's fortunate you came just now. I want you to help me."
"How, Dad?" they asked eagerly.
"There's no time to tell you what it's all about. I'm going to take a room here at the hotel, and I want you boys to take another. We'll wait a few minutes until Sinder and Lemuel have time to register."
He moved out away from the store and stepped toward the hotel entrance. He peered through the revolving door for a moment but drew back swiftly.
"They're just signing the register," he said. "I hope we're lucky enough to get the rooms I want."
The Hardy boys waited with hearts beating fast. They had not dared hope for such a piece of good fortune. They had been shunted out of one case, only to land right in the middle of one of their father's mysteries.
Who was the boy to whom Fenton Hardy had been speaking in the shadows ? Who were Kip Sinder and Spotty Lemuel? Why was their father watching the movements of the pair? In what way did he want his sons to help him? These thoughts raced through their minds.
Fenton Hardy suddenly turned and beckoned
20 A Figure in Hiding
to his sons. "Come on," he said. "They've gone up in the elevator."
The boys followed their father into the hotel and crossed the lobby. Fenton Hardy stepped up to the clerk, whom he knew well.
"Two men just registered here, Gal," he said. "What room did they take?"
"410," returned the clerk wonderingly. ''Anything wrong with them, Mr. Hardy!"
The clerk cast the detective a significant glance, but he knew the man well enough to ask no questions as to his motives. Cal, on the desk at night at the Bayport Hotel, was the soul of discretion and could be relied upon to say nothing.
"Very well, Mr. Hardy. Register here, please."
The father and his boys signed their names. Cal was just about to summon a bellhop when the detective checked him.
"We'll go up alone. Just let us have the keys," he said.
His purpose was to avoid any noise that
Room 412 21
might be occasioned by anyone showing them to their rooms. Besides, the bellhops might talk among themselves if they should learn of the affair.
"I can depend on you, Cal?"
The clerk put a finger to his lips.
The three Hardys went across the lobby and waited for an elevator. In a few moments they were whisked toward the fourth floor. As they walked down the carpeted corridor Fenton Hardy said to his sons:
"Very likely there will be a connecting door between your room and the one Rip and Spotty have taken. Now I wish you to listen in on that pair. I want to know why they have come here and what they are up to. Think you can manage it?"
"Sure!" they declared in one voice.
'' How about Mother ?'' asked Frank. '' Won't she worry if we fail to show up at home tonight?"
"I'll fix that," said their father, stopping at the entrance to Boom 408. Quietly he unlocked the door and they stepped inside. Fenton Hardy went to the telephone, and in a low voice gave the number of the Hardy home. A few moments later he was talking to his wife.
"The boys are with me, Laura," he told her in a voice that could scarcely be heard across the room. "We're at the Bayport Hotel and
22 A Figure in Hiding
may stay here over night.- Yes.- Yes, I'm on a case.- Frank and Joe are helping me.- All right. Goodnight, dear."
He hung tip the receiver.
"That's settled," he said, giving his sons the key to Room 412. "Off you go now. Keep your ears open."
Frank and Joe quickly slipped out and made their way past the doorway of Number 410 to their own room beyond. They let themselves in quietly and switched on the light. When they had satisfied themselves that there was a connecting door to the adjoining chamber they turned the light out again. Frank crouched down in front of the door.
When he put his eye to the key-hole he could get a slight glimpse of part of the room beyond. He saw the man known as Rip Sinder sitting at the telephone desk beside the bed. Sinder was evidently talking to the clerk downstairs.
'' There isn 't any writing stationery here,'' he was complaining in a loud, harsh voice. '' Send some up right away. Yes-plenty of paper and envelopes."
In a short time there was a knock at the door. Sinder answered it and came back to
Room 412 23
the writing table with a quantity of stationery.
"O.K.," he said to his companion. "We're all set now. G-et busy."
The man with the mottled face sat down at the opposite side of the table and picked up a pen. He drew a sheet of paper toward him.
"What's the first address?" he asked.
Rip Sinder reached into his coat pocket and took out a notebook. He flipped the pages and then said something which Frank failed to catch. Spotty Lemuel dipped his pen into the ink-well and began to write. Rip Sinder, after a further glance at the notebook, did likewise.
Their letters were not long, for after scrawling a few lines on the page they would blot what they had written and Sinder would refer again to the notebook. Each man then would take a fresh sheet of paper and begin to write. They seldom spoke but worked busily and hastily, scribbling letter after letter. Occasionally Sinder would ruffle the pages of his book and mumble a fresh address.
"We're not learning much," whispered Joe Hardy after a while.
The boys alternated at the key-hole and watched the pair in the next room for about fifteen minutes. The letter-writing continued without interruption. The Hardys, who had expected something more exciting, were disappointed
24 A Figure in Hiding
Suddenly there was a knock at the door of Boom 410. The two men looked up guiltily. Sinder began to sweep the letters and envelopes into a drawer.
"I'll answer it," he said and arose, passing out of Frank's range of vision.
The boys could hear him open the door. Then came an astonished exclamation:
"How did you get here?" demanded Sinder.
Through the key-hole Frank saw a girl rush into the room.
'' Father I'' she exclaimed. '' You must come home!"
"virginia!" exclaimed Sinder, apparently stunned by the arrival of the girl.
Through the key-hole Frank got a glimpse of a pretty young woman about seventeen years of age. Sinder was staring at her incredulously.
'' How did you know where to find me I What do you want ?" he demanded.
"I want you to come home," the girl cried angrily.
"You've no business crashing in here like this,'' declared Spotty Lemuel in a rough tone. "What's the idea of butting in when your father and I are putting through a deal ?''
"Deal!" exclaimed the girl scornfully. "I can imagine what sort of deal it is. I've never liked you, Spotty Lemuel, and I think my father would be better off if he stayed away from you."
"Now look here, Virginia-" began Rip Sinder weakly.
"You keep out of our affairs, do you hear?" Lemuel stormed at the girl. "We took this
26 A Figure in Hiding
hotel room so we could work quietly and without any interference. So take yourself off and leave us alone. I don't understand how you knew where to find us. Spying around, I suppose."
"You can't frighten me," the girl answered with spirit.
"No need of scolding her, Spotty," ventured Sinder.
'' A fine partner you are!'' sneered the other. "If we're going to have this girl interrupting us every time we get down to work I'll find somebody else. Why don't you make her stay at home? She's got no business here. Tell her to get out and stay out.''
"Virginia, I think you should not have come here,'' Sinder said mildly.
"Well-after all-it's a business affair-----"
"Oh, you make me sick!" exploded Lemuel. "You talk to her as if she really was your daughter!"
"Why don't you tell her the truth?" the other man continued remorselessly. '' She ain't your daughter anyway and you know it. Tell her that and see if she '11 be so smart about following you around and telling you what to do.''
"Father!" cried the girl in a despairing voice. "It isn't true, is it? Tell me it isn't true."
Startling News 27
"You shouldn't have said that, Spotty," muttered Eip Sinder.
"Why not? It's a fact, ain't it? Why shouldn't she know? Serves her right for bustin' in here the way she did. She brought it on herself.''
Virginia grasped Rip Sinder's arm imploringly.
"What does he mean by it?" she asked. "What does he mean by saying I'm not your daughter?"
"Just what I say!" declared Lemuel with a coarse laugh. '' He ain 't your father, no matter what you think. Tell her the truth, Sinder."
In a low voice the other man began an explanation.
"I-I guess I might as well. It's the truth, Virginia. I'm not your real father."
"But-I always thought-nobody ever told me-" stammered the girl.
"You were an orphan, Virginia, when my wife and I adopted you. When she was dying she asked me to look after you just as if you were my own daughter."
There was a long silence. Then Spotty Lemuel laughed harshly.
"I guess you won't be so smart about butting into Rip's affairs from now on, young lady," he gloated. '' Since you know the truth, get out of here and stay out!''
28 A Figure in Hiding
"An orphan!" exclaimed the girl blankly, as if she had not heard him. "An adopted orphan!"
"Now Virginia," Sinder said coaxingly, "if you'll just run along home and let Spotty and me go on with our business-----"
"Business!" the girl cried. Suddenly she darted toward the desk and began looking at the notes the two men had been writing.
"Put down those letters!" Lemuel reached out and tore one of them from her hand. He gave the girl a push and she staggered back. '' Now you get out of this room or I '11 throw you out."
"Go easy!" said Sinder.
"You're schemers, both of you!" Virginia cried passionately. "This business you're in is not honest." She covered her face with her hands and broke into a sob. "I'm glad you're not my real father, Rip Sinder. I always thought you were honest, at least. This is horrible."
'' Now listen here, Virginia-----''
"Don't talk to me," she wailed. "If you were my father I'd be so ashamed-oh, I don't want to live under such a disgrace."
Suddenly she twisted around, rushed across
Startling News 29
the room, flung open the door, and darted into the corridor before either man could make a move to stop her.
The door slammed violently. Eip Sinder jumped forward.
'' Virginia!" he shouted. '' Come back here! Virginia!"
"Let her go, you fool!" growled Lemuel. '' Let her go. Do you want to start a row that '11 have us kicked out of the hotel ?''
"I can't let her go away like that!" the other man protested. He struggled to reach the doorknob. '' Let me go after her, Lem. She's likely to do something desperate."
"Let her," rejoined the other coolly.
There were sounds of a scuffle. Apparently Spotty Lemuel was blocking successfully his companion's attempts to get the door open. The Hardy boys heard him say:
"If you go out after her there'll be a rumpus, and we don't want any sort of fuss right now. Show some sense! You'll have the whole hotel roused up. It's a good thing she's gone, anyhow. Stay where you are."
At this moment the boys heard a quick, quiet knock on the door of their own room. Joe sprang up to answer it. Fenton Hardy was
30 A Figure in Hiding
standing in the corridor. He slipped hastily inside.
"Come quickly," he ordered tersely, "and follow that girl. You ought to be able to catch sight of her before she gets very far from the hotel."
The detective spoke in a low voice so that he would not be heard in the next room.
"I'm afraid she may harm herself," he went on, as his sons hastened to obey. "Don't speak to her or let her know she's being followed. But keep her in sight if you can. I'll hold the fort here while you 're gone. Quickly, now.''
Frank and Joe slipped out of the room as quietly as their father had entered it. As they passed the door of Boom 410 they could hear Rip Sinder and Spotty Lemuel still arguing. From what they had seen of the pair they thought it was pretty certain Spotty Lemuel would win out and Rip Sinder would do as he was told.
The boys fled down the corridor. From their father's urgent voice and anxious face they knew that he was genuinely afraid that the girl, in her grief and despair, might do something rash. There was every need for haste.
Frank, a little in the lead, bolted around a corner of the hallway on their way to the elevator. Unfortunately, at that same moment a Baiter was bound for one of the rooms on the
Startling News 31
floor, carrying a tray of sandwiches and bottles of ginger ale. The boy crashed full-tilt into the man.
Sandwiches, plates, glasses, and bottles went tumbling to the carpet. The waiter stumbled backward and fell. Frank tripped over the fellow 's legs and sprawled out. Joe pitched across both of them, and in an instant all three lay on the floor.
The waiter sat up, spluttering. Fortunately there had been no breakage. By a miracle, not even the glasses were broken, although the sandwiches were scattered all over the carpet.
"Sorry!" gasped Frank, scrambling to his feet, '' We 're in a hurry.''
"So it seems," grunted the waiter wrathfully.
The Hardy boys helped the man to rise. Then they aided him in picking up the dishes and ginger ale bottles, chafing at the delay. The waiter decided they were guests of the hotel and did not say what he thought; yet his resentful expression betrayed only too plainly his opinion of people who go racing through hotel corridors at such hours.
The moment some semblance of order was restored, Frank said: "We can't wait. If you have to get fresh sandwiches see Mr. Hardy in 412 and he'll pay you. Come on, Joe."
a descending elevator, for its light blinked off just as they reached the turn at the end of the hallway. Frantically Joe pressed the button again and again. It seemed a long time before the car hummed back to the fourth story and its door clashed open.
"Did a girl go down to the ground floor a few minutes ago?" Frank asked the attendant.
"Yep. Seemed in a big hurry, too. She ran across the lobby and went out to the street."
The elevator plunged downward. When it reached the ground floor the Hardy boys dashed from it, raced across the lobby, and rushed out onto the pavement.
They looked up and down the street. There was no sign of the girl. Which direction had Virginia Sinder taken?
"You go one way and I'll go the other," said Frank. "Maybe we'll catch a glimpse of her then. If you see her, whistle for me."
He ran to a corner and looked up and down the cross thoroughfare, but the street was empty. Crestfallen, Frank turned and retraced his steps to the hotel entrance. Joe returned at the same moment and it was obvious that he, too, had failed to catch sight of their quarry.
"We must find her!" declared Frank.
"There's a taxi parked across the road,'' Joe said. " That's our best bet."
Startling News 33
He whistled shrilly and signalled to the driver. The man sat up and waved acknowledgment of the signal. The engine roared. The cab lurched forward, then swung around and drew up to the curb.
HEADING FOR DESTRUCTION
"where to, boys?" asked the taxi driver.
Frank had an idea. "You've been parked across the street," he said. "Did you see a girl run out of the hotel during the past few minutes?"
The driver glanced at them curiously.
"Sure," he said. "She wasn't wasting any time, either. Jumped into her car and roared out of here as if there were a hundred cops after her."
"Which way did she go?"
The man gestured. "Straight ahead," he said.
"Would you know the car if you should see it again?"
'' O.K.!'' The taxi-driver released his clutch and the cab jumped forward. At the first corner he swerved sharply to the right; at the second one he slowed down and glanced sharply both to left and to right; then made a
Heading for Destruction 35
left-hand turn and sped away in pursuit of a bobbing tail-light far ahead.
"I think that's the car," he said.
"Step on the gas!" cried Joe.
The fellow obeyed. There was very little traffic on Bayport's downtown streets at that time of night and he had a clear thoroughfare ahead of him. The machine roared along in pursuit. Suddenly the red tail-light ahead veered to the left and disappeared.
"Turned down Eiver Street," grunted the driver. "Looks to me like she's heading for the bridge."
He swung the taxi into Eiver Street, a dark thoroughfare extending through the outskirts of Bayport and leading to a country road. Beyond the city was the Willow Eiver, which was spanned by a bridge just past the Bayport limits.
The car ahead was traveling at a fast clip, but the cab driver kept it in sight until it reached the edge of the city. Then the road grew winding, and as it was flanked by avenues of trees the pursuers soon lost sight of the fleeing car altogether. There were few side roads, however, and the man at the wheel was satisfied that the other automobile was heading toward the Willow Eiver.
The fugitive car had been out of sight for some time when the taxi finally swung around
36 A Figure in Hiding
a bend and came in sight of the stream, with the bridge rising like a dark hulk in the gloom. Beside the road there was a ruby gleam, the tail-light of a parked car.
'' Slow up!" cried Frank quickly.
The driver obeyed. Thus far, the boy believed, no harm had come to the girl. He realized that it would be poor policy to stir up any gossip and on that account decided that it would be best to dismiss the chauffeur.
The man showed no surprise. "O.K. with me, boys." He knew they were the Hardys, and was aware that their detective adventures often took them on strange missions. He brought the taxi to a stop and asked no questions. Frank paid him for the trip and the two lads got out of the car.
"Good luck," grinned the cabby, as he swung his machine around. A few moments later he was speeding on his way back to Bayport.
The Hardy boys eyed the tail-light of the automobile parked near the bridge.
"Maybe the girl isn't in the car," Joe suggested.
"We had better make sure," responded his brother.
As they hurried down the road, it occurred
Heading for Destruction 37
to them then that they might be too late after all. However, when they drew near the parked auto they were relieved to see a dark figure at the wheel.
As they came closer their relief changed to bewilderment. The figure was quite motionless. Moreover, it seemed to be huddled over the wheel in a strange fashion.
Cautiously they came up to the side of the automobile.
'' Why, it isn 't Virginia at all! It's a man!'' Joe exclaimed.
'' Unconscious!'' cried Frank.
The driver was slumped across the wheel, bent forward in a limp huddle. The window was down, and when Frank turned the handle that opened the car door the man's body shifted and almost fell out onto the running board. The boys caught him.
"Is he dead?" asked Joe.
Frank thrust the figure back in the seat. Then he took a flashlight from his pocket and switched it on. The brilliant gleam fell on the face of the still form.
The man was not dead. He was breathing regularly, but his face was badly marked and bruised as if he had received a hard blow.
"Knocked unconscious," said Frank, as he
38 A Figure in Hiding
noticed an ugly bump on the victim's forehead.
There seemed to be something vaguely familiar about the fellow's face. He was tall, with thin features and black hair.
"Seems to me," Frank said slowly, "that I've seen this man before, but I can't just remember where it was."
"Frank!" exclaimed Joe excitedly.
"I remember. We've seen him before, all right. This very evening."