The boys were undecided as to the best course of action. For all they knew, Cordoza might be seriously injured. They wished heartily that they had not been in such a hurry to dismiss their cab driver.
Frank got out of the machine, and with the flashlight he began exploring the roadway and the ditch near by.
"We might find some kind of clue," he said.
Just then, from out of a side road about fifty yards away, an automobile's headlights cut through the darkness. A car skidded out onto the road that led toward the bridge. Without slackening speed it rushed toward the boys.
Frank switched out the flashlight. The brothers crouched in the shadow of Cordoza's car. Perhaps the man's assailants were returning to the scene.
The machine, a small coupe, sped on. It had almost reached them when the driver swung the wheel suddenly and drove the car into a rutted lane that cut off from the main road and descended across a field toward the river bank.
Frank switched on the flashlight. Its beam fell directly upon the driver. Then both boys uttered a yell of surprise.
"Virginia!" they cried.
The auto was lurching down the uneven lane, bound straight for the river. Apparently the girl at the wheel had no intention of stopping.
"She'll be killed!" shouted Joe.
Owing to the roughness of the lane the coupe had slowed down a little. Both boys leaped across the ditch and tried to intercept the moving car. They were just in time to leap onto the running board.
"Stop!" Frank shouted. "You'll drive straight into the river."
"Whether or not the girl made an attempt to apply the brakes the Hardys did not know. By this time the coupe was beginning to slither down the slope. Lurching and swaying, it picked up speed. The girl's hands seemed frozen to the wheel. Joe leaned through the window and tried to reach the emergency brake.
Heading for Destruction 41
The car was completely out of control. As it shot down the incline, the black waters of the Willow Eiver seemed to be rushing up to meet it. Virginia Sinder screamed.
Again Joe tried to grab the emergency brake but he could not reach it. The girl seemed paralyzed by the tragedy that lay ahead.
Bouncing and jouncing wildly, the coupe plunged down the embankment!
there was no hope of bringing Virginia Sinder's car to a stop now. Both the Hardy boys realized that. They could easily have jumped to safety and left the girl to her fate, but they remained clinging to the coupe, Joe still making desperate efforts to get the door open in the hope that he might pull on the brake before it was too late.
In another second, however, the machine pitched headlong over the embankment. Virginia's wild scream of terror rang through the night as the car plunged into the water with a tremendous splash. It struck, nose down, then turned over.
Frank was flung clear by the impact. He rose to the surface and looked about for the coupe. It had landed in about five feet of water, and he could see the rear wheels looming above the river.
Then he heard Joe's voice. "Frank!"
"I'm all right," his brother shouted. "Quick. We must get that girl out of there."
Then he dived and found an open window. Beaching in, he grabbed blindly. His hand encountered an arm of the girl who was struggling frantically.
Virginia seized the boy's coat in a grip so desperate that Frank was afraid they might both be drowned. He managed, however, to pull her from behind the steering wheel and halfway through the open window. Then he was able to break her hold on him.
He had to rise to the surface, and gasp for air. In a moment he was down again. At the second attempt he dragged the girl out of the car. By this time Joe was at his side and together the two boys brought the semi-conscious Virginia to shore.
"I hope she hasn't drowned," gasped Joe.
"Another minute or so and she certainly would have," his brother replied.
They carried Virginia Sinder up the river bank. Her purse, which had been looped around her wrist, fell free and dropped into the mud. She began to cough and choke as she revived. Then, huddled on the grass of the embankment, she started to cry fitfully and hysterically.
"Why did you save me?" she exclaimed.
44 A Figure in Hiding
"I don't want to live. I don't want to live."
Her body was shaken by sobs. Suddenly she burst into a fit of wild laughter, covered her face with her hands, and wept again.
"I wanted to end everything! Life isn't vrorth living. Why didn't you leave me alone?" she demanded.
around a bend in the road. The haunting sound rose to a shriek.
"Police siren!" exclaimed Frank.
The machine sped toward the river.
"Cordoza!" Frank guessed.
The siren was shut off. The headlights of the approaching police car were now shining directly on the one in the ditch.
"Police, did you say?" exclaimed Virginia, frightened.
"Don't worry. It isn't you they're after," Frank assured her. "There was a robbery in town tonight and detectives have been working on the case. Wait here until we speak to them. We'll come back for you in a few minutes.''
The Hardy boys left Virginia on the river bank and ran toward the road. They reached the parked car in which Cordoza was still lying unconscious just as the police automobile approached.
Joe ran into the road and waved his arme. The machine came to a stop with a squeal of brakes. Detective Smuff advanced into the glare of the headlights, peering closely at the boys.
"How did you fellows get here?" he demanded without enthusiasm. "What's going on? Is that your machine!"
The Hardy boys shook their heads.
The Rescue 47
"It isn't ours," Frank told the detective, "but you'll be interested in the man who drove it here.''
"Where is he?"
"Still at the wheel. Come along and have a look at him."
They led Smuff over to the automobile. Chief Collig climbed out of the police car and came up puffing.
"What's going on, Smuff? What's the trouble?" he asked. "Oh-the Hardy boys! Man can't turn around without running into you fellows. Who owns that machine? Who is in it?"
Frank switched on his flashlight and directed the beam toward the huddled figure.
"Who's that?" grunted Smuff.
"A dead man!" Collig gasped.
"I think his name is Nick Cordoza," remarked Frank. "We found him here a few minutes ago. He's the fellow who held up the Eialto Theatre cashier tonight, but somebody else must have held him up because we can't find a cent of the money in the car."
Chief Collig and Smuff were stunned. They had driven out toward the river on the strength of a tip that a car, the license number of which was the same as that of a machine parked near the Eialto that evening, had bees seen on the river road. But to find the Hardy
48 A Figure in Hiding
boys ahead of them, ready to identify the unconscious driver as the robber they were seeking-this took all the joy out of the capture.
"How do you know his name?" demanded the Chief gruffly.
"We found his driver's license."
Smuff and Collig examined the unconscious Cordoza.
"Guess we'd better get this guy to a hospital right away, Chief," said Smuff. "He looks to be in bad shape."
"We'll take him back at once. Are you fellows sure he is the man who held up the Bialto cashier?"
"Looks mighty like him," Joe said.
Detective Smuff and Chief Collig were not prepared to take the boys' word for it that the stolen money was gone. They searched the car thoroughly and made a further hunt through Cordoza's pockets, but were finally forced to admit that if he had taken the cash he had either hidden it or else been robbed of it.
With the help of the Hardy boys the two police officers took Cordoza out of the machine and lugged him over to their own automobile where he was placed in the rear seat. Frank and Joe, seeing a way of getting Virginia back to Bayport, volunteered to drive Cordoza's car into the city. Chief Collig graciously accepted their offer.
The Rescue 49
"Follow us in," he ordered with a wave of his fat hand, and clambered back into the police car. Smuff, sitting at the wheel, swung the automobile around and in a few moments the worthy pair were heading toward Bayport with their still unconscious prisoner.
Frank and Joe ran back to the river bank where they had left Virginia. She was not m sight.
"Virginia!" Frank called out.
There was no answer.
"Gosh! I hope she didn't jump into the water," declared Joe.
Frank took out his flashlight again. He found the prints of a pair of high-heeled shoes in the soft earth leading away from the embankment.
"She must have been frightened when she saw the police car stop,'' he said.
They searched for about five minutes, calling Virginia's name, but they did not find her nor did she answer their shouts. Joe discovered the purse that had slipped from the girl's wrist lying in the mud close to the water's edge, and in it they found a card upon which Virginia's name and address had been scribbled.
"We can't afford to stay around here any longer," Frank decided. "Chief Collig and Smuff will be getting suspicious. I guess the
50 A Figure in Hiding
girl must have decided to go across the fields and find her way home by herself."
"At least we won't lose track of her, now that we have her address."
Accordingly the boys gave up their search for Virginia Sinder and climbed into Cor-doza's car. It was in good running order and they had no trouble driving it. Then they turned and started back toward the city.
They arrived at the police station just in time to meet Chief Collig and Detective Smuff returning from the hospital. In answer to the Hardy boys' inquiry Collig wagged his head.
"He got a bad beating. He was still unconscious when we left him. The doctor says he'll live, though."
"And when he's able to talk," declared Detective Smuff, "we'll have plenty of questions for him to answer."
The Hardy boys went back to the Bayport Hotel. They would have preferred going home where they could get into dry pajamas, but they knew that there might be further work for them to do. Accordingly, before they went back to their own room they rapped at their father's door. There was no answer to their knock.
"That's odd," Joe said. "I thought he intended to stay here and watch Bip Sinder and Spotty Lemuel."
The Eescue 51
"Maybe they went out and he followed them," was Frank's suggestion.
The brothers walked on to their own room and let themselves in quietly. Frank tiptoed to the door connecting with the one taken by the suspicious men. He knelt and listened for a moment at the key-hole. There was no light in the chamber beyond but sounds of measured snoring could be heard.
"They're asleep," he said quietly.
"We may as well get some rest too. I'm all in."
"I'm tired, too," Frank confessed as he began to unlace his shoes. "It has been a big evening.''
'' A bigger one than we thought it was going to be when we set out for the movies."
The boys removed their wet clothing, rang for a bellhop, and sent their suits down to be dried and pressed. Then they crawled into bed. Less than a minute after Frank switched out the light they were both fast asleep.
It seemed scarcely a minute after that when a sharp knock at the door aroused them. They awakened to discover that it was broad daylight.
"Golly, what time is it?" cried Joe, rubbing his eyes. "It seems as if I just got into bed."
"Good morning," said their father as he stepped into the room. But his usual genial smile was lacking. "I have news for you," he continued. "Serious news."
CHET IN TROUBLE
"what has happened?" asked the boys.
"Chet Morton has been arrested."
The lads were dumbfounded. After a few seconds Frank found his voice.
"What for?" demanded Joe.
"For stealing the Bialto Theatre receipts last night," Fenton Hardy declared.
This piece of news was so absurd that for a moment the boys thought their father was joking.
"You don't mean it, Dad," said Frank.
"I do. It's serious. Chet was arrested early this morning."
"But it's ridiculous. Why, we were with him when the hold-up happened. We can prove he had nothing to do with it. If the authorities had to arrest anyone they couldn't have picked on a person with a better alibi."
Fenton Hardy's face was grave.
"Maybe it's not so ridiculous as it seems," he said gravely. "The police have arrested Chet on the strength of certain statements
54 A Figure in Hiding
made by a man named Nick Cordoza in Bayport General Hospital during the night. I understand Cordoza has been identified as the man who committed the actual hold-up."
"I haven't heard about your adventures yet. And if you had anything to do with the capture of Nick Cordoza, the Bayport police haven't said much about it."
"They wouldn't," grunted Joe.
The boys then told their father everything that had happened from the time they left their hotel room the previous night, including their discovery of Cordoza slumped unconscious in the car; their plunge into the river when trying to save Virginia; the arrival of Collig and Smuff, and the girl's subsequent disappearance.
"It is ridiculous, of course,'* said Fenton Hardy, "to think that Chet is a thief, but I'm afraid he is in a bad jam."
"We can prove he had nothing to do with the hold-up!" Frank declared. "It won't take us two minutes to clear him."
"That isn't the point. Can you prove that ne didn't attack Nick Cordoza and take the
Chet in Trouble 55
stolen money after knocking him senseless?"
This threw another light on the matter entirely. The boys were nonplussed.
"We know Chet a good deal better than the police do," Fenton Hardy pointed out. "There has certainly been some terrible mistake. According to what I hear, though, Nick Cordoza came out of his trance for a while early this morning and gave a description that fitted Chet mighty closely. So the police have held him for questioning."
"Cordoza couldn't have given the police Chet's name. They can't hold our chum on evidence as flimsy as that."
Fenton Hardy shook his head.
"As a matter of fact, that's the very worst part of the whole business. Cordoza insisted on mumbling that the fellow's name was Chet."
Frank collapsed in a chair.
"Well, I'm flabbergasted!" he murmured.
"Me too," said Joe. "We'd better get busy and see if we can't do something about this."
Hastily the boys began to scramble into their clothes. Just then there was a knock at
56 A Figure in Hiding
the door. Mr. Hardy opened it to admit one of the hotel waiters.