Authors: Franklin W. Dixon
Hardy Boys Casefiles - 35
The Dead Season
Franklin W. Dixon
"But you're the fourth cab driver we've asked," Callie Shaw said in desperation. "Why won't anyone take us to Runner's Harbor?"
"I don't know about anybody, but I'm on my break," mumbled the cabbie.
"Doesn't anybody around here work for a living?" grumbled Joe Hardy.
Frank Hardy pointed toward a battered black cab parked in the shade of a huge palm tree a couple hundred feet away. "There's another one."
Again they picked up their luggage and trudged wearily beneath the late-afternoon sun. The air was damp and made their walk uncomfortable.
"Boy, is it hot," said Joe, pausing a moment to push a strand of blond hair off his forehead. Sweat was once again running into his eyes, making them sting.
"It'll be cool at the hotel," said Callie, her enthusiasm still high. "My cousin Gary says it's always pleasant there."
"Speaking of your cousin," said Joe, "why didn't he meet us at the airport?"
"I told you," Callie said, just keeping the exasperation out of her voice. "He and his wife, Janet, are both too busy running things at the hotel."
Joe shook his head. "Maybe I should have stayed home in nice, cool Bayport. This trip was a bad idea from the start. You and Frank would have had more fun alone, anyway."
"Oh, Joe!" cried Callie. "You've been griping ever since we left. I don't know how you can be so gloomy about a nice tropical vacation."
She was right, and Joe knew it. But who could blame him? Spending all this time with Frank and Callie made him feel like a third wheel. He had insisted he'd be in the way, but Frank and Callie begged him to come.
Callie insisted, "We want you here, Joe. Don't we, Frank?"
"Of course we do," said Frank.
Joe thought for a moment and then grinned. "Well, all right," he said. "Let the vacation begin." Frank and Joe's father, Fenton Hardy, had been the one to talk Joe into taking the trip.
"Believe me," Fenton Hardy had said, "I know how difficult your last investigation was. Take the vacation. You've earned it. It'll do you good."
The trio had arrived in Barbados about an hour earlier and had no trouble getting their luggage and making their way out of the airport to the taxi stand. Their problems started when they had tried to get a ride to Runner's Harbor. All of the cabbies they approached had turned down their requests to take them to the hotel.
Frank set his bags down for a second to whistle and wave at the old taxi driver, who was still leaning against his dented cab.
The man saw them, smiled, and waved back. Frank hustled along behind his brother and Callie.
Frank, the elder of the two brothers, was taller and leaner than Joe and had dark hair and eyes. Maybe it was because he was older, or maybe it was because he was more thoughtful than Joe, but Frank always seemed to take things a little easier.
"Good afternoon," said Frank to the slender old man, who seemed not to have a care in the world. His cab was a huge black Buick that Frank guessed was of late twenties' vintage, the sort of car that gangsters drove during Prohibition.
"That it is," said the old man.
"Can you take us to Runner's Harbor?" asked Frank hopefully.
"For twenty dollars I will take you anywhere on the island of Barbados," he answered.
"Twenty dollars!" exclaimed Joe.
"We'll take it," said Frank.
Joe gave his brother a look but said nothing more, and the three of them put their luggage in the trunk of the old cab and climbed in. Joe got in the front next to the driver. Frank climbed in the back, directly behind the driver, and Callie sat beside him. Before the old man started the motor, he said quietly, "That would be in advance."
Again Joe started to say something, but he stopped himself. Frank paid the man and they were off.
The drive took them along the coast highway. Even Joe found himself relaxing as he took in the sweeping view of the Atlantic. The landscape out the opposite window was lush with dense green vegetation and countless brightly colored tropical flowers. The air was laced with the distinctive salty smell of the sea, and a cool breeze wafted over them.
"How far is it to Runner's Harbor?" asked Callie.
"Ten miles as the crow flies," said the driver, "but seeing as we ain't crows, we should be there in about twenty minutes or so." The driver paused a moment and then said, "Why is it that three nice people like you are going to Runner's Harbor?"
Callie said, "My cousin and his wife own it and invited us to spend a week there as their guests. Do you know them? Gary and Janet Shaw?"
"No, miss, can't say as I do."
"Why wouldn't any of the other taxi drivers take us out to Runner's Harbor?" Callie asked. "Is it too far or something?"
"They were afraid," answered the driver.
"Afraid?" said Joe.
"Afraid of what?" asked Frank.
"Runner's Harbor is haunted," said the driver.
"Haunted?" said Joe. "There's no such thing as ghosts."
"Perhaps," said the driver.
Callie turned to Frank. "Gary never said anything about ghosts."
"Perhaps he didn't wish to frighten you," the driver replied.
"Why do you say Runner's Harbor is haunted?" asked Frank.
"Many bad things have happened there."
"What kind of bad things?" Joe asked.
"People go there and never return."
"But Gary would have told me if there was anything wrong," Callie insisted.
"What exactly did he tell you?" Joe asked.
Callie furrowed her brow as she tried to remember the letter. "He said that he and Janet hadn't seen me since I was a little girl and that he thought it would be a great idea if I visited. He added that I could invite some friends if I wanted."
"And you chose us." Joe sighed.
"Of course," she said.
"How long have Gary and Janet owned Runner's Harbor?" Frank asked Callie.
To the driver Frank said, "How long have bad things been happening there?"
The driver said, "They started the day Wiley Reed disappeared."
"Who is Wiley Reed?" asked Callie.
"He built Runner's Harbor," said the driver. "It wasn't always a hotel. It started out as Wiley's private estate."
"He must have been rich," said Callie.
"That he was," said the old man, a hint of fondness creeping into his voice. "Wiley Reed was as rich as you'd want to be. Made his fortune selling rum in the States when that wasn't exactly legal, if you know what I mean."
"He was a bootlegger," said Frank.
"The best," said the driver.
"And when did he disappear?" asked Joe.
"That would be in 1929," the driver continued. "Wiley Reed had fallen in love and married, and was about to become a father. He was going to make one last run, returning in time for the birth of his baby. He aimed to settle down and be respectable then," said the old man. "Goodness knows he'd made enough money by then to pull it off."
"How do you know so much?" asked Joe.
"You live as long as I have, you pick things up."
"What happened to the wife and her baby?" asked Callie.
"Millicent? Oh, she had a little boy. They lived out on the estate for a while, but she didn't have much heart for it. Years passed and Wiley was never seen or heard from again. She died of a broken heart, I think, before her son turned seven."
"That's so sad," said Callie.
"It is," the old man agreed. "And now Wiley's and Millicent's ghosts wander the grounds at Runner's Harbor, searching for each other."
"There's no such thing as ghosts," scoffed Joe.
"Have it your way," said the driver.
"What about the son?" asked Frank.
"He's married and still lives on the island. He works at the Tyler Inn, down the beach from Runner's Harbor."
"Not at Runner's Harbor?" said Callie.
"Nope. He owned that once but lost it years ago."
"How?" asked Joe.
"That I don't know," the driver said.
The driver didn't say another word until the huge old car nosed its way into the gates at Runner's Harbor. "Far as I go," he said, pulling the cab to a halt.
"You said you'd take us to Runner's Harbor," Joe complained.
"And I did."
It was obvious that nothing would change his mind, so the three of them climbed out of the car, retrieved their luggage from the trunk, and watched as the taxi backed out of the driveway before speeding away. When it was gone they turned and for the first time considered the road to Runner's Harbor.
The sun was setting and the sky was a brilliant red. The thick canopy of palm trees that covered the drive made the walk to Runner's Harbor dark and ominous.
They trudged along with their heavy suitcases until Callie stopped abruptly. "What's that?" she whispered anxiously.
"What's what?" demanded Joe.
"I heard something," she insisted.
"It's nothing," Frank told her.
They moved on through the dense foliage. Then Callie put her suitcase down and said, "There it is again."
"I heard it, too," said Joe.
They paused and listened. At first they heard nothing but the distant roar of the ocean and the rustle of the palm fronds stirring in the wind.
Then a man popped out from the shadows of the underbrush. He was dressed in an outdated navy blue suit with silver pinstripes and wide lapels. His head was covered with a broad-brimmed hat that cast a dark shadow over the place where his face should have been. But he had no face. In its place was nothing, just a black void.
He was holding a pistol in his right hand, and he slowly raised it, aiming it straight at them.
As quickly as the apparition had appeared, it was gone.
The Hardys and Callie stared openmouthed at the thick green foliage, but there was no more sign of the man in the thick jungle undergrowth.
"What was that?" gasped Callie.
"I haven't a clue," said Joe, struggling with the thought that he had just seen a ghost.
"Me, either," said Frank.
Quickly Joe dropped his bags and said, "I'm going to check it out."
"I'm not sure that's such a good idea," said Frank.
"Why not?" asked Joe.
"Two reasons. One, this is his turf, whoever or whatever we saw," said Frank.
"Second?" 'He had a gun."
Joe thought for a moment and picked up the bags he had dropped. "Good enough for me," he said. "Let's get to the hotel."
"Good idea," Frank agreed, and the trio hurried up the driveway to Runner's Harbor.
In another three hundred feet the driveway opened up onto a large grass-covered hill. At the very top of the hill sat Runner's Harbor, and beyond it was the Atlantic Ocean, flame colored from the setting sun. The hotel was an immense structure of clapboard and brick that had clearly seen better days. The shingle roof sagged, and the paint was losing its battle with the salt air. Still, there was something inviting about the place. The building offered a warm welcome.
With the hotel now in sight, the Hardys and Callie walked faster.
"It's wonderful," said Callie. "Oh, Frank. Don't you think it's wonderful?"
Joe was about to make a wisecrack about the condition of the hotel when he heard his brother say enthusiastically, "I do. It's great. Don't you think so, Joe?"
"Yeah, sure," mumbled Joe.
As they stepped onto the wide front porch, the double doors to the entrance opened and a man and woman stepped outside. They hurried to give Callie a hug.
"Callie!" said the woman. "It's been ages.
Callie blushed at the attention, took a step back, and said, "Frank and Joe Hardy, this is my cousin Gary Shaw and his wife, Janet. Gary and Janet, this is Frank and Joe Hardy."
"We've heard so much about both of you," said Gary.
"Likewise," said Frank as he shook Gary's hand.
Gary and Janet both had ready smiles, large brown eyes, and close-cropped hair, but there the similarities ended. Gary was tall, slender, redheaded, and fair skinned and seemed to be nursing a bad sunburn. Janet was plump and short with dark hair and an olive complexion.
"How was your trip?" asked Janet as she and Gary guided the travelers inside.
"Okay, until we got to the airport," answered Callie. She explained what had happened up to and including the incident with the Ghost Gunman.
"Not again," Janet said with a sigh.
Frank said, "You mean the Ghost Gunman has been seen before?"
"A few times, actually," said Gary.
"But no one has ever been hurt," said Janet quickly.
"You mean your hotel is haunted?" asked Callie.
"I wouldn't say that," said Gary, a bit defensively.
"What would you say?" asked Joe.
Janet said, "Runner's Harbor has a very rich history. The man who built it, Wiley Reed, was a living legend around here."
"Our cab driver told us a little about him," said Frank.
Gary continued. "Wiley Reed vanished in the twenties, and they never found his body. The locals cooked up this ghost thing, but if you ask me, it's just the product of overactive imaginations."