The House of Storms

by Geron Kees

© 2017 Geron Kees All rights reserved.

This is a work of fiction and depicts sexual situations between minors. All characters and situations are imaginary. No real people were harmed in the creation of this presentation. Please observe the laws of your jurisdiction with regards to reading this material.

If you are not 18, you shouldn't be reading this at all. Go find a boyfriend and talk stuff over with him.

For everyone who has ever read a Hardy Boys novel, and wished - somehow - that they were gay. Tongues in cheeks, fellas! And...we're off!

"What are you boys doing this weekend?" Ben Dane asked, coming to sit at the breakfast table with his sons.

Frank Dane, seventeen, dark-haired and blue-eyed, rubbed his forehead and gazed sleepily at his father. "We haven't decided, dad. Why...do you have something in mind?"

Joe Dane, sixteen, blonde and green-eyed, stopped eating his cereal and paused, the spoon hanging above the bowl, dripping milk. An excited look came into his eyes, and he let them slide briefly to meet those of his brother before sending them questing back to his dad. "Yeah. Are you asking us to go someplace with you?"

Mr. Dane held up a hand, grinning. The famous detective had learned long ago that one of the hardest things to do in life was to try to put something over on his inquisitive sons. "Hold, on. I was just asking."

"Sure, dad," Frank said. "But you don't waste words, ever. So you must have a reason for asking." He leaned forward, excitement replacing the sleep in his eyes. "Are you on a case? Can we help?"

The man laughed. "I am not on a case...exactly. But I was talking to John Lewis down at police headquarters on Friday, and he was telling me about some odd occurrences going on up the coast in Land's End."

"The tourist town?" Joe asked, his eyes widening. "That place is supposed to be super! They have a carnival with rides and shows, all sorts of games and stuff, and that magician, Jack Dark, is supposed to be wonderful!"

"Sounds like a nice place for a man to spend a weekend with his sons, doesn't it?" Ben asked, dropping all attempts now to conceal a smile.

"What about these odd occurrences?" Frank asked, leaning forward. "Are you going to investigate them?"

The elder Dane rolled his eyes. "It's not a case yet, son. I was thinking the three of us could just run up there and have a nice, relaxing weekend together. I'm done with the Danby case, and I don't have anything going on until next week." He grinned. "We don't spend nearly enough time together, you know."

"And no one will suspect a guy visiting with his sons to be a detective snooping for a crime," Frank filled in, nodding knowingly. "I get it, dad. And then if you just happened to notice anything while we're there, you could let Captain Lewis in on it."

"Wow! A case!" Joe said, hooting gleefully. "We'll help, dad. You just tell us what to look for, and we'll snoop around, and --"

"No, you won't, either." Their father frowned at them. "This is a vacation for the three of us. I won't have you boys wandering around, asking questions and sticking your noses into things."

"Yeah," Frank said, snorting and waving a hand at his brother. "A bunch of prying questions will just tip off the thieves that we're on their tails." He glanced at his father. "They are thieves, right, dad?"

Ben Dane shook his head. "Are you two going to make me sorry I asked you along?"

Both boys looked at each other, and then back at their father. "Um, no, dad," Frank said. "We just wanted to help."

"And you have helped me on cases in the past, and I'm sure you will help me again." The detective smiled. "You two seem to have inherited my nose for trouble. And a little bit of talent for solving things, too." The smile vanished as he sighed. "But you two need to learn patience. And" -- he leaned forward and gazed at them emphatically -- "you need to learn to wait to be asked."

"Now you got him mad," Joe said, dropping his spoon into his cereal bowl and shaking his head at his brother.

"I did not," Frank protested. "It was you, saying we'd go and snoop around, that --"

"It was neither," Mr. Dane interjected, causing both boys to fall silent. "I just want to spend a nice weekend with my sons. Is that so hard to understand?"

"Well, gosh, no," Frank returned. "I'm sorry, dad."

"Yeah, dad," Joe added. "We'll be good. We promise, don't we Frank?"

"Yeah."

Mr. Dane watched them sternly a moment, taking in their now innocent expressions, and then couldn't help smiling. "You two would be no good at poker." He sighed. "Okay. Let me fill you in."

The two boys grinned at each other, and leaned across the table, their eyes intent on their father. Mr. Dane shook his head, but his amusement at his son's reactions to a possible mystery in the offing could not be concealed. Like father, like sons!

"Land's End has been a tourist mecca for a lot of years. I went there as a kid myself, rode the rides, the roller coaster, the big Ferris wheel. I saw the shows - and there were some good ones, even back then. It's still quite the place to go for summer fun."

"Beats the heck out of what we have here in Gulfport," Frank put in, grinning. "They have a nice beach, and some great pools, too, I've heard."

"We have a nice beach here," Joe said then, looking at his brother. "You've always been happy with it before."

"Yeah, but it's small, and full of old ladies in beach chairs. You can barely walk across the sand without stepping in a knitting basket."

Joe frowned, but gave an agreeing nod at that, and then laughed. "I wouldn't mind getting some sun and sand."

To which Frank grinned and nodded.

"Anyway," Mr. Dane went on, looking a little vexed now at the byplay, "the place is big business, and pulls in a lot of money. Normally, it's quite safe and well-run. The town has a vested interest in keeping things going smoothly, and the sheriff up there, Jake Kingsley, has a good staff of deputies and is good at keeping visitors happy." Mr. Dane frowned. "But recently, some strange things have been going on."

"Like what?" Joe breathed, his eyes widening.

"Well, some of the rides have broken down under unusual circumstances. Each time, riders have been stranded. Both the roller coaster and the Ferris wheel have had more than their share of problems lately. Sheriff Kingsley told John Lewis that the ride maintenance is done by a local firm, and that they have always been very good at it. The manager of that firm, Hiram Jixson, seems to think that someone is deliberately doing things to the rides to make them fail."

"Sabotage?" Frank said in surprise, looking at Joe.

Joe nodded. "Sounds fishy to me."

Mr. Dane nodded. "Me, too. And there have been minor burglaries of some of the show tents and trailers at night, and other signs of trespass - nothing major, but definitely giving the impression that someone is sneaking about, doing things that they should not be doing."

"Anything else?" Frank asked.

Mr. Dane shrugged. "Some of the show people have disappeared - just up and left without a word. The town has had a little bit of a problem replacing them. The word seems to be out that Land's End is a trouble town." Mr. Dane shrugged. "And, there seems to be a lot of little things happening, here and there, none of which anyone cares to list, but that seem to be destroying the pleasant atmosphere there among the other entertainers. And that is destroying the pleasant atmosphere for the tourists. Revenues have been down twenty percent since the start of the summer."

"Whoa." Joe shook his head. "That's a bit."

"Almost a half-million dollars," Mr. Dane agreed. "So while no definite master plan seems visible, both John Lewis and I get the sense that someone is up to something that will ultimately affect the entire resort."

Joe grinned. "So you are going up to look around...scope things out?"

"Not officially." The elder Dane raised his eyebrows. "Get that? This is not a case, just a favor for a friend."

"Who also happens to be the captain of the local state police squad," Joe put in, grinning.

His father made a small, pained sound. "Are you listening to me, boys? I will be observing. You boys will be having fun. That is all."

Joe sighed. "We get you, dad. You'll be investigating, and we'll be sitting on our hands."

Frank gave his brother a warning look, but Mr. Dane only smiled. "Of course, if you two do happen to notice anything odd, I expect you to tell me about it."

The boys both brightened at that.

"But does that mean you won't be around some?" Joe hesitated to ask. "I mean, if you are out observing, you can't always have us tagging along."

Mr. Dane frowned. "You have a point. I do want so spend time with you boys, but I do need to also be free to look around on my own." He suddenly brightened. "I know. Why don't you boys invite a couple of friends to go with us? That way, if I am out, or meeting with Sheriff Kingsley and his people, you two won't be bored. If you have friends along, you'll have more to keep you occupied."

Frank smiled. "Another two pairs of eyes, too, right?"

"We're not leaving until Friday?" Joe asked then, looking at his father. "We'll need to let the guys know."

The elder Dane frowned. "Hmm. Well, there's really no need to wait. Tomorrow is Thursday. If you boys don't mind, we can go tomorrow morning. That will give us four days to look around and have some fun. We can return on Monday morning."

"Do we mind?" Frank repeated, grinning at his brother. "I'll say we don't mind!"

Mr. Dane smiled, but didn't say anything more.

"Wow," Joe said then. "I'll call Tony Priko and see if he wants to go."

"And I'll call Chip Morton," Frank said, smiling. The two boys jumped up from the table and went to the phone in the hallway.

Tony Priko was Joe's age, with sunbrowned skin, black hair, and brown eyes. He lived two houses down from the Danes, and was at the front door almost as soon as Joe got off the phone with him. Joe let him into the living room while Frank called his friend Chip Morton, who lived on a farm at the edge of town, and invited him to go along, too.

"Wow! It's really swell of you to invite me," Tony said, his teeth flashing in a smile. "I've never been to Land's End. Wait until Debbie hears about this!" Debbie was Tony's twin sister. The two had a little bit of a competition on to see who could have the best summer, and just now, it looked to Tony like he was winning.

Frank came in, grinning. "Hi, Tony. So, what do you think? Will your parents let you go?"

"My dad's out of town on business," Tony said, "but I already asked my mom, and she said I could go!"

Joe couldn't help smiling at his friend's excitement. "One down, one to go." He looked at his brother. "What did Chip say?"

Frank made a face and rolled his eyes at the ceiling. "He said he was just putting the carburetor back on the Princess, but he would be over as soon as he was done."

The Princess was Chip's old jalopy, which he was always trying to 'soup up' into a hot rod. The car spent more time scattered in pieces around the Morton's garage than it did on the road, but Chip was adamant that he was improving things, and Frank and Joe did have to admit that the car ran better now than when Chip had first gotten it. Not that that was saying much, as Chip had had to have the car towed home after he had bought it.

They were all talking excitedly when the front door opened and two women carrying shopping satchels came into the house. Frank and Joe broke off the conversation to greet them. "Hi, mom! Hi, Aunt Gerta! How was the shopping trip?"

Mrs. Dane was a petite, pleasant-looking woman with brown hair and sparkling green eyes. She smiled, waved at Tony, and then set down the bag she was carrying. "Oh, it was fun. It was a big sale, with lots of specials to look at."

The other woman was older, tall and slender, with graying hair fixed in a neat bun atop her head. She wore little glasses on her nose, and a small frown upon her face. And just now, the bun atop her head was covered by what had to be one of the most outlandish-looking hats that the boys had ever seen. It was gray, tall in the middle with a pleated top, and had a brim on one side with a cluster of flowers on it, from which protruded the head of a small, wooden bluebird.

The woman cleared her throat, and eyed Frank and Joe proudly through her glasses. "Notice anything, boys?"

"Why...Aunt Gerta...you bought a new hat," Frank said carefully, trying with all his might to keep a straight face. "It's...it's lovely."

"Um...yeah," Joe agreed, looking at the ceiling. "I've never seen anything quite like it."

Aunt Gerta smiled happily, and turned so that they could see the back of the hat. What looked like a tuft of grass was growing out of the rear of it.

Mrs. Dane smiled, and nodded her head. "It's beautiful, isn't it?" Her eyes twinkled, telling all and sundry that she was not about to spoil Aunt Gerta's happiness over her new acquisition.

Mr. Dane came into the room and stopped short, his eyes fastened on his older sister's head. "Why...Gerta...a new hat. It's, um...it's...stunning."

"It was the only one they had," the older woman said, patting it affectionately with the tips of her fingers. "I just about stole it, it was so inexpensive."

"I'll bet," Frank said, nodding.

"Yeah," Joe agreed. "Couldn't be two hats like that in the world."

Mr Dane turned to look at the boys. "I think I just heard Chip's old car drive up."

Frank and Joe looked at each other, relieved to have a reason to get away from Aunt Gerta's new hat. Joe patted Tony's arm and motioned for him to follow. "Thanks, dad. We'll be out front!"

The three boys exited hurriedly, going out onto the front porch and closing the door behind them.

"Holy smoke!" Tony whispered. "What on earth was that? It looked like a bird cage exploded on your aunt's head!"

Frank just grinned. "She loves hats. My dad just says she has no taste for selecting them, is all."

Joe laughed. "She has a closet full of them, Tony. That one wasn't even the worst one!"

Tony just shook his head. "Wow."

They heard a thunk and then a soft curse, and looked over to the driveway. There stood Chip Morton's bright yellow jalopy, the Princess. The hood was tilted skyward, and Chip's backside was visible hung over the front fender as he poked around beneath the hood.

The two Danes and Tony grinned, and crept up on the other boy, and surrounded the front of the old car. "Hey!" Frank yelled, at the same time clapping his hand down on his friend's back.

Chip jumped, and then backed out from under the hood. He was sandy haired and blue-eyed, with attractive features, which seemed perpetually set in a smile. Just now there was a trace of grease across his upper lip, looking much like a mustache against his tanned skin.

"Aw, what'd you go and do that for, fellas? I could have walloped my head but good on the hood!"

Frank took in the grease mustache on his friend's face and grinned. "El Zorro! It ees so nice to meet you een person!"

Chip gazed at him in puzzlement. "Huh?"

Frank shook his head, grabbed his friend by the arm, and led him around to the side of the car. The convertible's top was down, and Frank laughed at the spray of tools laid out across the back seat. "All that for a carb job?"

"I like to be thorough," Chip said, smiling now. "You know that."

Frank nodded, and pushed Chip down and turned his face towards the car's side mirror. "Wipe that mustache off your face, old man, before someone mistakes you for a bandit!"

Chip looked at himself in the mirror, and blinked. "Now, how did that get there?"

The boys all laughed.

"How's she running?" Joe asked, patting the car's fender.

Chip grinned, reached into the back seat and found a rag, and carefully wiped at the grease on his lip. "Now that the master mechanic has placed his golden touch on her, she's doing just great."

"Oh, you hired a mechanic?" Frank asked, winking across the hood of the car at his brother.

Chip stopped wiping at his face and pretended to look hurt. "You laugh now, but the Princess actually won a race on the way over!"

Joe laughed. "Little girls on bicycles don't count, Chip."

Chip straightened and placed his hands on his hips. "I'll have you know that it was a brand new coupe. The Princess is ten years old!"

Frank held up a hand. "Okay, okay. We were just playing with you, Chip. That's really great, that you won." Frank leaned forward, his eyebrows going up questioningly. "What did your dad say about you going along with us to Land's End?"

Chip suddenly looked disinterested. "Oh, that. He said I could go. If I wanted to."

Frank nodded. "And...do you want to go?"

The other boy's face suddenly lit up like a Christmas tree. "Do I! Gosh, Frank, Land's End is just the gas!"

Frank grinned, and turned to look at his brother. "I guess we're set, then."

Joe nodded. "How about we go inside and talk about it? We can let dad know that everything's ready to go."

Tony grabbed Joe by an arm and briefly wrestled with him in excitement. The two boys laughed, and headed back into the house.

"I'm glad you're coming along," Frank said quietly, after the other two boys were gone.

Chip smiled, leaned a little closer, looking into Frank's eyes. "Try to stop me."

Frank just grinned, draped an arm around his friend's shoulders, and both boys turned to follow the others inside.

Mr. Dane nodded when he heard that the other boys were able to go. "That's fine. We'll get an early start in the morning, okay? It's a fairly long drive to Land's End." He nodded at Chip and Tony. "If you boys are here by about eight o'clock, that should be fine. Just remember to bring everything you'll need, okay?"

"Bathing suits," Joe said then, grinning. "We'll want to make the beach there, I'm sure!"

Chip nodded, looking excited. "I'd better put some gas in the Princess now just to make sure I have enough in the morning and don't have to stop on the way over. You fellows want to go along?"

Despite the hard time the other boys often gave Chip about his old jalopy, the yellow car was a well-loved part of the boy's daily lives. The two Dane boys had their little motorcycles to get around the back roads on; but Chip's car was the only real transportation the group had to get to some of the places they needed to go.

"Sure," Frank said, giving his friend a small jab. "We always want to ride in the race car."

Chip rolled his eyes, but smiled. "She's getting there, slowly but surely."

The boys said farewell to the adults and went back out to the drive and piled into Chip's car.

"Ouch!" Joe hollered, as he and Tony leaped into the back seat.

"Um...watch out for the tools back there!" Chip called belatedly, grinning in the rear view mirror.

"Now he tells us!" Tony said, pulling a screwdriver from beneath himself.

The boys laughed as the car backed out of the drive and proceeded off down Elm Avenue.

"Is the radio working today?" Frank asked, reaching for the switch.

Chip shrugged. "I haven't tried it. I've been meaning to pull it out and get a tube for it...but it's a job."

Frank sighed, nodded, and decided not to find out.

As they reached the stop at the corner, they saw two girls walking down the sidewalk. The girls immediately smiled and waved, and the boys waved back.

Debbie Priko was sixteen, like Joe, and always had a smile for him. Ellen Morton, Chip's sister, was also sixteen, and had always liked Frank. The two girls were pretty and vibrant, and Frank and Joe liked them, even though they were often left scratching their heads over the ways of girls. Normally, the girls would have wanted to chat, but this time they pointed off down the street and continued going.

"I could have stopped," Chip said, eying Frank out of the side of his eye as the car proceeded onward.

"No, that's fine. We don't have time to be side-tracked. We'll see the girls later."

The two boys grinned, but didn't say anything else, and Chip drove on down to the end of the winding town road, where Biff Martin's little gas station stood on a corner. Chip pulled the jalopy up to the island, and the boys got out to stretch their legs.

A young man they knew, Bill Peale, was gassing up a shiny green roadster on the other side of the island. He waved, a grin on his face. "Hi, fellas. What can we do for you today?"

"Hey, Bill," Frank said, going over and giving the other boy a pat on the shoulder, "How's the summer job going?"

Bill waved a hand at the station's main building. "Oh, it's great. Mr. Martin works on the cars, and me and Jeff - that's Jeff Conners, from school - we pump the gas. It's a good job, actually."

"Where is Jeff?" Chip asked, looking around.

"Went to the gent's room," Bill whispered. "He'll be back in a minute."

Chip grinned eagerly. "Can I get things started?"

Bill looked uncertain, but nodded. "I guess it's okay. You know how?"

Chip laughed, and reached for the gas nozzle. "I think I can manage it."

"Well, go easy. That nozzle can kick back when the tank gets full."

Frank and Joe both laughed. "Chip hasn't filled that tank since he's owned the car," Joe said, grinning.

"And why should I?" Chip asked, looking slightly wounded. "Three dollar's worth is nine gallons. I can drive all week on that."

"Yeah," Tony agreed. "It's not like were taking Chip's car up to Land's End."

Bill gaped. "You guys are going up to Land's End?"

"Just for the weekend," Frank returned. "My dad's taking us in the morning."

"Wow," Bill returned, grinning. But then he gave them a sudden interested look. "What's taking Ben Dane, the famous detective, to Land's End? Is he on a case?'

"No, it's just a vacation," Joe said carefully. "We're going to spend some time together."

"Though you never know," Chip added. "Some strange things have been going on up there!"

Frank noticed then that there were two men in the green roadster that Bill was servicing, and that they appeared to be listening to the conversation. They were both young, unshaven and rough-looking, and Frank tensed as he noticed the eyes of the driver watching him in the side mirror. He gave Chip a nudge with his shoulder, and shook his head. Chip's eyes widened, going to the roadster, but he just nodded and didn't say anything more.

"Wish I had time to go there," Bill said, wistfully. "But I have a lot going on right now. I hope you guys have fun."

Just then Jeff Conners ran up, fixing the cap on his head. "Sorry, fellas. Had to answer nature's call."

Chip stood back and let the other boy take over the gas nozzle. "I'm getting three dollar's worth, Jeff."

"Gotcha. How are you fellows doing today?"

"Great." Chip laughed. "But every summer day is a great one, you know?"

Bill finished with the roadster, and hung the nozzle back on the pump. The driver paid, and the car started and pulled out. Frank watched it go. As the green roadster paused in the station's driveway, the driver looked back at them in the side mirror. The two men were talking, and Frank was just starting to get suspicious when the car pulled out and went on up the road, heading out of town.

"You know those guys?" Frank asked Bill, pointing in the direction that the green auto had gone.

"Never saw them before," Bill replied. "We get a lot of traffic here that's just passing through."

Joe came over and stood next to Frank. "Something going on?"

Frank frowned after the vanished car, but shook his head. "No. Just my imagination, I think."

They finished and paid, stood talking to the two attendants for a few more minutes, and then hit the road back to the Dane's house. By the time that Chip pulled the jalopy into the Dane's driveway, Frank had largely forgotten about the two men in the green roadster.

They were, after all, likely just passing through.


The boys hung out together that evening, excited over the coming trip. They gathered in the yard behind the house at the Morton farm and cooked burgers on the stone grill there, and sat to eat them at the old picnic table beneath the glow of Japanese lanterns. Debbie Priko and Ellen Morton had joined them, and the girls had been having a good time.

Frank played the game of cat-and-mouse that he and Ellen - Ellie - always played together. She would try to get him to commit to something more than 'just friends', and he would pretend like he was a little too thick to get what she meant. It tended to exasperate Ellie, who couldn't seem to decide if the Dane boy's obtuseness was real or feigned.

Chip watched the exchanges with the same slightly pained look he always wore at such times. Ellie was his sister, and he loved her, but having her continually pressing up on Frank to be more engaging with her was just a little wearying, too. He knew that Frank was doing his best with a difficult situation, and that it was about all he could do under the circumstances.

Joe Dane was playing the same game with Debbie, although he tended to alternate his smiles with a few frowns, and play the whole thing off as if Debbie was sometimes just being a 'silly girl'. Debbie seemed to enjoy cornering Joe and then watching him slither out of the trap, while Tony smiled and pretended to be keeping score.

The big old RCA Victor radio set sitting on a table behind the screen of the little rear porch of the house had been playing the hits all evening. Both Frank and Joe had danced with the girls several times, as Dick Haymes had crooned or Glenn Miller's orchestra had played, but had now tired of it and had retired to the picnic table to sit and sip their Cokes. The evening was drawing on now, and soon the boys would have to call it a night.

"You're not very romantic this evening, Frank," Ellie teased, sipping her own drink and eying him across the table.

"I'm just tired," Frank said, smiling. "And we have to get up pretty early tomorrow to get on the road."

"It's not fair," Debbie put in then, giving her brother a small slap on the arm, " that certain people get to go to Land's End, and certain other people don't."

"Girls are no good on a case," Tony said, curling his lip and waving a hand at her. "The first time someone pulled a knife on you, you'd just scream and run."

Debbie's eyes immediately swiveled to Joe. "You didn't say this trip would be dangerous. Who has a knife?"

"No one," Joe replied, sighing. "Your brother is just teasing you."

"And Mr. Dane asked us to go," Chip pointed out, trying not to smile. "We'll actually be able to help, not just get in the way."

Ellie and Debbie looked at each other and laughed. "Well!" Ellie said, getting to her feet and pulling at Debbie's sleeve. "I guess we know when we're not welcome, don't we, Debbie?"

"Yes, indeed," the other girl agreed, rising to her feet. "Let's go inside. It's awfully stuffy out here."

Ellie winked to let the boys know they were kidding. "We have an early day tomorrow, too," Ellie confided. "We're helping Ms. Cavanaugh deliver a calf at the farm next door."

"I'm sure you'll be a big help with that," Frank said, returning the smile. "We'll see you when we get back."

Debbie paused behind Joe, leaned forward and gave him a quick kiss on top of his head. "You be careful, Joe Dane, you hear me? If anyone pulls a knife on you, you scream and run!" Joe cringed slightly at the contact, but didn't say anything.

The two girls laughed, waved, and went back to the house.

For a moment, the boys sat in silence.

"Girls are nuts," Joe said, nodding. He rubbed the spot on top of his head where he had just been kissed. "Just plain nuts."

Frank laughed. "Debbie likes you, Joe. How do you expect her to act?"

Joe smiled then. "Oh, about the way that Ellie does with you."

"Ho!" Chip said, waving a hand as if it held a sword. "And the thrust is neatly parried!"

The boys all laughed.

"Say, Joe," Tony said then. "Can you look at my motorbike before I head home? It's been acting a little strangely. I'd hate to get stranded out at night."

"Sure," Joe said, grinning. He cast a look at Chip, and winked at Frank. "Um, unless you'd rather have the master mechanic look at it."

Frank grinned around his soda straw as Chip's eyes briefly touched his. But Chip was not about to be baited. "I only know hot rod engines, not toy motorcycles," he said in a bored tone, waving a hand at Joe and Tony dismissively.

Those two boys laughed, and headed away to the drive beside the house.

Frank sighed, looking up at the crescent moon. "Life sure is complicated, isn't it?"

Chip nodded. "Yes. Sometimes I think I'm going to go a little crazy."

They looked at each other, sipping their drinks.

On the radio, a new song started, and Frank suddenly grinned. "Oh, that's our tune!" he whispered.

The song was called Nature Boy, by Nat King Cole, and had just started getting a lot of air time. It had somehow come to mean something to the boys, and Frank sang along softly, his eyes on Chip, knowing the lyrics by heart now. Chip watched him and smiled, waiting for the part that they both liked so much.

Frank closed his eyes when he got to it, and smiled as he sang it softly into the glow of the lanterns.

"...The greatest thing...you'll ever learn,

Is just to love...and be loved, in return."

Frank sighed as the song ended.

Chip looked over his shoulder. The rear of the house was dark save for Ellie's room upstairs, and the curtains were drawn there. The girls were undoubtedly getting ready for bed. Joe and Tony had not returned from the drive, and were likely still looking at Tony's motorbike. Above them, two of the Japanese lanterns had gone out, and the table was now lit more by moonlight than by the flickering flames of the last two lanterns.

Chip turned back, reached across the table, and laid his hands on Frank's. "You're my nature boy," he said quietly.

Frank nodded. "And you're mine."

They looked at each other, exchanging by sight what they could not exchange even in the gentle light from the moon and the lanterns. The risks were simply too great here, in Chip's own backyard.

"We'll find some time," Frank promised. He smiled. "My dad said he booked three rooms at the hotel in Land's End. One for him, one for Joe and Tony...and one for us."

Chip sighed. "I can't wait."

They heard a sound from the corner of the house and pulled their hands apart.

Joe and Tony returned, smiling and laughing.

"Find the problem?" Frank asked.

"No," Joe returned, shaking his head. "It seems fine."

"Maybe it was just my imagination," Tony offered, looking apologetic in the moonlight. Joe poked him playfully, and both boys laughed.

"I guess we should get home," Frank said, rising. Briefly, his eyes touched Chip's, and they grinned at each other. "See you fellas at eight, okay?"

Chip nodded. "I'll be there."

"Me, too," Tony said. "Wow! I still can't believe we're going to Land's End!"

Frank nodded as they walked back to the drive to get their motor cycles started for home.

Yes, he agreed with Tony. Somehow, he was sure that this trip was definitely going to turn out to be one they would remember!


Beach Road was fairly empty as they made their way northward the next morning. Considering that it was a weekday, that was a little surprising. Mr. Dane drove, skillfully nosing the powerful black sedan along the winding road, while the boys talked about their coming adventure. Joe had the front seat next to his father, while Tony sat just behind him in the rear, with Chip in the middle and Frank seated next to him. The boys were still a little slow due to the hour, but the day was bright and sunny, and the breakfast that Mrs. Dane had cooked for them before leaving was working its way into their systems and perking them up.

"I hope everyone remembered their bathing suits," Frank said, looking around at the others. "My mom said the beach at Land's End is just fabulous." He glanced at his father then, and grinned. "You never said that you and mom took your honeymoon at this place, dad."

"You never asked," Mr. Dane quipped, laughing. He smiled at Frank in the rear view mirror. "The truth is, we talked about driving down to Florida for our honeymoon, but we only had a week before I had to get back to work. I was still with the Gulfport Police Department then."

"Before you became a famous private detective, you mean," Joe put in, also grinning. "And could write your own ticket."

"Well, hardly that, " Mr. Dane returned, playing down his fame. He had always felt that luck had played a large part in his solving so many important cases, with skill taking a back seat. "But I wasn't my own boss then like I am now. Old Clarence Beckworth was in charge in those days, and he didn't much believe in vacation time. But, to answer your question, yes, I have been to Land's End before."

"So you know what this place is like, then," Frank observed. "You'll know what to look for, huh?"

Mr. Dane smiled. "A lot can change in a place in more than eighteen years, Frank. But at least I probably know where everything is, yes."

They were coming to a series of sharp curves, and Mr. Dane slowed the car as he headed into the first of them. Beside the road was a sharp drop off, at least fifty feet, to the rock-strewn coastline below. As they entered the curve they passed a small rest area, with room for a couple of cars, and holding a picnic table and a green trash bin. A large, black touring car was standing there, with several men seated inside. As they passed by it pulled out behind them, and followed at a leisurely pace.

Mr. Dane watched the car a moment in his rear-view mirror before letting his eyes go back to the road. "I was starting to think that no one was about this morning except for us."

"A lot of people take that new state road when going north now, dad," Frank pointed out. "Our school chum, Charlie Casey, said his dad drives a truck up this way to make deliveries all the time, and that he said traffic has really dropped off on the Beach Road since the new highway opened."

"So it would seem. Well, one good result of that is that we are making good time."

"It's about a three hour drive, isn't it dad?" Joe asked. "We should be there before noon."

But Mr. Dane was not listening. He was watching the other car in the rear-view mirror again, and frowning. "That fellow is coming up on us pretty fast. Certainly, he can't mean to pass us on these curves!"

The boys turned as one to gaze out of the sedan's back window. Behind them, the big touring car was moving up fast. Frank squinted at it, and could just make out the driver, gazing at them intently over the steering wheel. With a shock, Frank realized that the man had a bandana tied around the lower portion of his face!

"Dad, they're masked! I think they mean to ram us!"

He'd no sooner said that then the big car was upon them. It smashed into the back of the sedan, and the car leapt forward in response. Mr. Dane smashed on the accelerator, shifted up a gear, and let the sedan start to move.

"We can't take these curves too fast or we'll be off the road!"

The touring car shifted to the oncoming lane and began to move up beside them. It was obviously a powerful car, maybe even more so than Mr. Dane's sedan, which was no slouch in its own right.

"Dad! The curve!" Joe hollered, clutching at the dashboard for support as the car swung into the tight bend in the road. Beside them, the drop off loomed near, separated from them by only a wooden rail, which Joe just knew would not hold back the weight of the heavy sedan should it strike it.

"I see it! Hold on!"

The sedan's tires screamed as the car bulleted into the curve, with the touring car almost directly alongside now. Frank looked over, and could see four men in the car, all wearing caps on their heads and bandanas over the lower halves of their faces. They stared at the Dane's car, and were obviously urging their own driver onward.

The touring car swung closer, and the two cars swiped sides with a tremendous crunch! The sedan struck the rail above the drop off, scraped along it for fifty feet as Mr. Dane wrestled with the wheel, and then backed off as he got control again. The touring car bounced away, then started back towards them, and this time the man closest to them in the rear stuck his arm out of the window and pointed something at them.

"He's got a gun, dad!" Frank yelled, crouching down in his seat.

Mr. Dane's face went grim, and he nodded. "Hold on, boys!"

He whipped the wheel over and the sedan careened sideways against the touring car. The eyes of the man with the gun in the back widened in surprise, and as the two cars hit he whipped his arm back reflexively and lost his grip on the handgun, which spiraled into the air and came through the back window of the sedan! Frank saw it coming and ducked just as the heavy weapon hit the inside of the sedan's rear door frame and dropped to the floor at his feet.

The touring car swerved away, and then immediately came back at them just as they entered the sharpest point in the curve. Mr. Dane stood on the brake pedal and downshifted viciously, and the sedan lost its forward momentum so suddenly that the boys slid forward right off the seats. The touring car passed them as it came over, and the rear of the car clipped the front fender of the sedan. With a horrendous shriek from its tires, the large car turned sideways in the road, and the sedan plowed into it!

Mr. Dane yelled and hit the brakes again just as the two cars collided. The other car yawed horribly as the driver fought for control; and then the touring car was through the wooden rail and sailing into the empty air above the beach far below.

The sedan gave a violent lurch, swayed terrifyingly from side to side, straightened, and shrieked to a stop in the middle of the road, straddling the yellow line.

From behind them came the sound of a tremendous impact, and then a cloud of smoke puffed upwards from the beach below.

Mr. Dane sat back in his seat, breathing hard. "That was close!"

Joe reached over and clasped his father's arm, his eyes shining. "Was that ever some driving, dad! You were wonderful!"

Mr. Dane blew out a sharp breath. "Instinct, son. Pure instinct." He turned his head to look into the back of the car. "Anyone hurt?"

"I don't think so," Frank replied, sliding back up onto the seat. "Chip? You okay? Tony?"

The other two boys had regained their seats next to him now, and were shaking their heads and rubbing at their arms.

"I'm okay," Chip said. "Might get a bruise on this elbow, but that's nothing compared to what those guys just got!"

"Yeah," Tony said, craning his neck to the side to see the column of black smoke rising next to the road. "Those guys took a real fall!"

"Let's go and see," Mr. Dane offered.

The sedan had stalled when it had come to a stop. Mr. Dane managed to get the motor running again, eased the car into gear, and pulled it forward onto the shoulder next to the rail. He shut off the motor, and they all piled out the driver's side doors.

Tony was the first one to the rail. "Ohmigosh! Look at that!"

Far below, the touring car lay upside down in several feet of water. Only the wheels and the bottom of the car showed. There were no bodies visible, no indication that anyone had managed to get out of the car after its fall.

Mr. Dane examined the cliff beyond the railing and shook his head. "There's no climbing down that. I guess we'll have to find a phone and call the authorities."

"I don't know," Joe said, eying the drop off. "I'll bet I could get down that cliff."

"No." Mr. Dane shook his head emphatically. "It's possible that four men just lost their lives. I won't add another casualty to this incident. Do you understand me?"

"Yes sir," Joe said, abashed at the grimness of his father's tone. "Just a thought."

Mr. Dane smiled, reached out and rubbed Joe's shoulder. "I don't want anything to happen to you, got me?"

Joe grinned. "Okay."

They heard the sound of an engine, and turned as a pickup truck coming from the direction they had been going ground to a halt near them. A man slid out of the driver's seat and approached them while a woman looked on from the passenger seat.

"You folks in trouble? Need a hand with your car?"

The man looked like a farmer, with sunburned, wrinkled features visible beneath the brim of his hat. He wore coveralls and heavy boots, and a concerned look on his face.

Mr. Dane shook his head. "There's been an accident. A car went over the cliff."

The farmer gasped, and came to the rail to look down. "Oh, those poor souls! That's quite a drop - I can't see anyone making it out of that plunge alive."

"Is there a phone anywhere close by?" Mr. Dane asked.

"Yessir. Back the way we came, after the curves. There's a little diner off to the side. They have a phone booth right out front."

Mr. Dane nodded. "We don't think it's safe to climb down. We'll go on and make the call to the authorities. If you'd like to stay on the scene, it might help the police and ambulance find the spot."

"We're in no hurry," the man said, nodding. "Just out to the diner for a late breakfast. Me and the missus would be happy to wait here." He gazed down again at the upside down touring car, and shook his head. "Those poor souls."

Mr. Dane and the boys got back into their car, and Mr. Dane headed off towards the diner.

"Poor souls, indeed!" Frank fumed. "That could have been us down there!"

Mr. Dane shook his head. "I can't figure out how they knew we were heading up to Land's End. No one knew but John Lewis, and your mother and Aunt Gerta. None of them would say anything to anyone else." Mr. Dane looked over at Joe. "And I know you boys wouldn't tell anyone."

Frank and Chip looked at each other, and Chip cleared his throat. "Um...Mr. Dane? I think it might be my fault."

The detective stared at him in the rear view mirror. "Your fault? How, Chip?"

Chip looked morose. "When we stopped at the gas station to put some ethyl in The Princess yesterday, we were talking to the attendant, Bill Peale, and we mentioned our trip today. I might have said too much."

Mr. Dane shook his head. "I know Bill. He wouldn't have repeated anything you said."

Chip nodded. "No. But there was another car on the other side of the island. A dark green roadster, with two men in it. I let slip that we knew there were some strange things going on at Land's End. I'm pretty sure those men could hear what I was saying." He grimaced. "I'm sorry. I was just so excited about the trip."

"It wasn't much, Dad," Frank put in. "Those guys would have had to put two and two together pretty fast to infer that you were going up to Land's End to investigate things."

"Hmm. I suppose it could have been them." But Mr. Dane smiled in the mirror at the anguished boy. "That's hardly a deliberate breech of security, Chip. And we don't know that those two men were involved. I wouldn't get upset about it, okay?"

"Yes, sir. But I'll sure keep my mouth shut in the future."

Frank couldn't stand the doleful look on his friend's face. He put an arm around Chip's shoulders and gave him a fond squeeze. "Don't let it bug you, Chip. Happens to the best of us."

Chip sighed. "Won't happen to me again!"

They reached the diner, and Mr. Dane pulled the sedan up by the pay phone and got out. The boys watched as he went into the booth and closed the door, dropped his nickel in the slot, and waited while the operator connected him.

"Those guys meant business," Joe said, from the front seat. "I'm glad no one was hurt." He smiled at Tony then, and Tony smiled back.

"It was pretty exciting, actually," his friend admitted. "Is this what it's like for you guys when you're on a case?"

Frank laughed. "Not always, but sometimes it gets a little dangerous. I have to admit that I've never had someone try to run me off a cliff before."

"I thought that guy in back was going to shoot us," Joe added. "That doesn't happen every day, either."

"Oh...hey!" Joe's comment had triggered a memory in Frank's mind. He bent down, searching the floorboards beneath his feet, while Chip and Tony watched with interest.

"What's up?" Joe asked, turning so that he could look over the seat.

"The gun!" Frank said. "When the two cars collided, the gun flew out of that thug's hand and came in my window. It nearly hit me in the head!"

"Seriously?" Joe called, excitement apparent in his voice. "It's here, in the car?"

"Must have gone under the seat," Frank said, probing under the back of the front seat. "Wait!" he suddenly straightened and looked at Chip. "Have you got a handkerchief?"

Chip nodded, reached into his pocket, and handed over a folded white square.

Frank shook it open and draped it over his fingers. Then he bent again, dug around under the front seat, and slowly sat up again. Clutched inside the handkerchief was the thug's weapon!

"What's that?" Mr. Dane said, coming back to the driver's door.

"That gunman's pistol," Frank said, grinning. "He lost it when the two cars hit. It came in the window and landed on the floor."

Mr. Dane gave a little laugh, looking pleased. "And you remembered not to touch it! Good work, Frank! I just talked to John Lewis, and he's sending a radio cruiser out to the diner here to meet with us and investigate the attempt on our lives. We can have them take the gun back and dust it, and check any prints they find against the criminal records."

Mr. Dane extended a hand and took the gun, careful to keep the material of the handkerchief between his fingertips and the oiled metal.

"Weird looking thing," Joe commented, as his father held the gun up to examine it. "I don't think I've ever seen a gun like it. You know what it is, dad?"

The elder Dane nodded, his eyes upon the pistol. "Yes. A Parabellum, nine millimeter. 1908 model." His eyes came up to meet those of the boys. "A German Luger."

The boys gasped. "Really? That's not a common weapon the average thug would carry, is it, dad?" Frank asked.

Mr. Dane shook his head. "They're not common, no. But I saw a number of them during the war, and quite a few G.I.'s brought one home as a souvenir. So they aren't exactly rare here, either."

The boys stared at the gun, wondering about its history.

Mr. Dane nodded. "One more mystery in this case."

Joe grinned at Frank, and then at his father. "Is it officially a case now?"

Mr. Dane looked grim. "Someone just tried to kill me, my sons, and two of their friends. It's a case now, boys. And I intend to get to the bottom of it!"


They arrived in Land's End just after noon. Mr. Dane had spent more time with the state troopers that had showed up in the radio cruiser than expected, going over the details of the attempt on their lives, and handing over the odd pistol wrapped in the handkerchief for fingerprint examination.

The sun was high in the sky and the day had warmed considerably by the time the black sedan pulled up by the hotel doors. The valet - a young man with a welcoming smile on his face - ran to the driver's door...and paused at the damage he saw there.

"Ohmigosh! Are you people okay? That looks like it just happened."

"Little mishap on the way up," Mr. Dane said, climbing out. The boys opened their doors and got out of the car, too, nodding at the two bellman who came down the steps and waited patiently by the trunk of the sedan.

"Glad to see no one was hurt," the valet said, frowning. "How'd the other car fare?"

"It was a little worse," Joe said, shaking his head.

Mr. Dane handed the keys to the valet. "All the bags in the trunk come inside. I hope you can get that trunk lid open. It's a little dented, too."

The valet nodded, handed the elder Dane his ticket stub. "Yes, sir. Hope you all have a very nice visit."

The boys followed the detective inside, and across the hotel lobby to the front desk. They registered, got their room keys, and headed upstairs. The bellmen followed, and carried their bags into their rooms.

Mr. Dane had a room to himself, while Joe and Tony shared the next room, and Frank and Chip another. They were all in a line, with doors between them, and the first thing they did was open the connecting doors and explore each other's rooms. Each had a small but clean bath, with fresh towels laid out; a dresser with drawers lined with fresh paper; a small sofa and coffee table; a nightstand with lamp by either side of the bed; a console radio against the wall; and a small writing desk with paper, envelopes, pens and pencils. A telephone stood upon each desk. The rooms were much the same, right down to the number of flowers in the vase by each window.

They separated then, going back to their own rooms to unpack. After they'd put their clothing in the dresser drawers, Frank sat on the edge of the wide, double bed in their room and nodded appreciatively. "Nice. No problem sleeping on this."

Chip came and sat next to him, bounced once, and then laughed. "This is better than my bed at home!"

The two boys grinned at each other, and looked over at the open door to the room shared by Joe and Tony. The other boys were not visible, but they could hear them talking as they unpacked. Frank and Chip looked back at each other, and Frank leaned quickly forward and gave Chip a quick kiss on the lips. "Can't wait to sleep with you tonight!" he whispered.

Chip grinned, and nodded. "And how!"

The boys quickly separated then, as they heard Joe and Tony coming.

"Nice rooms," Joe said, as he came through the door. He grinned at Frank and Chip. "Dad said to figure out what we want to do first, and then let's get started."

It was agreed that a meal was in order, and the five of them went down to the hotel dining room and were seated for late lunch. The dining room was large and about half full. Grand chandeliers hung from the ceiling, filling the corners of the room with light. A great wall of windows in the exterior side of the room let in a view of the beach, and one end of the carnival that stood above the boardwalk. The great Ferris wheel turned slowly in the afternoon sun, towering above gaily-colored tents and open-sided canopies housing all sorts of entertaining attractions. The end of a large pavilion was visible, and a bandstand next to it, from which drifted the sounds of brass and an organ. People milled everywhere, laughing and having a good time.

"Seems gay enough," Mr. Dane said. "Whatever is going on here isn't obvious, anyway." Frank and Chip glanced at each other and smiled, but didn't say anything.

"Uh, yeah, everything seems real cheerful," Joe agreed, watching the crowds. "Nothing sinister in sight."

Mr. Dane laughed at the sound of disappointment in his son's voice. "Crime seldom wears a sign, son."

Joe grinned. "Aw, that's not what I meant, dad. I guess."

They all laughed.

"What's our first move?" Frank asked in a low voice, leaning towards his father.

"I'm for the soup. Probably a sandwich, too," Mr. Dane returned, his eyes bright.

Frank nodded. "Okay, okay. You'll let us in on things when you're ready."

The elder Dane sighed, relenting. "I intend to simply walk around the place and have an eyeful of what's going on. I suggest you boys do the same. I like to do this on my own to get the best perspective, so after we eat, I'll go one way, and you fellows can go the other. We'll meet back at the rooms for dinner."

"Anything special you want us to watch for?" Joe asked.

Mr. Dane shrugged. "It is my experience that the mind does its own observing and sorting, and immediately marks the things that look unusual. I think if you see anything out of place, you will note it immediately. The more specialized things I want to look for I cannot convey to you easily in a short session." He nodded. "Just look around, and see what you can see. And don't forget the most important thing, boys."

All four of the teens leaned forward. "What's that?" Frank whispered.

"Have fun," Mr. Dane answered, smiling. "Now, let's see what we have on this menu, shall we?"


Later, the four boys changed into their swim trunks, donned tee-shirts and canvas deck shoes, and headed out towards the vast carnival to see what could be seen. Mr. Dane was similarly dressed, but wore dark glasses beneath a straw fedora, and carried a newspaper under his arm. They separated at the hotel's beach doors, Mr. Dane going one way, the boys going the other.

"Man, this place is crowded!" Joe exclaimed, as the boys merged with the flow of guests at the carnival's edge.

All about them, crowds of adults and children moved among the many tents and stalls of the carnival. A large carousel turned slowly beyond, it's ornate horses rising and falling as they pranced about the circle, smiling children and adults alike riding tall in the saddles. Other rides occupied a large area to the left, set upon compacted gravel: a Tilt-A-Whirl, a Rotor, a Loop-O-Plane, and a Hurricane, with short lines of thrill-seekers waiting to board each. A boat ride ran the length of a long, twisting wooden flume full of water; a large pavilion beyond that attraction housed bumper cars. There was a house of mirrors, a haunted castle, and a freak show in a large, gaudy tent, with signage out front hawking the world's tallest woman, a man of plastic, and a dog-faced boy.

A roller coaster second only to the one at Coney Island roared in the distance, close by the enormous Ferris wheel - an elegant circle of steel that turned slowly against a blue sky packed with summer clouds.

The great center pavilion, the focus of the carnival area, with its wide stage and row after row of seating, was vacant just then; as dusk approached, the Grand Show of the Magical Arts, with the renowned magician, Jack Dark, presiding, would unfold its mysteries to an audience of hundreds of wide-eyed, enraptured viewers. Jack Dark had gained a national reputation as one of the finest magicians in the field today, and the boys were looking forward to catching his show while they were visiting.

Beyond the carnival, a long seawall ran above the beach, and a wide boardwalk ran along the top of it, home to stands selling confections like cotton candy and malted milk balls, and every manner of food and drink. Signs could be seen promising super long hot dogs and super-sized burgers, and everything else from hot pretzels to cold beer. Below the seawall, the wide beach of white sand extended out of view in both directions, and was covered with umbrellas and beach towels and people lounging in the afternoon sun. A gentle surf washed against the shore, holding a multitude of swimmers and bathers, while the waters much farther out showed the white wakes of power boats pulling skiers as they zipped by.

The center pavilion straddled the seawall, with the stage and the first few rows of seating mounted atop piers that sank deep into the sand of the beach below. When the pavilion showcased musical events the rear doors were opened behind the stage and the curtains drawn back, revealing the ocean beyond, apparently just outside to those seated within. The central pavilion at Land's End was known for its amazing view, and bookings there were considered choice by most performers in the industry.

The boys looked about almost in a daze, not sure where to begin their journey.

"This is amazing!" Frank breathed, shaking his head. "I don't know where to go first!"

They wandered into the maze of tents, gawking at everything in sight. The variety was amazing, and the boys agreed that they had never been any place with so many tantalizing things to offer. They paused at a knife-throwing exhibition, and marveled at the incredible accuracy of the performer; gasped at the muscles on the strong man at another stage, as he lifted a bar with chairs attached to each end, and two people seated in each. The row of active performances was long and impressive, and it was a half-hour before they reached the end of it and started back up the other side.

They had just passed a small stage with a juggler tossing a half-dozen hatchets in the air when Chip put a hand on Frank's arm and pointed to a nearby tent. "Look, Frank - a fortuneteller!"

Both Dane boys laughed. "You want to know your future?" Frank asked, playfully. "You're going to be dizzy for the rest of your life!"

Chip grinned and gave Frank a gentle push. "Oh, come on," he said, trying to conceal a smile. "The way this day has been going, it might not be a bad thing to have a leg up on tomorrow." He pointed at the tent. "It only costs five cents. I think I can spring for that."

"These things are all shams," Joe pointed out, gently. "Our dad has a lot of books on carnival and circus practices. These people are really good at fooling others, Chip."

Chip put his hands on his hips. "We're here to have fun, right? Well, I want to go in and see what the swami has to say, okay?"

The boys all grinned, but followed as Chip headed towards the large gray tent.

A sign out front depicting the Taj Mahal with lightning flashing in the turbulent sky above proclaimed that the Mistress Kani, Seeress of the Indus, was in residence within. Large red letters told that "The spirits know all things!". There was no line at the entry, but as they approached, two women came bustling out, their faces lit with glee.

"I told you that nice Mr. Johnson was making eyes at me, I just told you! The Seeress said a man of means with a beautiful smile would be paying attention to me in a business setting, and that's Mr. Johnson, at the office, to a tee!"

"Oh, Natalie, I'm just so happy for you! Why just think...a few short months from now, you could be married!"

The two woman hurried off, talking excitedly, and Joe turned to Tony and grinned. "Oh, Tony! Just think! We may meet the sweethearts of our dreams!" he cooed, in a high voice.

Tony took a fake swat at his friend, causing Joe to laugh and pull back. "Speak for yourself!" Tony said, laughing. "I'm doing okay hunting for a sweetheart on my own!"

To that Joe just grinned, while Frank shook his head. "Okay, you two, let's just go in and see, shall we?" They pushed through the double flaps covering the entry to the tent, letting them swish closed behind them.

The interior of the tent was dimly lit by candles in sconces hanging on the support poles, and decorated in tapestries and hangings that spoke of the mysterious far east. A small table draped in dark blue silk stood in the center of the open area, with a wooden bench before it wide enough to accommodate a half dozen people. Upon the covered table stood a large crystal ball, which pulsed with faint, multi-hued light from deep within. Beyond the table, another set of flaps covered an entry to the rear area of the tent.

A faint sound filled the air about them - a sound that really could not be named. It seemed just at the limit of the boy's hearing, soft and mysterious, somehow both restful and slightly eerie at the same time.

Chip gazed about with wide eyes full of wonder, and grinned at Frank. "Is this place the gas, or what?" he whispered. Frank grinned at his friend's delight, and wished for a moment that he was free to do more than nod and pat the boy on the shoulder.

A deep, male voice suddenly spoke, causing the boys to jump. "Please be seated. The Seeress will be with you momentarily."

The voice seemed to come from all about them, from everywhere and nowhere, all at the same time.

"That's a great trick," Joe whispered. "Let's sit down."

The boys lined up on the bench, shoulder-to-shoulder, and stared at the crystal ball, which continued to show odd lights in its depths.

"They've got the mood down pat, I'll give them that," Frank whispered. "This place is plenty creepy, don't you fellows think?"

But before anyone could answer, the flaps at the rear of the tent parted, and a woman came in. She was small and dark, her body encased in silken wraps, and her head veiled in such a manner that only her eyes showed through. She came forward and sat in the chair on the other side of the table, and steepled hands made ornate with exotically carved rings before her.

"I am the Seeress Kani. How may I help you today?"

"Don't you know?" Joe asked, not meaning to be smart, but feeling that anyone that could really see the future ought not to be asking questions like that.

Behind the veil, the Seeress Kani smiled. "There is much between you four in your futures. Unless you wish to sit for a very long time and listen, it is always best to be specific so that I can get more quickly to the points that interest you."

Chip leaned forward and laid a nickel on the table. "I'm the one that wants to know my future. Maybe just the next couple of days will do, okay?"

The Seeress Kani nodded, and gently laid her hands on the surface of the crystal ball. As if in answer, the orb flashed even brighter, and new colors swirled within. "My contact with the spirit world is close now," she said softly. "Her name is Manta, and she will soon take over my voice. What you hear next will be her words, spoken from beyond the veil of light."

The candles in the sconces about them suddenly dimmed, and then began to flicker strangely, as if a small breeze had suddenly wafted through the tent. But the boys could feel no movement in the air, and the effect was quite mysterious.

Frank leaned forward slightly and looked at Joe, who simply shrugged and nodded back at the Seeress, as if saying let's wait and see.

"You have come a long way to be here," the woman said in a new voice, one oddly accented, and deeper than the one she had used before. "And the trip fraught with danger, too. There are those that feel threatened by your mission here in Land's End."

Frank tensed and sat forward, and noticed the others doing the same thing.

"What does that mean?" Chip asked, his good humor suddenly gone.

The Seeress peered more closely at the crystal ball, which pulsed furiously now. "An old secret, an old debt. Something stolen, and not returned. But there is one who seeks it, someone powerful. Someone who will stop at nothing to regain what was taken."

Frank licked his lips now. "What was taken?" he asked softly.

"A...birthright, a legacy. Old with the tattered shrouds of time. Payment past due, and soon to be collected."

"That sounds pretty dire," Frank offered. "What should we do about it?"

"You have one recourse to safety," the Seeress continued. "Leave Land's End! Leave now...before it's too late!"

Joe jumped to his feet. "What's going on?" he demanded. "Who put you up to this?"

The Mistress Kani suddenly slumped, and then shook her head from side to side. "Manta...she has gone."

Frank stood then, too. "You said someone would stop at nothing to regain what was lost. Does that include sabotage, and attempted murder? What do you know?"

"Yeah," Joe said, anger apparent now his voice. "We nearly got rubbed out on the way up here. Talk!"

The Seeress suddenly gazed up at them, more aware now...and looking frightened. "I...I do not know."

"You know something," Joe said, leaning forward against the tabletop. "And you'd better start talking right now, or..."

The flaps to the rear of the tent opened, and a man came into the front. A very large man. He easily towered six and a half feet above the floor, with wide shoulders and powerful arms visible beneath the far eastern raiment he wore. His face and hair were dark, his skin brown like that of the Seeress. His eyes looked angry.

"The session is over," he said firmly, and it was the same voice that had bade them to be seated upon entering. "The Mistress Kani knows not what her contact speaks of."

All the boys came to their feet now.

"Look," Frank said, trying to stay calm, "she referred to things that nobody could know. Nobody that was not in on a crime, that is."

The man shook his head. "My daughter knows not what the spirit speaks of."

Chip made a startled noise. "Are you saying that that was a real fortunetelling? That a real spirit was talking to us?"

"It is stated so on the sign out front." The man leaned forward. "You in the west think you know everything of the world. You do not."

"Look, mister," Frank said then, shaking his head. "We're not here to make trouble. But the Seeress just said some things that the police will want to hear, and..."

The man took a quick step towards them. "Go!"

The boys jumped and backed away, and the man came around the table and literally herded them out of the tent and pulled the flaps closed after them.

"That didn't go well," Frank said, staring at the tent.

"Guess we came on too strong," Joe agreed then, looking a little sheepish. "Scared them. My temper again. Sorry."

Frank shook his head. "That was strange. I got the distinct impression those people really did not know what we were talking about." He paused to consider that. "Certainly if they were involved with the attack upon us on the road, it would have been stupid for them to say so."

"So what do you think it was about?" Tony asked. "Are you saying that what the woman said was somehow a real message from the spirit world?"

Frank and Joe looked at each other. Their father had often talked of the scams that went on at carnivals and circuses, but he had been just as plain in saying that he had encountered many things in his life the he could not explain, and that it was never safe to jump to conclusions about things that seemed unbelievable in nature.

"I don't know," Frank admitted. "Maybe the best course is to keep an eye out for dad and let him know what happened."

It was agreed. The boys walked on, looking over the carnival, keeping an eye out for Mr. Dane, and taking in the sights. But they all seemed a little tense now, and some of the fun of being there had gone. The session with the fortuneteller had left them with far too many questions to leave them feeling confident.

Mr. Dane was nowhere to be seen, and the boys began to wonder if he was off somewhere else than the carnival itself. After more than an hour of looking, they decided to go back to their rooms and wait for him.

They went to Joe's room, which was in the middle, and knocked on the closed door to their father's room.

"Come in!"

Frank sighed. "He was here all along."

They opened the door and went into the next room. Mr. Dane was seated at the desk, writing in a small notebook. He smiled up at them, finished a line of print, and then closed the notebook. "Hi, guys. Having a good time?"

The boys moved to the desk and crowded around the older man.

"We have something to tell you!" Joe exclaimed.

The boys took turns giving their recollections of what had happened in the tent of the fortuneteller. Mr. Dane listened attentively, nodding, asking a question here and there. His eyebrows went up at Frank's mention of what the Seeress had said about their trip up, and what was going on at Land's End.

"Legacy, huh?" Mr. Dane shook his head. "I think we need to go and talk to these people."

They got up and headed back out. As they passed through the lobby of the hotel they met the concierge, who asked them if they wanted tickets to the magic show that evening. The boys all lit up, and Mr. Dane grinned, and bought five seats.

"Show starts at eight," the concierge said, smiling. "The earlier you get to the pavilion, the better the seating."

After that, they headed back to the beach and the tent of the fortuneteller. As they neared the tent, Frank immediately noticed that something had changed. "Hey! The sign is gone!"

It was true. The ornate sign with the picture of the Taj Mahal was absent from its spot before the tent. The front flaps of the tent were tied back, and as they neared they could see a man in a white uniform sweeping up inside.

Mr. Dane looked at the boys, and held a finger to his lips to indicate that he wished to do the talking.

"Excuse me," the detective said, sticking his head inside. "Isn't this the tent of the fortuneteller?"

The man looked up from where he had been sweeping paper trash into a dustpan. "Was, until about a half hour ago."

Mr. Dane nodded. "Where did they go?"

"Dunno," the fellow said, shrugging. "Quit and took off, is all I know."

Frank and Joe looked around the inside of the tent. The hangings, the sconces, the table, and the crystal ball were all gone.

Mr. Dane sighed. But then he looked at the wastebasket next to the janitor. "Mind if I look in that?"

The man gave a grunt of surprise. "Just trash, mister."

Mr. Dane nodded, and produced a dollar bill from his pocket and offered it to the man.

The janitor grinned, reaching for it. "Guess it's your trash, after all. I'll wait out front, okay?" He took his broom and passed them, heading outside.

Frank and Joe immediately went to their father. "We're sorry, dad," Frank said. "We spooked them."

The detective frowned. "Maybe. Maybe not. Let's look around, okay?"

They split up, circling the tent, examining the floor while Mr. Dane went through the trashcan.

Frank and Chip took the back room of the tent. It was small, contained two cots and a washstand, and a trunk against the back wall. They examined the floor carefully, the cots, and then went to the trunk. It was a large steamer model, with a tray that raised with the lid, and a number of compartments built into the floor for storage. They examined everything, found nothing, and Chip was about to close the lid when he spied a flash of metal.

"Hey...what's that?"

Frank saw it, too, down in a corner of the trunk. He stuck his fingers down and dug around, until his fingertips closed on a small metallic disc. He drew it forth and looked at it, while Chip drew close and peered at it with him.

"What is it?'

It looked like a coin, except for the little bracket at the top, that looked like it was designed to hang the thing from. One side held the crowned head of a man, and was circled by a cryptic string of letters. When he flipped it over, it was to find the image of a lion perched atop a strange animal, with the body of a lion but the head of a bird. The year '1939' was there, with the year '1945' just beneath it.

"Strange looking thing," Chip said. "What's with that bottom lion? It looks like it has the head of an eagle."

"It's a gryphon, I think," Frank returned. "A mythical beast." He looked up at Chip, his eyes bright. "Known for guarding treasures of great value."

"Really?" the other boy laughed. "What do you think it's doing here? Maybe it's someone's good luck charm."

Frank shrugged. "I don't know. We'd better show it to my dad."

They closed the trunk and returned to the outer room. Mr. Dane was talking to Joe and Tony, who were holding handfuls of papers.

"Find anything?" Frank asked, as they came up to the others.

Mr. Dane shook his head. "A few receipts, what look like grocery and laundry lists - nothing much. We'll take them along and I'll go over them again back at the hotel. What about you two?"

Frank held up the little medallion. "Just this." He handed the object to Mr. Dane, whose eyebrows went up immediately.

"This is interesting. Do you know what this is, boys?"

Frank and Chip looked at each other. "We thought it might be a good luck piece or something."

The elder Dane shook his head. "It's a medal. You know, a military award? British, by the look of it. That's King George on the front. See the little bracket at the top? That's where the ribbon goes through. This thing was once pinned to someone's uniform."

"Gosh," Frank breathed, looking excitedly at Chip. "You think it means something?"

The detective frowned. "I don't know. But I have a friend in New York - Wes Bradley - who deals in old coins and medallions and the like. I'll give him a call later and describe it to him."

They pocketed the items they had, and exited the tent. The janitor was out front, leaning on his broom, smoking a cigarette. "All through, gents?"

Mr. Dane nodded. "Yes. Thanks."

They headed back towards the hotel. The sky, which had been blue with a horizon of white, puffy clouds, seemed to have darkened while they were inside the tent.

"Rain, later, it looks like" Mr. Dane said, eying the sky.

"Hope it holds off until after the magic show tonight," Chip said, grinning at Frank. "That's a good walk to the pavilion, and I forgot my rain coat."

Tony laughed. "Don't feel badly. I didn't bring one either."

It turned out that none of the boys had thought to bring along rain gear. They were heading for the beach for sun and sand, and none of them had considered the idea of rain. Only Mr. Dane had packed a trench coat, and he quickly pointed out that there was not enough room inside of it for five of them.

The boys laughed.

They returned to the hotel and their rooms, and had a little pow wow at Mr. Dane's desk. They agreed to keep looking about, but also to try to have some fun. "It's a vacation, too," Mr. Dane reminded the boys.

After that, the boys left the detective and closed the door between their rooms so that he could make some phone calls in private. The boys went to Frank's room, turned on the radio low, and sprawled about the furniture, talking.

"This thing is getting to be a pretty good mystery," Tony said, grinning at Joe, and then Frank. "Do either of you have a guess about what's going on?"

Joe just shrugged. "Too early for me."

"Me, too," Frank admitted. "I'm sure even my dad doesn't have a real idea what's happening yet."

"Is this normal for a case?" Chip asked.

"Oh, sure." Frank nodded. "We've only got a couple of clues so far. The more clues we get, the closer we'll get to solving the mystery."

Chip shook his head. "How about that fortuneteller? That was some strange stuff."

The boys considered that. "I guess we've been warned," Frank concluded. "Real spirit or not, that was a definite suggestion to go home and mind our own business."

"We're not doing that, are we?" Tony asked, looking from one Dane to the other.

"Heck, no," Joe said, grinning. "Being told to muck off just means you're on the trail of something someone is worried about."

Frank nodded. "I agree. That whole thing in the fortuneteller's tent was strange. I really felt that that girl had no idea what was going on."

Chip's eyes were bright with interest. "Could it have been a real warning...from the great beyond?"

"Lots of bizarre things in the world," Joe said, considering. "I think those people took off because we mentioned talking to the police. Dad says carnival people shy away from that sort of thing just as a matter of course. So unless we find where they went, I doubt we'll ever know what they really knew."

They talked on, listening to music on the radio. After about an hour, the door to Mr. Dane's room opened and he came across to Frank's room.

"Can you turn that radio off a moment, Joe? I want to tell you boys a few things."

Joe reached over and twisted the knob on the big console. "What's up, dad?"

"I talked to Wes Bradley about the medal you found. He told me that it's an India medal, given out to Indian troops that served in non-combatant positions with the British in World War Two."

Frank snapped his fingers. "The fortuneteller's father! They both looked like they might be from India. Maybe it belonged to him."

"Undoubtedly so," Mr. Dane agreed. "So it's probably not involved in the mystery itself, just something that got left behind in their rush to leave." He smiled. "It has a small number engraved on it, and Wes said it can be traced to the man it belongs to that way. So we might have a chance to return it to him someday."

Joe sighed. "I was hoping that it might be a clue."

"Don't count it out just yet," Mr. Dane said, laughing. "But for now, we'll mark it as a low priority, okay?"

Chip raised a hand. "So we don't know any more now than we did before."

"That's not quite true," the detective said. "We know that the man served his country honorably and was recognized for it. That moves him and his daughter both upward in my estimation, and lowers the chance that they are directly involved with this case."

Tony nodded. "That's something. We can't afford to be chasing red herrings."

Frank grinned. "Been reading mysteries again, Tony?"

The other boy blushed. "Well, Dashiell Hammet makes it look easy!"

Everyone laughed at that.

Mr. Dane leaned forward then. "I also spoke to John Lewis."

Frank and Joe looked at each other. "The car!" Frank said. "You have some news?"

"Yes. Firstly, the touring car was pulled from the ocean off Beach Road. There were three bodies inside."

"Three!" Joe exclaimed. "There were four men in the car!"

The sleuth nodded. "The rear door on the passenger side was open. The possibility exists that the man seated there - the man that brandished the gun - fell out on impact, and that his body was swept away by the current." Mr. Dane shook his head. "But the chance also exists that he bailed out before the car hit the water, survived the fall, and is still alive."

"The prints," Frank said, "were the State Police able to identify them?"

"Not yet," Mr. Dane admitted, frowning. "They don't match anyone in the local criminal files. John sent copies on to the FBI to check them against the national records next."

The boys looked at each other. The idea that the man that had been about to shoot them might still be walking about was sobering.

Mr. Dane nodded. "So I want everyone to be aware of the people around them. Stay together, okay? I don't want any of you going off alone."

"Okay, dad," Frank said. "You have our word. Right, fellas?"

All the boys nodded.

Mr. Dane smiled and got to his feet, gazing at his watch. "You boys relax a bit, okay? Listen to some more music, or what have you. I need to make some more calls. After that, we'll think about going down to the dining room for dinner, and then we have the magic show later, don't forget."

The boys grinned at each other. "That's going to be swell!" Joe said. "This guy Jack Dark is supposed to be the best!"

Mr. Dane smiled, and left them to discuss the upcoming show.


Thunder rumbled in the distance, and the dark cloud cover had brought on an early nightfall. The world was not dark just yet, but it was well on its way. The pavilion was packed, and the show had begun.

Jack Dark had come onstage. He was tall and dark-haired, with flashing eyes and a tiny pencil mustache above his smile. He wore a black cape at the back of his black suit, and a top hat that would have made Fred Astaire proud. He had presence, in spades.

The boys were immediately infatuated with him, and watched in wonder as the man went about the stage, waving his hand and growing flowers and small trees right from the floorboards as he talked. He would walk past his pretty assistant and swish out his cape, and it was apparent as he moved on that she was now nowhere to be seen. A moment later, on the return leg of his walkabout, he would again flare out his cape, and as he once again moved on, there would be the assistant again, seemingly back out of thin air.

After a time, the magician came to the front of the stage and smiled at the audience. "Magic," he said, in a voice deep and resonant. "What is it? How is it done?" He waved his arms apart. "Is it even real?"

And then, briefly, it was snowing in the pavilion. The crowd looked up in wonder as snowflakes wafted down from the very ceiling, it seemed, and people held out their hands to catch the flakes, and pronounced them real.

The audience clapped, and laughed, and called out to the magician, who grinned at them.

"Or is it make-believe?" he continued. The snow stopped, vanishing as mysteriously as it had started.

"It's a mystery," the magician, went on, laughing. "One of the greatest ever. As full of wonder and awe as the mystery of flight was before the Wright Brothers showed us how it was done."

He waved his hand again, and a man in the front row suddenly rose out of his seat. The man squawked in alarm and waved his arms; but that only seemed to make him take off, and in a moment he was circling twenty feet above the audience, waving his arms and legs, and hollering, "Put me down!"

The crowd loved it.

The man circled a few more times, and then slowly lowered back into his seat. A man seated directly behind him jumped to his feet and waved his arms above the recently reseated man, and then turned to look at the crowd, dumbfounded. "No wires!"

"Wires?" Jack Dark repeated, shaking his head in amusement. "Why use wires, when we have magic?"

He waved his arms again, and a long, narrow box on a tall wheeled frame descended to the stage from somewhere above. The pretty assistant came forward at the magician's bidding, and opened the front of the box, to show that it was empty. She closed it again, threw the latches that held it, and then she opened the lid of the box. There was a sudden flurry of wings, and a hundred doves erupted upwards from the interior and quickly dispersed into the dark outside the pavilion, causing the audience to jump, and then laugh.

The magician looked into the box, shook his head, and reached down inside. When he withdrew his hand, there was an egg clutched between his fingers. "Well," the man said, shaking his head, "I guess it's been a while since we've used this." He held the egg up, and it seemed to vanish from his hand. He grinned, and turned to the pretty assistant. "Will you?"

She nodded, and climbed up into the box, and laid down within it. The magician nodded, and closed the lid. He produced a large saw seemingly from out of thin air, and held it up to the audience. "Didn't want her to see this," he said, in a loud stage whisper. "She just goes to pieces so easily!"

The crowd laughed.

The magician walked around behind the long box, and proceeded to saw it into three sections. He pulled the sections apart, opened the front of each, and showed a writhing length of body within. Then he put the sections back together, whipped out a large basting bulb, and proclaimed that it was full of celestial glue, and proceeded to glue the sections of the box back together.

"Strange stuff, celestial glue," he said when he had finished. "You never know quite what it will do."

He turned the box, now seemingly whole again, to the audience, and opened the lid. Out popped his pretty assistant, obviously in one piece. She stood up and waved, and the audience clapped.

But a second later, another pretty assistant stood, identical to the first! And then a second later, a third pretty assistant stood up, identical to the other two! All three girls waved, and smiled at the audience.

The crowd roared its appreciation as the girls climbed from the box to stand next to the magician.

"How about that!" Joe called, grinning. "There's barely room in that box for one person, let alone three!"

"It's a great trick," Tony had to admit. "I wonder how it's done?"

"Magic," Frank returned, laughing. "Didn't you know?"

Jack Dark walked around the long box now, as if examining it for flaws. Finally, he stopped, and shook his head, and tsk, tsk, tsked. "No, this will not do at all. Ladies?"

The girls came back to the long box and arrayed themselves behind it. The magician made patting motions with his hands, and the girls began to clap their own hands up and down on the top of the box. The front of it immediately fell open, again showing that it was empty. The magician stepped forward and slammed the front closed, and latched it, even as the girls continued to pound on the top.

"Knead before baking," the magician said, smiling at the audience.

The magician then held his head as if listening, while the girls continued to bang their palms gently upon the box, and then he slowly nodded, and waved a hand. "That's enough. It sounds like it's done." He turned to the audience and smiled. "Allow to rise."

The girls stepped back away from the box, and Jack Dark waved a hand at it. With a small creak, the box rose, coming off the wheeled stand. The audience gasped, rapt. The box rose above the heads of the girls, and then slowly started to spin about its axis, quickly gaining speed, until it was such a blur of motion that it more resembled a cylinder than it did a box.

Jack Dark nodded. "And then bake at four hundred and fifty-one degrees until brown."

The box suddenly burst into flames and became a spinning mass of fire, causing those in the front two rows of the audience to lean back suddenly in their seats.

"No danger, folks!" the magician called. "This is a safe kitchen!"

The box continued to spin in flames for another thirty seconds as the magician looked at his watch; and then the man waved his hand again and the flames died out so suddenly it was startling. The box continued to whirl a moment, then slowed, and finally came to a stop. It was brown now, and emitted little clouds of smoke from the ends. Jack Dark waved a hand, and the box settled slowly back to land upon the wheeled undercarriage.

The magician smiled. "Well, now for the test!" He stepped to the box, gave it a cautious sniff. "It smells done!" He stepped back, and waved a hand at the three girls. "Ladies? Would you be so kind?"

A girl went to each end of the box and grasped the lid, while the third reached over the center and took hold of it with one hand.

"Now!" the center one called, and all three girls pulled.

The lid snapped upwards. For a moment nothing happened; but then something rose into sight, and waved lazily in the air above the box. The boys gasped. It looked like an octopus tentacle!

"Oh, no," the magician said, stepping forward. He grabbed the tentacle and forced it back inside the box, gave the audience a nervous smile, then took the lid, and closed it. He gave a soft sigh of relief, and shrugged at the audience. "A mix up in the kitchen, no doubt. I did not order seafood."

The crowd laughed as Jack Dark stepped back, and tapped lightly on the lid. "Ladies?"

Again the three girls grasped the lid and opened it. This time there was an immediate reaction. There was a snuffling sound, and two small pigs poked up their faces and looked at the audience over the side of the box. The audience laughed, and Jack Dark again stepped forward, looking alarmed. He pushed the piglets down and gently closed the lid. "A little underdone," he said, apologetically. "Pork needs to be cooked thoroughly, remember!" He shook his head and looked at the audience. "Maybe cooking is not my forte. We'll try one more time." He patted the top of the box again, and then asked the girls to open it.

This time nothing happened. Jack Dark waited a moment, then stepped up and looked into the box. "Well! That's more like it!"

He reached in and lifted out...an apple pie! He held it up to the audience and received a loud cheer, and then brought the pie up under his nose, closed his eyes, and inhaled. "Mmm! Just like mother used to make!"

He handed the pie to one of the girls, reached back into the box, and produced another pie. "One for each of you," he said, cheerfully. "Only fair." He reached back into the box, emerged with yet a third pie, and handed it to the third girl. "Enjoy!"

The girls carried their pies off stage, to a round of clapping. Jack Dark looked into the long box again, and shook his head. "Oh, my! There seems to be some leftover ingredients!" And with that he hit the latches that held the front of the box closed. It fell open, and hundreds of shiny red apples cascaded to the stage floor and rolled in every direction, even into the first row of the audience. People stood and clapped, and many bent to retrieve apples from the floor at their feet. The magician smiled, slammed the front of the now empty box closed, lowered the top lid and patted it affectionately. "Good job."

The box moved, and pressed at him, swaying lightly back and forth on its wheeled stand, like a faithful dog seeking another pat. The audience laughed, and Jack Dark looked at the box sternly. "Not now! I'm in the middle of a performance!"

The box suddenly butted him, as if angry.

"Go to your room!" The magician said then, pointing off stage.

The box creaked and rattled, and shifted back and forth. Jack Dark sighed, rolled his eyes dramatically at it, then gave a little nod. "Okay. I'm not mad. You can go." The box shifted, and then slowly rolled after the girls, all on its own.

The audience laughed, excited and amused. The boys put their heads together, trying to imagine how it was all done.

"Oh, look!" Chip said then, leaning forward. "Here we go again!"

A large elephant was led out onto the stage by a handler, and walked in a circle so that the audience could see that both sides of the animal were barren - obviously an elephant, and no more. Then the animal was halted, side-on to the audience, beside Jack Dark, who smiled at it, and turned to the crowd.

"A visitor, it seems, from the distant Kingdom of Nepal." He leaned towards the elephant, which looked at him and bounced its head up and down a few times.

"What's that you say?" Jack Dark asked, looking surprised. "You say you had riders?"

As if in answer, something crawled up from behind the elephant, appearing slowly atop the beast's back, and soon revealed itself to be a howdah - a seat with a small canopy above it. There were little walls around its sides, and tassels hanging from the edge of the canopy! The crowd laughed, while Jack Dark looked perplexed. He leaned closer to the elephant. "I see the seat, but no riders. What could have become of them?"

The elephant nodded again, and suddenly a head popped up within the howdah, and a man in a turban sat up and stared in surprise about the pavilion. And then another, and then yet another man popped up. All were wearing turbans, and all started talking away in a foreign tongue, looking as if they had no idea at all as to how they had come to be where they were. The audience clapped and laughed, and Jack Dark bowed and smiled. "When you book a tour with us, you could wind up anyplace on earth, it seems!" he said.

The boys were impressed, and immediately went to discussing how the trick was done. Only as the elephant and its riders were led away did they settle down and grow quiet.

Again, thunder boomed in the distance, and a few flashes could be seen outside the pavilion.

Jack Dark came to the front of the stage, waved a hand behind him. The curtain at the back of the stage drew apart, and then the big wooden doors rolled aside, revealing the ocean beyond. Again lightning flashed, and it was already apparent that the surf was up in response to the coming storm. In the distance, whitecaps could just be seen upon the waters in the near dark.

"We live in a vast world," the magician said, his eyes upon the audience. "One full of mysteries. Yet a world also made smaller by our recent great conflict. Where once vast distances separated continents and peoples, the miracle of modern air travel has linked them together. We know more about our neighbors today than we ever did before. Commerce between continents is the rule now, with the oceans of the world traveled daily by the great freighters - the merchantmen that carry the labors of all peoples to the corners of the earth."

Behind the man, out to sea, something appeared - something moving.

"A ship," Frank breathed, leaning forward.

"These great ships never tire," the magician went on, apparently oblivious to everything behind him. "Coming and going at all hours of the day and night, offloading their cargoes, taking aboard new ones, and then moving on once again, to some other part of the world."

Behind the magician, the distant ship grew, as if it was coming right for the pavilion. Jack Dark seemed unaware of it.

"These behemoths of the trade lanes weather the great convolutions of the world's oceans, passing through seas and storms simply frightening in their fury. These towering titans do not flinch, do not quail, do not pause in their duties, pressing always onward toward their destinations."

The ship was large now, her bow aimed dead-on for the pavilion, her stack belching black smoke into the darkening sky as though she was under a full head of steam.

In the pavilion, a low murmuring began, as the audience became focused on the onrushing vessel. It was nearing shore at a frightening pace. Frank watched it, and kept expecting it to suddenly sheer off in one direction or another - but the ship continued onward, seemingly intent on making the beach. It was a large freighter, he could see now, perhaps ten thousand tons in displacement, resembling pictures he had seen of the Liberty Ships of just a few years past.

Jack Dark raised his voice now. "But sometimes, something terrible happens at sea. Plagues get carried aboard ship - deadly maladies born of the word's dark places, beyond the knowledge of the ship's doctor to combat - and rapidly spread, decimating the crew. Sometimes this happens so quickly that even a radio message of warning cannot be sent, and the ship sails onward, crewed by the dead, with no hand at her helm, until --"

People were standing up now as the bow of the great ship loomed close. Frank felt his heart racing, and his muscles involuntarily tensing to run. In the ground beneath his feet he became aware of a thrumming sensation, almost as if he could feel the racing turns of the oncoming ship's screws.

A woman screamed, and several people jumped up and ran to the back of the pavilion. The ship was surely about to beach herself, she was so close now; but Frank just stared at it, somehow kept in his seat by the magician's calm gaze, his lack of reaction to the events behind him.

"-- until sometimes, these great titans of the sea come ashore!" the magician suddenly yelled.

Behind him, the bow of the ship towered above the pavilion now, racing towards them. Frank gasped, sure now that, even if he ran, the great hulk would plow through the pavilion and cut off his escape.

Jack Dark whirled and threw up his arms. There was a furious, blinding flash of light, and a sudden wall of white smoke. Something catapulted through the smoke at them - but it was not the ship.

It was a man. He landed on his feet running, and ground to a halt next to the magician.

The audience, still in shock, was silent a moment - and then suddenly erupted into laughter.

The man was dressed in a sailor's uniform, but the pants only went down to mid-calf. The sleeves of his shirt were also too short, and the sailor's cap that rested upon his head was too small. It looked like the sailor had gotten wet, and everything had shrunk.

But he saluted the magician, grinning. "Jack Dark?"

"I am he," the magician said brightly, smiling.

"Have an arrival for you, sir. Congratulations. It's a boy."

The magician clapped his hands, and something else came through the dispersing white smoke and landed on the stage with a loud thud. It was a large wooden crate. On the front, stenciled in tall black letters, it said: " S.S. Utopia. Deliver to Jack Dark, Magic Town, U.S.A."

There was a small cracking sound, and the front of the crate separated, and then swung slowly forward, to crash down on the stage with another thud. A boy, perhaps, ten or twelve, jumped out, and came to stand next to the magician, a huge grin on his face. "Daddy!"

The audience suddenly howled with laughter and released tension. Behind the magician, the wall of white smoke blew away with the rising wind, revealing the sea beyond - and not a ship in sight.

"Oh, my," the magician said, patting the boy on top of the head. "We were expecting a girl!"

He pulled out his cape, briefly obscuring the lad, and then dropped it - and now the child was a girl!

The audience stood and pounded their hands together, whistling and yelling. The sailor and the girl grinned at the audience, gave little bows, and hastened off stage. Jack Dark beamed at the audience, nodding, and then raised his hands, and slowly waved them until the audience quieted down.

"Ladies and gentleman, that is our show for this evening. We hope you were entertained. In parting, I just want to remind you of one thing."

The crowd quieted, and Jack Dark grinned at them. "Always remember that magic...is exactly what you believe it to be! Good night!"

The magician turned his back on the audience, raised his cape outwards with his arms - and then his clothing collapsed to the stage, empty!

There was a five minute ovation after that, and calls for an encore. Mr. Dane and the boys stood right along with the others, clapping and cheering. But the pile of empty clothing just lay there, without a response, and no one appeared again from backstage. The ovation finally slowed, and the audience seemed about to give up, when the pile of clothing onstage suddenly stirred, puffed up, and flew away into the wings. A moment later the magician reappeared, patting his clothing onto place, smiled, bowed and waved, threw a large kiss to the crowd, and danced backwards off stage.

"Was that ever a show!" Joe said, clapping again along with the others. "Wow!"

Even Mr. Dane looked impressed. "I have to say, I cannot figure out how some of that was done," he admitted, as they joined the crowd walking back towards the hotel. Above them, the sky rumbled, and flashes of lightning lit the horizon. The wind had come up, and people were hurrying now to beat the coming storm.

Frank gazed about at the carnival, which was lit by strings of lights strung between poles, and was surprised to see the tents and stands closed up tight. Apparently the show folk had heeded the threatening skies that heralded the storm's approach, and had battened down the hatches in preparation. The rides were all empty, shut down, and the great Ferris wheel in the background - lit by golden lights around its periphery - stood immobile against the lowering sky.

Lightning flashed again, followed by the roll of thunder overhead, and the crowd hurried onward. The lights of the hotel drew closer just as the first drops of rain started to fall, and the Danes and their friends made the safety of the long covered sidewalk before the hotel's beach entry just as the skies opened and poured down the rain.

"Great timing!" Mr. Dane said, grinning at the boys. "Let's stand here a moment and let this crowd get inside. The desk will be mobbed."

They backed up to the wall of the building and watched the rain come down in great sheets, driven by winds off the ocean, which, fortunately, were not violent enough to drive the drops to where they stood beneath the overhang. The crowd slowly made its way inside, and soon they were alone on the walkway.

Lightning flashed again, great fingers of light clutching at the clouds above. The sound of the storm was such that conversation was difficult, and so the five just stood there, taking in the power of nature on the move.

Joe leaned over to the glass door and looked inside, then nodded at the others. "Crowd's getting smaller," he called, cupping his hand at his mouth to be heard.

"We'll wait a couple of more minutes," Mr. Dane called back.

They resumed their watch of the storm, and so were front row, center, when a long lance of blue-white fire reached down from the sky and crawled along the braces of the distant Ferris wheel. There were flashes of light all about the carnival area as light bulbs burst, and then the carnival, the pavilions, and the hotel building at their back went dark.

The five standing with their backs to the wall blinked their eyes as the night settled back around them, this time an almost complete darkness. Faint flashes of light still crawled among the clouds, and thunder still boomed across the sky, but the night was otherwise complete in every direction, as far as they could see.

"Must have blown some big breakers somewhere!" Mr. Dane called. He put out his arms and herded the boys toward the door now, and they felt their way inside. There were lights at the front desk as the clerks and bellmen moved about with battery-powered flash lights, and now one of the lights made its way towards them.

"Hello," said a voice, as the light touched them. "See you made it okay. Frightful night, isn't it?" It was the concierge who had sold them the seats for the magic show.

"Lightning struck the Ferris wheel at the carnival," Mr. Dane said. "We were standing outside the door when it happened."

"Oh, that's it. Must have been quite a jolt. The phones are out as well. Would you like me to guide you to your rooms?"

"Is that what you've been doing?" Mr. Dane asked.

"Yes. We don't want people wandering about in the dark. Someone is bound to be injured. As it's night now anyway, it's safer if people just go to bed and wait for the power to come back. You were on the fourth floor, right?"

Mr. Dane smiled at the man's evident competency. "Yes."

The flashlight turned to illuminate the floor before them. "The elevators are out, of course," the concierge said. "We'll have to take the stairs."

They were guided to the staircase, and slowly made their way to the fourth floor. The concierge stood in each doorway and pointed his light about each room as the boys and Mr. Dane entered, so that they could reinforce in their minds where everything was located.

"Please be careful," the concierge told them. "Move slowly, hold your hands out before you. Best thing to do is get to bed and stay there until the power is restored. Goodnight, all."

Frank closed the door of his room and locked it, and took Chip by the arm. They moved carefully to the middle of the room before Frank stopped.

"What are you doing?" Chip whispered. "The bed is over here."

Frank smiled in the darkness and pulled the other boy closer, wrapping his arms lightly about him. "We're alone in the dark," he said softly. "Doesn't that suggest anything to you?"

Chip returned the embrace, pressing his face close to Frank's. "Oh, I've waited all day to be close to you."

Frank nodded. "It's rough, but we have to be careful. We don't want anyone to know about us."

Chip sighed, pressed his cheek against Frank's. "I don't know how this happened to us, Frank. But I'm so glad it did." He turned his head and pressed his lips against Frank's, and they stood still, holding each other gently, and exchanged the longest of kisses. It took Frank's breath away, and after it was over he laid his cheek against Chip's and closed his eyes. "I love you."

"I love you, too," the other boy breathed. "I always have and I always will. No one will ever take that away from us."

Frank nodded, remembering the first hint he had had that Chip was interested in him - two years ago it was, now. He remembered all the careful, delicate steps they had taken together, before finally admitting to themselves that they were on their way to a love that must remain hidden from the world in order to thrive. It was hard, hiding this part of himself, especially from his family and friends. But the world did not allow for this kind of love, and so it must remain forever a secret thing.

There was a brief flash of light against Frank's closed eyelids, and then another, and then the lights came on.

Frank sighed softly, and opened his eyes. "Well, that was too short --" He began - and then broke off, staring.

They were before the door between their room and the one occupied by Joe and Tony. It was standing open - Frank had forgotten to close it earlier. In the other room, plainly visible, stood Joe and Tony, wrapped in each other's arms just as Frank and Chip still were. Joe's eyes were open, and he was staring at his brother with a look of shock and fright upon his features.

Chip felt Frank tense, and pulled his head back. He saw where Frank was looking and turned, even as Tony turned his head and looked at them. The four boys stood, frozen in place, and stared at each other.

Joe blinked his eyes, and the look of fright on his face slowly transformed into a weak smile. "Fellas."

Frank nodded. "Hey."

Chip shook his head, and looked at Frank. "I don't believe it."

Joe licked his lips and started towards Frank and Chip, pulling Tony along with him. Frank and Chip started forward, too. They met at the doorway, and stood in silence, watching each other.

Joe put an arm around Tony's waist and drew him closer. Tony looked scared, but allowed it to happen. Joe nodded, leaned over and kissed the other boy's cheek, "It's okay. Relax."

Tony nodded, but didn't say anything, his eyes still on Frank and Chip.

"So," Frank said, finally smiling. "Fancy meeting you guys here. Feel like a chat?"

Joe grinned, and nodded. "I was thinking just the same thing."

Frank stepped back, drawing Chip with him. "Come right in, gents, and find a seat."

Joe and Tony came into the room. Frank looked beyond them, saw that the door to their father's room was, fortunately, closed, and then closed and locked their own door.

Joe and Tony went to the small sofa and sat together, and Frank and Chip went to the bed and sat on the edge of it across from them.

Joe put an arm around Tony and snuggled close to him.

Frank put an arm around Chip, and drew him closer.

"So," Joe said, smiling now, his earlier fright at being discovered now obviously gone. "Where do we start?"

Frank and Chip looked at each other and laughed, before Frank turned back to his brother and gave him a fond smile. "Why, at the beginning, of course."


"Some detectives you two turned out to be," Tony said later, grinning at the Dane brothers. "Living in the same house together, both of you like boys instead of girls, and neither one knew about the other."

Frank and Joe both laughed. "Well, it's not really the kind of thing you look for," Frank said, a little defensively. "I mean, it's not like we had a lot of clues."

"Yeah," Joe said in agreement. "We were doing our best to hide it, not share it." He made a face then. "It's not like you knew and we didn't."

Tony shrugged, but gave a small nod of agreement. "You're right. I would have never figured your brother was a homo like us."

Frank's eyebrows shot up. "Well, first of all, I don't like that word. The new term for what we are is gay. I would much rather you call me that, okay?"

Joe laughed. "Where'd you hear that? Gay just means happy and carefree."

Frank leaned forward. "It also means guys that like guys. I heard it in New York City when dad and I went there last year to settle the Morgan Estate matter. The people in the city are right on the forefront of things Joe. They use the term gay, okay?"

Joe and Tony looked at each other. Tony grinned and nodded, and Joe turned back to face his brother. "It's okay by us. I like that better than 'homo', anyway."

The boys had traded stories of how they had come to be with their best friends, and they were strikingly similar. What was amazing to Frank and Joe both was that they had never suspected each other of being anything but girl-chasers. Sure, neither boy had settled on a full-time girl yet, but Joe was always flirting with Tony's sister, and Frank had had more than one outing with Chip's sister.

Frank shook his head, smiling at Joe. "All those picnics down by the reservoir with the girls sitting on a blanket with us, and we were both thinking about the girl's brothers!"

Tony made a small face. "I hope Debbie never finds out. She likes you, Joe. This would really hurt her."

Joe looked stunned. "I don't want to do that. Well, I'll sure try not to. But...Tony, we've talked about this. You're the one I love, not her."

"Yes, I know." The other boy frowned. "Gee, we'll really have to be careful with this one."

"It's the same with Frank," Chip pointed out. He smiled at his boyfriend. "Ellie is a little crazy about you. But I sure can see why."

Frank smiled, and nodded. "I do like her. But, Chipper...I love you!"

Chip put his face in his hands, but he was smiling. "You Danes sure know how to complicate things!"

Frank looked over at the clock on the desk. They needed a break from all of this to absorb the new situation. "Not even ten yet. I don't know about you fellas, but I'm kind of hungry. Want to run down to the dining room and see if we can grab a late bite to eat?"

"Sure thing," Joe said, bouncing to his feet. "All this confessing my sins has roughed up my appetite!"

The other boys laughed, and got to their feet. Frank looked at the door between rooms, and then at his brother. "Think dad would want to go? We should ask him."

They opened the door and went into Joe's room, and rapped lightly at their father's door. They heard footsteps on the other side, and the door pushed inward.

Mr. Dane was wearing a robe, had a book in one hand, and had his reading glasses perched on the end of his nose. He smiled when asked if he was hungry.

"Actually, I could use something, but I am too engrossed in this novel just now to go." He held up his book, and the boys peered at the cover. The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler.

"Is it good?" Joe asked, grinning at his dad's penchant for mystery novels. The man loved a good mystery in print almost as much as he loved to take on the real ones.

"Is it! I can't believe I've had this book laying around the house since before the war, and never got around to reading it. It's terrific!" He sighed. "They made a movie of it a couple of years back, but your mother and I were busy and missed it when it came to the theater in town. I hope it comes back around for a re-show."

"We could bring you a sandwich, if we can get one," Frank offered, smiling at his dad's enthusiasm for the mystery in his hands. "Since you don't want to leave the book."

"Say, that would be great," his father said, his eyes smiling. "And a cold Coke, if you can find one."

"We'll find one," Joe said, grinning. "That's what sleuths do!"

They all laughed.

Mr. Dane went back to his book, and the boys headed downstairs, taking the elevator now that the power was restored.

The dining room itself was closed, but a sign said that the kitchen was open all night, and directed them to a counter set into the kitchen wall. A perky young man in a white cap was wiping down the stainless steel surface with a cloth, and grinned at them as they approached. Frank noted that the guy was only a few years older than they were, and was quite cute in the bargain.

"Hi fellas," the boy called, as they came up to the counter. "What'll it be?"

"Can we get some sandwiches?" Joe asked.

"Sure thing," The boy grabbed up a small pad of paper, and tugged a pencil out from behind one ear. "What's your pleasure?"

They decided on the sandwiches they wanted, and ordered sodas to go with them.

"Just take me a few minutes, okay?"

The boy was apparently on the counter by himself. He stepped back to another counter in back, carefully washed his hands, and then grabbed a loaf of bread and started applying mayonnaise to the slices.

"You fellas just come up?"

Frank nodded. "Just for a few days. We've heard a lot about this place, but we've never been here."

"Oh, it's great," the other boy said, digging roast beef and ham out of the refrigerator. "Lettuce, tomato, onions?"

Frank looked at the others, and everyone nodded. He turned back to the counterboy. "Yes, for four of them. Leave the onions off one of the roast beefs, though. My dad doesn't like them."

"Gotcha." The boy turned and smiled at them. "Came up with your dad, huh?"

"Yep," Joe said. "He said he didn't get to see enough of us."

The other boy nodded. "I wish I got more time with my old man. He's in the navy, and only gets home every once in a while."

Chip leaned forward on the counter, his interest in things naval plain on his face. "Really? What's he do?"

"Oh, he's a radioman on a carrier. One of those big new ones. The Coral Sea."

"Wow!" Chip said, grinning at Frank. "That's a real monster!"

"Yep. What's your dad do?"

Frank grinned. "We're not all brothers. Joe, there, with the blonde hair, is my brother. These other two miscreants are our friends, Chip and Tony."

The counterboy laid some sliced roast beef on a slice of bread and then waved. "Hi miscreants, Chip and Tony."

Tony laughed. "Say, this guy is funny!"

The counterboy, grinned. "Sorry. I was just going along with your friend there. Uh --"

"Frank, "Joe supplied. "He'd be the brains of our outfit, if he had any."

Frank grinned. "Don't listen to him. He's just jealous because I'm the older one and I got all the charm."

The counterboy laughed. "You fellas are okay." He transferred a completed sandwich to a sheet of waxed paper and wrapped it up. "Been to the carnival yet?"

"This evening," Frank said. "We saw the magic show. Jack Dark was just amazing."

"Oh, I've seen the show a half dozen times. Still haven't figured out how he does the ship. Scared the pants off of me the first time I saw it." The boy tossed another cute grin at them. "I was up in the front row."

Frank briefly imagined the lad with his pants scared off of him, and decided that it might be fun to see.

"He lives up on the hill, you know," the counterboy said, starting on the ham sandwiches now.

"Jack Dark?" Frank asked, interested. "What hill?"

The counterboy turned to face them. "Did you notice the promontory above the beach?"

The four visitors looked at each other. "I don't recall seeing it," Frank said.

"Hmm. Well, the next time you fellas go out the beach door, walk to the left and look up. I guess you really do need to go around the end of the hotel building to see it. There's a big bluff there, and a house on top of it, facing the sea. Quite a place, too. Kind of a mansion, really."

Joe made a surprised face. "Jack Dark lives in a mansion?"

"Oh, it's not as swanky as it sounds. It's big, but it's an old place, built in the last century. Still pretty, in a kind of creepy sort of way. Got an old lighthouse next to it, and everything. Jack Dark just rents it while he's here doing the show. Used to belong to some big cannery owner, or something like that. I think the town owns it now."

"Sounds interesting," Joe said. "We'll look for it next time we go out."

The counterboy finished wrapping up the sandwiches, and went to the refrigerator and withdrew five Cokes in cans. "This do you?"

"Sure," Frank said. "What do we owe you?"

"Well, let's see. Um, five sandwiches, five sodas. That's three dollars and six cents."

Frank grinned. "Wow. Hotel prices!" But he handed over a fiver, waited while the counterboy made change. The lad came back and pushed a dollar bill and some coins at Frank. "Nice talking to you fellas. Stop back when you're hungry again."

Frank pushed fifty cents back at the boy, smiled when his eyebrows went up. "Mind if I ask you something?"

The boy looked at him. "Fire away."

"Have you noticed anything going on around here lately that seems out of place? Anything that strikes you as abnormal?"

The boy frowned. "Well...not really. Noticed that some of the rides at the carnival have broken down a lot lately." He scratched his chin. "There was a fire in the bumper car pavilion. It was seen and put out quickly, but no one knows how it got started. And I heard there have been thefts, both at the carnival and here at the hotel."

Frank nodded. "Anything else?'

The counterboy suddenly grinned. "Well, I did see that the lighthouse up at the House of Storms is working again. Hasn't worked in years, but it was on briefly the other night when I came into work."

Frank and Joe looked at each other. "House of Storms?" Joe asked.

"Sure. I just told you about it. The place where Jack Dark lives. That's what the mansion is called."

Joe cocked his head to one side. "Why is that?"

The counterboy shrugged. "Heck, I don't know. You saw the storm here tonight. They're pretty common around here. Maybe that's it."

Frank nodded, started scooping up the thick sandwiches. Joe and the others helped, and grabbed up the drinks. "Thanks!" Frank said, turning away.

"Hey, your change!"

Frank looked over his shoulder, grinning. "It's yours. Thanks!"

"Big tipper," Chip whispered, as they circled back to the elevators. "Wasn't that he was cute as the devil that inspired that, was it?"

Frank laughed. "Well, in part. But I also wanted a local's view of anything odd going on here."

Joe moved closer. "He pretty much confirmed the weird stuff going on with the carnival, didn't he? Rides breaking down, and things like that?"

"Yes. This was the first we've heard of thefts at the hotel, though. That will interest dad, I'm sure."

They made their way back to the rooms, and delivered a sandwich and a drink to Mr. Dane, and filled him in on what the counterboy had told them.

The detective nodded. "I've heard about the thefts, too. I was talking to the hotel manager on the phone earlier, and he told me about them."

Frank's eyebrows went up. "You called the hotel manager?'

"No, he called me. Saw my name in the register and asked if I could be hired to investigate the thefts. I told him we were here on vacation, but I did agree to keep an eye out for anything odd, and to report any suspicions I might come up with."

"What sort of stuff is being stolen?" Joe asked.

Mr. Dane rolled a shoulder as he bit into his sandwich. "Oh, all sorts of stuff, apparently. There have been entries into the guest's rooms, and their property stolen. Hotel items have gone missing - even cars gone from the parking lot. No pattern to it - just stuff up and vanishing."

"Entries?" Joe repeated. "You mean break-ins?"

The detective shook his head. "No. There was no evidence of forced entry in any of the burglaries. The guests went out, came back, and found their belongings gone. The doors were locked when they left, and still locked when they returned." He frowned. "The manager suspects they are inside jobs, but swears that his staff is above reproach."

The boys looked at each other. "That's pretty strange, isn't it? How many people have access to keys to the rooms?"

"Not many, and all that do are older, trusted staff members. I don't suspect any of them, anyway. This sounds like the work of a pro with lock picks at his disposal."

"Wow," Frank said, shaking his head. "That's not good for a place like this to have happen."

"No, it's not. Mr. Crandon, the hotel manager, is quite worried. The hotel is normally full at this time of year, but just now almost a quarter the rooms are empty. Word has gotten around that the hotel is not safe, that the carnival is not safe, and people are staying away."

Chip frowned. "That's pretty amazing, considering the show that Jack Dark puts on."

"Yeah," Tony added. "People must be worried if they're passing up on that."

Mr. Dane nodded. "People are very wary of places where they might be robbed, and of course if the rides seem unsafe, they don't want to use them. Mr. Crandon said that if it wasn't for the magic show, the resort would be in real trouble now."

"This must have been going on for some time," Frank pointed out. "Word just doesn't travel that fast."

"It started during the spring season, last year," Mr. Dane acknowledged. "There were incidents continuing into the fall, too. The carnival is closed during the winter, but strange things began happening again as soon as the place reopened this past spring. At the rate things are going, Mr. Crandon is worried about the hotel staying solvent through the fall season." The detective shrugged. "Word of the things happening here only made its way to Gulfport in the last month or so. John Lewis told me about it pretty much as soon as he learned of it."

"Isn't that a little odd?" Joe asked. "I mean, you'd think the sheriff here would have called in the state boys sooner."

Mr. Dane shook his head. "Sheriff Kingsley is an appointed official, son. Like other officials hired by the town council, he is responsible to town leaders. The mayor and the town elders here didn't want the negative publicity a big state investigation might bring. They've been trying to get these problems solved quietly."

"That's understandable," Chip put in. "Like you said, people will stay away from the place if they hear a lot of commotion is going on."

"Exactly." Mr. Dane smiled. "Good sandwich."

They all nodded.

"So, what's next, dad?" Frank asked.

The man shook his head. "Just keep on as we are for the moment. I'm going into town to talk to Sheriff Kingsley in the morning, so I expect you boys to have a little fun while I'm gone."

Frank tried not to grin at that, his imagination coughing up things that he and Chip liked to do together that were certainly fun. And now that Joe and Tony were on board, they didn't have nearly as much to worry about in the area of being discovered. With the elder Dane gone for the morning, all sorts of possibilities presented themselves.

"Okay. I think we can manage that."

Mr. Dane looked at his watch. "Thanks again for the sandwich. I need to think about bed, if I am to get up at a reasonable hour in the morning." He smiled. "Just time for one more chapter of my book. Good night, boys."

They traded good nights, and the boys went back to Frank's room and shut the door. Frank immediately gave a gentle nudge to his brother with his elbow. "You and Tony are going right to sleep, right?"

Joe grinned. "What gives you that idea?"

Frank shrugged, going to stand behind Chip and gently encircling him with his arms. "Just a crazy thought."

Tony grinned at Frank and Chip, and went to Joe and pulled him close. "I'm ready for bed, if you are."

The tip of Joe's tongue popped out, and he waved a hand near his face. "Is it hot in here?"

"Just where you're standing," Tony said, snuggling closer.

Frank and Chip grinned. "I guess we should get ready for bed, too," Frank decided.

Joe and Tony said goodnight, and headed for their room.

"Hey!" Frank called, in a loud whisper. "Don't forget to lock the door to dad's room!"

Joe nodded emphatically. "I'll be doing that right now."

Chip followed the two boys to the connecting door, said goodnight again, and then closed the door and locked it. He turned and placed his back to the panel, and smiled at Frank. "I've finally got you alone."

Frank spread his arms, grinning. "I'm waiting."

They moved together, and held each other a moment, and traded a soft kiss. Frank laughed. "Oh, I know I just love you now."

Chip grinned. "Those onions are potent, aren't they?"

"Yes, indeed. Share the bathroom sink with me? You brush high, I'll brush low?"

Chip nuzzled Frank with his nose. "I think there's room for us side-by-side."

They went to the small bathroom and brushed their teeth, and washed their faces.

"We could shower," Chip suggested then, his eyes alight.

They did, undressing and climbing in together, and quickly lathering up and washing each other down with a wash cloth. Afterwards they took turns drying each other, and then wrapped themselves in towels and went back to the bedroom. They met at the bed, and fell together into it.

"Shouldn't we take the towels off?" Chip asked, as Frank crawled atop him.

"After I kiss you," Frank returned, dropping his face. They kissed for what seemed like a long time, before Frank reached up and turned off the bedside light. The room darkened, but not totally, as lights from outside cast a soft glow through the windows. The boys shed their towels, and crawled beneath the sheets.

"Frank?"

"Yes?"

Chip pressed close. "Does it ever scare you enough - being found out - that you'd want to stop being my boyfriend?"

Frank sighed. "I love you, Chipper. I don't think anything can ever break that."

Chip smiled. "Gosh, I love you, too. It scares me to death to think there may come a day when you won't be around."

Frank gently kissed the other boy. "Stop thinking about it, then, because I'm not going anywhere, okay?"

"Okay."

They kissed again, and Frank slid a hand slowly down his boyfriend's chest, and gently rubbed his fingers over what he found there.

Chip made appreciative sounds, and then giggled. "Well, now that you have a hold of it, what are you going to do with it?"

"Just this," Frank said softly, and then slipped beneath the covers.

Chip closed his eyes, and sighed.


In the morning, they had breakfast together in the hotel dining room. Mr. Dane told them again to enjoy the day, and then went into the nearby town to see Sheriff Kingsley. The boys donned their by now daily outfits of swim trunks, tee-shirts, and canvas deck shoes, took some towels, and headed for the beach.

There were staircases that went from the boardwalk atop the seawall down to the warm sands every thirty feet or so along its length, and the boys went down to the beach and laid out their towels, took off their shoes and shirts, and sat to watch what was going on about them. Frank had brought along a bottle of the new suntan lotion that was supposed to keep skin from burning in the sun, and they took turns rubbing it in, helping each other with their backs.

There were a lot of guys in their age group all about them, and it wasn't hard to take in a nice eyeful at every turn. They even spied the boy from the sandwich counter in the hotel, sitting in a small beach chair while a pretty girl applied sun lotion to his shoulders. He eventually noticed them watching and waved, and the boys waved back.

"Even cuter in a bathing suit," Chip said, giving Frank a small nudge.

Frank just smiled, not rising to the bait. That Chip had been slightly jealous of the counterboy, he knew. Chip was not normally the jealous type, but the counterboy was very cute, and the fact that Frank had obviously been attracted to the lad caused Chip to feel insecure.

"Not as cute as you," Frank whispered back. "I'm happy with what I have, boy."

Chip didn't say anything more, but the smile on his face was enough.

They romped in the surf, raced back and forth in the deeper water, and laid out in the sun a bit more before Joe announced the he had had enough. "I don't want to be so burned I can't have fun the rest of the time we're here," he pointed out.

Frank smiled at that. The four of them were already sun-browned from the summer sun, and the chances of getting burned were slim now. Frank understood that his brother was just restless to get on with the job of solving the case. He could feel the draw to resume their investigation himself, and understood the feeling all too well. It's in the blood, he thought, sighing to himself.

They dressed again, retrieved their towels, and headed back up the steps to the boardwalk. They were searching out a drink stand when Joe suddenly pointed. "That doesn't look good."

The boys turned to look where Joe was pointing. At the other side of the carnival, the big Ferris wheel was turning. But it seemed to be slowing down and speeding up in little jerks and pauses, and the riders up high were swaying back and forth in their seats, and waving frantically at the ground.

"Better have a look at that," Frank agreed. They crossed the carnival grounds, joining a growing stream of people walking towards the Ferris wheel to see what was going on. They soon arrived at a larger crowd, and pushed their way through to the front of it.

At the base of the Ferris wheel, a small crowd of men stood near the power plant that ran the ride. The engine seemed to be running smoothly enough - the men were clustered around the big gear assembly that transferred power to the wheel to give it motion.

Frank nodded at the others, and they all moved closer to hear what the men were saying.

"-- never seen anything like it!" A small, horse-faced man in a red shirt with the Land's End logo embroidered above the pocket was saying. "The teeth seem to be crumbling right off the gears!"

Another man, large, balding, and with a slight paunch, clamped his teeth down on the cigar he was smoking and shook his head. "I've seen this before, even if you haven't. It looks like someone has poured a strong acid into the gearbox."

"Acid!" exclaimed the smaller man. "Who would do that, Mr. Jixson? And why?"

The bigger man shook his head. "I dunno, Melvin. It doesn't matter just now." He craned his neck back and looked upwards. "I'm more concerned with how we're going to run the wheel in order to get these people down." He stepped back and grasped a large lever, eyed the wheel, and waited until one of the seats came hesitantly around to the landing at the base. Then he yanked the lever back, and the wheel ground to a halt with an alarming yowl from the gearbox.

"Get those people off, quickly! I want to try to unload the ride before the gears are gone!"

The red-shirted man nodded, and he and several others ran to the stopped carriage, drew back the restraining bar, and hurriedly helped the people off. The big man - obviously Hiram Jixson, the man responsible for ride maintenance at Land's End, according to the boy's father - nodded, threw the lever back the other way. There was again a horrendous sound from the ride's gearbox, but the wheel jerked and moved forward until the next seat was down. In this fashion they had unloaded all the seats except for two when the wheel suddenly jerked, and stopped moving.

Mr. Jixson shook his head. "She's done, boys. Good thing those last two carriages are down low. Grab a ladder and help those people down. If we still had riders up top, we'd be facing a real rescue operation about now."

He stepped over to the wheel's engine, and shut it down. He made sure the big lever was tight against its stops, and then grabbed a restraining rope and draped the loop at its end over the top of the lever. "Well, at least the brake seems okay."

The boys watched as a ladder was brought and the last riders helped back to the ground. They did not appear to be pleased, and several of them stomped off in a huff.

"More bad publicity for the resort," Tony said, shaking his head. "Somebody really has it in for this place!"

"I'll say!" Joe agreed.

They debated going to Mr. Jixson and trying to talk to him, but felt that job was better left to the elder Dane. The boys were aware that they were supposed to observe, not ask questions.

For the most part!

They left the Ferris wheel and wandered back towards the hotel. There was a noticeable number of people doing the same thing.

"I hope this doesn't mean people are leaving," Joe whispered.

They went inside the hotel, took the elevator up to the fourth floor. As the doors opened they caught sight of a man just ducking into the other elevator. He was large, with dark, curly hair, swarthy of complexion, and dressed like a businessman. He was carrying what looked like a burlap sack in one hand. And he seemed in a real hurry!

"Must be late for an important appointment," Frank said, shaking his head.

They let themselves into Frank's room, and sat down on the sofa and the bed. "I could use some lunch," Chip said, patting his belly.

Frank nodded. "Breakfast seems like a long time ago, doesn't it? I guess we can go back down to the dining room and get something." He laughed. "We should have thought of that before we came upstairs!"

"I wonder if dad is back?" Joe said. "Maybe he learned something more about those men in the car." He got up and went to the door into his room, opened it, and crossed to the door to his father's room. He rapped lightly on the door, but there was no answer. He was just about to walk away when he heard something, and stopped.

"Dad?"

"Joe! Don't come in!"

Joe's eyes opened wide, and he turned back towards the other room. "Frank! Come quickly!"

He heard the sound of voices, and the other three boys came running.

"What's the matter?" Frank called, drawing up next to his brother.

"Something's wrong!" Joe hissed. "Dad's in his room, but when I knocked he said not to come in. He sounds like he's in trouble!"

Frank grabbed the doorknob and turned it. The door was not locked. He inched it open, and peered into the next room.

His father was standing on the bed, his legs spread for balance. He was looking over by the desk. Frank inched the door open wider, and looked at where the elder Dane was watching.

Frank's breath went out. A snake! It was about six feet long, and brown, and not of a species that Frank recognized. It was coiled, and the head was up, and it looked agitated.

Mr. Dane turned his head. "Boys, do not come in here! Do you understand me?"

"Yes," Frank said. "Dad, what can we do?"

The elder Dane looked back at the chair by the desk, over the back of which hung a shoulder holster containing a Smith and Wesson snub-nosed .38. Frank had not realized that his father had brought his revolver - it must have been in his luggage, as he was not wearing it on the trip up. "If I can get my gun, I can finish the thing."

Frank looked over his shoulder at the others. "There's a big snake in dad's room. We need to lure it over this way somehow, so he can get his gun."

"A snake!" Joe said, looking horrified. "Is it poisonous?"

"I don't know," Frank admitted. "I've never seen a snake like this one. I don't think dad knows, either. But he's not taking any chances."

"Hey," Chip said then. "Remember when we were getting off the elevator, we saw that guy getting into the other car? He was carrying a burlap bag!"

Frank grimaced, considering the idea that the man who had brought the snake now menacing their father had walked right by them and escaped. But they could not dwell on that now. Frank pressed his face into the opening again.

"Dad! If we can somehow lure it this way, you can go for your gun."

"Do not come into this room," the detective reiterated. "Go to your phone and call the front desk. Have them call Sheriff Kingsley and tell him what is happening. Do it, Frank!"

Frank nodded, and shut the door.

"Are we just going to stand here? Joe asked, looking incredulous.

"You heard dad," Frank returned, grimly. He went to the phone and called the desk, and asked for Mr. Crandon, saying that he was calling for Ben Dane. The operator switched them, and in a moment Frank was talking to the hotel manager. He explained what was happening in his father's room, and that he was to call the Sheriff for assistance. The man was aghast, but assured him that he would comply.

Frank hung up the phone, went back to the door, and inched it open. "They're on their way, dad."

Mr. Dane nodded. "Now close that door. The snake went under the bed and I don't know where it is."

It was five minutes before they heard sirens approaching. Joe went to the hallway door and out to the elevators to await the Sheriff. Presently, he saw the car on its way up, and soon the doors opened, and three men in uniform stepped out. Another man, in a business suit, was right behind them.

The first lawman was tall and rangy, with a small mustache, and about Mr. Dane's age. He had confident eyes with laugh lines on either side of them, and Joe liked him immediately.

"Sheriff Kingsley? I'm Joe Dane."

He explained to the man and his two deputies what was happening in his father's room. The man in the suit turned out to be Mr. Crandon, the hotel manager. He looked grim, and worried, and not only for his hotel.

Joe walked the men back to Frank's room. He introduced his brother and their chums, and then let Frank take over.

"Never saw a snake like it," Frank said. "It's brown, dark on top, light on the bottom. About six feet long. It looks pretty agitated. My dad seems to think there's some danger. He warned us not to come inside."

The lawman nodded. "Probably a good idea. I know the local breeds of snakes, and this does not sound to be one of them. You seldom see them this close to the ocean, anyway."

"Hey," one of the other men, a deputy, said then. "There's a snake handler at the carnival. Maybe he can help."

The sheriff nodded. "Good thinking, Jim. You want to go and get him?"

The deputy nodded, and headed for the elevator.

Sheriff Kingsley went to the door between rooms and inched it open. The snake was not visible on the floor. "Ben? Jake Kingsley. What have you got?"

Mr. Dane's head turned, and he nodded. "The snake was under the bed, but it just came out and is now by the dresser, about eight feet to your right."

"Can you make the door?"

"I can't chance it. The snake is too close to it."

"What about your gun?"

"Maybe. I'm pretty sure I could reach the gun and get it - but what happens next would depend on how the snake reacts. If it stays still, I might be able to shoot it before it gets me. But it's a pretty small target. If I miss, I might be in trouble."

The sheriff nodded, opening the door a little wider and peering around the jamb to his right. "I see it now. Not a local breed, Ben. Have any idea how it got here?"

"No. I was sitting at the desk, and heard a sound behind me, like the lock bolt easing into the strike plate. I turned, and there was the snake, just inside the door, I jumped up on the bed, and here I am staying for the time being."

"We think we know how it got here," Frank said, and then described the man with the burlap bag getting onto the elevator as they were getting off.

"You saw his face?" Mr. Dane asked.

"Yes, dad. Big man, curly hair, dark complexion, wearing a business suit. He had a burlap bag in one hand."

Mr. Dane nodded. "Maybe."

"One of my deputies went to bring the snake handler from the carnival. Maybe he can identify the snake."

"Good idea." Mr. Dane made a sudden noise. "Jake! Close the door! It's coming your way!"

The sheriff slammed the door shut. There was a sound from the other room, and then a horrendous bang, and they felt something strike the floor a solid wallop. Joe leaped for the door, but Frank grabbed him and held him back.

"Dad!"

They all stopped moving, listening. There was no sound from the other room.

Behind them, the door to the hallway opened, and Ben Dane came in, carrying his revolver. Frank and Joe both let out a yell and ran for the man, and the detective opened his arms, smiling. "Watch the gun, boys," he said calmly, as Frank and Joe took turns hugging their father.

"Dad, what happened?" Frank asked, after they had finally separated.

"I'm not sure. The snake suddenly started for your door, and that's when I called to close it. But it's movement put the end of the bed between it and the desk chair, and I saw an opportunity to go for my gun. I guess it caught my movement, because when I turned back it was on its way towards me. I aimed and fired automatically." He grinned. "Talk about a lucky shot!"

Joe patted his father's arm. "You mean all those hours on the pistol range when you were a Gulfport policeman! No wonder you got the sharpshooter's badge!"

Frank pointed at the connecting door. "Is it safe to go in?

"I wouldn't," the elder Dane said. "I got a head shot, and there's stuff all over the floor on the other side of the door. Some of it could be venom, and some venoms don't have to be injected to be dangerous."

There were people out in the hallway now, drawn by the sound of the gunshot, and the other deputy went out to quiet them down. A moment later, the first deputy returned, another man in tow. The newcomer was young and serious-looking, with sandy hair and hazel eyes. He wore a tight tee-shirt that revealed a stout musculature, and his forearms were covered with tattoos.

"This is Dirk Jameson," the deputy offered. "He's the snake handler at the carnival. Do we still need him?"

"Yes," Mr. Dane said. He stuck out a hand and introduced himself to the snake handler, who shook hands and grinned. "The detective? I'm impressed."

Mr. Dane simply nodded. "I wonder if you can identify a snake breed for me? I just killed it, and the head is gone, but the rest of the body is intact."

The man shrugged. "I'll give it a look. I don't know every breed, though. There are a lot of snakes in the world."

"Fair enough." Mr. Dane led them back out into the hallway and around to his room. He and the snake handler and the sheriff entered the room, while the boys hung back at the open door.

Inside the room, the stretched-out length of the snake lay upon the floor, headless, among a spray of gore.

The snake handler immediately whistled. "Holy smoke!"

"You recognize the breed?" Mr. Dane asked.

"Do I!" The man stuck out his hand and grasped the detective's hand again, and shook it vigorously. "Congratulations, Mr. Dane. Not too many people survive an encounter with a taipan."

Mr. Dane and the sheriff looked at each other. "Never heard of it," Kingsley said.

"Me, either," The detective admitted.

The snake handler nodded. "I'm not surprised. The snake is native to Australia."

Mr. Dane's eyes narrowed. "Australia!"

Jameson nodded. "Yes." He grinned. "I've loved snakes all my life, Mr. Dane. Ever since I was a boy. I know all the American breeds, and most of the European and Asian ones, too. I was stationed on New Guinea at the tail end of the war - navy - and so I got familiar with some of the breeds there, too." He cocked a head at the snake, and nodded. "This is a coastal taipan, and an adult, too. This is about as big as they get." He shook his head. "They're extremely deadly."

"Poisonous?" Frank asked from the doorway.

"Venomous, yes," Jameson said, glancing at him. "It's a neurotoxin, too, very unpleasant. There's no such thing as a small bite from one of these snakes. They get hold of you, they are going to inject you with a lethal dose."

Frank stared at his father in horror. "Dad!"

The detective nodded. "Don't they have antivenoms for these things?"

"Some snakes, yes. This one, no. You have to have a sample of a snake's venom in order to create an antivenom, and no one has ever caught one of these critters alive." He made a startled noise. "Or, not until now, anyway. Someone would have had to catch this one in order to get it here."

"The bite is always lethal?" Mr. Dane asked.

"Always," Jameson agreed. "Anywhere from thirty minutes to about two hours. It isn't pretty, either."

Mr. Dane was silent a moment. "How would you suggest the remains be removed?"

The snake handler whistled again. "Very carefully. You don't want to get any of that venom on your skin."

Mr. Crandon stuck his head around the door frame. "The room on the other side of your son's room is free, Mr. Dane. We will move you there immediately."

The detective nodded. He looked at the snake, and the wet splatter around the body. "Doesn't look like any of my luggage or possessions was touched by the stuff. My suitcase is over by the desk, and my other things are in the dresser drawers." He nodded again, and looked at the hotel manager. "That will do me, Mr. Crandon."

The detective's possessions were carefully rounded up and moved down the hall to the vacant room. The hotel manager locked the door to the old room, and scratched his head. "I'll have to figure a safe way to clean up that room."

Sheriff Kingsley nodded. "I'll call the state police. They have experts that deal with dangerous materials. I'm sure they can figure out how to do it."

Mr. Crandon looked relieved. "Oh, thank you."

Mr. Dane thanked Dirk Jameson, and asked that the man keep what had happened to himself, so as not to alarm the other guests. The snake handler agreed, and he and the deputy that had brought him headed back for the elevators. The hotel manager went back to the hallway to help reassure the other guests, and Mr. Dane closed the door to his new room. Only the sheriff and the boys remained.

Kingsley shook his head. "This is serious, Ben. Real serious."

The famous sleuth nodded. "That's why I wanted Mr. Jameson to verify that the snake's bite was lethal. This was not an attempt to injure me, or scare me off. The man that left this snake was intent on murder, and no less."

Frank and Joe both clamped their jaws, and their friends came to stand near them in support.

Mr. Dane's eyes moved to his sons. "I'm torn, boys. I really think you should all go home."

"Dad, no!" Frank said immediately. Joe shook his head vigorously, and looked stubborn.

Mr. Dane sighed. "So far, we have been very lucky. But this is the second attempt at me now, and I am worried that you boys may get caught up in this."

"We're already in this, dad," Frank said. "And this is not the first time we have been on a case with you, nor the first time there has been danger."

The detective smiled. "That's true."

"So we're staying," Joe said, and sat down on the couch as if to accent his words.

The detective opened his mouth again, but closed it as the phone rang. He frowned, and went to the desk and answered it. "Yes? Yes, this is Ben Dane." He listened for a short period, and then reached into his pocket and withdrew his small notebook, and sat down at the desk. He trapped the phone receiver against his ear with his shoulder, grabbed up a pen, opened the notebook, and began to write.

Five minutes later he was still jotting things in the notebook, while Sheriff Kingsley and the boys waited in silence. Finally, the detective nodded. "Okay, John. Thanks." He hung up the phone.

"Was that Captain Lewis?" Frank asked, after hearing the conclusion of the call.

The elder Dane sat with his finger pressed against his lips for a moment before slowly nodding. "Yes." He looked over at Jake Kingsley. "The prints on the Parabellum used by the auto attackers on the highway have been identified."

Frank and Joe both jumped to their feet. "Dad! That's great!"

But the detective did not look happy. "I'm not so sure."

"Something wrong?" the sheriff asked.

Mr. Dane opened his notebook again and looked at what he had written within. "The FBI couldn't identify the prints. So they passed them around to other agencies as part of the reciprocity act. They got a hit from some new agency. The CIA."

"Never heard of them," Kingsley said.

"No. They are not well-known yet," the detective agreed. "They are an intelligence agency, cobbled together from remnants of other agencies terminated at the close of the war by President Truman." He looked up thoughtfully at the sheriff. "One of those agencies was the OSS."

The sheriff's eyes widened. "Well I have heard of them. Spies and stuff, right?"

"Yes, more or less. When I was with Naval Intelligence we used to partner with them. The OSS was deep into the underpinnings of the war. Their people operated everywhere, and with all the resistance groups active in all theaters." He nodded. "That's how come they happen to have prints for our boy."

"Well," Frank said, breathlessly, "who is he?"

"Fellow by the name of Gunter Sturm. Austrian. A member of O5, the resistance movement in that nation. He fought against the Nazis under his own group, and was recruited by the OSS in 1943 as a translator and guide."

Frank and Joe were dumbfounded, and stared at each other. The man that had pointed a gun at them had been a patriot!

Chip shook his head. "The man sounds like he was a hero. What was he doing pointing a gun at us out on the road?"

Mr. Dane nodded. "What indeed? Especially as, according to OSS records, he was killed in 1945."


The rest of the afternoon went peacefully enough. The boys and Mr. Dane had stayed in their rooms, talking about the mystery of a dead man who was not dead.

"An active war makes record-keeping very difficult," Mr. Dane had said. "Mistakes are easily made. Still, according to what John said, these new CIA people are not interested in pursuing this matter. They seem to consider the records of any foundation agency to be questionable in accuracy, and not their problem to deal with. They say that Gunter Sturm is dead, and that there's a snafu in the fingerprint records somewhere."

"What do you think, dad?" Joe asked.

"I think we need to be careful," the elder Dane replied. "Tomorrow I am going into town to talk to Jake Kingsley again, and I want you boys to come with me. I have a project for you."

All four boys looked excited, and Mr. Dane grinned.

"What do you want us to do?" Frank asked.

"I want you boys to go to the library."

The detective laughed at the sudden change of expressions on the boys faces.

"The library!" Joe echoed. "That sounds like you're trying to get us out of the way, dad!"

Mr. Dane shook his head. "Not at all." He sat forward and gazed at the boys emphatically. "Solving a case is not all field work, and exciting pursuits. Much of it comes down to research, the pure sifting of information for clues. That's what I want you boys to do."

Frank nodded, looking more interested again. "I get it, dad. What do you want us to look for?"

The elder Dane looked thoughtful. "I keep feeling like we're missing something, boys. Something important to do with Land's End itself. I've kind of been approaching this thing as maybe a conflict between two groups of people here, but now I'm not so sure what's going on. We need to cover all the bases. So what I want you to do is to go to the library, locate the local history section, and examine any books you might find there that pertain to the history of Land's End and its surroundings. Also, there are two local newspapers. I want you to look in the archives for both papers, and see if you see anything noteworthy concerning people or events in the area."

Frank and Joe looked at each other. "That's a tall order," Frank said. "How far back should we go?"

The detective frowned. "That's the hard part, son. I can't tell you that. I would say no more than a lifetime, but even that assessment could be wrong. If I were you, I'd start with the current issues and work my way back. That's the easiest way I know of to discover a thread of events."

Chip grinned. "I love to read! This'll be fun!"

Tony nodded. "We'll be glad to help, Mr. Dane."

"Thanks, boys." Mr. Dane grinned. "We'll get to the bottom of this thing yet, I think."

After a nice dinner in the hotel dining room, Mr. Dane retired to his room to read, and the boys changed into casual shorts and tee-shirts and all met in Joe's room to hang out, feeling that the farther they were from the detective's room, the easier it would be for them to talk openly. Joe turned on the radio, and everyone kicked off their shoes and relaxed on the carpet in front of it.

"What do you guys feel like doing?" Frank asked, looking around the circle of boys.

No one said anything immediately. Chip looked around at the others, and then leaned over and whispered into Frank's ear.

Frank's eyebrows shot up, and he looked at his boyfriend. "Chipper!" he breathed. "I don't believe you said that!"

Chip's face turned red, but he grinned. "Well, you asked for ideas!"

Joe and Tony immediately leaned forward. "What did he say?" Joe asked.

Frank laughed, put out an arm and circled it around Chip, drawing him closer. The he leaned towards the other two boys. "He suggested we play cards."

Joe and Tony looked at each other, confusion apparent on their features.

"What's so amazing about that?" Tony asked, shrugging. "It's not a bad Idea, actually." There were several decks of playing cards in the side drawer of the room's desk.

Frank nodded. "He said we could play strip poker."

Joe's mouth dropped open, followed almost immediately by Tony's. But then both boy's grinned. "Oh, Chipper!" they hooted, in unison.

Chip looked embarrassed all over again. "It was just an idea, fellas."

"A good one, I think, " Joe said, eying Tony up and down rather suggestively.

Tony dropped a hand on Joe's thigh and ran it down to his knee, and then back up again. As his hand came back up it pushed up the leg of Joe's shorts, allowing Tony's palm to rub quite far up the bare flesh heading towards Joe's crotch. The younger Dane grinned, and leaned over and kissed his boyfriend. "I'm sold! Let's play!"

Chip jumped up and retrieved a deck of cards from the desk, and the boys sat cross-legged in a circle while Chip shuffled and then dealt out the hands. "Five-card stud?" he asked, grinning.

Joe laughed, and looked at his brother. "You've got yourself a wild one, don't you? I'd never have guessed it."

Frank looked fondly at his boyfriend. "I really got lucky."

Chip's face reddened slightly; but he leaned forward and kissed Frank. "Anyone ever tell you were sweet?"

"Just you," Frank replied, his own face growing warm. He wasn't used to such fond talk in front of others, especially his own brother!

But Joe seemed very relaxed with it. He smiled, and leaned over and kissed Tony. "I got lucky, too."

Tony turned his eyes towards the ceiling and grinned. "Well, if not just now, you sure will get lucky later!"

All the boys laughed, but everyone noticeably relaxed.

They made their first wager, and everyone chose shirts. Tony won the hand, and the others took off their tees and dropped them on the floor. Tony grinned, looking around at the others. "A fella could fall in love with this game!"

Joe leaned against him, and Tony reached over and patted the firm flesh of the younger Dane's belly. "I always liked you shirtless."

"Your turn will come," Joe said assuredly. "Deal, Chip."

They wagered again, and Frank won the round. "We didn't start with enough clothing," he said then. "Tony and I both have our shorts and underwear, and Joe and Chip just have underwear. Pretty soon we won't have anything to wager, and the game will be over."

"We'll just have to bet something else," Joe said, grinning.

Tony gasped, and reached over and thumped the younger Dane on the upper arm. "Oh, no you don't. I'm not sharing."

Joe reddened. "That's not what I meant."

"We're not there yet," Frank said, smiling. "Deal, Chipper."

They bet again, and Joe won the hand. All the boys were down to their underwear, except Chip, who had only had that item of clothing left to wager. He gasped, but nodded. "I asked for this, so I can't complain about being first. He lay back, raised himself, and slid his underwear down and off.

When he sat up again and crossed his legs, his face was red. "I don't have anything else to wager."

Frank put an arm around him and kissed his cheek. "That was brave, Chipper. You sit out this hand until we catch up."

This time Frank dealt, and Joe won the hand. Frank and Tony looked at each other, grinned, and then removed their underwear.

"I guess that means I win," Joe said. "I'm the only one with clothing left."

Tony leaned against him, reached a hand over and gently massaged the younger Dane's crotch through his underwear. "You call that winning?"

"Yes," Frank agreed. "You're the odd man out." He dropped a hand into Chip's lap and massaged the boy's still stiffening dick. Chip sighed and returned the favor, smiling.

Joe's eyes widened, and he briefly pouted. "Aw. This is the first time I ever hated winning." He leaned back and pulled his underwear down, and quickly had them off.

Tony put his hand back, wrapping his fingers around the shaft of Joe's dick, and gently stroked it a few times. Joe sighed, leaned back onto an elbow, and stuck his legs out straight, turning slightly to face Tony. Tony smiled and mimicked him, and so did Frank and Chip.

"This is really nice," Chip said, staring into Frank's eyes.

Frank nodded, and leaned forward and kissed his boyfriend, and then they turned and put their cheeks together.

Frank looked over at Joe and Tony, and couldn't help noticing their bodies. Both boys were lean and smoothly muscled, and quite beautiful to see. Frank was surprised that he thought of his younger brother as beautiful, but he could see now that he did. He hadn't seen Joe naked since they were both much younger, and in that period of time Joe had grown into a handsome young man. Tony, too, was quite a pleasant lad to eye, and Frank could see how happy they were together.

Frank looked at Chip, and saw him staring, too. Frank smiled, and gave his boyfriend a small nudge. "Are you checking out my baby brother?"

Chip started, and looked over at him. But then he smiled. "He's gorgeous," he whispered. "It must run in the family."

Frank smiled, and pushed Chip over onto his back. "He's not the only one that's gorgeous, Chipper." He dropped his head, kissed the boy on the lips, and then moved down and nipped at his nipples, causing Chip to start and giggle. But then Chip sat up again, pushing Frank onto his back instead.

"Oh, no you don't," he whispered. "It's my turn!"

Chip worked his way down his boyfriend's body, until he finally reached the prize he was after. Frank could still remember the first time he and Chip had exchanged blow jobs, when they had been fourteen. It had been a defining moment, one where Frank had become certain that this was what he wanted in life.

He briefly wondered if it had been the same for Joe, and decided that he would ask him, once the case was over and they had returned home. It was time now for a brotherly chat. Frank turned his head and glanced over at the other two boys. Joe was flat on his back, his eyes closed, smiling, while Tony was happily working on Joe's dick with his tongue. For a moment Frank had to smile.

Yes indeed, it certainly must run in the family!

Frank felt Chip caress his dick, sighed happily, and closed his eyes.


"Will you look at this place?" Joe whispered, waving a hand at the inside of the Land's End Public Library. "There must be a zillion books here!"

"We just want the local history first," Frank reminded, "I'm sure that section is a lot smaller."

It was. A slightly cranky-looking librarian led them to a single bookcase against a back wall, eying the boys as if she could not believe that four young men inside a library on such a beautiful summer day could be up to anything good.

"Just the center shelf pertains to the history of Land's End," she said, pointing to about two dozen books held upright by a bookend on one side of the indicated shelf. "Please call me if you need anything," she instructed further, shaking her head once and departing.

"What's with her?" Joe whispered, tossing his head after the woman.

Frank shrugged. "The fact that we're strangers, maybe. Librarians are all a little possessive of their books." He grinned. "Who cares? Let's get started."

They went to the shelf and each took a handful of books, and took them to a nearby reading table and sat down. Each boy had a small notebook and a pen, and the elder Dane had suggested they make note of anything they found that seemed interesting.

It was tough going. Most of the works were thin volumes that had been penned by locals and focused on the resort and its many attractions, and the writing was dry and a little lifeless. Certainly not the stuff of bestsellers. In the next hour Frank went through all of his books without finding much of notice. There were a lot of details on the founding of the resort, and how it occupied land that had once been home to a cannery. The area economy had been built on fishing before the resort came along, and it was after World War One that a group of local businessmen had purchased the cannery and developed the land into the now famous resort. But that was about all that Frank learned, and the other boys didn't have much better luck.

Chip shook his head when they were done. "I know the name of every company these people ever bought a ride from for the carnival and every singer that ever performed at the pavilion before that last war, but I don't know a whole lot more."

Tony nodded and held up a book, frowning. "These people talk a lot but don't say much. A lot of publicity about the resort, is all."

"Dad will probably be disappointed," Joe said in agreement. "I think he expected at least a little something to be found."

"There's still the newspaper archive," Frank reminded, getting up from his chair. They returned the books to the shelf, and went in search of the librarian.

She was not pleased. "Newspaper archives are delicate, young man. You will have to promise me that you will be very careful with them."

"Of course, we will," Frank promised, looking slightly hurt that that was even in doubt. The woman frowned, but led them to the rear of the library and unlocked a door. She let them into a long room with large bookcases down either side, and a long table with chairs that ran down the center of the room between the bookcases.

"The Journal is on the left, and The Courier is on the right. Please return volumes to the same positions on shelves that you pulled them from. Make certain that your hands are clean, and take care with turning the pages. Newsprint is delicate, and some of these papers are quite old."

"We'll be careful," Joe promised, giving the woman a winning smile.

She sniffed once, and turned and walked away, pushing the room's entry door to but not closing it all the way.

"I don't think she gets out much," Joe whispered, smiling.

The archives consisted of large volumes into which actual copies of the newspapers had been bound. Each volume varied in thickness and the number of newspapers contained within, depending solely on the size of each newspaper edition. The covers were marked with the starting and ending dates, and Frank just stared at the numbers of volumes on the two sides of the room in awe.

"This isn't a day's work," he said, shaking his head. "More like a week."

"We don't have a week," Joe pointed out. "Just today. I'm sure the library is closed on Sunday."

They got to it, starting with the most recent editions of the newspapers and working their way back. At first, there seemed to be no mention of anything going on at the resort, which the boys thought odd, because there had been things happening lately. They got all the way back to the start of the summer before a small note appeared in both papers about a fire at the bumper car pavilion. But even that was just a mention, although it was said that the damage had been almost five thousand dollars, a not inconsequential amount.

"It's almost like they've been keeping things quiet in the papers," Joe said, shaking his head.

"Maybe they have been," Tony suggested. "The hotel gets the papers. There was a copy in our room, remember? Maybe they don't want to upset the guests."

Frank frowned. "Newspapers sitting on a story - and a big story, like this one could be - that's a little strange."

Chip leaned forward on the table and put his chin on a hand. "Well, the resort feeds the whole town. Even newspaper editors have to eat."

Frank nodded. "So it would seem. I'm starting to think dad was more right than he knew when he said the town elders were playing things down."

They went back to work, and as the day progressed they worked their way back through the year to the previous summer, where there was much more news. That trend continued, and an alarming pattern of fires, thefts, breakdowns, and unusual occurrences began to emerge. The boys filled page after page with stories of these events, until they suddenly stopped in the spring of the previous year.

"That must be when things first started," Joe decided.

Indeed, they went back to the early part of the year before another mention was made of the resort other than the normal news about operations.

"Look at this," Chip said, holding up his book to an open page. The others looked closely at the newspaper headline displayed within:

"Noted Magician Jack Dark Retained for Pavilion Main Show"

Frank's eyebrows went up. "Really? I was under the impression that he had been here for a number of years."

Chip shook his head. "Nope. It says here he was engaged in February of last year, and scheduled to begin with the spring tourist season."

Frank thought back, trying to remember when he had first heard of the noted entertainer. Certainly before the previous year. He couldn't quite recall now, but he did seem to remember that the magician had played in New York City for some time, too.

"That must be when he came up from the city," Frank decided. "I do remember now that he played in town for a few years, too."

"I wonder what he thinks about all the things happening at the resort?" Joe asked.

"There's an idea," Frank said, nodding. "I'd be willing to bet someone like that has a good eye for odd things. Maybe he's noticed something important."

Joe grinned. "I wouldn't mind talking to the guy. But I guess we should ask dad about it, first, just in case."

As the noontime hour passed, Frank took an assessment of where they were, and came to the conclusion that they did not have sufficient time in a single day to go back very far in the archives. So he let the others continue in reverse chronological order, while he himself pulled random volumes from earlier years, carefully noting each in his notebook so that they would not pull them again later.

Five o'clock came soon enough, and the librarian came back to inform them that the library was closing. She looked about the room and seemed satisfied that the boys had taken good care of the volumes, and finally allowed herself a small smile. "Did you find what you were looking for?"

Frank shrugged. "We don't really know what we're looking for. But I'd have to say no to that."

"Well, we reopen Monday morning promptly at nine, if you'd like to come back."

Frank decided not to mention that they would be leaving Monday morning, and unable to return, instead just smiling and thanking her. She showed them out, and locked the front door behind them.

Though they had ridden the short distance to town with Mr. Dane, he had said he could not be sure he would be with Sheriff Kingsley all day, and that the boys could catch a cab back to the hotel. They walked to the cab stand and found a driver, and were soon back at the hotel.

As they entered Frank's room, Chip gave a big sigh. "Man, am I ready for some dinner! Missing lunch just about did me in!"

The others laughed, but had to agree. Poring over newsprint all day was not intense physical work, but it was demanding in its own way. All four boys agreed that a meal was now in order.

There was a rap on the door to their father's room, and when Joe opened it, Mr. Dane came in, smiling. "Thought I heard you boys come in. How'd the day go?"

The boys recapped their day while the elder Dane listened, explaining that the local history section of the library was a dead end, and that the newspaper archives were too extensive to be assessed within a single day. "We just didn't have enough time to go very far back," Frank concluded.

Mr. Dane nodded. "That comes right to what I wanted to ask you boys about. How would you like to stay on here a few more days?"

The boys looked at each other, grinning. "Gee, I don't know, dad," Joe said then, feigning indecision. "All this fun and excitement, and a chance to solve a mystery? We're kind of tired of it, aren't we, fellas?"

"Are you nuts?" Tony asked, looking at Joe, his eyes wide. "Tell him we'll stay!"

Everyone laughed.

"I was hoping that would be your answer. I've already talked to your mother, Tony, and she said she was fine with you staying longer. I spoke to your father, Chip, and he said the same thing. So if you're up for it, we'll stay on a few more days."

"What did mother say?" Frank asked.

The detective smiled. "That she was expecting it. Your mother has been doing this with me too long not to know how things work. She said things were well at home, and not to worry." The man's smile widened. "She also said that she and Aunt Gerta had found a new hat shop in town, and that your aunt couldn't wait to show us her latest and greatest!"

The boys groaned, and Mr. Dane shook his head. "Now, you know your aunt means well." He smiled. "I just wish I could figure out what she's thinking when she selects some of the hats she buys."

"Wait, dad...that's a whole new mystery than the one we're on now!" Joe said, laughing.

Mr. Dane smiled. "Well, it's settled, then. We'll stay on a bit, and see what happens."

The four boys grinned at each other in excitement. "Wow!" Chip said, giving Frank a pat on the shoulder. "We may have time to get to the bottom of this thing yet!"

Frank grinned, and turned to his dad. "What did you think of my idea of talking to Jack Dark about the strange things happening at the resort?"

"I think it's an excellent idea," Mr. Dane said. "In fact, I'll call Mr. Crandon now, and see if he can arrange something."

The boys cleaned up while Mr. Dane made his phone call, and then the five of them went down to the dining room for dinner. The early evening sun beyond the big wall of windows painted the carnival outside in bright colors, and they watched the people mill about as they ate.

"Is it me, dad, or is the crowd a little smaller today?" Frank finally asked, between mouthfuls of the steak.

"No, you're right," Mr. Dane agreed, nodding. "There's been a drop off again since the Ferris wheel broke down. The hotel manager, Mr. Crandon, said it was all people that left early, though. No new cancellations have occurred lately, thank goodness."

The boys looked at each other, looking glum. They needed to solve this mystery before the resort suffered irreparable financial damage!

The detective seemed to think a change of subject was in order. "What would you like to do tomorrow, boys? We could a use a day of rest, and Sunday is great for that."

Frank nodded, "Well, there's still an awful lot we haven't seen yet, dad. Maybe if we just wander around a little, and see what comes up?"

"That suits me," Joe agreed. "What say, fellas?"

Chip and Tony nodded, grinning, and it was obvious that anything that kept them at the resort would be welcomed by the two boys.

The elder Dane seemed pleased. "Okay, sounds good to me. And then, on Monday, I can get back to poking my nose into a few things, and you boys can go back to the library for me, okay?"

It was agreed, and the rest of the meal seemed more upbeat to all of them.

They all went out after dinner, and strolled on the beach, and investigated a few of the nighttime thrills. By the time they returned to the hotel at the end of the evening, the boys were dragging a little, and even Mr. Dane looked tired.

"Get a good night's sleep, boys," the detective commanded, as he shut the door to his room. "Tomorrow is our day to howl!"

The boys laughed and nodded. Frank quietly locked the door between rooms, and the four boys returned to Joe's room and closed the door so that they could hang out a bit before bed.

Sleep was not on their minds just then, anyway.


The boys were barely up in the morning when there was a knock at the door to their father's room. Frank answered it, and let the elder Dane in.

"Morning, boys. I just wanted to tell you there's been a change of plans for the day."

Joe and Tony, who had come over at the sound of the knock, looked at Frank and Chip. They all groaned, by now used to the detective being called away in the middle of something they were doing.

But the detective just grinned. "Oh, you don't even know what it is yet!"

"Sure, we do," Joe said, shaking his head. "Someone called and told you something interesting, and now you're off to check it out."

The detective nodded. "That's a fair deduction. But you boys happen to be included in this change of plans."

That made all four boys perk up.

"What's up, dad?" Frank asked.

Mr. Dane couldn't help smiling, it seemed. "Well, you know that I called Mr. Crandon about getting an interview with Jack Dark? I just received a phone call from him. Mr. Dark has invited all of us up to his house today for a visit!"

The boys gaped at each other, and then Joe hooted. "Wow, dad! That's great!"

"Yeah! That's really super!" Frank agreed. "When is this supposed to happen?"

"Oh, we have time to eat and get ready. Mr. Dark said that eleven o'clock would suit him just fine."

"Man!" Joe said, rubbing his hands together. "We get to see the House of Storms, in person!"

Mr. Dane blinked in surprise. "What did you say?"

Joe nodded. "The House of Storms," he repeated. "That's the name of the house on the hill. The one Mr. Dark rents."

The detective suddenly looked thoughtful. "I hadn't heard that. Interesting."

Frank was not one to miss it when his father was onto something. "Is that important, dad?"

The elder Dane pursed his lips a moment. "I don't know. It may be." He smiled then. "But for now, it's just interesting." He clapped his hands together. "Get dressed, and we'll go and have breakfast. I want to make a phone call, okay?"

And with that, the detective retreated to his room and closed the door.

Frank looked at Joe. "What do you think?"

The younger Dane shrugged. "You know dad. Stuff that doesn't mean a thing to us might mean all kinds of things to him."

"I guess he'll tell us if it proves important," Frank concluded.

They cleaned up, finished dressing, and were ready when Mr. Dane knocked again. But he didn't say anything as they took the elevator down to the lobby, and the boys knew better than to ask about his phone call. The detective shared information when he thought it wise to do so, and not when he was unsure of his facts.

After a quick breakfast in the dining room, the boys were ready to go. When they emerged from the hotel, Mr. Dane waved for a cab.

"We're not taking your car?" Frank asked.

"I left it in town yesterday to get some of damage repaired," the detective explained. "I meant to tell you. The driver's door didn't close right, and the trunk lid was hard to open. They said they'd see what they could do and drop it off here tomorrow."

They climbed into the cab. It was a large Chrysler taxi model, and all five of them could sit in the back quite comfortably. The driver's eyes briefly widened as Mr. Dane gave him their destination, but he flicked over the flag on the meter and off they went.

"I have to admit to looking forward to meeting this fellow myself," Mr. Dane said, as the car left the hotel lot and started up the highway. "I've never seen anything as hard to decipher as the tricks he uses in his show." He laughed. "Just remember that it isn't polite to ask a magician how he does his tricks, okay?"

The boys all grinned at that.

"I doubt he'd tell us, anyway, "Chip said. "Those are the secrets of the trade, right?"

"Exactly so," the detective agreed. "I know from past experience that most circus and carnival performers have their own spins on the library of standard tricks, and they are very proprietary about sharing them. I would expect a performer of Mr. Dark's standing to be even more careful with his secrets."

Frank nodded. "Considering that they are pretty amazing, especially."

"Yes."

The road they traveled rose at an incline, and pretty soon they could see the beach and the hotel and the carnival area below, all made slightly misty-looking by distance and the sun's glare upon the ocean.

"Pretty spectacular view," Frank offered, as the big auto made a last turn and proceeded up a gravel drive.

The first thing they saw was the lighthouse, a traditional tower with its beacon thrust well above the surrounding trees. After that the house came into view, and Frank realized that the boy at the sandwich counter in the hotel had been correct in calling the place a mansion. It was large, Victorian in appearance, with rambling balconies amidst the turrets, and dark cedar shingles on the sides. The house faced the sea, but a large porch structure seemed to gird the house on all sides, and a wide staircase lead up from the paved circle before the wide, double rear doors, suggesting an entry hall that ran front-to-back and offered easy access to all the first floor rooms of merit.

"Wow," Joe said softly, as the cab turned into the paved circle before the entry, "are those gargoyles?"

Indeed, the roof overhang above the vast second floor seemed well guarded with small statuary, which resembled nothing less than dark, winged creatures of the goblin variety, arrayed about the house's circumference.

"I see why the guy at the sandwich counter said the place was a little creepy," Frank offered. "In the sunshine it's passable, but I can imagine what this place looks like on a stormy night. I would expect Boris Karloff to answer the door."

Everyone laughed. "It was the style back then, " Mr. Dane said. "This is a fine old house. I'd be willing to bet it was quite costly in its day."

"Do you need me to wait?" the cabbie asked, as they pulled to a stop below the wide staircase leading to the porch.

"No, that's fine," Mr. Dane said. "But you can give me the number to the cab stand and your name, and I'll ask for you when we're ready to return to the hotel."

"Gee, that's swell. Thanks!" The man offered a small card, which Mr. Dane pocketed. The detective paid the fare, and they all got out of the car.

As they mounted the steps, the door on the right opened and a smiling, gray-haired man appeared, casually dressed in gray trousers and a plaid shirt, rolled up at the sleeves. "Good morning. Ben Dane and company?"

Mr. Dane waved a hand. "That would be me. These are my sons, Frank and Joe, and their friends, Chip and Tony."

The man nodded, and smiled further around a pipe. "I am Joseph, the caretaker. Mr. Dark was on the telephone and asked me to welcome you. Please come in."

The double doors did indeed deposit them into an entry hall that stretched away to the front of the house. There was a hallway to the left that looked to lead to a kitchen, and another to the right that seemed to house a large pantry. The caretaker led them towards the front of the house, past open doorways that offered a sitting room, a library, a den, and a billiards room. At the front of the house, the entry hall expanded into a large living room at one side, and a magnificent dining room on the other. A grand, circular staircase led to a balcony that gave access to the floor above.

"This is quite a place," Mr. Dane said, as they were shown to seats in the living room. A vast hearth, large enough to walk into, and shielded by an ornate, finely crafted brass screen, occupied an outer wall, with large cases of books to either side, and framed maps of an evident antiquity hung on the walls. The furniture arrayed before the hearth stood beneath a ten-foot, swirled plaster ceiling hung with bronze lighting fixtures that looked somehow nautical in design, and seemed almost dwarfed by the size of the room itself. Other furniture constructed of light woods - a sideboard, a glass-doored cabinet, a display case of some sort, and more - stood about the walls of the rooms. All of it was underlain with a deep, plush carpet of burgundy-red, laced with ornate patterns in subtle gold.

"Wow," Joe breathed, staring about. "Is this posh, or what?"

"It looks like a museum," Tony whispered back. "It's amazing!"

Joseph smiled. "This room is much as it was in the house's heyday. The town, which owns the site, has been careful to preserve its original splendor."

"They've done a good job," Mr. Dane admitted. "I don't think I've seen anything quite this grand in some time."

"I was a boy when the house was built, nearly sixty years ago," Joseph said, looking about the room. "Everything you see here was brought up the promontory by horse and wagon. It was quite a construction project, lasting over three years."

"I understand that the official name of the place is The House of Storms," Mr. Dane said casually.

Joseph smiled. "That is what it is called in town, yes. That's not quite right, though. The house's true name is The House of Sturm, after the original owner, Otto Albert Sturm. He owned a cannery that used to occupy the land now taken up by the hotel and the carnival."

Joseph was turned away from the visitors as he spoke, and so did not see the tiny widening of Ben Dane's eyes, nor the more apparent starts of surprise on the parts of the boys. Frank and Joe both put out hands and touched the wrists of their friends before either boy could speak. But it was apparent that the caretaker's revelation had struck home. Mr. Dane glanced their way, his eyes conveying a further warning not to speak.

Sturm!
The name of the mysterious gunman who had accosted them on the trip to Land's End!

"It's an interesting story, actually," said another voice, from above them. They turned as one to spy a man atop the spiral staircase - a man dressed in a dark evening suit with a tiny red rose in the lapel. He started down the staircase, and his voice seemed almost to echo within the great room.

"Otto Sturm emigrated to the United States in 1880, from Austria. He used the small nest egg his parents had left him to purchase a struggling cannery here at Land's End, and with his astute business sense at hand, built it very quickly into a thriving concern. He did so well, in fact, that he was able to begin construction on this fine house overlooking his business in 1892." The man reached the bottom of the staircase and smiled at them. "As you can see, he had quite the eye for design."

He strode forward then, his hand extended. "I am Jack Dark, Mr. Dane. I have been a fan of your exploits for some years. Quite the reputation you have made for yourself as a troubleshooter along the --" he smiled "-- darker roads of life."

Ben Dane smiled and offered his hand. "I think you are the one with the reputation, sir. And after seeing your show, I can see it is justly deserved."

The magician laughed softly and performed a little bow over their handshake, and then released the detective's hand. "Thus established as equals, I am sure we can speak freely now." He nodded to all of them. "Please call me Jack, won't you?"

Mr. Dane offered the same first-name courtesy, and introduced the boys.

The magician smiled. "As fine a group of young men as I have ever spied, certainly." The boys all smiled, although feeling just a little embarrassed by the sharp-eyed examination on the part of their host.

"It was very kind of you to invite us," Mr. Dane continued. "Your home is appealing in the extreme."

"Sadly, a rental property only," The magician replied. He leaned forward, as if offering a confidence. "I did make a nice offer to the town leaders, but they of course refused." He looked again about the grand living room, and sighed. "Can't say I blame them much."

He turned to Joseph, who had been standing quietly and observing the exchange, and smiled at him. "Thank you, for acting in my stead, Joseph. We won't keep you any longer."

The caretaker smiled, nodded, and left the room.

"Excellent man," Jack continued, after Joseph had left. "When I am on my winter tour, he takes wonderful care of the house. I do believe he loves it almost as much as I."

"You were saying that Otto Albert Sturm built the place in 1892," Mr. Dane said, smiling. "It sounds a fascinating tale. Please do go on."

The magician nodded, and came to seat himself in a wing-back chair across from them.

"The Sturm family prospered nicely here until 1917, at which point The Great War, or World War One, as it is more commonly known, was in full deployment. At that point the government passed two new laws: The Espionage Act, and the Trading With the Enemy Act, which authorized the Department of Justice not only to send enemy nationals residing in the US to internment camps, but also allowed them to seize the assets of those same individuals."

Mr. Dane looked surprised. "I have heard that Japanese nationals were sent to internment camps in the last war, but I had not heard the practice was also maintained in the first war."

"Oh, yes," Jack said, looking sad about it. "Another overlooked tidbit from the annals of American Democracy. Nearly 6,000 enemy nationals were rounded up and imprisoned, many on the most nebulous of claims as to their disloyalty, or supposed collusion with the enemy. In most cases, their property was also seized. The government of the United States eventually wound up with five hundred million dollars worth of property seized from people living here who had had the misfortune to not yet seek out citizenship. A staggering sum in those days, indeed." He sighed. "Such is the frenzied hysteria in times of war."

Mr. Dane looked at the boys, then back at the magician. "You seem to know quite a lot about this."

"Yes. I always love to know the history of any place where I live. Call it a hobby of mine. History is quite a fascinating subject, don't you agree?"

The detective nodded. "Yes. So the Sturms were sent off to an internment camp, and their property was seized?"

"Not quite. Being a well-connected man, Otto Sturm received a phone call one dark and stormy night. The caller informed him that agents of the Justice Department were on their way to seize him and his family. Herr Sturm gathered his family members and escaped in one of his own fishing boats, and was never seen again. It was supposed that he and his family made their way back to Austria, although I am certain that could not have been accomplished before the war's end."

"He couldn't get his house back after the war was over?" Joe asked.

"And his cannery?" Chip added.

Jack Dark sighed. "Very little of the seized property was returned to its former owners. The Justice Department had it declared Americanized, and it was sold off to the highest bidder. Quite a nice addition to national coffers somewhat depleted by the expenses of war, would you not say?"

The boys looked at each other, uncomfortable with the idea of seized property being basically stolen by the government.

"This is a fact?" Frank asked.

The magician nodded. "Oh, yes. I performed my research quite ably." He shrugged. "The German pharmaceutical company, Bayer, was seized in its entirety and auctioned off on the front steps of its own headquarters. That company lost the patent on aspirin as a result. Quite a large loss, as you might imagine. Yet America was actually quite lax in this aspect of wartime activities, as other governments in other lands far outdid the United States in sending enemy nationals to internment. Easily five times as many European citizens went to internment camps in Britain for the duration of the war. But the result was the same. People were deprived of their property, often for no valid legal reason whatsoever."

"In America?" Tony asked, disbelievingly.

Jack smiled. "Ah, the glowing coals of naive youth. Yes, in America."

"So what happened later?" Frank asked.

The magician shrugged. "The town leaders of Land's End got together after the war was over and purchased the cannery property and the house from the government, with an idea of making something else of it. In fact, some of my explorations have led me to believe that town elders were in some way responsible for bringing the Department of Justice down on Otto Sturm in the first place. It is an unpleasant story all around."

"And no one ever heard of Otto Sturm again?" Chip queried.

"Not to my knowledge," Jack said. "Though if I were he, I would not come back to a country that had so blatantly robbed me, either."

It was a sobering tale, lightened only somewhat by the entry of a woman offering drinks for everyone.

"May I introduce Sophie?" Jack said, smiling at the gray-haired woman. "She is Joseph's wife, and often assists me when I have company."

The woman smiled, and set a large glass of iced tea before each of the guests. "Just call me if you need anything, Jack," she said, leaving the room.

"You live here alone?" Mr. Dane asked, taking a sip of his tea.

"Yes. Joseph and Sophie have rooms in the old lighthouse, which you must have seen when arriving."

"Does the light work?" Frank asked, also sipping on his drink.

"Not to my knowledge," the magician replied. "It's even older than the house. But don't hold me to that, because I don't know for sure."

"The light predates the house, you say?" Mr. Dane said.

"Yes." Jack nodded, but frowned. "Why someone would build a fine house like this one up here and leave that old lighthouse right next door is beyond me. It has its charm, I guess, and it has been maintained along with the house. But it's a very utilitarian structure to have dominating one's side yard."

"Maybe Otto Sturm just liked it." Joe offered. "It is kind of neat looking."

"Perhaps," Jack returned, smiling. "Perhaps it is just as simple as that."

"We saw your show," Mr. Dane said then, changing the subject. "I have seen some magic acts in my time, but yours runs roughshod over all the others I've attended."

Jack laughed, his eyes sparkling. "I have studied magic since I was a boy." He leaned forward, looked about as if seeking listeners other than those seated before him. "I used to believe that all of it was real."

Frank grinned. "And now you don't?"

"No. Just some of it."

Everyone smiled.

"Well, you are extremely good at the 'some of it' part," Mr. Dane said. "The seamless quality of each act really amazed me."

"Practice makes perfect," the magician returned, smiling. "It took me years to assemble the acts you saw into something that people would pay to see."

"You seem to be holding the carnival together just now," the detective observed. "There seem to be problems with other parts of the show."

Jack frowned. "I am doing my part to keep things running, but I don't know about holding the place together. The accidents that have been occurring at the carnival have had an impact on business, there is no doubt about that."

"You think they are all accidents?" Mr. Dane asked.

For a moment the magician looked unsure of himself. "Well...I've had a few doubts. Some of the things that have occurred are somewhat coincidental, I feel sure. Others...I don't know." He smiled suddenly. "Of course. That's why you are here."

The detective returned the smile. "Actually, I came up here to have a nice vacation with my sons and their friends. The things going on here have caught my interest just a bit, however."

Jack nodded. "I do so love a mystery myself. If I can be of service in your quest, you have only to ask."

They were shown around the house, and the garden to one side, and walked over to the lighthouse to look it over, too. Besides the large, squat cone that carried the beacon atop it, there was a small, house-like structure at the base, originally the abode of the keeper, but now the residence of Joseph and Sophie.

They climbed the circular staircase inside the tower to the lantern room itself, where a large arc lamp enclosed inside a complex Fresnel lens occupied a mount in the center. Great windows circled the lantern room all about, with the doors of storage cabinets beneath them. The boys stood and looked off across the sea, and Frank thought he could just make out the blob of a large ship standing some miles off the coast.

"Amazing view," Mr. Dane stated, standing at the rail outside the beacon's windows. He turned and looked back at the giant Fresnel lens of the beacon itself, shaking his head in wonder. "I'm kind of amazed that it's no longer in use. Time has passed, but that means nothing to the cliffs and rocks and shallows in this area."

The magician nodded, and pointed at the barely visible outline of the ship offshore. "See that? That's the lightship Aphrodite. She has taken over the chores of this light house, the third such ship to hold the job. It has been thus since Otto Sturm purchased the property. This was a private lighthouse, and when Sturm declined to keep it in operation, the government placed a lightship offshore in its stead."

When they went back inside to head back to the ground, Frank stopped and looked at the giant beacon. It was obviously old, but he could see where the switches on the operating panel looked shiny and new. "This looks like it could work, actually."

Jack came over to stand beside him, nodding. "It does, doesn't it? Well, it belongs to the town and they likely maintain it. One of their maintenance people comes once each month to check the building and the light. Maybe they desire to maintain it in working order."

They descended, and proceeded back to the house. Jack led them around to the front of the house and seated them on the wide covered porch, with a fine view of the sea.

Mr. Dane smiled. "I have to admit, this place is just loaded with charm. The view is second to none. I can see why you like it here, Jack."

The magician nodded. "I was originally housed at the hotel. After I decided to stay on here, I looked about for a house to rent." He frowned. "The town really is rather small, and did not have much to offer. I spied this place sitting way up here, asked about it, and was told something of its history." He laughed. "When I found that it was standing empty, unused, it became my mission to rent it. I hinted to the town council that I would consider a nice reduction in my earnings in lieu of being allowed to reside here, and they jumped at the chance. I think that all of us have been quite happy with the results."

Sophie poked her head out the door, asked if anyone was thirsty or hungry, and more drinks, and a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies, were brought out. It was a beautiful day, with a blue sky buoyed by a brace of puffy clouds to the east, out at sea, and the sun was warm and cheery. They talked on about the town and the carnival, and about some of the odd things that had been happening there.

"Mostly, I hear about them well after the fact," Jack said. "Other than the time I spend in preparation and performance, I spend most of my time here, and, as you can see, the remove from the town and the carnival is considerable." He nodded. "But it had occurred to me that the sheer number of unfortunate incidents affecting carnival operations presses the odds of being accidental to the extreme."

"Have you any idea who might have a grudge against the town or the carnival?" Mr. Dane asked.

"Not offhand." But then magician's eyes sparkled a moment. "Otto Sturm, were he around, perhaps. However, he would be quite old now, indeed, and scarcely up to doing the kinds of things that have been happening here."

"You said he had children?" Mr. Dane inquired.

Jack frowned. "Yes. Two, I believe." He closed one eye as if thinking, and then nodded. "They would be in their mid-thirties about now." He shrugged. "That would be something of a long shot, don't you think?"

Mr. Dane nodded. "Definitely. But I like to cover all the bases."

Jack Dark soon looked at his watch. "I have really enjoyed meeting all of you, and I want to invite all of you right now to come and visit with me again." He smiled. "You five have been the most interesting new things to crop up in my little world in a long time." He leaned forward, a conspiratorial look coming onto his features. "I know that the reputation of Land's End as a place of wonder to visitors is established, but for those living here, it is just a small town, and rather dull."

Ben Dane laughed. "It has been most interesting for us as well, but I know exactly what you mean about the town. My own hometown of Gulfport is much the same."

Joe blinked. "Gee, I thought you loved our town, dad!"

Both the detective and the magician laughed gently at the look on Joe's face.

"Of course I do, son. But having started my working life in the police force of New York City, you can imagine that my move to Gulfport and its considerably smaller police department was scarcely a thrilling advance, professionally."

Frank laughed. "Your life is more exciting now that you're you own man, though. Your cases take you all over the country."

"That's true. And yet, I always return to Gulfport, to the town and people that I love."

"Well said," Jack laughed. He nodded. "I must make ready for my show this evening. My staff is housed at the hotel, and as there is but one of me and many of them, logistics dictate that I take myself to town rather than the reverse."

"You are welcome to share our cab," Mr. Dane offered.

"Actually, Joseph drives me in my own car. It would please me greatly if you would accept a ride with me, instead."

"That would fine," the detective responded. "We can continue our conversation, then."

"Just let me get my things, and grab Joseph, and I'll be right with you. The garage is just there beside the house, if you would like to wait."

The Danes and friends adjourned to the garage next to the house, and in just a few moments the great double doors opened and Jack Dark came out, now arrayed in dark top hat and red-lined black cape, and carrying an ornamental walking stick which he maneuvered about with quite a bit of dash.

"You look wonderful!" Frank said, laughing in amazement. "If I did not know you, I'd be sure you were a world-famous magician, anyway!"

Jack grinned, and pointed the walking stick at Mr. Dane. "Quite a fetching lad you have there, Ben. I do so love a young man with good taste!"

Everyone laughed, while Frank felt his face redden slightly. Chip grinned at him, and gave him a small, fond punch in the upper arm.

They heard an engine start, and then a long, sleek black Packard limousine with regal red pinstripes was backing from the garage. The old car was in beautiful condition, and Joseph, when he came into view behind the wheel, was smiling in a small black chauffeur's cap with brim. "All aboard!"

They opened the doors and climbed inside. The car easily accommodated the six of them, and Frank looked about in awe at the plush interior.

"What do you think of this?" Chip said softly, looking about in amazement. "Makes the Princess look like a delivery truck!"

Jack smiled at that. "One of my weaknesses, I should say." He winked then. "And, a part of my carefully crafted image. The fine old autos of the last decade were unmatched for sheer luxuriousness. This car is fourteen years old, and still only has twenty-thousand miles on it. When I arrive for a show, people take notice."

"It's a beauty, no doubt about that," Ben Dane agreed.

The car moved along the road with a grace that the boys had never experienced, and the ride to town was a pleasant one. Jack let them off at the front of the hotel with a promise to see them again, and Joseph drove on around to the side of the building. The hotel had several conference rooms there, and Jack said he met his staff in one of them each afternoon to discuss the evening's show.

The Danes and their friends returned to Mr. Dane's room and everyone took a seat. "Well?" Mr. Dane asked. "Did you boys enjoy the visit?"

"Yes, dad," Joe said, nodding. "Thanks for taking us."

"It was great, Mr. Dane. Thanks!" Chip added.

"Yeah," Tony agreed. "Debbie will go nuts when I tell her I met Jack Dark in person!"

"One thing I wanted to mention," Frank said then. "The night we got the sandwiches, the guy at the counter told us that he saw the lighthouse next to Jack Dark's house in operation when he was coming into his job. So it does work, after all. When I asked Mr. Dark about it, he seemed unsure."

Mr. Dane shrugged. "I got the impression from looking over the light that it worked, too. But it could easily have been in operation at a time when Jack was not home, or asleep. No reason he should know if it works or not."

"I liked the guy," Tony said. "He's just like what I would imagine a magician to be like."

"I thought he might pull a rabbit out of his sleeve or something," Chip said, laughing. "I kept waiting for it, but it never happened."

"Mr. Dark is not on that level," Ben Dane said, considering. "I would say his abilities are quite beyond rabbits and card tricks."

Frank looked questioningly at his father. "You say that like you suspect something, dad? Do you?"

"No. Yes. Maybe." The detective laughed. "I suspect everyone, Frank, until the case is solved." He patted the boy on the shoulder, then gave him a fond, fatherly squeeze. "I liked the man, too. I think he's okay."

"So what's our next move?" Joe asked.

Mr. Dane seemed to think hard on that. "Dinner, I think," he finally said. He grinned. "Those cookies were delicious, but no replacement for lunch. I say we change and go have an early dinner. Then we can spend the evening looking over the carnival again."

Joe frowned. "Are we any further along with this case, dad?"

"Oh, I think so. I'm starting to feel like I may have some insights on it."

Frank sighed. "Care to share them?"

Mr. Dane smiled. "In good time. Now let's get changed and get some food."


After dinner, Mr. Dane gathered the boys together for a discussion.

"It occurs to me that no one has seen a thing regarding the incidents with the rides and thefts. I mean, they are always discovered after the fact, and not while the crime is in progress. That almost assures me that the damage is being done under the cover of darkness." He paced slowly back and forth while the boys watched him raptly. "The carnival has a night watchman, and since these troubles began, a second man has been added. But I've nosed about a bit and talked to a few people, and learned that both men together cannot watch the entire area all the time. I've suggested to the town council that two more men be added, and they are going to consider it."

"That's all?" Frank asked, in disbelief. "Just consider it?"

Mr. Dane paused and smiled at him. "They'll get around to doing it, I think. But when it comes to money, the wheels turn a bit more slowly than most people would think." He raised a hand. "Remember, I am not here in any kind of official capacity. This is a favor to John Lewis, who is aiding Sheriff Kingsley. But it's all unofficial just yet. I don't work for the town council, and my input is simply offered, and was not asked for. They believe they have things in hand."

Frank shook his head, but said no more.

Mr. Dane looked at his watch. "Anyway, I was thinking it might pay off for us to watch the carnival site for one night, at least, to see if we notice anything unusual."

"The local police aren't watching it?" Joe asked.

"The local police force is geared to cover the town and the surrounds. The carnival area is included in that, but there is no full-time watch. A prowl car goes by the site at least once every hour or so, but they do not have time to stay for long."

"You'd think they could spare one deputy to watch the place at night," Frank said.

"Well, the town has watchmen for that task," the detective pointed out. "Sheriff Kingsley says he'd have to hire another deputy in order to provide an all night watch. And, again, adding another deputy is a money matter. It's actually cheaper for them to add more watchmen." Mr. Dane smiled. "That's where we come in. We are going to be a free addition to the watch for one night."

The boys looked at each other in excitement. "Dad!" Joe said, "That's a great idea. How are we going to do it?"

"I've scouted around, and I found a hill that overlooks the carnival site. By daylight, at least, you can see everything that goes on within the carnival area. At night, the place is fairly well-lit by strings of lights, and you can still see most of the area plainly. The watchmen use flashlights on their rounds, so they will be easy to separate from any other movement in the area." The detective nodded. "I think we'll just camp out on that hill tonight and take turns keeping an eye on the place."

It was dusk as they trekked up the hill to the site that Mr. Dane had selected as their watch post. Mr. Crandon, the hotel manager, had been happy to assist them by outfitting the group with heavy blankets to use as bedrolls. A small satchel of sandwiches and drinks had also been provided, as well as flashlights from the hotel stores.

Mr. Dane had brought a pair of binoculars, to be used to more easily examine anything they might spy down below. The hill was sufficiently higher than the carnival grounds to allow them a good view even down between the tents and stands. It was the perfect place to keep an eye on things.

By waiting for dusk it was likely that no one had seen them as they had made their way up the flank of the hill, and as they spread out their blankets in the rough grass they were careful to use no lights to reveal their presence. There was just enough glow from below to see by, and soon their little camp was established.

Mr. Dane took a look through his binoculars at the well-lit grounds below, and nodded. "Oh, this will do fine."

There were still crowds below, as the carnival was open until ten p.m., although the numbers were noticeably diminished from the daytime highs. The rides still glowed with lights as they spun and twirled. Only the Ferris wheel lacked motion.

They set themselves comfortably, and waited for the carnival to close.

"We'll need to do this in shifts," Mr. Dane said. "Mr. Crandon said that the carnival workers take an hour to close up their attractions and leave, so the grounds will not be really vacant until about eleven. I propose that you boys take two, two-hour shifts, with two of you on each one, and then I'll take the last shift, from three a.m. on. The sun is up just after five, so we won't really need to go any longer than that."

"Who wants the graveyard shift?" Joe said. "Tony and I can take it, if no one minds."

Frank nodded. "Okay. Chip and I will take the first shift, then. Joe, we'll wake you and Tony at one a.m."

Frank and Chip settled themselves in comfortable positions to watch below, while Mr. Dane and the two other boys curled up on their blankets and attempted to go to sleep. At first it was still noisy, as the crowds slowly made the march back to the hotel, and the carnival shut down. They could hear the sounds of voices calling back and forth, and people talking, for a while after that. But soon the human voices slowed, and then stopped altogether, and about half the strings of lights down below went dark.

A thin crescent of moon helped to preserve the view below, and Frank and Chip took turns with the binoculars, letting their gaze rove the aisles between tents and stands, trying to sort out the shadows they could see below. The sound of the surf on the beach proved quite restful, and Mr. Dane and Joe and Tony were soon asleep. Frank and Chip whispered to each other as they watched, pleased to have a legitimate reason to lie shoulder-to-shoulder and put their heads together.

The hours trickled by slowly, and uneventfully. Frank and Chip could see the flashlight beams of the watchmen as they made their rounds, weaving and bouncing along the aisles, painting stands and tents in a brief glow as the men passed. The men would start at one side of the carnival grounds, meet in the middle, separate again, and continue to the other side. It seemed a thankless job, but the two men seemed intent on performing it well.

Finally, one o'clock arrived, and Frank left Chip with the binoculars and went to wake Joe and Tony. Those boys sat up sleepily, nodded, and put their shoes on, while Frank went back to Chip.

The other boy was peering through the binoculars, and looked up at Frank as he returned. "Something weird going on down there."

Frank immediately sank down next to his boyfriend. "You see something?"

"Yes. But I have no idea what it is. It looks like...it looks like a ghost!"

Chip handed the binoculars to Frank and told him exactly where to look. "Whatever it is, it's dark, and it moves like a shadow. Watch the side of that tent, and tell me what you see."

Frank nodded, straining his eyes through the binoculars. The tent in question was a garish red and green one, which Frank remembered as belonged to Sandro, the knife-thrower. A string of illuminated bulbs hung to one side of it, but the other side of the tent was steeped in shadows. It was there that Chip had said he had seen something.

Frank watched, seeing nothing but darkness beside the tent. He heard Joe and Tony arrive and ask what was happening, but did not pull his eyes away from the scene below. Chip whispered, filling them in.

Frank could see nothing suspicious. The idea that perhaps Chip was seeing things was just arising in his mind when the shadow next to the tent suddenly shifted...and then moved!

One of the watchmen was coming up the aisle, his light slowly traveling back and forth. Frank watched as something dark and flowing moved over the ground to another tent, and melted into the shadows there. The watchman came along, pointed the light into the shadows where the dark shape had originally hidden itself, and then walked right by the spot where the shadow now hid!

"Get dad," Frank whispered to Joe. He heard the other boy grunt, and then move away.

Below, the shadow moved again, flowing out of its hiding place and right across the aisle lit by a chain of bulbs. Frank had the briefest of impression of a formless, ghost-like creature, that appeared to move without legs as it covered the ground, much as a child dressed in a sheet for Halloween might do. The eeriness of the sight caused him to take in a sharp breath.

The intruder did not appear to be human!

Mr. Dane came back with Joe then, and Frank passed the binoculars to his father and told him where to look.

The boys were silent as the detective watched. Mr. Dane suddenly leaned forward, obviously intent on something within the field of the glasses. "I see it."

"What is it?" Frank whispered.

He could see his father smile behind the binoculars. "If I'm not mistaken, it's a man. A man in a very clever disguise."

A man!

Then he definitely was up to no good, slinking about in the darkness!

"What can we do?" Joe asked softly.

"He's moved to the house of mirrors, and...yes, he's going inside."

Mr. Dane suddenly jumped to his feet. "Come on, boys, and be quiet!"

They moved as quickly and as silently as they could down the face of the hill, and crossed to the edge of the carnival compound. The house of mirrors was now lost to their view, but Mr. Dane wove his way carefully and surely towards it, until they were hidden behind a tent just outside the entry to the attraction.

"There is only one entrance and one exit," the detective whispered. "Frank, you and Chip move over there to that tent and point your flashlights at the exit. Joe, you and Tony cover the entrance with your lights. Under no circumstances are any of you to turn on your flashlights until you hear me call out. Okay?"

The boys nodded and took their positions. Frank watched the exit door, his arm holding the light quivering slightly in excitement and anticipation.

Five minutes or more went by, with no movement from either door, before there was a sudden shift in the darkness inside the exit door. Frank readied his thumb against the switch of his light and licked his lips. This was it!

The shadows within the door seemed to flow, and then the ghostly figure emerged.

"Now!" Mr. Dane yelled.

All four lights came on, briefly pinning the figure in the wash of beams. Frank had the definite impression of a man now, dressed all in black, like a one-piece body suit. The man's face and head was entirely covered by the suit, with two small holes from which glittered the whites of eyes. A black cape dangled from the man's shoulders to his feet, and wrapped mostly around the front of his body.

For a split second of time, the two sides stood still and looked at each other.

"Don't move!" Mr. Dane yelled, and Frank could see now that his father has his revolver drawn.

The black ghost bolted sideways off the steps of the house of mirrors and took off running. Frank heard his father give a soft curse, and then the five of them were off in pursuit. The figure had a small head start, but Frank and Chip cut around the other side of of the house of mirrors and caught sight of the fleeing man again, and gave immediate chase. Both boys had run track at Gulfport High, and were no slouches.

They pelted among the tents and stands, and Frank was suddenly aware that he could see two flickering shapes ahead of them as the cloaked figure ran. He realized then that he was seeing the soles of the man's shoes at the limit of his flashlight beam, which were a much lighter shade than the suit. They might have a chance to catch the man, if they could continue to see him!

They reached the edge of the carnival area and started across the beach. The man was fast! Frank had run some near-record times at the track, but the man ahead of them seemed their equal. Once on the soft sands, he seemed to pull slightly ahead, until only the flickering souls of his shoes were visible. Frank poured on the speed, running flat out, until he started to pull slowly ahead of Chip.

Ahead of them, there was a sudden intense flash in the dark. The sky above them illuminated, and Frank could see the dark outline of the man ahead of them, and the sudden bulk of the promontory down from the hotel. A brilliant beam of light cut across the sky towards the sea, briefly casting the entire beach area in a strange, milky radiance.

"The lighthouse!" Chip gasped out, from behind Frank.

For five seconds the beam of light cut through the sky. And then, just as suddenly as it had appeared, it was gone.

The sudden rush of darkness made Frank blink, unable to see. Even with the flashlight, he could no longer see the running man before them. He ran on until his feet clattered suddenly across stones; and then a great wall of rock was there before him. Frank ground to a halt, and Chip stopped right beside him. Both boys turned their lights about, searching, their chests heaving as they fought to catch their breaths.

Lights came up behind them, and first Joe, and then Tony, and then Mr. Dane arrived.

"We lost him, dad," Frank said angrily. "The lighthouse came on, and briefly blinded us. When it went dark again, I couldn't see."

The detective simply put out a hand and dropped it on Frank's shoulder, giving him a fond squeeze. "It's okay. Lets look about and see if we can find his tracks."

They soon found them, but they disappeared onto the rock shelf before them. The shelf ran another dozen yards ahead of them and then began to climb nearly straight up. Mr. Dane stepped back and pointed his light up the face of the promontory, and shook his head. "No way he could climb that."

Frank pointed his own light at the rocky face, and had to agree. It wasn't quite vertical, but it might as well be, as far as climbing it.

"He had to go somewhere!" Joe said. He pointed his light to the right, and they could see where the huge bluff descended into the sea. He brought the light back to their left, revealing a stone-strewn beach area that ran back for a distance, and then ended at a curve in the headland. They followed that along, looking for a place where the fleeing fugitive's tracks reemerged from the stony area, but could find nothing at to indicate that anyone had passed this way.

"He just vanished!" Tony said, shaking his head.

Mr. Dane nodded, pointing his light upwards. "Yes. A pretty good trick if I do say so myself." He frowned. "I believe we are beneath the house of Jack Dark, aren't we?"

All the boys pointed their lights skyward. The magician!

"You think he's involved?" Joe asked, excitement suddenly entering his voice.

The detective laughed. "Whoa, whoa. Let's not jump to conclusions. I was just saying we are beneath the house, is all. And, the lighthouse."

"How about Joseph and Sophie?" Frank offered. "They would have to know that the lighthouse was active."

Mr. Dane frowned in the glow from his flashlight. "Boys, don't let your suspicions run away with you. Joseph and Sophie seemed to me like nice people." He waved a hand at them. "Just cool down, okay? Relax."

The detective looked at the mass of the bluff before them, and nodded. "We'll need to come back here during the day and look more closely. It's just too dark to ensure that we didn't miss some tracks."

They turned and headed back towards the lights of the carnival area, now quite distant.

"I want to check that house of mirrors," Mr. Dane said. "Our friend back there went inside for a reason, I'd be willing to bet. When we get to the hotel, I'll call Sheriff Kingsley and get him out here. We'll need help to search the place."

"We'll help!" Frank said.

"No, you won't," the detective returned. "We have things to do tomorrow, and you boys have to get some sleep."

All four boys made sounds of disappointment, but nodded.

They reached the hotel and went inside. Mr. Dane used a lobby phone to call Sheriff Kingsley, while the boys stood and listened. Mr. Dane watched them, smiling, and finally hung up. "He's on his way."

"Are you sure we can't help, dad?" Joe asked.

"Actually, you can," the detective decided. "You can go back to the hill where we were watching, and bring in our gear. Then, you can go to bed."

The boys groaned, but headed outside, and walked across to the hill where they had watched the carnival.

"This is a bum rap," Joe said. "We should be in on this. I mean, we were there!"

"Dad knows what he's doing," Frank returned, even though he was feeling a little bit excluded himself. Their father always had a plan, and if that plan meant that the boys needed to be refreshed enough the next day to operate, than sleep was indeed called for. This would not be the first time that the famous detective had seemed to put them out to pasture, only to bring them into an exciting conclusion to a case at the end.

They reached the top of the hill and began gathering up the blankets, and the satchel of food. "Come on," Frank said then. "I am pretty tired, actually."

As they reached the hotel, Sheriff Kingsley's cruiser was just pulling up to the door. Mr. Dane jumped inside, and the car roared off in the direction of the carnival.

"Come on, fellas," Frank said, urging the others inside. "Dad will have something to tell us in the morning, I'm sure."

They went to their rooms and undressed, and got into bed. Frank was so tired that he and Chip had barely exchanged a good night kiss before his eyelids closed, and he was asleep.


They were late rising in the morning, and could feel the previous night's exertions in the muscles of their legs. Frank and Chip took a quick shower together, then dried and dressed before knocking on the door to Joe's and Tony's room. Tony opened the door, wrapped in a bath towel. Joe was busily drying himself and looked up as they entered. "Did you guys sleep okay?"

Frank grinned. "Like a rock, and I mean that literally. I feel like one this morning. Well, my legs, anyway."

Joe and Tony both laughed. "I know what you mean, fella!" Joe said. "We're getting fat and out of shape, sitting around here waiting for something to break."

Frank smiled at his brother's lean, fit body, but did not disagree.

"Have you talked to dad yet?" Joe asked.

"No. I figured he was out even later than us, and needs the shut-eye. Let's wait a little longer, okay?"

Frank and chip went back to their room to let the others get dressed, and it was only ten minutes later that the other boys came to join them. They sat about, trying to figure out what to do next.

"I know I'm starving," Chip said. "I feel weak, and I'm not sure, but I might just pass out or something."

Everyone laughed. "You're always hungry," Frank pointed out. "But in this case I agree with you."

"I hate to go eat without dad," Joe said. "That would mean he'd have to eat later by himself."

Frank nodded, looking over at the door to their father's room. "I guess I could give a little knock. At least, one he can hear if he's awake."

He went to the door and placed his ear against it, but heard nothing. He looked back at Joe, and shrugged, and lifted a hand to knock. Just then, the door opened inward, and there was Mr. Dane, tying his tie and grinning at him. "Gotcha."

Frank laughed. "Gee, dad, I didn't hear a thing. I was just going to knock to see if you wanted some breakfast."

The elder Dane glanced at his watch, and shook his head. "More like an early lunch now, boys." He turned back into his room, crossed to the chair before his desk, where his jacket hung on the back. And, his shoulder holster holding the snub-nosed .38.

The detective lifted the holster and shrugged into it, and then grabbed up his jacket and came back over to Frank. "I heard you boys talking, so I knew you were up. I was out pretty late myself, but I needed to get up to get some things done."

Frank nodded, and stepped back as his father came into Joe's room and shut the connecting door behind him. Joe and the others came over to stand in a semi circle about Mr. Dane as he buttoned his jacket.

"Did you find anything in the house of mirrors last night?" Joe asked.

"Yes. It took some doing. A careful walk-through revealed nothing. But there was an odd odor present, a pungent, metallic smell, that reminded me strongly enough of the smell of nitric acid to suspect that some had been in use there. We got one of the carnival maintenance men in, and he lifted the floor panel to get beneath the interior walkway, and the odor became even more pronounced. It was too strong then for anyone to go down beneath the floor to inspect things, although I have a feeling the odor was gone by morning when the carnival opened."

"What is underneath the floor that could be affected by acid?" Frank asked.

Mr. Dane shrugged. "Nothing. I mean, there is no equipment beneath the floor or anything, like the gear assembly at the Ferris wheel. My suspicion is that the the actual steel framework has been weakened, so that when the house of mirrors fills with people, either the floor or the building itself might collapse."

"That's terrible!" Chip said. "People could get seriously hurt!"

The detective nodded. "The house of mirrors will be closed today, until the framework can be inspected."

Joe nodded. "We were just going to get something to eat, dad. Care to join us?"

"I can't son. I talked to Jake Kingsley a short time ago, and he and I need to get together to discuss some things. I gave him some information to follow up through police channels, and some of it came back. What I'd like for you boys to do is to go back to the bluff where our saboteur disappeared last night, and see what you can find."

"What about the library?" Joe asked. "We weren't done searching the newspaper archives."

"That can wait. We need to follow up at the beach before any prints that are there are washed away by rain or surf. Can you do that for me?"

Frank nodded. "Sure, dad. But that won't take all day. What do we do after?"

The detective frowned. "Hmm. Well, that's going to depend somewhat on the information I get from the sheriff. I don't want to have to come looking for you boys, as I may need your help later."

"We could go to the beach and look around, and then just come back here," Joe suggested.

Mr. Dane nodded. "Maybe that's best. I should only be a couple of hours."

It was agreed, and the detective headed out while the boys went to the dining room and grabbed a bite to eat. After that, they went back to their rooms and changed into bathing suits, tee-shirts, and canvas shoes, on the theory that four boys poking around on the beach would look much more natural if attired for the purpose.

Frank watched as Chip sat on the end of the bed and tied his shoelaces. The other boy finished and looked up. "What?"

Frank went to sit next to him. "You really are nice looking dressed that way." He rubbed his shoulder against Chip's, and leaned his head over against the other boy's and sighed.

He could feel Chip smile. "This has been a wonderful few days, Frank. Just being with you is exciting for me, but this little adventure has added some extra spice to it." He turned his head and kissed Frank's cheek. "There's no place else on the earth I'd rather be."

Frank turned his head and they exchanged another kiss. Feeling Chip against him filled his entire body with a warm joy that was like no other feeling he could imagine. They gently rubbed their faces together, and Frank was just starting to feel a response inside his bathing suit when he heard a noise behind him. He turned his head, and there were Joe and Tony, similarly attired, grinning at them.

"Good thing I wasn't dad, huh?" Joe said, coming over. He lowered his voice, but his eyes still twinkled. "Catching you two lovebirds in the act would probably turn his hair gray."

Frank frowned at that. "You shouldn't joke about it, Joe. It would be awful if dad walked in on a moment like that. For you or for me."

That seemed to sober his younger brother considerably. "Right. I'm sorry." He managed a new grin. "You two sure look swell together, though."

Tony came up and put an arm around Joe, and kissed his cheek. "Leave them alone, Joe," he admonished. "They look just like we do when we're together."

Joe nodded, and kissed his boyfriend.

"Are we ready?" Frank asked, giving Chip a last squeeze before getting to his feet. Chip stood beside him, reached over, briefly squeezed Frank's hand, and then nodded. "I am."

"We are, too," Tony agreed. He smiled at Joe. "Aren't we, Joey?"

Frank's eyes widened. "Joey?"

The younger Dane reddened, but looked defiant. "Is that any more sappy than Chipper?"

Chip laughed, and looked at Frank. "He's got you there."

The older Dane nodded. "Yes, he does. Let's go."

They left the hotel and headed for the beach.

By day, things looked entirely different. The great promontory dominated the area to the far side of the hotel, a towering mass of rock standing above the ocean. The tower of the lighthouse was visible, just barely, from where they stood, and the roof of the mansion. Both slowly disappeared as they drew closer to the bluff.

"That's quite a hunk of rock, "Tony said, his eyes roving along the bluff.

They found the spot where the chase had ended the night before. Their own tracks were a jumble in the sand, obscuring anything that seemed to be useful in determining where the cloaked saboteur had gone.

"He couldn't have just disappeared," Frank said. "He went somewhere. We're missing something."

Joe agreed. "Let's walk along the base of the bluff to the water and look again."

They did that, walking slowly down the rocky ledge, and spied nothing. They were just about to turn back when Tony dropped to one knee. "Look here!"

The boys gathered around, and peered at what Tony had found. In a depression in the stone, wind-blown sand had found a home. It was a tiny spot, scarcely large enough to put a foot into. Yet, evidently, someone had.

The outline of the inside edge of a shoe was clearly marked in the sand.

Frank looked at the direction the shoe print was pointing and scratched his head. "Sure looks to me that he ran right into the ocean."

The end of the bluff was based in the sea. Breakers rolled against it, leaving no doubt that the water there was fairly deep.

Frank stood and went to where the water met the bluff, and peered into the sun-speckled surface.

Just below the water, maybe a foot down, hugging the base of the promontory, a narrow ledge of stone led away around the front of the bluff. "Look at this!" Frank called, excitedly.

The others came to look, and Frank pointed out the ledge. "It looks like you can walk around the bluff on that!"

Chip looked out to sea. "This is high tide. Last night, when we were chasing that guy, the water here would have been even more shallow. I remember reading somewhere that the tides at Land's End were generally less than three feet. So last night, that ledge would have been high and dry!"

Frank grinned at his boyfriend. "You never stop amazing me, Chipper."

Chip looked slightly embarrassed. "I just like to read."

"Let's see where it goes," Joe said, stepping out into the water.

The others followed, walking carefully so as not to slide off into the deeper water. The ledge continued around the bluff, and soon the beach and the resort were out of site. Joe looked down as he moved, watching where he placed his feet, and so could see that the ledge seemed to be ending as they came around a small bulge in the rocks. Joe paused and looked up, and could see no way that anyone could have climbed the vertical face.

It was beginning to look like the ledge was another dead end.

"I think we're about done," Joe said, disappointment evident in his voice. "It looks like the ledge drops off just ahead. There's nowhere else to go."

"Walk right to the end," Frank instructed. "We don't want to miss anything."

Joe nodded, and kept going. They rounded the bulge, and Joe suddenly stopped. A hollow had appeared in the bulge, large enough to walk into. "Wait! There's something here!"

He turned into the hollow, and could see a rocky floor just under the surface. The hollow went back beneath an overhang, and ended at a rock wall about a dozen feet back. It still looked like a dead end, but Joe kept going, and the other boys followed him into the open space.

Joe was almost to the back of the hollow when the dark wall to his left suddenly retreated. He stopped, staring at a large black opening that seemed to lead away into the heart of the bluff.

"What's the matter?" Frank asked. "What do you see?'

Joe's voice was filled with excitement as he turned to look at them. "I think it's a cave!"


Frank had to restrain his brother from charging into the darkness. "We don't have a light, Joe. We can't feel our way in there. It might be dangerous."

"I guess," Joe admitted, squinting into the dark hole. All the boys had pushed up so that they could see the opening.

"Where do you think it goes?" Tony asked.

"I don't know," Frank replied. "But I'd be willing to bet this is where our boy went last night."

"We need to tell dad," Joe said suddenly. "He should know about this."

"Come on," Frank said, turning about. "Let's go back to the hotel and see if he's returned."

They retraced their steps, and were soon back at the beach. They headed for the hotel to see if Mr. Dane had returned.

As they arrived at the corner of the hotel building, Frank paused and looked back at the bluff.

"What's the matter?" Joe asked.

"I was just thinking. If that cave goes under the bluff, there's probably only one place it can lead."

Chip shielded his eyes and stared up at the barely visible house atop the promontory. "Either the lighthouse, or the old mansion."

Frank nodded. "I'd hate to think that Mr. Dark is involved."

"There's Joseph and Sophie," Tony reminded. "And Mr. Dark is keeping the carnival going, remember? If he wanted to shut it down, all he would have to do is leave."

Frank brightened at that idea. "That's true. Okay, let's see if dad is back."

They went to their rooms, and it was soon evident that the detective had not returned.

Hours passed, and the boys began to wonder.

"I didn't think he'd be this long," Frank said, pacing back and forth. "I know how he gets when he's involved...but maybe we should call Sheriff Kingsley just to get an idea of how long he'll be. He needs to know about the cave we found."

"I'll do it," Joe said, getting to his feet. "Why should you get all the dirty jobs?"

Frank laughed. "I'm older."

Joe grinned. "But I'm smarter."

Chip and Tony both laughed. "You're both Danes!" Chip said.

Tony nodded. "And you're both nuts!"

The boys laughed.

Joe went to the desk and lifted the phone, and asked to be put through to Sheriff Kingsley's office.

"Weird, about that cave being there, and people not knowing about it," Chip mused.

"Not really." Frank shook his head. "It's really a stretch to just imagine it might be there. We found it by accident. Anyone daring enough to walk around that little ledge would have to go all the way to the end and go inside the hollow to find it." He frowned. "Plus, that area is well away from the beach everyone uses. It's rocky, which means it's no good for beach towels or walking barefoot. I can see how it has been missed."

"Yes," Tony agreed. "We were looking for something there, and so we found it. Anybody not purposely exploring there would have no reason to try to walk around that ledge. And, it's not even visible at high tide."

"Point," Chip agreed.

Over at the phone, Joe suddenly straightened and replaced the receiver in its cradle. He turned to them, looking grim. "Sheriff Kingsley said that dad left hours ago, and that he said he was coming back here."

For a moment no one spoke.

Then Frank strode forward. "That doesn't mean anything. You know how dad is. He probably ran across something interesting."

Joe bit at his lip. "Maybe. And maybe not!"

Frank looked at Chip. "What do you think?"

"I think that if he wasn't coming back for some time he would have called and left a message at the desk for us."

Joe brightened, and turned back to the phone. "I knew we kept you around for a reason, Chip."

Frank smiled at his boyfriend, thinking there were a lot of other reasons, too.

Tony just grinned, watching as his boyfriend lifted the receiver and was connected with the desk.

But in only a moment Joe hung up the phone and turned back, looking even more troubled than before. "No dice, fellas. No message."

Frank rubbed at his jaw, feeling nervous now. It was unlike their father to not communicate a change in plan. The elder Dane believed in an orderly existence, and that trait transferred readily to the way he handled investigations. For him to plan to go to town and then come right back, but not do it - and leave no message about the change - that had Frank worried.

"All we can do is wait," he decided.

Dinner came and went. The boys had little appetite, and quickly made their way back to their rooms from the dining room.

Mr. Dane still had not come back.

"I don't feel good about this, Frank," Joe said. "We need to do something."

"I'm open to suggestions," Frank admitted.

His brother sighed, and looked resolute. "I think we should go and investigate that cave. I think we should write this all out on a piece of paper and leave it on dad's desk, so that he will know where we've gone if he does come back. And then we should go."

"I can probably borrow flashlights from Mr. Crandon again," Frank mused. "We'll need them to see where we're going."

Joe reached out a hand and squeezed Frank's arm. "So we're going?"

"Yes." Frank pressed his lips together. He waved a hand at the desk. "Get some paper and write all this down, and I'll go and see Mr. Crandon."

"Sounds like a plan," Joe said, chancing a smile.


"The tide must be down," Joe said, as they neared the bluff. He squinted in the evening sun. The narrow ledge was visible now, although still slick with ocean spray.

Frank eyed the narrow pathway, thinking that, if he had just chanced across it while enjoying the beach, that he would not have been tempted onto it. It looked slippery and uneven, a sure formula for a dunking. Not only that, but just looking at it from the safety of the beach, it did not look like it went anyplace worth the attempt.

He hefted the flashlight he had received from the hotel manager and used it to indicate the ledge. "Follow the leader, guys." And then he mounted the narrow path and started off.

They stepped carefully and made their way in a line around the end of the bluff to the hollow, and gathered at the back before the cave opening. They turned the flashlights on and pointed the beams inside.

Ten feet back, a brick wall was visible, green with algae and pitted with age. Frank grinned, excited at the obvious implications that this was a tunnel and not just a natural cave. He started back, the others following, and quickly arrived at the wall. To the right was another opening, and Frank immediately turned his light into it.

A wide, brick-walled tunnel with an arched ceiling stretched back as far as the beam of his light would reach.

"I'd say we're in business," Joe whispered, urging his brother forward.

The tunnel was wide enough for them to walk two abreast. The walls were dank and covered with algae, the bricks blackened with age, and Frank could imagine that during a storm surge, the tunnel would be completely filled.

Their footsteps echoed eerily as they moved. Far ahead, Frank could pick out a change in the darkness, which soon resolved into a flight of steps leading upward. They arrived at the bottom, and Frank motioned for everyone to stop. "Lights out a second, fellas." The others nodded, and shut off their flashlights.

Frank turned off his own light, and cast his gaze up the stairwell. Above them, no light pierced the darkness at the top of the stairs. Frank turned his light back on and motioned the others to follow him.

They climbed the staircase, and found themselves in a new section of tunnel. Here, the bricks were darkened with age, but only lightly covered with algae. They followed the tunnel, and soon arrived at another flight of steps. Again, they turned off their lights and looked for evidence of illumination above; there was none.

"We're slowly moving upwards," Chip whispered. "Do you think it goes all the way to the top?"

"We're going to find out," Frank returned, just as quietly. "I'm starting to think I know what we have here."

"What?" Joe asked, pressing forward.

"Otto Sturm's escape tunnel. He and his family probably came this way the night they fled, and were able to board a boat and make good their exit before the authorities arrived."

It seemed to make sense. The obvious age of the tunnel might mean that it had been constructed at the same time as the house, or even the lighthouse, for that matter.

They continued upwards, pausing at each new staircase to check for lights above.

At the fifth staircase, a low illumination was detected from the next level when they turned their lights off. Frank held a finger to his lips and started up the steps. He reached the top and raised his head slowly above the level of the floor to see what could be seen.

Unlike the previous staircases, which had simply deposited them into another tunnel, this level had some open floorspace. Frank looked slowly about, taking in the piled crates and boxes, and the huddled, dark forms of machinery. Beyond that was a hallway, with doors on each side. Light spilled from several of the rooms beyond, filling the area with a soft glow.

Frank cocked his head, and thought he could hear the murmur of voices from one of the doorways. He turned to the others, placed a finger to his lips, and received nods of acknowledgement from each.

The only way to learn what was happening here was to go and see. Frank indicated to Joe that he was going for a look, and squeezed his brother's arm when he saw objection rising in the other boy's eyes. Joe made a frustrated face, but nodded.

Frank looked back towards the hallway, and slowly rose. He crept the rest of the way up the steps and moved quickly to stand in the shadows behind a pile of crates. He could definitely hear voices now, and they sounded to be coming from the first lit room on the left. He looked back at the stairway, and could see the faces of the other three boys, watching. Frank pointed at the doorway, and Joe nodded.

Frank took a deep breath to slow his racing heart, and moved slowly forward, inching along the pile of crates towards the doorway. As he drew nearer, he could discern that several people were talking, and as he approached the door, what they were saying became clear.

"...too bad the others were killed when the car went over that cliff," a deep voice was saying. "That leaves us short-handed. And now we got these snoops poking around. I can see why the boss has moved everything up to tonight."

"How's the radio gear aboard the ship doing?" asked another, more gravelly voice. "Will it be ready?"

"Kelly says it's all installed, tested, and sealed up." There was a small sound, as if the man had given a shiver. "Scares me to think those Nazis dogs were working on things like this. It was hard enough dealing with their navy when it was crewed by men that could be killed."

Frank inched forward to the end of the pile of crates, and leaned out just a little, trying to see into the doorway. He could just spy the back of a man, leaning against some kind of table just inside the room.

"You fellas decided where you're going to go after this is all done?" a third voice asked, a little higher-pitched, and slightly nervous-sounding. "It's gonna be really hot around here. I don't plan to come back to the States for a few years, at least."

"I'm for Mexico," deep-voice said. "I know a girl in Tiajuana I can spend some time with, if you know what I mean."

The others laughed.

"South America is where I'm going," gravelly-voice said. "With the kind of money we're gonna have, a man could live like a prince there."

"I don't speak Spanish," nervous-voice said.

"Who needs the lingo?" gravelly-voice returned. "The locals all comprende Ingles. And if they don't, you just wave a coupla dollars at them. They all get that."

"I'm going to Canada," nervous-voice decided. "I visited a lake up there once - Lake Kabetogama. The Canadian shore has some nice cabins. I'll buy one of them and live a quiet life."

Deep-voice snorted. "How'd you ever get into the rackets, Shorty? Betcha you'll spend your days readin', or something like that."

"I like to read," the other said defensively. The other two men laughed.

The man that Frank could see suddenly straightened. "Better check on our boy," he said, and Frank knew then it was the man with the deep voice. "The boss said he's a wily one. I don't want him slippin' his bonds and gettin' loose."

And with that he turned and came out of the doorway.

Frank just froze, unable to move. The doors on each side of the hallway were staggered, with the right-hand doors slightly further along than the left-hand doors. So the man came out into the hallway angled away from Frank, and crossed to the other door without sparing so much as a glance in the Dane boy's direction. Had he turned his head even a fraction of an inch, there could be no way he would have failed to see Frank standing there. The thug reached the other door and went into the room beyond.

Frank looked across the hall. On the other side was a low pile of boxes. He darted over and crouched behind them. In the first room, the two remaining thugs continued to talk. But Frank was focused now on the right-hand doorway, hoping to hear any conversation that might issue forth from that source.

"How you coming along, fella?" Frank could just make out from deep-voice. "That gag makes it hard to breathe, don't it?"

For a second there was silence, and then another voice spoke up: "You'll never get away with this, you know."

A chill of shock and surprise raced up Frank's spine. He knew that voice!

Dad!

Frank immediately felt anger, and only an extreme act of will held him in place. To go rushing in now would only get them all captured. These people were surely armed, and fists were no match for guns.

"So you been saying," deep voice replied. "You shoulda just minded your own business, bub. I don't know what the boss has planned for you, but I bet it ain't pretty."

"Don't you have a conscience?" the sleuth asked. "Do you know haw many lives are at stake here?"

"I was at Anzio, mister. Don't talk to me about lives, okay?"

"But these are innocent people!" Ben Dane returned, sounding angry now.

"There ain't no innocent people, mack," deep voice said. "There's just those that got, and those that ain't got. It's my turn now to be one that's got, you see?"

"There will be children there," Mr. Dane said, almost too softly to hear.

"There was kids in Sicily, and Messina. Think anybody cared then?"

"You can't let this happen!"

There was a brief, unnameable sound, and then deep voice spoke up again. "I see why they got you gagged now, buddy. You talk too much!"

A moment later, deep-voice came back out into the hallway and crossed back to the first room. Frank caught a glimpse of a tired-looking face under dark curly hair, and then the man was gone.

A brief flash of recognition hit Frank: it was the man they had seen entering the elevator with the burlap sack just before the snake incident!

That they were in the right place now, Frank was certain. They had found the lair of the enemy!

The boy turned an ear back to the first room, trying to hear what came next.

"He's okay," deep-voice said. "Still breathin', which is just too bad."

"The boss said to keep him alive for now," gravelly-voice said. "I don't know about you, but I don't wanna be the guy to make the boss mad!"

Frank let out a soft, tense breath. He had to get back to the others. He took a long look at the doorway that the thug had entered, and then rose and tiptoed back to where the other boys waited..

As he settled back on the steps next to his brother, Joe reached out and squeezed his arm. "I thought it was all over when that guy came out of the doorway."

Frank nodded. "That was pure luck." He leaned forward. "They have dad."

An anguished look crossed Joe's face. "We have to help him!"

"We will." Frank looked at Chip, and then at Tony. "I need a volunteer."

The two boys looked at each other. "What do you need?" Chip asked.

"I want one of you to go back down the steps. Go to the hotel, and call Sheriff Kingsley. Tell him what is going on, tell him to bring reinforcements, wait for him to arrive, and bring him here."

Chip frowned, and Tony looked adamant. "We don't want to leave you," Tony said softly. He reached out and wrapped his fingers gently around Joe's wrist. "Please, Joe."

Frank looked at his boyfriend, saw the worry and fear in his eyes. "Please, Chipper?"

The boy compressed his lips together, and nodded. "I'll go. Don't do anything stupid while I'm gone!"

Frank grinned, and laid a hand upon his breast, as if to say, "Who, me?"

Chip wrapped his arms quickly around Frank and hugged him, and then he was heading down the steps. As he reached the bottom, they could see his flashlight pop on, and then the light slowly retreated and was gone.

Joe popped his head up and looked at the hallway. No one could be seen.

"We have to get to dad," he whispered.

Frank nodded, feeling the pocket of his slacks. One of the things he always carried was a small pocket knife. He would need it, probably, to cut through their father's bonds. "Just one of us will go. If the men come out while I'm gone, it will be up to you two to take action."

For a moment Joe looked like he was going to argue; but then he simply nodded. "Be careful, Frank."

"Always am." Frank gave his brother's shoulder a squeeze, and then raised his head to look down the hallway. Still clear.

He tip-toed back to the spot he had occupied when deep-voice had suddenly walked out of the room, and paused, listening. He could hear the three men talking about the Yankee's chances for the pennant this year. No one seemed to be close to the door.

Frank danced across to the pile of boxes again, and crouched behind them. He made his way forward to the leading edge of the pile, and peeked around at the other side of the hallway.

The three men sat in chairs around a small table with a single bulb in a fixture hanging above. They had a newspaper out, and gravelly-voice was reading off player stats while the others listened. The only one facing the door was apparently gravelly-voice, and the newspaper he was holding obscured his view of the hallway.

Frank stood slowly, and then simply walked silently down to the door on the right and peered around the jamb.

This room was also piled high with boxes. Another light fixture dangled on a twisted wire from the overhead, illuminating a single chair. In that chair sat a man, bound and gagged, his head lolled forward.

Ben Dane.

The room looked otherwise empty. Frank cast a look back the way he had come. Gravelly-voice was still reading off stats from the newspaper.

Frank tiptoed into the room, went to the chair where is father sat, and circled behind it. He squatted down, peered around his father at the doorway. All clear.

Frank raised a hand and gently placed his fingertips against his father's elbow. The man started, and turned his head to the side, trying to see behind him. Frank raised up just enough to make eye contact, and nearly smiled at the look of amazement in his father's eyes.

Then he squatted again, pulled out his pocket knife, and went to work on his father's bonds. The cords were tough, but the knife was sharp, and soon he had parted them. He stood, cut through the rag tied around his father's mouth, gently pulled it free.

"Frank!" the man breathed. "My god, son, how did you find me?"

Frank leaned close to his father's ear. "Can you walk?"

"I think so. Those ropes were tight, and my legs feel a little numb. But I can manage."

Frank helped the man to his feet. "Walk around a little, dad. You have to be able to sneak past an open door."

The elder Dane nodded, and moved slowly about in a circle. He winced a few times, but then nodded again. "I'm good."

Frank turned, and they started for the door.

But before they reached it they heard footsteps, and the tired-looking, curly haired man with the deep-voice was standing in the doorway. He blinked, obviously processing what he was seeing, and then grabbed at a pocket of his jacket even as Frank and Mr. Dane leaped forward.

The man was quick. He danced backwards, and got his gun out before Frank and his father could reach him. "Hold it right there!"

Frank ground to a halt, frustration and anger clouding his face. Mr. Dane put out a hand and squeezed his shoulder. "It's okay."

"That's the guy that brought the snake," Frank said, pointing at deep-voice.

The detective nodded. "Attempted murder. Nice fellow."

The other man snorted. "Shorty! Jack! Get over here!" Deep voice eyed them, shaking his head. "Don't give me a reason."

Mr. Dane kept his hand on Frank's shoulder, and the boy realized that his father was restraining him. He nodded at the detective. "I'm okay, dad."

"Dad, huh?" deep-voice said. "I should have figured."

The other two thugs arrived, their guns also drawn. Their eyes went wide at the sight of Frank, and Mr. Dane out of his bonds.

"What the hell, Mike?" gravelly-voice said, giving a name to the man with the deep voice.

"They was headin' for the door, that's what. Glad I decided to come and look in on the guy again." He grinned at Mr. Dane. "And to think I was worried you might be havin' trouble breathin' or somethin'!"

The detective grinned defiantly. "Take more than that to stop me from taking a breath."

Mike grinned evilly. "Oh, I'm sure we'll get to the thing that works eventually, smart guy." He nodded at the other two thugs to keep the Danes covered, returned his own pistol to his pocket, and started forward. "Now we got two to tie up."

Frank was watching the two thugs in the doorway, and so saw when Joe and Tony suddenly appeared behind them. Gravelly voice's eye's widened as something was suddenly thrust into his back.

"Don't move or I'll drill ya!" Joe bellowed, in an unnaturally loud and deep voice.

Mike whipped about, his hand going for his pocket. Mr. Dane stepped forward, his arms flashed out; and in the next second the thug was laying on the floor, glassy-eyed.

Frank grinned. "You need to teach us some of that judo, dad."

The detective laughed. "We'll make time, okay?"

The other two thugs had raised their hands, and now Joe and Tony reached up and relieved them of their pistols. Then they gave each man a good shove, propelling them into the room. Frank and Mr. Dane stepped past them to join Joe and Tony. The two thugs turned, their hands still raised.

Joe grinned, hefting one of the captured pistols, while casually dropping the broken end of a broom handle to the floor.

Gravelly-voice shook his head at the sight, and sighed. "Aw...that just ain't right."

"Yes," said another voice, with a slight accent, from behind Joe and Tony. "But very effective, it seems."

Joe went to turn, but a hand clamped down on his shoulder. "I would hate to have to kill all of you just yet," the voice continued casually. "Just hand me those pistols...yes, that's it. Thank you, boys."

Now Joe and Tony were pushed into the room. A man came behind, carrying a Thompson sub-machine gun. He waved the muzzle at them, and smiled. "Turnabout is fair play, after all."

Frank stared at the man, certain that he had seen him somewhere before. Joe also narrowed his eyes, as if feeling the same. "Who are you?"

Mr. Dane gave a soft sigh. "Boys, let me introduce you to Gunter Sturm."

Sturm! The man with the German Luger!

"I got your pistol when you lost it on the road," Frank couldn't help saying. "A nice souvenir of the day you went swimming."

Gunter smiled, and looked at Mr. Dane. "Definitely one of yours. I see that charm runs in the family."

Mr. Dane gave a small bow of his head in acknowledgement.

"My, my. What to do with you? One nuisance tied up is one thing, but four of you-- " The man broke off, narrowing his eyes. "Where's the other one?"

Gravelly-voice came forward to reclaim his pistol from Sturm. "Other one?"

Sturm nodded. "There were four of these boys." He pointed the muzzle of the Tommy gun at Frank. "Where's the other one?"

Frank shrugged. "He didn't feel well today. He didn't come with us."

Sturm smiled. "We'll just look about, shall we?" He directed the two thugs to begin a search of the level, while he kept the intruders covered.

On the floor, Mike groaned and sat up. "Ow. What hit me?"

Sturm grinned. "A rather interesting form of martial art, I suspect." His eyes went to Mr. Dane. "Japanese?"

The detective shrugged, but smiled.

"Just full of surprises, aren't you, Mr. Dane?"

"I do try."

It was only a few minutes before the two thugs returned. "The place is clean, boss."

Gunter Sturm nodded. "Watch these four while I call upstairs." He handed the Tommy gun over to one of the others, and then exited the room.

Frank looked at his father. "Do you know what these guys are up to, dad?"

The elder Dane nodded. "Herr Sturm told me. A little bit of revenge, it seems."

Frank nodded, several until then incompletely-formed ideas in his mind settling into place. It made sense. Otto Sturm had had everything he had worked for stolen from him by the country he had adopted as his own, and been forced to flee with his family in order to stay free. And now, the son of Otto Sturm had returned, looking for a little payback.

He voiced his ideas to his father, and the man nodded. "Yes. Not bad, Frank."

Joe frowned. "My question is, is Jack Dark involved? Or Joseph and Sophie?" He shook his head. "Amazing to think all of this exists underneath the house, and none of them have a clue about what is going on here. Seems impossible to me."

Mr. Dane shook his head. "I don't know about Joseph and Sophie. Not for sure."

Sturm returned, frowning, and reclaimed the Tommy gun. "He said to take them out to the ship."

The three thugs looked at each other, and Mike grinned. "Front row seats, eh?" He rubbed at his neck, and glared at Mr. Dane. "Can't say I'm sorry."

Frank had just one question he wanted to ask. He turned to his father. "Who was the guy in the black cape we chased last night?"

Gunter Sturm cleared his throat, smiled, and waved a hand.

"You're really fast...especially for an old guy," Frank said.

Sturm laughed at the back-handed compliment. "I've been chased by some of the Führer's best, young man. Nothing inspires speed like the thought of being shot, let me tell you."

Frank shook his head. "You were a patriot," he said. "You fought for freedom. How can you do something like this?"

Sturm's eyes looked merry. "Like what?"

Frank felt confused. What, indeed? He looked at his father.

The detective narrowed his eyes at Sturm. "Our friend here intends to ram the lightship Aphrodite ashore at the pavilion during Jack Dark's magic performance."

Frank was astonished, and then horrified. "But...the ship will just beach itself, won't it? It can't hit the pavilion!"

"I rather doubt it. But under a full head of steam, it may come close. The beach is very narrow at that point. But it doesn't matter. The Aphrodite will get close enough. There are ten tons of high explosives lodged in her bow. They intend to detonate them by remote control."

The boys all gaped, and then they were all talking at once.

"You can't!" Frank roared angrily, taking a step forward.

"You'll never get away with this!" Joe yelled, bunching his fists.

"I rather think I will," Sturm replied, raising the muzzle of the machine gun at them. "No one is going to be looking for me." He motioned to the three thugs, who all waved their guns at the Dane's group and approached them.

Sturm eyed them again, looking less amicable now. "I wish for you to understand where you stand. I am too close to my goal now to allow any interference. For now, the four of you will remain alive. But if any of you attempt anything whatsoever to impede my operation, then all of you will die immediately. Am I understood?"

Frank was chilled to the core. Despite the anger he felt towards what Gunter Sturm had planned, a sense of helplessness now overcame him. One false move, and he would bring death to all of them.

The others must have felt the same way. They stood quietly, their eyes downcast, as their hands were tied behind their backs.

"Take them down," Sturm then instructed. "The boat will be waiting."

He smiled then, and looked at a watch on his wrist. "My, my. Less than an hour to curtain time. I must ready things. It won't do to give anything less than a sterling performance."

Frank gave the man a last baleful glare as the four of them were pushed into the hallway and led to the stairwell.

"Hold tight a second," Mike said there, and vanished into the room the gang had occupied earlier. The other two thugs continued to watch the boys and the detective, guns leveled, their eyes leaving no doubt about their intentions should someone make a wrong move.

Mike reappeared a moment later, grinning, and carrying a small cloth sack that jingled slightly as it swayed back and forth in his hand.

"Okay, let's go," he said, and urged the group downward.

The trip was made by flashlight, in silence, only the sounds of their footfalls for company. Frank's mind was in turmoil, trapped between a need to act and fear that anything he might do might bring about the deaths of them all. The others must have had similar fears, for they reached the bottom level of the stairs and were marched down the tunnel to the entrance. As they entered the little hollow before the sea, they heard voices.

"...lucky the tide is coming up. She only draws three-foot, but the water here is right shallow. Wouldn't want to bottom out just now. The boss would be upset."

"There they are," said another voice, as the captives and their guards emerged into the hollow.

Two scruffy-looking young men in fisherman's clothing stood there, pistols in-hand. "Hey, Mike," one of them said. "Got your hands full, I see."

Mike scowled. "Royal pain, this bunch has been. I'm gonna be happy as a clam to see 'em get theirs."

Frank stared at the two fisherman, again feeling a sense of recognition.

One of them noticed the stare. "What are you lookin' at?"

And then Frank had it. "You're the two that were in the green roadster at the service station!"

"How 'bout that?" the other fisherman said, laughing. "Small world, ain't it? You really surprised us when you mentioned Land's End. Thanks for the warning you were coming!"

Beyond the fishermen, a small fishing trawler with a tiny cabin at the rear rocked gently in the sea, her side kept from the rocky ledge by thick pads of sisal draped over the gunwales. The five thugs now combined their efforts to hoist the bound boys and the detective aboard, and then climbed aboard themselves. One of the fishermen cast off, while the other went to the small cabin and started a diesel engine. The boat gave a small jerk, and began to move away from the bluff.

Above them, the sky had gone to dusk. A quarter-moon was rising out to sea, and stars were appearing along the horizon. It was a beautiful, clear evening, and a jarring contrast to the drama that they were involved with just now.

Frank found he could not just sit still and watch as the little trawler moved out to sea.

"So," he said, gazing at Mike, "what happened to the crew of the lightship? You kill them, too?"

The man smiled at him. "They have a new home, locked in the forward hold."

"Aren't there some kinds of check-ins that lightships have to make each day?" Mr. Dane suddenly asked.

Mike looked over at the detective. "Ain't you the smart one?" He turned to squint out to sea. "We got a guy with our outfit that was radioman on a sub-chaser right off these shores in the war. He knows the routines, and he's been fillin' in for Aphrodite's regular radioman."

The thug called Shorty, with the nervous-sounding voice, nodded. "Piece of cake, Kelly said. These civvy outfits ain't nothin' like the navy." He grinned then. "Just relax. You boys can talk to the crew all you want when we get there."

"I don't think so," Mike said then.

Shorty looked at him. "The boss said to lock them in the hold with the others."

Mike nodded. "I know. But that ain't good enough for this bunch. I don't want them locked in down there, not able to know what's goin' on." He grinned nastily at Ben Dane. "I want this lunk to see it comin'."

Shorty shook his head. "That's not what the boss said --"

"I've got this," Mike said, sharply. "When you see what I got in mind, you'll see it's okay. Trust me."

Shorty and Jack looked worriedly at each other for a second; but then the one called Jack just shrugged. "No skin off my teeth how they get it. Just so's they do get it."

Shorty sighed, but nodded.

A set of lights before them soon resolved into the outline of a ship, and then it loomed ahead of them. The Aphrodite had been a small coastal freighter before being converted to a lightship, and was a sizable vessel, at about 1200 tons. The lighthouse that dominated the center of the hull towered a good forty feet above the deck, rising even above the forward superstructure holding the wheelhouse. As they slowed and drew alongside a gangway hanging along the hull to the waterline, Frank would just make out the designation WAL-571 painted in large red characters along the center of the hull.

The ship's engines seemed to be running, though of course the ship was not underway. She was moored at her station by four large mushroom anchors, the chains of which hung, two forward, two astern, from hawses above them. Frank was startled to see the chains moving slowly upward, to the accompaniment of a metallic sound, and suddenly gasped.

The ship was getting ready to get underway!

The fishing boat came neatly up to the gangway and coasted to a stop almost alongside. The fisherman still with them used a boat hook to draw them closer, tossing a sisal mat over the gunwale just before the side contacted the gangway.

"Up you go," Mike said, rising to his feet.

The boys and the detective were helped across to the gangway, and marched up to the deck of the ship. The thugs pushed them forward, and they found themselves at the base of a flight of stairs leading up to a raised deck in the forward superstructure.

"That way," Mike urged.

They climbed the steps, and were led around to the side of the superstructure, and urged through a door into the wheel house.

"This ain't what the boss said to do," Shorty complained again, looking upset.

Mike just glared at him. "I said I've got this. Now shut your trap."

The wheel house was roomy, with a radio room to the rear, and weather and current maps posted along the walls. A staircase led below deck, and several tall seats faced the large glass windows at the fore of the wheelhouse, affording a view of the ship's bow and the sea beyond.

It looked like a normally busy place where things got done, except now it was empty and silent save for the deep throb of the engines far below and the subtle grating sound of the anchor chains being drawn in.

Frank noticed then that the wheel was missing. In place of the great circle normally used to steer the vessel, a long, narrow piece of machinery squatted. It was encased in a thick steel housing that had been welded to the deck, and looked quite unmovable. The ship's E.O.T. - the engine order telegraph - normally used to send signals from the captain to the engine room regarding the ship's speed, was also absent.

Frank looked at his father. "What do you make of this?"

The elder Dane frowned. "Some kind of remote guidance device, would be my guess."

Mike laughed. "Gotta admit, you're a sharp one, fella. That's exactly what it is. The boss was in on some kind of hush-hush operation with the spy boys back in the war, which netted them a kraut e-boat that had been fixed up to be controlled from shore by radio." He pointed at the heavy machine. "You can thank the Kriegsmarine for that thing, there. Man, if they hadda gotten that thing going in the war, it woulda made things difficult for our navy boys."

"Dad," Joe said anxiously, "they're going to sit back and run this thing from afar. They're gonna run the ship right up on the beach and blow her up!"

Tony looked at Joe and gulped. "And I think we're going along for the ride."

"Another bright boy," Mike said, his eyes full of mirth. That he had the upper hand now was plain to him. And he was enjoying it, too.

The thug produced the bag he had brought along, pulled at the drawstring, and reached inside. When his hand came out, he was holding a pair of handcuffs!

"No more ropes for you," the thug said. "Shorty, bring the gumshoe over here by this hunka machinery."

Mr. Dane was thrust roughly forward to stand by the mysterious radio guidance machine. Mike came forward then, and opened the cuffs he held in his hand. The top of the machine had four large eye bolts - one at at each corner - by which it had presumably been lifted and moved about. The thug opened one wristlet, and snapped it through the eye bolt. The other he set on top of the machine. Then he reached into his pocket and produced his pistol, and aimed it squarely at Joe's head. "Okay, now untie the gumshoe. You --" he looked pointedly at Mr. Dane " -- make one wrong move, and you see what's gonna happen."

The detective simply nodded. Shorty and Jack stepped forward, and cut through the cords fastening Mr. Dane's hands behind him. Then Jack grabbed the free wristlet, put one of the detectives wrists inside, and snapped the wristlet closed.

"Keys in the bag," Mike directed at Shorty. "Double lock those cuffs, okay?"

After that had been accomplished, another set of cuffs was produced, and the detective's other hand cuffed to the eye bolt as well. Then, in turn, Frank, Joe, and Tony were each double cuffed to a different eye bolt at one of the corners of the heavy machine.

"There," Mike said now, grinning. "Comfy? Good view? That's great." He seemed very pleased with himself.

"You gotta real mean streak, Mike," Jack said, in his gravelly voice. "Remind me never to get on your bad side."

"Okay, I will." The deep-voiced thug looked over his handiwork, and nodded. Then he glanced at his watch. "The show will be startin' soon, gents. Time to go."

The thugs all filed out, and slammed the weather door behind them.

"Dad," Frank said softly, trying to overcome the despondent feeling settling over him. "We sent Chip to get Sheriff Kingsley. Maybe they'll be in time to stop this."

"We can't wait on that," the detective said, grinning. "Let's just wait a minute until we're sure they've left."

Frank's eyes bolted to his brother's, and both he and Joe grinned. "You have a plan?" Joe asked, sounding suddenly excited.

"In a minute," the elder Dane said, listening. "Be quiet just a moment, boys."

They all cocked their heads, concentrating.

Frank could just hear the footfalls of the men as they made their way back to the gangplank and descended to the fishing boat. There were some bangs and a small vibration, and a moment later the fishing boat came into view, heading for the shore.

At the same moment, the metallic grinding of the anchor chains drawing up suddenly ceased. The anchors had been raised! The ship was ready to go!

Mr. Dane picked up his right foot and settled it on the top edge of the machine, as if he were going to tie his shoe. Instead, he canted the shoe to one side, grasped the heel of it, and twisted sharply. There was a small click, and the heel turned outward!

"A good detective is prepared for every eventuality," Mr. Dane said then. "I just could not believe our good fortune when I saw that thug produce these handcuffs."

"What have you got there?" Frank asked, leaning forward as his father maneuvered his fingers into the heel.

The detective pulled something out, suddenly dropped his foot, and tapped the side of the heel against the casing of the machine, reseating it into position on the bottom of his shoe. Then he held up a tiny, gleaming object, and grinned. "Why, a master handcuff key, of course!"

An incredible elation, and not a small amount of admiration, washed over Ben Dane's oldest son. "Dad! You're wonderful!"

"Boy, is that some dandy thinking!" Joe said, grinning at Tony. His boyfriend grinned back, obviously thrilled at the turn of events.

Mr. Dane bent and maneuvered the key into the lock of the first wristlet, managed to turn it...and the wristlet popped free! In seconds he had the other one off, and was unlocking Frank's cuffs. Momentarily, all of them were free.

"How can we stop the ship?" Tony asked, voicing the question that all of them were thinking.

Mr. Dane examined the case of the machine they had been cuffed to. The metal was thick - too thick to break through with anything they had at their disposal. The ship surely had a machine shop, but where it was would take time to learn.

Instead the detective shook his head. "We cannot hope to stop the ship from here. Even if we somehow disabled her, I'd be willing to bet that Sturm would still detonate the explosives." He frowned. "The first thing we should do is see about letting the crew out of wherever they are locked up."

They descended the stairway to the next deck, and began calling out. Soon they heard a muffled reply, and a banging sound, and followed it to a large steel door set in a forward-facing bulkhead. The door's dogs had been thrown, and blocks of wood hammered under them to keep them in place. Joe located an emergency fire station and brought the axe that was hanging there, and soon they had knocked the wooden blocks out and were able to open the great door.

Six men stood there, looking wary. "Who are you?" the tall one out front said.

"Ben Dane and party," the detective answered, stepping forward. "Which of you is the captain?"

"I am master of this vessel," the tall man said. "Amos Dewey, at your service." He smiled then. "Ben Dane, the detective?"

Frank laughed, and Joe grinned. Only Mr. Dane shrugged off the comment. " Yes. But we haven't much time. This ship has been set to run by radio control. I want to know if we can stop that?"

"No," the captain said, glumly. "We were forced at gunpoint to assist them, so I know what was done to my ship. After they placed their nefarious machines in my engine room, the hatches were all welded shut. All the machine spaces have been isolated. It would take hours with a cutting torch to gain entry."

"How about the radio connection? Could we interrupt that somehow?"

Another man stepped forward. "That's my area. They are using some kind of low-frequency set-up. They welded the aerial directly to the hull. The entire ship is an antenna."

Ben Dane frowned. "Is that possible?"

"Yes. They would need to be operating from close by, though, and with a fairly powerful transmitting rig. They ran all their wiring down through the bulkhead chases and welded the access doors shut. Again, it would take hours to get to anything we could hope to use to interrupt their control." He shook his head. "I've never seen anything like the equipment these people have."

"Then we need to leave," the detective said immediately. "If nothing else, we can warn the people at the pavilion."

They hurried back up the steps. "Are there any lifeboats we can use?" the detective asked.

"Better than that," Captain Dewey said. "We've a motor launch we use to get back and forth to shore. If they haven't done something to her, that is."

"We didn't see anything like that at the gangway," Mr. Dane pointed out.

"We left the leeward gang open for the supply and mail packet," the captain said. "The launch is on the seaward side."

They hurried around to the side of the ship. The captain lead them aft, almost to the stern, to a place in the deck railing spanned by a chain stop. He bent over the railing and looked down, squinting into the darkness below, then popped his head up, grinning. "Still there, it seems."

Ben Dane shook his head. "Isn't that odd? I mean, if they intended to run the ship ashore, you'd think they would have wanted anything attached to her removed."

The captain shrugged. "I'd say they just missed the launch being there. They always came from shore, not from the sea. The little trawler they used to transport their machines here always came down the coast." He smiled. "Out of sight, out of mind."

They unfastened the chain guard, and descended the narrow gangway one by one to the launch.

"Take the tiller, Mr. Munson," the captain instructed, as they all found seats. "Release those lines," he instructed two other men, who hurried to comply. There was a brief grind of a starter, and an engine rumbled into life.

The captain looked at Ben Dane. "Are we making for the beach and the pavilion?"

But the detective seemed lost in thought. Everyone paused, watching him in silence, until he suddenly nodded to himself. "Make for the bluff. Drop me and the boys off, and then head straight for the pavilion and warn them to evacuate the beaches and the carnival grounds."

The captain nodded, and the launch set out around the stern of the ship.

"What are we doing, dad?" Frank asked.

The detective looked at him. "To run the ship by remote control, someone would need to be able to guide it." He waved a hand at the darkened sky." Not an easy thing to do at night, even with the ship's lights lit. So, how will they hit their mark? There must be some sort of radio guidance beam placed near the pavilion. Also, there will need to be a direct line-of-sight between the transmitter used to guide the ship, and the ship itself. I can think of only one place that would be perfect for that task." He pointed a finger at the bluff.

"The lighthouse!" Joe exclaimed, just before Frank said it himself. The two brothers exchanged a quick grin.

"But we were up there," Tony said. "We didn't see anything that looked like a transmitter."

"We didn't go through all those storage cabinets, either," Joe pointed out. "All of them were large enough to hide radio gear inside."

Behind them now, the lightship had faded to a dark outline laced with running lights, and topped by a red marker lamp atop her main mast.

Mr. Dane peered at his watch, the face of which glowed softly in the dark. "We're running out of time. It's just eight o'clock now. The magic show will be starting."

The beach ahead was awash in light from the hotel and the carnival area. They could see the rides turning, and the brighter area of light that was the great pavilion by the sea, surely even now packed with an excited audience awaiting the magical performance of Jack Dark. Frank felt a twisting sensation inside, imagining the havoc and death that ten tons of high explosive would unleash on the unsuspecting crowds. To come to such a storied place, expecting magic and wonder, and to be met with horror and oblivion instead...it was almost too much to consider. If Sturm were to be successful in his mission...Frank could not even imagine the consequences.

"We've got to hurry," he breathed, mostly to himself.

The launch made good headway, and soon brought them back to the base of the bluff.

"Have you a flashlight aboard?" Mr. Dane asked the captain of the Aphrodite.

"Yes, several." He reached quickly for the lid of a box built in by his seat. "Here. Take two." The captain's face looked drawn, even in the poor light. "And good luck." He was surely considering the destruction that his ship might wreak upon the crowded beach if it was not stopped.

The detective and the boys jumped over to the hollow, and waved as the launch headed off down the beach.

"Quickly, boys," Mr. Dane urged, "up the steps. But we've got to be as quiet as we can."

Frank looked about, but here was no sign of Chip or the police. Surely they had to be on their way!

Again, Frank felt the twisting sensation inside, a small fear arising that something might have happened to his best friend. That he loved Chipper he could not deny. Losing him would be a tragedy of another sort, and one that would surely break Frank's heart forever.

He swallowed hard, and steeled himself. Chipper was okay. He had to concentrate on what was to come.

The detective led the way as they entered the tunnel, and turned on his light. Joe had the other light, and turned it on as well. They made their way as rapidly and as quietly as they could down the lengths of tunnel and up the first four flights of steps, and then slowed and crept up the last flight of steps. They immediately heard voices, and crouched at the top of the staircase.

Frank cocked his head and strained to hear what was being said, but couldn't quite make it out. He could hear people moving around, and even what sounded like crates being dragged over the floor.

But then, a voice suddenly spoke up, close by, loud and clear. It sounded anxious and fearful, but strong with an underlying sense of purpose, and Frank would have recognized it even in his sleep.

"They must be here someplace, sheriff."

Chipper!

Frank bolted to his feet. "Chip!"

Mr. Dane also stood, as did the other boys.

Across from them stood Chip Morton, Sheriff Kingsley, and one of his deputies. Beyond them, down the hallway several more men were visible, appearing to be in the act of searching the level.

But all Frank could focus on was Chip. They ran together, laughing, and hugged each other, pounding each other on the back. It was all that Frank could do to keep from kissing his boyfriend, and he was relieved to see that Chip managed to take the same measure of self-control. As it was, they probably hugged too long, but anyone really paying attention would likely just see two best friends showing relief that each was safe and sound.

"By god, Jake, it's good to see you!" Mr. Dane said, stepping forward and grasping the sheriff's hand. "How long have you been here?"

The local lawman was all smiles. "About a half hour. I had my doubts at first when young Morton called me from the hotel, but his tone was so demanding and serious that I had to take notice. I rounded up and deputized some dependable men in the town, and placed a call to John Lewis and filled him in. He is supposed to be bringing some men up in a couple of those newfangled helicopters."

Mr. Dane nodded, looking around. "You surprised the men here?"

"Yes. There were only three of them. They're back here, in this first room."

Frank and Chip drew apart, smiling. "I'm so glad you're okay," Chip said softly, his eyes full of smiles.

Frank nodded. "Me, too, Chip. I was worried about you, too."

Mr. Dane moved off, following Sheriff Kingsley, and the boys joined the group.

Inside the first room, Mike, Shorty, and Jack were seated on the floor, their hands cuffed behind them, while a grim-faced deputy cradling a shotgun stood over them. At the sight of the Danes, all three men looked shocked...and then scared.

"The jig's up!" Shorty wailed. "We're caught!"

"Shut up!" Mike said viciously. "Don't say anything."

"That's right," Ben Dane said, nodding. "Stay silent. Protect your boss. Let him kill hundreds of innocent people." He bent down, and lowered his voice. "It will mean the electric chair for all three of you as aiders and abettors in the worst terror massacre in post-war history."

Even Mike gulped at that.

The detective smiled. "You three are already in so deep there's no turning back. The only thing you can do now is to try to mitigate your circumstances by helping to stop this crime."

The three thugs looked at each other, and nodded.

Mike seemed to decide that he would be the spokesman for the group. "You'll speak up for us if I help you?"

"I'll do what I can, yes," Ben Dane replied.

Mike winced, but nodded. "What do you want to know?"

"First of all, where is my thirty-eight?"

"Drawer of the table," the thug said.

The detective went to the indicated door, retrieved his snub-nosed revolver, and checked that the cylinder was full. He stuffed the weapon into his shoulder holster, then straightened, and turned back to Mike. "Is Gunter Sturm running the ship from the lighthouse?"

"Yeah."

"Is he alone?"

Mike shrugged. "I dunno. Even Gunter reported to someone. We never met the guy, though." He lowered his eyes.

Ben Dane looked grim. "You have a suspicion who it is?"

Mike nodded. "Joseph, the lighthouse caretaker."

"And why do you suspect him?"

Mike raised his eyes again. "Aw, come on. All that stuff going on at the lighthouse? They would fire up the light to let the lightship know they were starting a test on the radio gear. Guys were going in and out of the lighthouse all the time, carrying gear, wiring up the stuff; how could Joseph not see that? It has to be him."

"How about Jack Dark?" Frank had to ask.

The thug made a derisive sound. "That guy? He's at the pavilion now, ready to be blown up with the rest of them. He'd be pretty stupid to let that happen if he knew what was up, huh?"

For the moment, Frank had to agree. Yet something still bothered him about the magician...but he just couldn't put a finger on it.

"How can we get upstairs?" Sheriff Kingsley asked. "We've been all over this level, and there doesn't seem to be a way up."

Mike frowned, and remained silent.

"You tell him, Mike, or I will!" Jack suddenly said, his gravelly voice edged with fear now.

Mike grimaced, then nodded. He turned his head and looked at the back wall of the room, which was constructed of floor-to ceiling panels of wood, each about three feet wide, with vertical strips of wood between them. "Go to the panel second from the right and push on it."

Sheriff Kingsley blinked, but moved immediately to the panel in question. He eyed it up and down a moment, then extended a hand, laid it palm-down on the surface, and pushed.

Nothing happened.

"Give it some juice!" Shorty called then, sounding hoarse and afraid.

The sheriff leaned a shoulder against the panel and pushed. There was a squeak of protest from hidden hinges, and the panel moved backwards into the wall.

"A door!" Joe said in wonder. "A hidden door!"

The sheriff leaned harder and pushed the door inward. Beyond the door was a lighted room, at the center of which was a spiral staircase, which disappeared into the hard rock ceiling above.

The way up!

The lawman looked back at the three on the floor. "Where does this go?"

Mike sighed. "It takes you to a sub-basement under the lighthouse. There's a tunnel that runs over to the basement of the mansion, and a small staircase that goes up into the cellar of the lighthouse. That's the one you want."

"Better watch yourselves," Jack spoke up then. "That guy Gunter ain't no one you wanna play with. And he's got that Tommy gun with him, too."

"We have one, also," the sheriff said. He turned to the deputy with the shotgun. "Go get that machine gun from Ralph." Kingsley then drew his pistol and leveled it at the men on the floor. "Stay still, gentleman."

The deputy was gone and back in a flash, this time toting a big Thompson sub-machine gun, it's dark pancake magazine giving it a truly menacing appearance. Frank was reminded of all the times he had seen the weapon in action in the movies, and determined that it was not something to joke around with. The sheriff and his men meant business, no doubt about that.

"You boys stay here," Sheriff Kingsley said, nodding at the teens. "Come on, Ben. You come with Will and me." The deputy with the Thompson nodded, and stepped forward.

Frank and Joe both gaped at the sudden turn of events. Ben Dane looked at his sons in sympathy, and then sighed. "Jake, the boys have earned a right to be in on the end of this. Without them, hundreds of people would have certainly died."

The sheriff's eyes widened, and he grimaced. "Ben...if anything happens to even a one of them, it will mean my badge. Not to mention me being unable to live with myself."

"They'll stay to the rear," the detective said. "Believe me, Jake, when I say that I do not want my sons or their friends in danger, either." He looked at the boys, at the expressions on their faces. "But they have earned this, okay?"

The sheriff surveyed the boy's anxious faces, and slowly nodded. "Okay. Someone starts anything...anything at all, you boys go back, you hear me?"

Frank and the others nodded, looking relieved. To miss out on the end of this case would be awful!

The sheriff started up the steps, followed by the deputy with the machine gun, and then Mr. Dane, and then the boys. Frank led the way behind his father, with Joe a close second, and the other two boys last. Frank knew there was danger here, and briefly wished that Chip and Tony were staying behind; but they, too, had earned a right to be here.

The staircase wound slowly upward through the rock, with small lights at regular intervals, attached to a conduit that led downwards from above. Far above them, maybe a hundred feet or more, they could see a faint circle of light that marked the top of the stairs. Frank marveled at the amazing engineering of this route through the rock of the bluff to the sea below, and wondered at what had been in the mind of Otto Sturm when he had created it. Surely not as an escape route. What use could the man have envisioned for such a herculean construction?

He whispered the same question to his father.

The detective made a slight amused sound. "I'm not sure that Sturm built this, Frank. I suspect that whoever created this tunnel complex was doing more than fishing. We'll talk about it later, okay?"

More than fishing! Frank's thoughts turned in new directions, now considering the possibilities of smuggling and piracy.

But there was no time for more thought on the subject.

They slowed as they neared the top of the stairs, setting their feet as quietly as possible on the steel steps, and as they arrived at their destination, Sheriff Kingsley waved a hand for those below to stop. The lawman carefully mounted another couple of steps, and then just as carefully stuck his head up and looked slowly around the room above.

"It's clear," he whispered, motioning them for the others to follow him up.

They emerged into an obvious basement, with walls of stone all about. In one wall was a large door, that somehow looked much newer than the surroundings.

"That must go off to the mansion," Ben Dane said quietly. He turned to look at Sheriff Kingsley. "I'm thinking now the lighthouse tunnel predates the construction of the mansion by some years. If that is the case, then Otto Sturm simply took advantage of what was already beneath the lighthouse when he purchased this property."

"You think he was a smuggler?" Joe whispered.

The detective smiled. "I can't answer that. But it certainly seems that whoever originally constructed these subterranean works had more than just getting back and forth to the beach in mind."

Sheriff Kingsley held a finger to his lips for silence, and pointed to another staircase in the corner of the room, that went up seven steps to a landing, turned at forty-five degrees, and continued up through the wooden floor above them.

Ben Dane nodded, and they approached the other stairs and mounted them carefully. At the top was a wooden door, from beyond which only arrived silence. Sheriff Kingsley licked his lips, grasped the knob, turned it, and edged the door inwards. He peered around the edge, opened it further, and then stuck his head quickly through the gap for a better look.

Then he was pulling back and opening the door wide.

Beyond was what looked like a kitchen. A wide gas stove underneath a bronze-colored hood occupied a space between countertops, and an icebox and a small table were off to one side. They emerged, still stepping carefully, and Ben Dane withdrew his pistol and held it at the ready. "Stay behind us, "he whispered to the boys.

The went around through an arched doorway and entered a small dining room...and stopped.

Two of the chairs at the table were pulled out. Bound tightly to them, gags stuffed into their mouths, sat Joseph and Sophie. Their eyes grew large as the party entered, and stood in a semi-circle before them.

"Who did this?" Ben Dane asked.

Joseph raised his shoulders, confusion plainly visible on what could be seen of his face. Sophie looked to be in shock, her eyes slightly glazed. She turned to her husband, who gave her an encouraging look.

"Should I cut 'em loose, Ben?" Kingsley asked.

The detective frowned. "Not just yet. They seem safe enough here, and until we know who is who, I don't want them running loose." He bent down and looked into Joseph's face. "You understand? Both of you relax. We'll be back shortly to release you."

Joseph obviously swallowed hard, but nodded.

"Are they in the lighthouse?" the detective asked then.

Joseph nodded.

"How many? Do you know?"

Again, the groundskeeper nodded. He blinked his eyes two times.

"Two?" the detective inquired.

Joseph nodded.

Frank felt a thrill of excitement. Two men! Gunter Sturm, certainly, was one. Could the other one be the mysterious boss of this outfit?

Ben Dane put out a hand and gave Joseph's shoulder a comforting squeeze. "You and your wife will be fine."

They left the groundskeeper and his wife, and circled around to the other side of the house. A doorway there led into the base of the lighthouse tower.

Again, the sheriff eased it open, and peered through the crack. He gazed upwards, opened the door further, and stepped through.

There were crates and other items stowed about the lower walls; but the interior of the tower was essentially open. A wide staircase, hugging the outer wall, spiraled upwards to a second floor. Frank knew, having visited the lighthouse before, that there were four floors going up the steps, with the lantern room occupying a fifth level.

Sheriff Kingsley again motioned for silence, and started up the steps. They reached the first floor, and found it clear. The next several floors were also clear. Finally, they reached the fourth floor, and looked up the steps at the last level. They could hear voices now, talking quietly, but could not make out what was being said.

Nearby was a window, and Frank took a step over to it to look out. He could see the beach and the carnival. People still milled all about, although they did seem to be leaving the grounds.

Out to sea, nearing the shore, he could see the lights of the Aphrodite, her topmost red beacon blinking as if in warning. Mr. Dane came over to stand beside him, and also looked out.

Clearly, the crowds were not going to reach safety before the big vessel rammed herself up onto the beach. Mr. Dane gave a pained look, and turned his head to look up the steps again.

Then he approached the deputy holding the machine gun, and extended his hands. The deputy looked at Sheriff Kingsley, who nodded, and then the gun was handed over.

The bolt on the weapon was already pulled back. The detective carefully thumbed off the safety, gave a little sigh, and then began to walk about, looking upwards at the wooden floor above them. Occasional creaks floated down to them as the two men moved about above them, and it was suddenly clear to Frank what his father intended.

They could not risk the ship reaching the beach and being detonated. The number of lives to be lost was just too much to wager. The two men above had to be stopped now.

Ben Dane stopped moving, and pointed the muzzle of the Thompson at the floor above them. Then he closed his eyes, listening.

Frank could scarcely take a breath. His heart was racing, and small, anxious tremors passed through his legs. The other boys also seemed to be totally consumed by the events now transpiring.

There was another creak from just above them, and suddenly the Thompson roared in the detective's hands. The boys danced back as splinters of wood rained down about them, and Frank could see light appearing through the ruptures in the wood above. An awful wail echoed down the stairs, and then came the heavy thumps of two bodies hitting the floor.

Sheriff Kingsley hefted his pistol, and he and the deputy raced up the steps to the lantern room. Mr. Dane charged after them, and the boys followed.

Near the top of the steps lay the body of a man they had never seen before. He was Ben Dane's age, maybe, with sandy hair, and there was no doubt that he was dead.

Several feet away, near a table upon which had been piled some strange looking devices, some of which resembled radio gear, lay Gunter Sturm. His eyes were open, and he turned his head to look at them. But that he, too, was on his way out, was apparent. The front of his shirt was drenched in blood, and his hands moved feebly against the pockmarked floorboards.

He spied Ben Dane and the boys, and a slow smile spread over his features. "Why am I not surprised?" he breathed.

The detective squatted next to the man, anguish apparent on his features. "I'm sorry. We couldn't take a chance that you would explode the ship."

Sturm smiled, and nodded, and his eyes rolled upwards. His eyelids sank down, and he gave a small breath. "Es tut mir leid, vater."

His chest heaved once, and then was still. Ben Dane stood erect, and handed the Thompson back to the deputy.

Frank and Joe moved to their father's side, and each gripped an arm. They knew how much the man valued life, and how much it had cost him to take two of them. The detective smiled sadly, and raised his arms, and took a son under each, and squeezed them too him.

"Is it over?" Chip asked, coming to stand by Frank.

Frank nodded. "Almost."

They turned to look out one of the large widows, to where crowds still streamed forth from the carnival area. Offshore, the Aphrodite was still approaching.

Ben Dane released his sons, and moved over to look at the console on the table top. It was covered with levers and switches and small red and green lights, and Frank could see now that they were all labeled in German. One large lever was currently pushed all the way forward, to a label that read Vorwärts. The detective gripped it, and pulled it back to the middle position, labeled Halt.

Offshore, the Aphrodite seemed to nose down into the water a bit, still moving forward, but had obviously slowed in its mad plunge towards the beach.

There was another switch near the motor control, a large red pushbutton markedDetonieren. Ben Dane pointed at it. "If Sturm had reached that one, it would have set off the explosives aboard the ship."

The detective walked around the console and examined the wiring. He found what was obviously a power cable, and pulled it from its socket. The lights on the console winked, and went out.

"I know you speak German, dad," Frank said then. "What did Sturm say...right at the end?"

Ben Dane nodded, and put an arm around his eldest son. The other boys came closer to hear the answer.

The detective turned his head to look at the body crumpled on the floor. "He said, 'I'm sorry, father'."

A sound reached them then, a steady throbbing that cut through the air, and began to rise in volume. Frank turned, and could see lights in the sky.

"Are those the state police helicopters?" Joe asked, giving a little huff of wonder.

"I'm sure they are," the detective said, nodding. "Better late than never, huh?"

Frank smiled, gave his dad another hug, and the boys followed the detective back down the stairs.


There was more order outside the hotel than any of them expected. The crowds moved slowly, now that the red alert had been downgraded.

Ben Dane released Joseph and Sophie. It was then that he revealed that the caretaker and his wife both were almost totally deaf, yet managed to largely conceal the fact because they could both read lips. Apparently, Mr. Crandon, the hotel manager, had passed on this fact to the detective, who had decided to keep it to himself until he was certain that the caretaker and his wife were not in some way involved.

After releasing Joseph and Sophie and making their way back down through the bluff, the Danes and their party crossed the beach rapidly to the hotel building. The state police had arrived, and were adding their efforts to those of the local sheriff's department to help keep order.

Aphrodite, continuing ahead under her previous impetus, had quietly run herself onto the beach and stopped. Her crew had already boarded her with a work party, and were even then cutting into her machine spaces in order to regain control of the ship.

Captain John Lewis of the state police had set up headquarters in the hotel lobby. More troopers had arrived by car, and Land's End bustled with activity as visitors were interviewed and then allowed to leave. Mr. Crandon, the hotel manager, had met with the town elders, and everyone was cooperating in the investigation.

The boys had been given seats in the lobby and asked to wait, while Mr. Dane went into the manager's office for a meeting with Captain Lewis and Sheriff Kingsley. The boys were brought a meal by the same young man that had manned the sandwich counter the other night, who gazed about with obvious interest at everything that was going on.

"Place is really hopping, huh, fellows?" he asked, distributing hot sandwiches and coffee to the boys. None of the boys normally drank the bitter mix; but all of them felt the need for a boost, and downed the warm drink gladly.

Frank nodded. "Yeah, it is. I hope it won't kill off business completely."

"Nah!" The counter lad grinned. "Are you kidding? Once it gets out to the papers what happened here, people will be swarming the place to look things over. Nothing's more exciting than something awful that almost happened!"

Frank grinned at the sagacity of the idea. "Pretty smart, aren't you?"

"Nope. Just kind of obvious, don't you think? Like a train wreck where no one got hurt? People want to see the damage."

Joe laughed. "Is there any damage?"

"No. People don't know that, though. They'll put a few pictures in the papers of the lightship sitting on the beach, and people will come for that, if nothing else."

Frank tipped the counterboy for bringing them the food, and watched with a wan smile as the lad headed back to the kitchen.

Chip nudged him then, causing Frank to start. "I know what you're thinking," the other boy said.

Frank looked over at Chip, and smiled. "I'm thinking I wouldn't trade what I am lucky enough to have for anything else."

Chip beamed, and leaned a little closer. "Well, you cover really well, I'll admit that."

They laughed together, and resumed eating. They were hungry from their efforts, and soon had finished eating and had sat back to watch the people milling about them.

A familiar figure strode into the room then, and crossed to the hotel manager's office. He rapped upon the door, which opened, but the man was not admitted.

Jack Dark.

Frank gave Joe a small nudge, and they both turned to watch the man as he paced back and forth outside the door, obviously fretting over something.

There was something so familiar about the way the magician moved that it bothered Frank right down to his core. That, and the annoying sensation that he had seen the man since their initial meeting after being invited to the mansion.

And then, just out of the blue, he had it. Jack Dark seemed so familiar because he looked like someone else that the Danes had had cause to interact with lately.

He looked enough like Gunter Sturm that the two could be brothers.

"Joe," he began, giving his brother a small nudge. "Do you see...?"

"Yeah," Joe said, interrupting. He looked at Frank. "Do you think...?"

Frank nodded. "Yes, I do. Take away the mustache, and they'd really look alike."

Tony leaned into Joe. "He looks like that guy Sturm."

Chip gripped Frank's arm. "The other brother?"

Joe nodded. "We're thinking the same thing. "Joe suddenly tensed. "Shh! No one say anything, okay?"

The magician had seen them sitting there, and was striding over. He smiled, looking just as friendly as he had the day they had visited him in his mansion.

"Well, hello, boys! So nice to see you again!"

Frank nodded, and forced a smile he hoped looked ingenuous. "Mr. Dark. Glad to see you are okay. Close call, huh?"

The magician scanned the boy's faces, nodding. "I still don't know exactly what is going on. I just know that I tried to go to my house, and was directed back here. The place is swarming with police!"

Joe nodded. "Someone tried to ram a ship ashore by the pavilion and blow it up."

Jack Dark paled. "Who would do such a thing?"

"A man named Gunter Sturm," Frank said casually. "The son of Otto Sturm."

A look of genuine amazement crossed the magician's face. "No! Not...why, the son of the man who once owned the mansion? Just like we were talking about! I don't believe it."

"It's true," Frank returned.

Jack shook his head. "He was captured?"

"No," Frank said, watching the man closely. "Unfortunately, he was killed."

The briefest of emotions crossed the magician's face, but he immediately regrouped. "Astonishing. Unbelievable."

"Were you trying to see my dad?" Frank asked.

"Yes," Jack said. "Or someone in charge. I need to get into my house."

"Going somewhere?" Joe asked, interestedly.

Jack squinted at Joe a moment. "Well, I've been told that the carnival will be closed for a time. I still need to eat. I can get one of my old New York City gigs back until the pavilion reopens."

"I could go and see if I could get my dad for you," Frank said helpfully. He rose, smiling.

The magician watched him a moment, and then stuck a hand into the jacket pocket of his coat. "Sit down," he said, quietly.

"But I thought you wanted my dad?" Frank said, taking a step forward.

Jack Dark sighed, and shook his head. "There are an awful lot of people about. I could probably shoot five or six of them before someone got me."

Frank licked his lips and sat down again. "What?"

The magician surveyed all four boys, and nodded. "You heard me." He watched them a moment longer. "I've spent my life practicing misdirection, boys. So I certainly know it when I see it."

Frank stared at the man. "How did you plan to get away? You were going to be right there onstage, even as Aphrodite came ashore."

"Not exactly," Jack said, smiling. "The very same illusion I previously used to show the ship approaching was going to display a likeness of me instead. This time, the approach of the ship would be real. The house lights were to be just a little lower tonight to ensure that the deception was not discovered before the, um, shattering denouement of my performance."

"You were safely away," Joe said flatly. "To leave all of those people to be killed."

"Yes. Sad, isn't it?"

Frank shook his head. "You're a monster."

The magician looked mildly offended. "Not at all. I am a man who has been wronged, and who seeks justice." He leaned forward, a hint of anger behind his eyes now. "I was very small when my family was forced to flee. All I remember of that night was the coldest fear I have ever known in my life. That fear has never totally left me. It pursues me in my sleep at night, and it haunts my every day. I was a child victimized by a crime, one perpetrated by the government of this nation." He nodded. "I will have a reckoning."

"You've been stopped," Frank said bluntly.

Jack Dark chuckled. "Magic never sleeps, young fellow. It never goes away. It returns, always, just as I will return."

Frank stared, suddenly feeling that he was talking to someone who was not quite sane.

His expression must have registered with the magician. Jack Dark smiled. "Scared?"

"Should we be?" Joe asked.

"Oh, yes. You should be. I won't make the comparison to a cornered animal, for obvious reasons. But the danger level here is comparable."

"Cornered rat, you mean," Joe couldn't help saying.

Jack Dark canted his head at them. "Everything in life is a matter of perspective, boys. What you see as an evil deed, I see as justice."

"Your family was wronged," Frank agreed. "But this doesn't make things even. Killing innocent people is never an answer."

"Again, it's a matter of perspective. It most often takes something supremely dramatic to bring injustice to light, boys. I and thousands of others are owed something by this country. I intend to collect my share."

"It's over," Frank said. "The ship was stopped, the transmitter that would set off the explosives has been destroyed." He nodded. "And your brother was killed. Isn't that enough for you?"

For the first time, the magician showed some real emotion. His face clouded in anger, and a genuinely dangerous look appeared in his eyes. "You Danes have ruined everything. All my plans destroyed, by one private eye and a bunch of snooping kids. Incredible." He leaned forward, and something within the pocket of his jacket pressed insistently against the cloth. "Get up, you four. We're going."

Frank nodded, and he and the other boys stood up.

"One wrong move, and it's over, understand?" The magician's voice sounded hard.

For a moment, the whole world seemed to slow, to become unreal to Frank. He looked at the magician's face, saw the anger and determination there. The hate. And then something shifted, and Frank's eyes moved over to the door to the hotel manager's office just as it opened. Ben Dane and Sheriff Kingsley emerged, followed by the uniformed form of John Lewis.

The detective looked over at his sons then, and spied the magician just as he turned his head to see what the boys were staring at.

For a frozen moment nothing happened. And then Ben Dane's hand was flying to the inside of his jacket.

Jack Dark's arm moved, and the ugly shape of an automatic pistol started to emerge from his pocket. Frank came out of his freeze then and moved, using both hands to grab at the magician's pocket, momentarily trapping the pistol in the folds of fabric.

There was a roar, and something hot seemed to flash by in front of Frank's eyes. Jack Dark spun away from him, and crashed to the carpet. Frank blinked; and then he and Joe were piling on top of the magician, holding his arm down as he struggled to get his gun free.

The man was amazingly strong, and it took both boys to hold onto him. There was a tearing sound, and the pocket of the magician's coat tore, releasing its grip on the pistol. The man's arm swung out, and Frank jumped on it with all of his weight and pinned the weapon to the floor.

And then Chip and Tony were there beside them, and the battle was over. The four boys held the magician down even as the law closed in.

Mr. Dane rushed up and stepped on Jack Dark's hand, and reached down and took the pistol from it. "Johann Sturm, I place you under arrest!"

Sheriff Kingsley and John Lewis arrived, and several other uniformed troopers. Jack Dark was hauled to his feet, his arms yanked behind him, and cuffs unceremoniously snapped upon his wrists.

"Don't leave him alone for a second," Mr. Dane advised, as the magician was hauled off. "This guy can probably get out of handcuffs quicker than you put him in them."

John Lewis nodded, and followed his men as they marched the magician away.

Mr. Dane turned to his sons and their friends. "Are you boys okay?"

Everyone nodded, and the detective grinned. "I'm proud of all of you."

"Dad!" Joe said then. "You knew that Jack Dark was the other Sturm brother?"

The man laughed. "I was struck by how similar they looked the moment I met Gunter Sturm. It was not hard at all after that."

"It was nagging at me, too" Frank admitted then. "I think the mustache and the slick hair threw me a little."

"Yeah," Joe said. "Plus, I liked Mr. Dark," he added sadly. "He sure was a heck of magician."

Mr. Dane's smile slipped, and he nodded. "He was a wonderful showman, despite his sinister dealings. There won't be another like him anytime soon, that's for sure."

Frank brightened. "At least he didn't meet his end, like his brother. What's next, dad?"

Mr. Dane shook his head. "I'm going to be busy for a bit. I want the four of you to go up to your rooms, get cleaned up, and relax a little. You've certainly earned it!"

The boys agreed, and parted company with the detective, who promised to look in on them later.

They took the elevator to their floor, and Joe and Tony went to their room, while Frank and Chip went to theirs.

Frank closed and locked the door, and then took his boyfriend into his arms. "How was that for an exciting vacation?"

Chip smiled, and nuzzled Frank gently. "You sure know how to sweep a guy off his feet, Frank Dane!"

Frank laughed, pulling the other boy close and kissing him. "Well, now you know what it's like to go on a case. What did you think?"

Chip smiled, and leaned his forehead against Frank's. "I think I can't wait for the next one."

Frank laughed, and kissed his boyfriend again. And that was only the first reward to come his way that night.


Ayaan Prasad stood behind the curtain and listened as his daughter, Kani, gave yet another fortune. This one was a mix, inspired by observation as much as by the flighty presence of Manta. The spirit had not been very dependable since leaving the great carnival at Land's End, and Ayaan and his daughter had been struggling to make ends meet at the small carnival outside of Altoona, Pennsylvania. The locals were a rustic lot, not particularly gullible, not particularly friendly. Not that they needed to be so, when most of the fortunes that Kani gave were genuine looks into the beyond.

But...westerners were a thick lot. They tended to discount anything that did not unfold directly beneath their eyes. Sometimes, Ayaan wished that he and Kani had never left Bihar.

The girl finished, and the two unbelieving customers left the tent.

"That will probably be the last this evening," the man said, stepping out from the rear flap.

Kani nodded. "It is almost time for the carnival to close. I am hungry, father. Can we go to eat?"

"Yes. Let me bring in the sign, and we will go."

Ayaan went out the front flap of the tent and took the big sign that advertised Kani's gift, and folded it to bring inside the tent. At that moment he spied a man coming towards him, and recognized him to be Garth Holder, Mr. Denton's - the carnival owner's - assistant. The man was cynical and humorless, but he did take care of those that worked for the carnival, treating even the newest performers as old family.

"Hi, Ayaan," the man said, drawing to a stop. "Got a piece of mail for you."

Ayaan stared in shock. Mail? How could this be? No one knew his whereabouts. He and Kani were alone in this land.

"Here ya go," Garth said, handing over the letter. "Feels like somethin's in it."

Ayaan took the letter and gave his thanks. Garth nodded, looked back at the rest of the mail he was carrying, and grinned. "Ouch. Another one for Komar the Great. Those bill collector's never give up, ya know?" And with that, he hurried off.

The big man stood still, staring at the letter in his hand. It was indeed addressed to him. There was no return address, either. And when he shook the envelope, he could feel a small weight shift inside.

Turning, he went back inside the tent. Kani looked at him, and asked what he had in his hand.

"A letter," the man said, still not quite able to believe it.

His daughter came closer, looking. "Well, father, are you not going to open it?"

Ayaan nodded. He upended the envelope, and carefully tore the end off of it. He could feel the small weight at the bottom end of the envelope, and so carefully turned the envelope the other way and poured the small weight into his hand.

A gleaming piece of metal arrived in his palm, and Ayaan's eyes opened in amazement.

"It is your medal!" Kani said, delight filling her voice. "The one you lost at Land's End!"

Ayaan nodded. It was so. In his hand was the small acknowledgement of his brief bond with the British in the great fight against the sons of Nippon. The medal was one of the few keepsakes that Ayaan had ever owned, and realizing it was lost had nearly brought tears to his eyes after their flight from Land's End. He had never expected to see the small treasure again - and yet, here it was.

"Who could have done this?" he wondered aloud, his eyes still fastened to the gleaming thing in his palm.

"Is there a letter?" Kani asked.

Ayaan blew into the end of the envelope, and spied a folded piece of paper within. He pulled it out, shook it open.

In a smooth flowing hand, was a single line of writing:

Not all westerners are unbelievers. Best of luck.

That was all.

Ayaan closed his eyes, for a moment remembering the four young men who had visited them at the tent, and whose talk of the police had inspired Ayaan and his daughter to leave Land's End. What had he said to them?

"You in the west think you know everything of the world. You do not."

Yes, it felt right. It had to have been them.

"Is there a name there, father?" Kani asked.

The man smiled. "No. No, but there does not need to be." He reached out and laid his fingers against his daughter's cheek. "Are you hungry?"

"Yes."

"Then, let us be off."

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