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Authors: Franklin W. Dixon

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BOOK: Disaster for Hire
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Then the car's passenger door opened, and two men got out. They were similarly dressed, in heavy wool coats, jeans, and knit caps.

As Frank turned away to step onto the boat, the three men joined the boarding line.

All through the afternoon and early evening, the ship sailed in relatively calm water between islands. But after dinner it reached the open sea and began to pitch and roll.

For the students from Bayport, the unfamiliar food and the constant swaying had a nasty effect on their stomachs. By nine in the evening, most of the group had retreated to their cabins, trying to find some comfort in bed.

Joe Hardy was one of the sickest of all. When Frank suggested a walk on the deck, Joe only groaned and turned his slightly green and sweaty face away. "Walking? Even talking is too much for me." So Frank went to search out other company.

But the only other young person who wasn't laid low for the night was Chet Morton, who happily agreed to take a little fresh air on deck. The two went out and leaned against the rail on their deck, looking out over the sea.

The moon laid down a white path for the ship to follow as it cut through the whitecaps. Frank thought that he could make out the shoreline in the distance, a thin smudge slightly darker than sea or sky.

Frank grinned at Chet. "We must be the only ones who have their sea legs."

"Yeah, I guess so," agreed Chet, who liked the notion that he was a better sailor than the others. He sucked in his belly and squinted out to sea, thinking of himself as an old salt. A few minutes passed in friendly silence.

"Say, Frank," Chet said at length, "this sea air is giving me an appetite. You think they have a snack bar anywhere on this boat? A hot fudge sundae would really be — "

"I don't think you'll find anything open this late," replied Frank with a grin. "Besides, even if they did have late-night service, it'd most likely be squid or octopus or fish eggs."

"I'd settle for that," Chet sighed.

Frank smiled. "Tough it out then. You'll have to wait until morning."

Suddenly a loud thump echoed from a nearby passageway. A harsh, whispering voice followed, too faint for the boys to make out the words.

Chet turned to Frank. "What was — ?" Frank cut him off with a quick "Shhh."

He stood and listened intently and then looked around. The whispers changed to scraping sounds and seemed to be getting closer. Motioning for Chet to follow, Frank moved noiselessly to a point where they would be hidden in deep shadow. They pressed themselves against a bulkhead and waited.

Three figures shuffled onto the deck, visible only as darker shapes in the dim light. Frank saw two guys half dragging a third between them. As they neared the rail, the moonlight hit them.

With a jolt, Frank recognized the figure being pulled along as Morton Prynne!

Chapter 3

PRYNNE LOOKED HALF-CONSCIOUS. Frank and Chet exchanged a quick glance, and then charged forward from their shadowy hiding place.

The boys had the element of surprise on their side. Reaching the closer of the two, Frank grabbed him by the shoulder and yanked him around, breaking the guy's grip on Prynne. He stiff-armed the man in the midsection. His breath came out in one loud whoosh before he fell to his hands and knees.

Chet had taken the other one by the collar and belt and lifted him the way a pro wrestler might. He then bounced him off the bulkhead. The man hit with a metallic clunk and slid to the floor, where a weak side-to-side movement of his head showed that he was still breathing. He was probably trying to figure out what had hit him.

With both of the mystery men out of action, Frank turned to Prynne. From somewhere just beyond his line of sight a heavy body threw itself at him. Frank, caught completely off guard, was propelled toward the rail by the momentum of the surprise attack.

He slammed into the wooden railing and stopped, momentarily stunned. He felt himself being lifted then, and had a brief flash of churning water below him and of a distant, barely visible shoreline. There seemed to be no way of stopping whoever it was from sending him for a deadly moonlight swim.

And then, just as unexpectedly as the surprise attack had begun, Frank's still unknown enemy lost his grip, dropping Frank heavily onto the deck. Frank struck his head sharply against the rail on the way down. Stunned and breathless, he was only vaguely conscious that someone had come to his rescue. After a brief pause to recover his wits and his wind, he struggled to his knees.

He stayed that way until he was sure that no bones had been broken, and then, gritting his teeth, staggered painfully to his feet.

He saw Chet, leaning against the bulkhead holding his head, and Prynne, who was now up on one elbow.

There was no one else around. The unknown men had vanished, leaving the three Americans, bruised but breathing, alone on the rolling deck.

Frank went to help Prynne get up as Chet slowly joined them.

"Thank you, boys," said Prynne faintly. "I feel all right now, I ... " He swayed, and clutched at Frank's shoulder for support.

"Sir," said Frank, "I think you may need medical attention. You could have a concussion or internal injuries. Why don't I stay with you while Chet looks for the authorities."

Even though he was battered, Prynne hadn't lost his pride. "Don't be ridiculous!" he snapped, straightening his clothes and glaring at Frank. "I'm in no need of anything, except the opportunity to go back to my cabin to lie down."

Frank looked narrowly at the man's pale face. "Look, Mr. Prynne, someone has to let the ship's captain know what just happened. Even if you won't see a doctor, we can't just — " "I have only one need right now," Prynne said, cutting him off. "And that is to get back to my bunk and rest. If you want to help me, you can help me there." Frank and Chet looked helplessly at each other as their teacher tottered into the passageway.

Chet stared after him. "What do you think we should do?" he asked.

Frank didn't speak at first. Then he shook his head. "I think if we follow him, we'll probably get our heads bitten off. Maybe we'd better do what he says. Let's turn in for the night and take care of business in the morning."

But Chet was still curious. "Do you figure those two guys really wanted to dump the professor over the side?"

"It looked that way from where I was standing." Frank gave Chet a puzzled look. "Two guys? Didn't you see the third guy?"

Chet stared. "What third guy? All I saw was the two we went after, the ones with Prynne. There was another?"

"There had to be," answered Frank. "After I took care of the one I grabbed, someone jumped me from behind and tried to dump me overboard. There didn't seem to be a thing I could do about it. Then someone took the new guy off me. I thought maybe it was you."

"Don't look at me," protested Chet. "I thought my man was down and out, but he tripped me up somehow, and I think he kicked me in the head before he took off. By the time I came to again, there were just the three of us."

Frank was at a loss. Who could have saved him? He walked over to the rail and looked out at the sea, trying to put it all together.

Chet joined him. "There was something else kind of funny, Frank. I can't be sure of it, but — "

"What?" Frank turned to his friend.

Chet shrugged. "Everything was pretty mixed up and dark, but I thought the guy who attacked me was one of those guys from the restaurant this afternoon."

The Hardys got up at noon the next day to find the sun shining, the winds calm, and the sea smooth. Joe stretched and yawned, sitting up in his bunk while Frank did pushups, all the exercise their cramped cabin allowed.

Interrupting a pushup, Frank lifted his head to glance at his brother. "Looks like you're back among the living today," he observed.

Joe swung his legs out of the bunk and sat up, smiling. "It's amazing," he said. "Today I feel great and ready to eat about ten pounds of steak. Last night if someone had asked me to choose between food and being tossed over the side of the ship, I'd have had to flip a coin."

Frank got to his feet. "Funny you should mention going over the side," he said. He told Joe about the events of the evening before.

Joe's smile faded as he listened. "Sounds like a pretty close call," he said.

Frank shrugged.

"I should have been there for you," Joe growled.

"Hey, go easy on yourself," said Frank. "When you're sick, you're sick. Anyway, Chet did a pretty good job standing in for you."

"I don't like this," Joe insisted with a frown. "Something's not right. Let's find the captain and let him know — "

"Whoa, take it easy." Frank raised his hands. "I think it'd be better if we talk to Prynne first. Whoever attacked him has nowhere to go — they're still somewhere aboard."

Joe jumped to his feet. "Then let's get cleaned up, find Prynne, and talk to him—after we find something to eat."

Frank grinned as he pulled on a pair of jeans. "Trust you to get your priorities straight."

A few minutes later they entered a small snack bar on an upper deck. Phil Cohen and Chet Morton were sitting at a table, and Phil waved the Hardys over.

"Chet told me about the fun and games last night," said Phil as the Hardys sat. "You okay, Frank?"

"I've got some bruises where I hit the rail."

Frank rubbed his ribs. "No big deal — it could have been worse. How are you feeling?"

Phil smiled weakly. "Now that my stomach is back where it belongs, I'm fine. Last night it kept trying to crawl out through my throat."

Joe said, "I think some plain breakfast food will help keep mine in place. What's safe to eat here?"

Chet looked up from his plate. "Try some of these cakes, Joe. This one's my favorite. It's filled with chopped nuts and cinnamon, and the honey is the best I've ever tasted. And they have this soda, it's a kind of sour cherry flavor, I think it's called, uh, veeseenada, or something, and — "

"Easy, big fella," said Phil, laughing. "Don't strip your gears." Then he turned to Frank and Joe. "You'd probably like this spinach pie," he said. "And the cakes are good, if you have a serious sweet tooth, like our pal here."

They signaled to a waiter, who took the Hardys' order. Before he could leave, Chet stopped him. "Um, as long as you're here, bring a couple more of those spinach pies. Oh, and a couple of the ones filled with custard."

The waiter gaped at him, not certain he'd heard correctly. "You want two more of this and two more of this one here? Yes?"

"And another one of these veeseenadas to wash it down," finished Chet happily.

Chet noticed the others grinning at him, and shrugged. "It's the sea air," he said.

"Yeah, right," said Joe.

"Take it easy on Chet," Frank cut in. "He had a busy time last night.

"Speaking of last night," Frank continued in a more serious vein, "maybe it'd be better if we kept all of that to ourselves for a while. At least until we've talked to Prynne anyway."

Chet and Phil agreed to keep quiet.

"Have you seen Prynne today?" asked Frank.

"Nope," answered PhiL "We got up late and came right in here."

From outside came a babble of cheers and excited voices. Nicholas Kaliotis stopped in the entrance and saw the students.

"Better eat fast, friends, we've arrived! We are coming into the port of Salonika!"

An hour later the ship had docked, and the group was waiting on deck to disembark. There was still no sign of Morton Prynne.

"I don't think he wants to show himself until the last possible minute," Joe muttered. Then he nudged Frank. "There he is now, over there where the gangplank is being hooked up."

The Hardys made their way over to Prynne. He stood waiting, unsmiling.

"How are you feeling today?" asked Frank as they joined him.

"Thank you, I feel quite well," said Prynne. He turned back to look at the dock.

Frank kept on. "We didn't want to do anything until we had seen you and talked it over. But I think it's a good idea to report the attack before the guys responsible have a chance to get off the ship and disappear."

Prynne swung around to glare at Frank. "Attack?" he repeated. "I don't know what you're talking about!"

Chapter 4

FRANK AND JOE gave each other a startled glance. "You do remember last night, don't you, Professor?" he said. "The guys who were trying to dump you over the rail? The ones that Chet and I took care of for you? Does any of this ring a bell?"

"If I were you," Prynne answered coldly, "I would put such business completely behind me. The Greek authorities take a dim view of rowdy young people, even young people who carry American passports."

"Rowdy?" Frank exclaimed in disbelief. "Now, wait just a minute! I mean, I don't expect any medals or anything, but I don't call saving you from an attack being 'rowdy."

Prynne gave Frank an icy scowl. "Let us get this clear," he said. "For your information, Mr. Hardy, there was no attack."

While Frank gawked, Prynne went on. "Last evening I was suddenly taken with a severe case of seasickness. I felt extremely weak, dizzy, and feverish, and feared that I might pass out. Two passengers very kindly offered to help me outside, where they thought the fresh air might help to revive me.

"No sooner had they assisted me to the deck than we were set upon by two maniacs. Quite understandably, my helpers beat a hasty retreat, frightened out of their wits.

"If I had not felt so wretched, I would have taken you to task then and there for your foolish behavior. Now let's have no further mention of this regrettable affair."

But Frank was not about to let it drop.

"Just a second, Mr. Prynne. What about the third man, who attacked me after we had dealt with the first two? And one of your 'helpers' looked just like one of the 'drunken sailors' who attacked us at the restaurant yesterday. What about that?"

Prynne's eyebrows rose in surprise. "You clearly saw his face?"

"I didn't. But Chet's pretty sure."

"I see," Prynne said with a smirk. "On a dark night, while the two of you were engaged in your disgraceful roughhousing, your friend was 'pretty sure' he recognized a face. Do you expect anyone to believe such a story?"

BOOK: Disaster for Hire
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