like that after being attacked, almost as if we were the criminals. I bet Dad wouldn't be too crazy about it either."
Frank thought for a moment. "Maybe so," he said. "But we're here and he's not." Then he spotted Peter Stamos and waved him over.
"Hi, Frank, Joe! Too bad we can't fight our way through. That's some right you've got there, Joe. You put that ugly customer out with one punch!"
Joe smiled and said, "Thanks to Chet and his trusty Coke bottle."
"Peter," asked Frank, "you remember just before those guys came at us, Mr. Kaliotis jumped up and yelled something at them?"
Peter replied, "Yeah. What about it?"
Frank continued, "Did you understand what he said? Was your Greek good enough to follow it?"
Peter's forehead wrinkled in concentration as he thought back. Then he shook his head, saying, "I didn't really catch it, Frank. I mean, everything happened so fast. He was yelling something like "These are important Americans, so don't mess with them ... ' Some kind of warning." He shrugged. "Why do you ask?"
"Oh, no special reason, I was just wondering," Frank said. "Hey, what do you know! This line actually seems to be moving. I was beginning to think we'd have to camp here for the night."
The American kids began to pull out their passports and tickets. They passed the checkin booth and started up the passenger ramp. At the top of the ramp, Frank turned back for a final look at Piraeus.
The pier was bordered by a busy waterfront street with a scattering of sailors' bars, shops, and a steady stream of traffic. At the corner nearest the pier, a man with a knit cap and jeans stood leaning against a wall. He had a thin ferret face and needed a shave badly. His eyes never left the group of Americans. The man walked over to a parked car and leaned in through a window to talk.