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"Whoo-hoo!" I screamed above the roar of my engine.
Catching some serious air on a Jet Ski always makes me want to yell. It was a perfect spring day out on the water. Blue skies, blue ocean great for showing off and splashing down.
My Jet Ski touched down to one side of the peedboat's wake. I glanced over my shoulder at my older brother, Frank. He was on a Jet Ski too. You'd think he would be as psyched as me, but he didn't look ready to whoop it up. Instead he gave me the patented Frank Hardy "get serious" glare and motioned with his hand for me to pull up on the opposite side of the boat.
That's Frank in a nutshell all business. He has no appreciation for a good moment. Sure, we were out on the open seas chasing down a criminal on a case for ATAC, American Teens Against Crime. Sure, E. J. Kingdon, the lowlife we were after this time, had a gun and had already made it clear he wasn't afraid to use it. And sure, we were racing far enough out to sea that soon our Jet Skis wouldn't be able to take us all the way back to shore.
But we'd been in worse shape than this before. That's what we do face life-threatening situations and have a seriously great time doing it. Oh, and take down the bad guys.
And E. J. was a genuinely bad guy. Posing as a friendly janitor, he'd stolen explosives and other bomb-making materials from a local college laboratory. ATAC got wind of it and sent us in as eager high school students getting a jump on the college search process. Once he found out where the explosives were stored, E. J. bypassed the security procedures and took what he wanted. He also knocked out a few students and Ms. Cottaldo, a really cool professor's assistant.
Stealing dangerous material was bad enough. Violence was even worse. Frank and I were gonna bring E. J. down, no matter what it took.
I gunned the Jet Ski's engine and pulled up even with the speedboat. I could just see my brother on the other side of it. With the boat blocking his body, all I could see was Frank's head bobbing up and down with the motion of the ski. Between us, E. J. stood at the controls of the boat, his arm pushing the throttle forward to full speed. From the look on his face, I could tell that the lowlife didn't want to deal with us. He just wanted to get on with his escape up the coast.
But that wasn't going to happen.
We were running our Jet Skis at top speed, making the wind whip around us. The rush of air made any kind of talking impossible. Thankfully, Frank and I had been in more chases than E. J. could even imagine. ATAC always had us saving the day or at least lots of people in some way or another. So we had a language all our own.
Frank's arm shot out, pointing to the back of the boat. Meanwhile, he started to pull his Jet Ski farther up alongside the speedboat. He was playing the decoy, getting E. J.'s attention so I could get close without being noticed.
I let my right wrist ease up just a little, cutting the gas enough to let the boat pass me. Then, just before the V-shaped pattern of the wake caught up with me, I gunned it again, pacing the boat and pulling in tight. I didn't want to end up behind the boat one misstep back there and there'd be one less Hardy in the world to give criminals a hard time.
As my ski pulled up to the starboard side of the boat, I glanced up to make sure E. J.'s attention was still on Frank. Boy, was it. E. J. still had one hand on the throttle, but in his other hand he held a gun!
He pointed it at Frank. Frank serpentined on his Jet Ski, weaving so close to the boat that E. J. couldn't get a clear shot, then pulling back out again to keep his attention. It was a dangerous game of cat and mouse my brother was playing. But Frank couldhandle it. He may be a little boring at times, but the dude has nerves of steel.
I turned my attention back to what I was doing. I had to get on that boat. It would have to be a precision maneuver. In order to reach the back of the boat, I would have to jump from farther up alongside it. Because the moment I left the Jet Ski and leaped into the air, I would start to slow down. Which meant the boat would move ahead of me. If I didn't time it just right, I'd end up leaping into the water in the boat's wake. Or, worse, I'd end up jumping into the engine itself. Once again, one less Hardy.
I studied the metal railing that ran along the edge of the boat. That's what I was shooting for. But to get there, I had to stand up and take my hands off the controls of my Jet Ski. Even without the wind whizzing by, the sound of the boat's engine roaring, and the bouncing up and down of the waves, it would have been a challenging leap. But with all of that going on, it was going to be nearly impossible.
And I had only one shot.
I leaned left, steering as close to the boat as I could. I paced myself to the boat, with my Jet Ski about five feet in front of where I wanted to land. I took a deep breath and wished my Jet Ski well, since I was going to have to ditch it here in the open water.
Time to rock and roll.
I stood up on the Jet Ski, keeping both hands on the handlebars to steady myself. I glanced at the railing to get a feel for the distance. In one motion, I released the Jet Ski and leaped toward the railing. The Jet Ski engine stopped its racing and fell back. I saw the boat speeding by as I flew through the air. It was almost past me!
At the very last second I grabbed the railing, my hands wrapping around the cool metal. My wrists, elbows, and shoulders jerked hard as the force of the boat pulled me along. I was dragging all my weight with just my arms but I had reached the boat.
Now for the really hard part. My feet dangled just inches above the racing water, and the wind whipping past threatened to yank me free of the railing. My biceps ached as I struggled to pull myself up onto the boat. Man, did I appreciate all those chin-ups in gym class now. I got my feet up to the level of the deck and threw my left leg over the side. Using all my strength, I pulled myself into the stern of the boat. I landed on my side and sucked in a huge breath of air.
I like to think of myself as pretty nimble and light on my feet. But I guess I make a pretty loud thud when I land. Who knew? I looked up to find E. J. no longer distracted by my brother. Staring over his shoulder at me, he was obviously very aware that I'd boarded his boat. And with my Jet Ski quickly vanishing in the distance, I had no way off. E. J. trained his gun on me.
I leaped to my feet and scanned the boat. There weren't a lot of options. Speedboats don't come with many places to hide. "Back to where I came from," I whispered to myself. It wasn't a good option, but it was the only one I had. I would get back onto the running board next to the engine at the stern of the boat. That would at least put the railing between the two of us and give me something to hold on to. I could duck down there and maybe just maybe not get shot.
I took one last look at E. J. All I saw was the muzzle of the gun pointing straight at me. I was out of time. I threw myself over the back railing in a tight dive roll.
I landed on the wooden planking of the running board, face-to-face with the engine. Or at least face-to-motor. My fingers grabbed the small space between the boards, stopping me inches from the roiling water and, underneath, the rotor. My eyes focused on the fuel line that fed gas into the engine.
Excellent! We could leave this bird dead in the water. I reached into my back pocket for my trusted Swiss Army knife. I'd have to clean the salt water and fuel off the blade later, but it would be worth it. Just as I flicked open the blade, though, I heard the engine cut out. Why was E. J. stopping?
With the engine down, Frank's voice cut through the sound of his Jet Ski. "Joe hurry! E. J.'s coming this way!"
Frank was running the ski right next to me, slowing to stay even with the slowing speedboat. I started sawing through the fuel line. It was tougher than I expected. I pressed harder.
"Don't saw at it, Joe," Frank yelled. "Just stab it and pull the knife out."
I grabbed the fuel line and wrapped my hand around it in a fist. I pulled it taut and brought the knife down, point first. If I didn't hit it dead center, the blade would just skim off the side.
But then, I've always had good aim. Perfect. Fuel shot everywhere.
I stood up, ready to launch myself onto Frank's Jet Ski and take off.
"Freeze right there, kid." I turned to look at E. J., who was standing above me on the deck, gun aiming at me from point-blank range. "I don't know what you boys think you're doing. But now you are in a world of trouble," he snarled. "See, I'm not much into kids. And I'm even less into nosy kids. So we've got a problem."
"No," Frank replied coolly. "You've got a problem." Frank's Jet Ski bobbed next to the speedboat. He sat back, a lighter burning in his hand. "You're standing on a boat with fuel running all over the place and a hold full of explosives. That about sum it up, Joe?"
Frank looked at me and gave me the slightest nod of his head. I winked at him to show I understood. He wanted me to jump onto his Jet Ski when he gave the word.
"That sounds about right to me, Frank." I used he excuse of answering him to position my feet to get the best jumping leverage possible.
"So before we negotiate any further..." Frank gave me another warning look. We were almost there. "Maybe you should put down that gun. Now!"
When he said that word, several things happened at once. My brother swung his arm violently, hurling the lighter at the boat. I took one step onto the top of the engine and leaped onto Frank's Jet Ski. And E. J., in a fit of self-preservation, ran toward the starboard side and dove over the railing of the boat into the water.
Once I landed on the Jet Ski and got my arms around him for safety, Frank took off at top speed, back to the shore. I ducked down, waiting for the explosion.
It never came.
"What happened?" I yelled into my brother's ear as I leaned against him to stay on the speeding Jet Ski.
Frank turned his head and yelled back, "Lighters don't stay lit if you take your thumb off the gas lever! It's only old-style lighters that do." Frank smiled at me. "Can't believe you didn't know that."
I responded the only way a little brother can in that situation. "Shut up!"
By the time we reached shore, a police boat was going after E. J.
Frank and I high-fived. Another successful ATAC mission. There was no feeling like it.
Copyright © 2006 by Simon & Schuster, Inc.