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Chapter One: Hard-Boiled Hardys
My skin was burning!
Every breath was like sucking fire straight into my lungs. I pounded on the door, but it was locked from the outside.
Now, I love a good sauna -- most of the time. But 180 degrees? Give me a break!
"Any great ideas?" I asked my brother Frank -- not because he's a year older than I am, but because he has a long history of thinking us out of trouble.
We'd been on the trail of a notorious people trafficker -- a really bad, really rich guy. This sleazebag happened to belong to the very exclusive Moscow Health and Fitness Center -- that's Moscow, as in Russia.
Working with ATAC (American Teens Against Crime) in partnership with Interpol, Frank and I had followed Mr. Bigski all the way across the Atlantic Ocean and right into this sauna that was about to broil us alive.
Since this particular bad guy had made a specialty of smuggling teenagers, Interpol decided that it had to be teenagers -- Frank and me, disguised as bait -- who would track this bad boy down.
Well, we'd tracked him down, all right -- straight into this sauna. The only problem was, he'd been onto us -- maybe from the very start -- and now Frank and I were the ones who were cornered!
When our mark got up and left the sauna, we waited a minute or two, like any goodinvestigator who's tailing a suspect. Only then did we try to follow him. That's when the door refused to budge, and we realized he'd locked us in!
A quick check of the thermostat showed he'd jimmied that, too -- the control lever was gone. While 180 degrees Fahrenheit isn't technically boiling, it was plenty close enough to finish us off.
I wondered where the pool boy had gone off to. Mr. Bigski must've paid him a handsome tip to get lost, I figured.
"Okay, big brother," I said, folding my arms and sitting back on the redwood bench as the waves of heat rose all around us. "Now what do we do?"
"First, I would like to point out," Frank stated, "that it was your idea to trail this guy to the health club. Not mine."
"This is no time to argue," I said. He was right, though. It was my idea. "Come on, Frank, you know you're the brains of this outfit."
"Flattery will get you nowhere," he said. "Even if it's true."
"I can't even think in this heat."
"Well, if you'll just stop talking for a minute, I'll take a stab at it." He sighed and lowered his head into his hands.
The heat kept radiating from the lava rocks, hitting me in little waves...thwap...thwap...thwap...
If it got any hotter in here, I was definitely going to pass out.
"Don't take too long about it, Frank."
Right on cue, he cried, "I have an idea! Got any metal on you?"
"Metal? Frank, we're in our bathing suits!"
"Your chain, man."
"This? This is gold, dude -- twenty-four carats!"
"Joe, we haven't got time to fool around here."
It hurt me, but I took off the chain and handed it to him. Then I leaned back on the bench and closed my eyes. I was on the edge of fading out, and I had to keep biting my lip just to stay awake.
Frank grabbed a towel someone had left behind on the bench and wrapped it around his hand to protect it. Then he reached into the pile of steaming lava rocks, jamming the chain deep into the sauna's power source.
There was a sudden spark, and a loud POP! In an instant, all the lights went out, and we were in total darkness.
"Frank?" I gasped, fully awake now. "Are you okay?"
I sure hoped he hadn't electrocuted himself trying to save us!
"I...I think so," he said in a shaky voice. "I did get shocked pretty good...."
"That was a stupid, stupid thing to do, Frank."
"I didn't see much choice, Joe. Either the heat got short-circuited, or we did. It ought to start cooling off in here pretty soon."
"Aw, our brains'll be boiled by then! And meanwhile, we're still locked in."
"You think so? Try the door."
"Just try it."
I did -- and guess what? It opened.
Man, that Frank is smart! How did he know that the lock on the sauna door was hooked up to an electronic release?
"I've gotta hand it to you, Frank," I told him. "In this heat, I couldn't even have thought of my own name, let alone an idea like that."
"Ah, it's nothing."
"Sure you're all right?"
"Nope. Now could we please get moving?"
A faint glow from the club's emergency lighting system filtered in. It pierced the steam that rose from the whirlpool and filled the entire pool enclosure.
In the dim light, I turned and saw Frank -- and jumped backward in shock!
His hair was sticking straight up. The ends looked a little charred, and so did his eyebrows -- but otherwise, he was definitely alive. His eyes were opened wider than I'd ever seen them. The dry towel that had protected him was charred and smoking as he unwound it from his hand and dropped it on the floor.
"Come on," he said, brushing past me. "Let's get out of here -- we've got to catch that guy before he gets away!"
"You think he's still hanging around?" I asked as we entered the shower room. "I doubt it. If I were him, I'd be long gone."
But I was wrong. Again. Because suddenly the door to one of the shower stalls banged open behind me.
Instinctively, I ducked -- and a good thing, too. The gunshot missed my head by inches, ricocheting off the wall and sending pieces of tile flying everywhere.
I went into a roll and buckled the guy's knees. He let out a yelp and went down in a heap, just in time for Frank to yank away his gun while I pummeled him into total submission.
"That wasn't a very nice thing to do, mister," I told him. "But then, you're not a very nice guy, are you?"
He didn't answer. In fact, I'm not sure he heard me. He looked pretty out of it, thanks to my poor sore fists.
"I'll alert the police," said Frank, stepping outside and pulling out his cell phone. "You okay in here alone with him?"
"I'm fine now," I answered.
Getting off the passed-out crook, I stepped into a shower stall and turned on the cold water. I needed to cool off now, before I passed out myself.
"Sure you're okay, Frank?" I asked. "You look kind of...electric."
He ran a hand through his hair, which kept standing straight up anyway. "I'm fine," he insisted. "Never felt better in my life. I'm all...tingly!"
His whole body shuddered, and I could swear I saw sparks flying. But charged up or not, he was definitely alive, and that was a big relief.
"Ahhh," I said, letting the cold water of the shower pour all over me, while I kept a wary eye on the motionless Mr. Bigski. "You know, you're right, Frank. I do feel pretty good. And I've never felt cleaner, either!"
Copyright © 2007 by Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Excerpted from Murder at the Mall by Franklin W. Dixon Copyright © 2007 by Franklin W. Dixon. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
1. Hard-Boiled Hardys
2. Reality Bites
3. Dangerous Work
4. Help Wanted?
5. Shattered Illusions
6. Picking Up the Pieces
7. New Angles
8. Up on the Roof
9. Murder at the Mall
10. We Get a Clue
11. The Big Chill
12. A Friend in Need
13. Big-Time Evil
14. Over the Edge
15. The Chase Is On
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