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A Thief by Any Other Name
"Gun it, Frank! He's getting away!" Joe said.
"Tell me something I don't already know!" I replied.
My brother Joe was right. If we didn't do something fast, Jules Kendallson, the motorcycle bandit, would give us the slip -- again.
Joe and I opened up the throttles on our custom bikes and roared after Kendallson. The Northside Woods whizzed past. We ducked branches and darted around the tree trunks blocking the overgrown trail. Every twist and turn presented a new danger -- a new place to wipe out.
Kendallson didn't care. He was an expert rider and could have done well on the motocross circuit. Instead he'd turned to crime -- stealing bikes instead of racing them. It was up to Joe and me to catch him.
"Frank, low branch!" Joe's voice blared loud and clear over the two-way radio in my helmet.
As I ducked, the tree branch scraped the top of my helmet. Without it, I'd have gotten a nice set of scratches. But if Joe hadn't warned me, I might have lost my head.
"Keep your mind on the trail, big brain!" Joe chided.
My face went red, partly because of what Joe said and partly because I knew he was right. My brother's weakness was that he charged in without thinking; mine was that I sometimes thought too much.
"Worrywart!" I called back. "Just stay with him!"
Both Joe and the bandit were ahead of me now. Kendallson twisted his bike around a sharp turn and launched into the air, over a shallow ravine.
Joe skidded in the turn and didn't get as good a jump. He landed hard just below the ravine's rim and lost valuable time as he motored up to the top. I hit the jump better and landed in front of him. I grinned. Sometimes it pays to be the more cautious, older brother.
"Man, that guy is good," Joe said as he roared up behind me.
"If he wasn't, he wouldn't have eluded the cops for so long after busting out of jail," I replied.
"Let's hope they throw away the key this time," Joe said.
"They will, once we catch him," I added, trying to sound more confident than I felt. Kendallson had slipped away from us twice before. Plus he was definitely the better biker. Fortunately Joe and I had been riding the woods north of Bayport since we were kids. We knew these woods better than the crook.
"I'm going to motor around to the left," Joe called over the headset, "and try to cut him off by Benson Ravine."
"Check," I replied. "I'll herd him in that direction." I angled to the right and accelerated again, jumping over the low hills like they were whoop-de-doos at a motocross track. Joe cut in the opposite direction, with the bandit riding between us about fifty yards ahead.
The trees zipped past as I easily swerved and bobbed through the familiar terrain. I was catching up to the bandit. Now I just needed to force Kendallson south so Joe could catch him at the ravine.
Benson Ravine is a wide streambed that cuts through the middle of the wooded hills north of Bayport. The stream rambles through the forest before eventually emptying into Barmet Bay. There's only one easy way over the ravine, which makes that crossing an ideal trap.
Kendallson spotted me as I angled in on him from the west. He turned east, just like I hoped he would. He wove between the trees ahead of me, keeping dangerously close to the trunks. He clearly wanted me to crash into one, but I knew the area too well for that. Besides, I'd learned my lesson with the tree branch earlier.
I couldn't see Joe through the forest ahead of us, and I hoped the bandit couldn't see him either. With a little luck, Joe would reach the crossing first.
Kendallson glanced back at me as he rode. Little by little I was catching up, and he knew it.
Suddenly he ripped off his helmet and threw it at me.
Now that was a stupid thing to do!
The helmet bounced off the forest floor once, and then skipped toward my front tire. I swerved around it and looked up just in time to see a big tree trunk zooming toward my face.
I turned hard, nearly laying the bike on the ground. My back tire kicked up a cloud of dirt and pine needles. I barely missed the tree in front of me and came close to another on my right.
I kicked myself upright again and zoomed after the bandit. He was heading toward the ravine, just as Joe and I had planned. I was blocking his way upstream, so he headed downstream, toward a big old tree trunk that had fallen across the gully. The trunk was like a natural bridge, and it was the only way across the ravine and the rushing stream below.
Kendallson gunned his stolen motorcycle straight for the fallen tree. I looked for Joe and spotted him just before the bandit did. Both of them were heading for the trunk, and it was anyone's guess who would reach the old log first. I knew they'd both get there before me. That was okay, though. I'd done my job. I just hoped Joe would be able to do his.
Unfortunately Kendallson got there first.
He swerved to the right, nearly coming to a stop, and then planted his front tire on the rotting wood. The trunk was wide, but not entirely flat. Staying on it would be a trick, even for a rider as good as Kendallson. He positioned his bike carefully and then began riding across.
Joe skidded to a stop and angled his bike to go over the tree after the bandit. "Don't do it, Joe!" I called over the headset. "The vibration from two bikes at once could bring the whole trunk down!"
Joe looked at me and smiled. "Just what I was thinking," he said. He whipped his bike sideways, put the back tire against the tree trunk, and gunned the engine.
The back tire spun and screeched, kicking clouds of dust and soggy splinters into the air. The tree trunk started vibrating like mad as Kendallson crossed.
The crook's bike wobbled, and before he could do anything about it, he toppled off the log into the rushing stream below. Lucky for him, the stream was wide and pretty deep at that point. He hit the water with a crash and quickly bobbed to the surface; the stolen bike didn't come with him. Kendallson looked dazed. He floundered around helplessly as he drifted downstream toward the bay.
I grinned and shook my head. "He should have kept his helmet on," I said.
Joe nodded. "Safety first," he agreed.
I laughed, but not for the reason Joe thought. It was ironic, him talking about safety; that kind of thing seldom entered my younger brother's mind.
"Come on," I said, "we'll pick up Kendallson downstream and come back for the bike later."
"I'll take the far side, in case he swims across," Joe said. He gunned his engine and zoomed at top speed over the log. It vibrated like it was on the verge of tumbling down, but Joe made it across without even noticing.
I shook my head and followed Kendallson. Like I said, safety was not high on my brother's list of priorities.
We followed the bandit as he floated downstream. Kendallson didn't seem to have any intention of climbing out. I guess the fall took more out of him than I'd thought. He floated with the current, looking dazed. For a moment I thought Joe or I might have to dive into the river and pull him out.
Then I noticed a police boat, out on the bay near the mouth of the stream. The cops aboard spotted Kendallson drifting toward them and headed the boat over to pick him up.
Joe and I stopped our bikes before we reached the edge of the woods. Even though we're deputized law officers, American Teens Against Crime (ATAC for short) works in secret, so we wanted to avoid getting tangled up with the police.
"The cops will handle Kendallson," said Joe. "I'm sure they'll fish his stolen bike out of the stream too -- especially if we give them an anonymous tip where to find it."
"Lucky thing that patrol boat happened by," I said, "or one of us would have had to go swimming. I wonder why the boat's here, though. They don't run a lot of patrols out along the park shore."
"Who cares?" Joe said. "They're here, we're done. Mission accomplished." We both grinned. It always felt good to complete an assignment.
"Let's get home," I said. "Maybe we can catch the arrest on the evening news."
"Race ya," said Joe.
"No fair!" I called. "You're already on the south side of the ravine!"
Joe merely laughed and gunned his engine. I put my bike into high gear, raced back upstream, and zoomed over the rickety log bridge.
Even though Joe had a good head start, he still needed to cut back in my direction to hit Bayshore Drive, the road that runs along the north shore into town.
Joe would be sticking to the trail by the lakeside, but I knew a shortcut. With luck, I could catch up to him before he hit the main road.
I zipped through the woods, dodging low branches and jumping over the bumps in the trail. I couldn't hear Joe's motorcycle over the roar of my own engine, and he wasn't talking to me on the headset.
Was he ahead of me, or would I actually beat him to the road?
I topped the last hill before the shore and caught sight of Joe winding down the lakeshore path. He was ahead, but not by much. As I gunned the throttle, he reached the spot where the two paths met. Then suddenly he braked to a stop.
He gazed out over the bay and I heard his voice on the headset.
"Pirates!" he said. "No way!"
I skidded to a halt beside him. Sure enough, a huge, old-fashioned pirate ship was sailing across Barmet Bay toward town. A skull-and-crossbones flag flew from its topmost mast, and swarms of pirates in old-fashioned clothing roamed the decks.
Both Joe and I were amazed.
But we were even more amazed as the ship's cannons started firing -- right at us! Copyright © 2007 by Simon & Schuster, Inc.