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Authors: Franklin W. Dixon

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BOOK: The Dead Season
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***

The Hardys took his advice. Soon after their meeting with Tyler and Brady Jamison, they were stretched out on the white sandy beach, lazing beneath the warm sun. Huge blue waves folded over on themselves and slid up on the sand to keep them company.

Late in the afternoon Callie joined them. Finally at sunset they strolled back to the hotel to eat too much of Gary and Janet's special supper.

Afterward they sat on the huge porch enjoying the cool night air. Lulled by the gentle sounds of the ocean, they went to bed early.

Joe had trouble sleeping. He'd spent too much time dozing on the beach to need more sleep.

For a long time he lay in bed tossing and turning. No matter what he did, he couldn't sleep.

"This is ridiculous," he mumbled to himself.

Around midnight he decided to get some fresh air. A walk on the beach might make him drowsy, he decided.

Joe got out of bed, pulled on his jeans and a shirt, and was about to leave his room when something out the window caught his eye.

Down the hill he spotted someone walking on the beach.

Joe went to the open window and looked at the distant figure lit by the moon.

"This can't be," he whispered.

It was Millicent Reed.

Chapter 4

It couldn't be Millicent Reed, but it was.

Joe had to get to the beach. He had to convince himself one way or another. He had to put this ghost business to rest.

Glancing at the door, he decided there wasn't time for the stairs, so he took the direct route.

Joe crawled out the window and scrambled down a vine that reached from his window to the ground, then ran down the hill to the beach.

He calculated that from the time he first spotted Millicent Reed to the time he reached the beach was no more than two minutes, but by the time he got there she was gone. He found the place where he had seen her and looked for footprints, but the tide was coming in now. Even if she had been there, her footprints would have been washed away.

He asked himself why he had thought "even if." There had to have been someone. He did see someone, and he knew there was no such thing as ghosts.

To be certain, Joe walked up and down the beach, but in the dim moonlight he found no clues and no place where she could have hidden. He finally decided to resume his search in the morning, so he headed back to the hotel and his bed.

***

Frank and Callie were already at breakfast the next morning when Joe arrived.

"Well, little brother," teased Frank. "Never knew you to be a sleepy-head. I guess the sea air agrees with you."

"Nope," Joe said. "I wish it did put me to sleep. Then I wouldn't have been up all night chasing Millicent Reed."

"What?" Callie exclaimed.

"Start at the beginning," Frank said in a quiet voice.

Between bites of scrambled egg and toast, Joe told his story about seeing the woman - Millicent Reed - on the beach. He recounted his fruitless midnight chase.

"But where could she have gone?" asked Callie.

"The tide washed any footprints away," guessed Frank.

"That's what I figured," Joe agreed. "Unless, of course - "

"Of course what?"

"Unless I saw a ghost."

"A ghost!" scoffed Frank. "Come on."

"I hate to say it, but it seemed so real," said Joe.

"But who would want to play a prank like that?" asked Callie.

"That," said Frank, "is something we have to find out. Listen, Joe. You go back to the beach this morning and see what you can find. Callie and I'll check out the rest of the grounds. Let's hope we can wrap this up by lunchtime and then start to relax."

"Sounds good to me," said Joe.

"Okay, then," said Frank. "Callie, let's go."

After they left, Joe quickly finished eating his breakfast and returned to the beach to try to retrace his steps of the night before. Even in the bright Caribbean sunlight he could see nothing that even vaguely resembled a clue. Still, he told himself as he slowly wandered along the edge of the water, there were worse places to carry out an investigation.

Perhaps a quarter mile down the beach he spotted a solitary figure sitting on a beach chair in front of a painter's easel. Even from a distance he could tell that it was Allistair Gaines.

As Joe approached it struck him that Gaines had been curiously absent when they'd found the snake in Callie's room.

"Haven't seen much of you around the hotel," said Joe, approaching the elderly man.

"True, true," said Gaines without looking away from his painting. "Stay to myself pretty much. Pretty much to myself. Always been that way. Always."

Joe thought a moment before saying, "Do you ever hear piano playing in the middle of the night?"

"Of course," said Gaines, still concentrating on his work. "Hear it all the time."

"You do?" Joe was incredulous. "Any idea who's playing?"

"I got more than ideas, son," said Gaines, looking at Joe for the first time. "I know perfectly well who it is."

"Who?"

"Wiley, of course." Gaines looked back to his painting.

"How do you know it's him?" Joe asked.

"Millicent told me."

Joe wasn't sure whether to pursue this or just let it go. Allistair Gaines was clearly of no help to him.

"By any chance, were you on the beach last night, say around midnight?" asked Joe.

"Sound asleep," said Gaines. "Sound asleep. Man needs his rest. Why? Did you see Millicent?"

"How did you know?" Joe asked.

Gaines just smiled and tilted his head.

"Well," said Joe, "when did you see Millicent?"

"See her all the time, son, all the time," said the old man, with a trace of annoyance in his voice now. "She often comes out at night to stroll on the beach. Once in a while you'll see her during the day. Mostly at night, though. Mostly at night."

"I don't want to seem rude, Mr. Gaines," Joe began, sensing the man was running out of patience, "but hasn't Millicent Reed been dead for many years?"

Gaines let his brush fall away from the canvas but continued to gaze at his painting. In a hoarse, quiet voice he said, "Of course."

"Then - "

"Then who does a crazy old man think he's talking to?"

Joe didn't say anything.

"I'll tell you, I never believed in ghosts till I came back to this hotel, but that's Millicent I saw, sure as I'm sitting here."

Joe said, "When did you see her last?"

"Maybe five minutes ago."

"Five minutes!" said Joe. "Where?"

"Here," said Gaines with a dismissive wave of his hand. He picked up his brush, dipped it carefully into a splotch of white on his palette, and resumed his work.

"Which way did she go?" asked Joe.

Gaines nodded with his head to indicate farther along the beach. "Thanks!" Joe called out as he started in that direction.

He found footprints about fifty feet from where Gaines was sitting. They formed a line along the edge of the water that was interrupted in a few places where the waves had erased it.

Joe walked faster now; he didn't want to lose the trail.

He needn't have worried.

Perhaps a hundred yards ahead he could see where the footprints stopped. There, apparently asleep on a blanket, a woman was sunbathing.

Joe's heart raced inexplicably as he hurried to where she lay.

What if it really is Millicent? he asked himself. But, of course, it isn't, he thought. There's no such thing as a ghost, especially on a beach in broad daylight.

"Hello," he said when he came within earshot of the woman, but she didn't respond. He moved closer.

She seemed to be about eighteen, and Joe could see at once why Allistair Gaines or anyone would believe that she was Millicent Reed. Her long hair was the same rich red and her features were identical to those in the portrait. Her black bikini flattered her slender figure. Even Joe found it hard not to believe he had discovered Millicent Reed.

"Who are you?" he asked.

"Is that how you always greet people?" she asked as she opened her eyes and sat up on the blanket.

"Er, no," said Joe, a bit flustered.

She had the same beautiful green eyes as the woman in the portrait, and those eyes gazed directly at Joe. Her smile was friendly and warm.

"I'm, er, Joe Hardy."

Now she stood up and reached out to shake Joe's hand. "Pleased to meet you, Joe Hardy. I'm Heather Reed."

"Heather Reed."

"Is something wrong?"

"Are you any relation to Millicent Reed?"

"I'm her granddaughter. Why?"

"The resemblance."

"That's what everyone says," said Heather, sitting back down. She patted the blanket next to her. "Have a seat."

"Thanks," said Joe. He waited a second before asking his next question, but then said, "Were you strolling on the beach last night around midnight?"

"Me? No. Why do you ask?"

"No reason," said Joe.

"You saw Millicent, didn't you?" asked Heather.

"I saw something," Joe said, nodding. He wasn't certain what to think about anything. He instinctively believed Heather when she said she hadn't been on the beach the night before. But what had he seen? He needed to talk it over with Frank.

***

At that moment Frank was almost as frustrated by events as his brother was.

Frank and Callie had spent the morning searching the grounds around Runner's Harbor and turned up nothing. Absolutely nothing.

"Let's take a break, Frank," said Callie as they approached the wide porch on the back of the hotel. It was every bit as weathered as the hotel itself. Still, the benches were comfortable, and the breeze and the magnificent view made it pleasant.

Frank guided Callie up the porch steps and took a seat next to her on a bench. "What a waste of a morning," he said.

"I guess so," said Callie, "but at least we've checked out the grounds."

"I just keep thinking that there's something we've overlooked," said Frank.

"Like what?"

Frank stood up and walked across the porch and leaned against the railing, pondering what they had seen that morning. He wrapped his fingers around a length of railing that seemed out of place.

"You haven't answered me, Frank Hardy," Callie said, and she got up from the bench and started walking toward him.

"What's this?" Frank asked himself out loud as he gave the piece of railing a tug and a trap door opened in the porch floor. Callie disappeared, swallowed up by the darkness below.

Chapter 5

"Callie!" Frank shouted in alarm. "Are you all right?"

Callie looked up at him from the bottom of the shaft, about seven feet down, where she was now sitting on a huge wooden chest.

"I - I think so," she said, "but I landed on this. It wasn't the softest thing to break my fall." She motioned weakly to the trunk.

Frank dropped down into the pit as Callie tried to stand.

"Ouch!" she cried. "I think I sprained my ankle."

"Here. Lean on me," said Frank, holding out his arm.

Callie fought back her tears. "It hurts.'

"Sit down again and let me check it.

Carefully Frank inspected Callie's sore ankle. "There's no swelling," he said. "I don't think it's serious. You'll be okay. We'll get you back inside and put some ice on it. Come on."

Callie draped an arm over Frank's shoulders. As carefully as he could in the narrow space, he guided her up a ladder that was nailed to one side of the shaft. Together they walked slowly into the hotel.

Frank was in the process of treating Callie's ankle with ice and an elastic bandage when Joe walked in.

"What happened to you?" asked Joe.

"I fell," said Callie, her spirits on the rebound. "But I found, that is, we found a trap door in the porch. It led down into a shaft with a huge old wooden trunk at the bottom of it."

"Anything in the trunk?" asked Joe.

Callie and Frank exchanged a look. "We haven't looked yet," said Frank. He looked at Callie. "Maybe you should stay here and rest."

"No way," answered Callie, getting up and hopping on her good leg toward the back door. "I found that trunk the hard way and I'm going to be there when you open it."

Frank and Joe each took an arm and helped Callie walk out to the porch.

On the way Joe told them about his conversation with Allistair Gaines and about meeting Heather Reed.

"No wonder Gaines thinks he's been seeing Millicent Reed," said Joe. "It's spooky just how much Heather looks like that portrait of her grandmother."

"But she insists she wasn't on the beach last night?" asked Frank.

"Yeah," said Joe.

Callie asked, "Do you believe her?"

"I think so," Joe said. "Why would she lie?" Then he added, "But if she isn't lying, then what or who did I see on the beach last night?"

"Good question," said Frank, "and it's only one of several we have to answer."

They got to the porch and made sure Callie was seated before Joe hopped down into the pit. "It's pretty heavy," he said, lifting the trunk.

Frank reached down and took hold of a strap on the side of the trunk and pulled it out of the shaft and onto the floor of the porch.

"Front-row seat," Frank told Callie.

"Hurry up and open it," she said excitedly.

"It's jammed," said Frank as he tested the lid.

With a sharp kick Joe knocked the top loose and said, "Now it isn't."

Frank looked at his younger brother for a moment and said, "I was going to get some tools."

"Saved you a trip."

"Let's open it!" cried Callie impatiently.

Frank lifted the lid and released a cloud of musty air.

"This thing has been closed for years," he said.

One by one Frank began to remove the items in the trunk. For the most part it was filled with old clothes.

"They look like the kind of clothes that character who met us on the road was wearing," said Callie. "They must be pretty old."

At the bottom of the trunk were three very dusty bottles of rum. "I wonder if Dad would like one of these?" Joe asked.

Frank studied the now-empty trunk carefully.

BOOK: The Dead Season
12.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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