Authors: Franklin W. Dixon
The snake hissed again in the darkness, and Joe's instinct was to run, but he knew the snake would attack then, and the snake had the advantage.
What would Frank do? Joe thought. He remembered the incident in Callie's room when Frank had turned on the light to stun the snake, but there were no lights to turn on here. A match wouldn't do the trick.
Joe suddenly realized that the darkness was his friend.
The snake hissed once more, but Joe hoped it would only attack if he made a sudden and quick move.
He pressed his back against the tunnel and inched his way past the boulder the gunman had set in his path. Soon Joe was safely past the snake.
He hurried along now, the pain in his knee reduced to a dull throb. The gunman had been too confident that the trick with the rocks would stop Joe permanently. He could hear the man just ahead, walking slowly, taking his time.
I've got you now, thought Joe.
Soft light glowed ahead as Joe watched the killer open a trap door that led out of the tunnel.
Joe waited until he heard the trap door close and then ran to it. He found the lever to open the door but waited a few seconds before pulling it, hoping that this wasn't a trap.
He did pull the lever finally and hurried up a steep, rough set of stairs and found himself at the back of the house. In the distance he could see the killer running along the water's edge.
The storm had ended and the sun was setting in the western sky.
With renewed confidence Joe resumed his pursuit. The killer's footprints were clear in the wet sand. The killer ran in a straight line toward the pavilion.
Joe slowed down now but kept his quarry in sight. Another figure appeared from the shadows of the pavilion. It was Heather.
It couldn't be Heather.
Joe stared hard at the pavilion as he ran toward it.
Both the gunman and the person who had met him were no longer in sight. They had ducked into the pavilion.
Joe was torn by conflicting emotions as he ran. Catching the killer would be sweet revenge, but what if Heather was involved?
What could her explanation be? Could it be that the killer forced her into the pavilion? If that was the case then Heather was in danger.
Joe ran faster. When he reached the entrance to the dance pavilion, it was bathed in the lengthening shadows of sunset.
He poked his head inside. The pavilion was empty.
There was no sign of either Heather or the gunman.
Despite his fatigue and the growing darkness, Joe searched for any way the two could have left the pavilion, but he couldn't find one.
There had to be a secret passageway with an entrance to the dance pavilion, and he would uncover it. But not then.
He convinced himself he must have been seeing things when he thought he saw Heather.
Tired, hungry, and confused, Joe walked slowly up the hill to the hotel.
Many lights were glowing in the old building, and he thought he had never seen such a welcome sight. Seeing the hotel conjured up images of dry clothes, food, and sleep that made Joe walk faster.
In the parking lot were several police cars and an ambulance, and Joe found it difficult to believe that he had discovered Randolph Tyler's body only hours earlier. His experiences in the tunnels seemed to have taken days.
Entering the hotel, Joe could hear voices coming from the dining room.
"The storm is over," Frank was saying. "We have to begin searching for my brother now."
"I sympathize with you," said a man whose voice Joe didn't recognize, "but it is dark now, and I cannot risk the life of anyone else."
Joe stood in the doorway to the dining room unnoticed. He saw Frank and Callie and Gary and Janet and Logan and Gaines, and he also saw several uniformed police officers. The man speaking was a slender, intense islander whom Joe assumed to be a detective.
Joe was disappointed that Heather was not in the room.
Callie saw him first and shrieked, "Joe!" as if she had seen a ghost.
"Joe!" cried Frank, rushing toward his brother.
Frank gave Joe a big hug, and Joe was instantly embarrassed. "What's all the fuss about?"
"We were worried about you," said Frank.
Before Joe could explain what happened, Sergeant Wrenn stepped forward and said, "I'm glad you made it back safely, Mr. Hardy. We have a lot to talk about. Why don't you get cleaned up, get something to eat, and then we can chat."
An hour later Joe, Frank, and Callie were gathered around the dining room table with Sergeant Wrenn.
"How long was I gone, exactly?" asked Joe.
Frank said, "As near as I can estimate, about four and a half hours. The storm hit right around three-thirty, and you showed up here around eight."
Joe shook his head. "It seemed more like four days than four and a half hours."
"Where were you during that time?" asked the sergeant.
Joe said, "Tunnels. Underground. Underneath the hotel - at least I think that's where we were."
"Who is we?" asked Sergeant Wrenn.
Joe glanced at Frank, who nodded a silent yes.
"I don't know who he is, but we've seen him here before. He's the same guy who attacked Frank."
"You were attacked?" said the sergeant.
"It was nothing," said Frank. "Really."
"I think you should let me be the judge of such things. When did this happen?"
"Night before last," said Frank.
"And your assailant got away."
"He vanished into thin air," said Frank. "And that wasn't the first time."
Joe and Frank described the Ghost Gunman and the other incidents.
Sergeant Wrenn paused a moment, formulating his next question. "Please answer this very carefully," he said. "What happened to Randolph Tyler?"
"Well," Joe began, "I had gone to the boathouse to see if I had missed anything that might tie in with the explosion yesterday."
Sergeant Wrenn nodded for Joe to continue.
Joe described how the storm broke just as they were approaching the boathouse and told them about hearing gunshots over the sounds of the storm.
"You say 'gunshots,' " said Sergeant Wrenn. "How many did you hear exactly?"
"After I heard the shots, I took my time going into the boathouse."
"Where was Miss Reed during all of this?" asked the sergeant.
"Miss Reed. Heather Reed. I spoke with her. She is resting at home now."
Joe said, "We spent the day sunbathing, and she went with me to the boathouse."
Sergeant Wrenn's face was expressionless as he said, "What happened after you finally entered the boathouse?"
"Well, I saw Tyler lying there. I wasn't certain at first that he was dead, but he looked bad, and I yelled for Heather to get help."
"What were your exact words?"
Joe thought a moment. "I said, 'Heather, get help. Randolph Tyler's dead. I'm going after the gunman.' "
Joe described how the gunman had pushed past him and how he had followed the killer out of the boathouse, through the storm, and into the shed. Once again the gunman had vanished.
Sergeant Wrenn said, "And then you found the entrance to the tunnels."
"The tunnels have been talked about on the island for years, of course," said the sergeant, "but to my knowledge, no one has ever actually been in one. I always assumed they were another part of the Wiley Reed myth. He is a genuine cult hero here, as I'm sure you know by now."
Frank and Joe nodded yes.
"And I also assume that neither of you believes this Ghost Gunman, as you call him, is truly a ghost."
Again they agreed. "I hit him on the jaw, and his jaw was real enough," Frank said.
"Curious, though, isn't it? Tell me, then," said the sergeant, "about the tunnels. What happened there? What were they like? How did you find your way out?"
Joe's version of his time underground was complete and had everyone at the table squirming, especially Callie, who still had not fully recovered from her own encounter with a snake.
"And once you were out at the back of the house," asked Sergeant Wrenn, "what did you do?"
Joe said, "I saw him heading for the dance pavilion and I followed him, but by the time I got there, he was gone."
"No secret passageway?" asked the sergeant.
"I looked, but couldn't find one. There has to be one, though," said Joe.
Sergeant Wrenn paused for a long time and sipped his coffee in concentrated silence. At last he said, "Very well. I thank you for your cooperation."
"That's it?" asked Joe.
"For now," said the sergeant as he stood up and prepared to leave.
"Am I a suspect?" asked Joe.
"What is that line from your American detective novels?" mused the sergeant. "Ah, yes, 'I suspect nobody and everybody.' "
Frank and Joe sat at the dining room table long after everyone had gone to bed.
Joe told Frank what few details about the tunnel he had forgotten to tell Sergeant Wrenn, and Frank explained what he had discovered in the library, namely that the government official who had been taking bribes from Wiley Reed to cover his rum-running operation was Elmer Bradley Jamison.
"The more I learn about this," said Frank, "the more it seems that our friend Brady Jamison must be involved."
"But we've got no proof," said Joe.
After a short silence Frank said, "I get the feeling you're not telling me everything."
"Why do you say that?" asked Joe.
"Come on, Joe, we're brothers. I know you."
"Nothing, Frank. It's nothing. You're wrong. I'm just tired, that's all."
"It's something to do with Heather, isn't it?" said Frank.
"No," said Joe, a little too forcefully. He repeated the denial in a quieter voice.
"Okay, Joe," said Frank. "Have it your way. But you'd better ask yourself one question before you get in too deep."
"What do you really know about Heather?"
Hours later, as he lay in bed, Joe felt truly miserable. He didn't like keeping things from Frank, but he wasn't going to say anything to anyone about Heather until he questioned her himself.
As he lay there, tossing and turning, he considered all the possibilities and kept coming up with different conclusions.
Sometime around three in the morning Joe had had enough. "What's the use hanging around here if you can't sleep," he muttered to himself as he dressed.
He would go to Heather's house and see her immediately. There was no way he was going to get any rest if he didn't. He got dressed and decided to go out the window so no one would hear him leave.
He hung from the window ledge itself for a bit to get his bearings and then reached for a vine to climb down. He had a firm grip around the vine and swung off the ledge when suddenly the vine went slack.
As he fell Joe could see that someone had planted a stake, point up, in the ground just where he would land.
Joe kept falling. He thought he'd never land.
He groped in the darkness for something to grab on to, and at the last possible second his right hand caught hold of a clamp that held a drainpipe in place.
His shoulder strained as his full weight hung from the arm that had been wrenched from the jolting stop. He didn't let go, though.
He swung his body toward the building and reached for the pipe with his left hand. Pain seared through his right shoulder as he strained to hold on with one hand.
He was able to get a good grip, and he hung there for a moment, getting his bearings and catching his breath.
What happened? he wondered.
The ground was only ten feet below him, so Joe pushed away from the building in a controlled drop and easily avoided the pointed stake.
He landed with a muffled "Oomph!" Then he stood up and brushed himself off.
There at his feet was the vine. Even in the darkness he could see that it had obviously been cut.
Someone had anticipated that he would use the vine to climb down from his room and had sabotaged him.
But who? Who was behind all these incidents, and why?
"How much do you really know about Heather?" Frank had asked.
As much as I need to know, Joe thought. Or was it enough?
As he walked along the beach to the Tyler Inn, Joe thought about what Heather had told him.
She and her parents, Sam and Betty Reed, had lived for most of her life in one of the cottages at the Tyler Inn, Randolph Tyler's hotel complex just down the beach from Runner's Harbor. Before that she had lived at Runner's Harbor. Apparently her father had managed Runner's Harbor for a time with a partner.
Joe didn't know who that partner was or why the Reeds left Runner's Harbor. After all, Sam Reed was Wiley and Millicent's son. Why did he just work there? How did he lose the place? Or did they still own it?
"What do you really know about Heather?"
Joe knocked softly on the door to cottage number two. Since she had turned eighteen, Heather lived there alone. Her parents lived in number one.
At first there was no answer, but eventually the door was opened by Heather.
He had obviously awakened her. She was wearing a light bathrobe against the night chill and her long hair was tousled.
"Joe?" She was truly surprised. "Joe, you're alive!" She threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly. "I never thought I'd see you again."
"We need to talk," said Joe softly.
Heather took a step back, nodded her head, and said, "Give me a minute," before closing the door.
When she came out, she was dressed in a sweater and jeans and had taken the time to brush her hair. "Walk along the beach?" she said.
At first neither of them spoke. Finally Heather asked, "What's this all about, Joe?"
"I couldn't sleep."
"Some people drink warm milk when that happens."
"I had to talk to you."
"Everything that's been happening around here the last few days," said Joe.