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Authors: Franklin W. Dixon

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BOOK: Disaster for Hire
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"But, what about the third man," Joe put in, coming to his brother's aid.

"Ah, yes, the third man," Prynne replied. "As to that, I'm afraid I have nothing to say. Perhaps you tripped over each other in the confusion of the moment. In any event, I strongly suggest that you put this embarrassing matter to rest. That, at least, is what I intend to do."

Prynne stalked away, to show that, for him, the subject was closed.

Joe was steaming. "Do you believe anything he said just then?" he demanded.

Frank shook his head. "There's something going on with Prynne, and it's not just seasickness. But if he won't open up, we're out. Let's just keep our eyes open."

After the ship moored, the crew ran down the gangplank and the passengers disembarked. At the foot of the ramp, Frank and Joe noticed a small knot of people waiting to greet them.

The American students circled around the little welcoming group and Morton Prynne performed introductions.

In the middle of the welcomers stood Spiros Stamos, a stocky man with jet black hair and a bushy mustache of the same color. With him was his sixteen-year-old son, Andreas, who was thin and intense, all bones and angles, like a greyhound.

Also on hand was Spiros's seventeen-year-old daughter, Clea. She had her father's glossy black hair, which she wore long and loose. It framed a beautiful face, with golden skin, highlighted by huge dark brown eyes. She was wearing a brightly colored skirt and a snow-white blouse.

When Joe Hardy's turn came to be introduced he shook hands with the father and son, saying he was pleased to meet them.

Then Joe was face-to-face with Clea. He took her hand and said, with his warmest smile, "I'm really pleased to meet you."

But Clea just gave him a "How do you do" and an impersonal handshake.

While Peter and his Greek relations embraced and exchanged bits of family news, the other Americans waited to board a bus to the hotel.

Phil moved next to Joe. "Clea is cute — you planning on getting to know her better?"

Joe looked shocked. "Hey, come on. This is a different country, a different culture. You can't just start talking to a girl the way you would at the Bayport Mall. You have to take it slow. Just watch and learn."

Frank walked over then and tugged on Joe's arm, leading him away. "Don't be too obvious about it," he said quietly, "but take a look at the big car by the gangplank. See anyone familiar?"

Joe turned casually to check out the car. He recognized one drab figure moving through the crowd of brightly dressed tourists.

His code name was the Gray Man, and he worked for a super secret government organization known only as the Network. He was a heavy hitter in the game of international intrigue.

"What's he doing here?" Joe wanted to know. "And what was he doing on our ship?"

"Maybe it's a coincidence," replied Frank. But he didn't believe it, and neither did his brother. The Hardys and the Gray Man had crossed paths before. Sometimes they'd helped one another, sometimes they'd found themselves fighting the Network.

Could the Gray Man have been the mysterious rescuer who'd come to Frank's aid last night? If so, why hadn't he made himself known?

Frank watched as the Gray Man got into the large American car and took off.

Frank turned to his brother. "One thing's for sure," he said. "If there's any connection between the Network's business and us, we're involved in something a lot more dangerous than a student tour."

Chapter 5

THE WELCOMING PARTY that evening was a serious party. The crowd of forty seemed to be carrying on about ninety conversations at the same time, and the air was full of shouts, laughter, and music. The tiny Old Quarter restaurant was bulging at the seams.

But from the moment he spotted Clea in the crowd, Joe had eyes and ears for no one else. If she'd looked good that afternoon, she was a knockout that night in a simple linen sleeveless dress.

Joe said to Frank, while never taking his eyes off her, "Is she or isn't she gorgeous?"

Frank had to agree. "Clea's something special, all right. But remember—the kind of stuff that goes over with the girls back home may flop over here. Take your time."

But Joe had a glow in his eye, and he wasn't about to be steered away from his target. "We're supposed to be getting acquainted,: right?" he reasoned with his brother. "Well, I' ve got some acquainting to do."

He purposefully moved off through the crowded room.

Clea had been helping one of the Bayportt students choose food from the buffet table, but; by the time Joe got there, she had vanished into the mob. In her place stood Chet, who was busy getting acquainted with a dozen kinds of Greek noshes.

"You see Clea around?" Joe asked.

"She was here, but she went off that way," Chet replied, gesturing vaguely while maintaining his focus on the goodies. "Hey, Joe, you ought to try some of this stuff. It's good!"

"You must have a dolma," said a female voice on Chefs other side. He looked around to And a pretty girl whose big smile showed off the dimples in her cheeks. She fluttered long eyelashes at Chet, who blinked back uncomfortably.

"I am Alma," she said, taking Chet's plate and adding tidbits to what was already on it. "Uh, hi. I'm Chet." "Chet. I like that name. Chet. It's a strong name, fit for a big man. Here." She handed his plate back. "This is a dolma, a grape leaf stuffed with lamb and rice."

Chet sampled, and his face lit up. "Hey, this is great! What's it called again?"

"Dolma. I made it myself. I am a very good cook. One day I will marry a man with a great love of food."

Chet squirmed, not sure how to reply to the girl. Joe grinned. "How do you like that? The way to this girl's heart is through your stomach."

Chet glared at Joe, and then turned back to Alma. Before he could think of anything to say to her, his eye met those of a hulking Greek teenager, who stood a few feet behind the girl. He had muscular arms folded across a barrel chest, short, bristly hair, and dark, flashing eyes.

When he saw Chet looking at him, his eyes flashed even more and his face gathered itself into a dark scowl. Chet turned back to Alma.

"Say, um, do you know who that big guy is?" Chet asked. "He keeps staring at me."

Alma looked over, then giggled. "Oh, that is only my older brother, Aleko. He is — I do not know the word in English — when he sees me with a boy, he is — "

"Jealous?" inquired Chet faintly.

Alma gave him a brilliant smile. "Yes, that is the word. He is very jealous. One time he — Where are you going?"

Chet dove into the thickest part of the crowd, putting as much distance as possible between himself and Alma. Alma frowned and pouted, then followed him. A moment later, the menacing Aleko followed her.

Frank had gotten into conversation with Andreas Stamos, whose initial shyness had given way to enthusiasm when he spoke of the great love of his life—long-distance running.

He announced proudly to Frank, "I'm going to be a marathon runner. Perhaps by 1996 I can compete in the Olympics for my country. I'm the best junior distance runner in Salonika."

Spiros looked down at his son, clearly proud of the boy's achievements. But he only said, "Remember, past accomplishments mean nothing, unless you go on working. All over Greece, all over the world, there are strong, fast boys. Winning will come to the one who wants it the most and tries the hardest."

Andreas grinned. "Every week I run forty to fifty miles."

"Wow — pretty heavy-duty," Peter Stamos said, joining them.

"Next year I'll be running more. When the time comes, I will be ready."

"I bet you will." Frank was deeply impressed by the young runner's determination.

Joe had been making polite chitchat for what seemed like hours, maneuvering to get close to Clea. Every time he got within feet of her, he found himself trapped in another round of introductions. But now, it looked as if his moment had finally arrived. Clea was standing by herself, rearranging the platters of food. Joe walked up to her.

"Can I give you a hand with anything?"

Clea turned toward him, looking at him from those amazing eyes. "No, thank you," she said with a smile. "I've just finished."

Joe toyed with some of the food, picking a few tidbits up and dropping them on a plate. "This is some party your family has put together. You went to a lot of trouble for us."

"To the Greeks, blood ties are important," she said. "This was a very special occasion, our first meeting with our American cousin. Also," she added after a pause, "we wished to give your group a proper welcome."

"Well, speaking for myself," Joe said, "I sure do appreciate it."

Clea continued to smile. "Do you?" she asked sweetly.

"Absolutely." Joe smiled broadly at her.

"Then what I suggest you do," Clea said, "is go to my father and tell him. He is, after all, the one who went to the greatest trouble."

"What I mean is," Joe persisted, "if you ever feel like going to a movie, or the beach, or for something to eat ... "

"Ah!" said Clea as the light dawned. "Now I understand you. You do not want only to thank me. You want to have what you call a 'date.'"

Joe wondered if he was being laughed at. "Well, yeah."

"You know, Joe, you're not the first American boy to ask me for a date. In your country a young man may approach a girl, even if he hardly knows her, and ask for a date. It is nothing—like picking up a newspaper."

"Well, I wouldn't say that it's nothing," said Joe, feeling his face start to flush.

"No respectable Greek boy would presume to ask such a thing so casually. It shows no respect for the young woman."

"Hey, wait a minute, I didn't mean — "

"While you're here, I hope you take advantage of the opportunity to learn about our customs, about which you clearly know nothing. But don't expect to pick up a girl with a nice smile and sweet words."

Clea walked away, leaving Joe red in the face, openmouthed, and wishing he could crawl under a table.

Now two musicians tuned up their bouzou-kis—twangy Greek instruments that looked like a cross between a guitar and a mandolin—and someone else shouted out, "Give us room to dance!"

Several Greek men began to move in a vigorous, stomping dance, urged on by the clapping of the spectators. They dipped and spun with grace and energy and were clearly having the time of their lives. Their joy in the dance spread to their audience, and even Joe felt his bruised spirits lift. The surging beat of the dancers had brought the party to its height.

And then, without warning, the lights went out.

In the pitch-blackness, a confused babble of voices, Greek and English, arose. Then a shrill scream burst out and was abruptly cut off. There were thumps, as of furniture colliding, then the nasty sound of flesh hitting flesh.

A dim rectangle of light appeared, as the restaurant's front door was opened. Acting on instinct, Frank and Joe both raced for the door. Frank bumped into someone — no telling who in the dark — and tripped over a chair leg. He fell headlong into the space that had been cleared for the dancers.

Joe was luckier than his brother and managed to stay close to the wall, avoiding the chaos of panicky people and fallen objects. He made it to the doorway and dashed into the street, just in time to hear the roar of an engine being revved to its limit. A battered old van screeched around a corner and disappeared into the night.

A moment later some order was restored. Lanterns were found and lit. Frank picked himself up as Joe returned.

"You see anything?"

"Just a beat-up old van taking a corner on two wheels. You okay?"

"Yeah," Frank answered, dusting off his clothes. "I just got blindsided by a chair."

"Peter! Peter!" Andreas was shouting wildly. "Peter! Where is he?"

Spiros Stamos took his son by the shoulders to calm him. "What about Peter?" he asked.

"He — he was just here, with me! I was talking to him when the lights went out, and now he's gone!"

The restaurant was small and a thorough search took little time. When it was over, there could be no doubt: Peter Stamos had disappeared.

Chapter 6

IT WAS QUITE late now, and the restaurant had been cleared up. The electric lights were back on — the intruders had simply unscrewed a fuse from the box outside. Local police had arrived on the scene, questioning Spiros Stamos, Ka-tiotis, and Prynne, then departed.

The American students had all gone back to their hotel, a little scared and a lot shaken — all except for Frank and Joe Hardy. They'd stayed behind. Now they were approaching Morton Prynne, who stood off by himself, looking tired and drawn.

When he saw the Hardys moving toward him, he gave them his trademark cold stare.

"What are you doing here?" he demanded. "I told you students to head back to the hotel-and get some sleep."

"Well, we decided that this would be a perfect time for a heart-to-heart talk," replied Frank, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Now, look here, you two," snapped Prynne. "I am in no mood for nonsense."

"Nonsense!" Joe was indignant. "Maybe there's been nonsense going on around here, but we're not the ones responsible for it! time's come for you to level with us."

"I don't know what you're babbling about," insisted Prynne.

"Number one," said Frank, "the 'incident at lunch yesterday, when we were attacked by supposedly drunken sailors. Number two, the two guys who wanted to help you get rid of your seasickness—permanently. And now, Peter gets snatched by someone. I'm beginning to get a little suspicious. Two attempts on you, one on the nephew of our host. And you're trying to tell us there's no connection?"

"You may think we're rude and rowdy," added Joe, "but don't think we're stupid."

"Come on, Mr. Prynne," Frank urged. "Tell us what's going on. You never know. We might be able to help."

"Help! You think you can help? You're just a pair of fools!" Clea Stamos advanced on them, her eyes flashing in anger.

"What do you know of our country?" she demanded. "You Americans, you make me sick! Your interference in matters you cannot understand might cause my cousin's death. Don't give us your 'help,' please. Mind your own business and let us mind ours."

BOOK: Disaster for Hire
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