"He really said that about us?" asked sixteen-year-old Frank Hardy incredulously, running his fingers through his dark hair.
"He really said that," Fenton Hardy responded with a grin, his eyes fixed firmly on the road in front.
"Awesome!" exclaimed fifteen-year-old Joe from the back seat. "So when do we get to go on a stake-out with you?"
"You wouldn't be able to go on a stake-out, Joe, you couldn't stay quiet long enough," Frank teased.
"Hey!" exclaimed Joe indignantly. "That's not true! I was able to get in and out of Ira Wendelmahn's office without anyone seeing me."
"Only because you're so short."
"I'm not short!" Joe protested. "I'm over five foot six."
"I'm still taller than you."
"You're older than me!"
"Frank, leave your brother alone," Fenton reprimanded his eldest mildly. "You know very well he's grown a lot in the past few months."
"All the more reason for me to tease him while I still have the chance," Frank retorted, grinning back at his brother who stuck out his tongue in response.
"Frank!" said his father in warning.
"All right, all right! I'll leave shorty alone."
But Joe wasn't letting Frank have the last word. "Yeah well, I might be shorter than you but I'm still better looking!"
"I believe the expression is tall, dark and handsome, not tall, blond and handsome," Frank rejoined wickedly.
"Blonds have more fun!" Joe riposted.
"You two have just solved your first case," Fenton cut in, "and this is the conversation you're having?"
"Sorry, Dad," the boys chorused sheepishly and Fenton grinned to himself.
Over the years, he had often told the boys stories about his detective work and they in turn had expressed an interest in more than his stories. For the past two years, Fenton had been coaching them in the skills required for sleuthing and they had displayed a natural aptitude for it.
When Randy Willis had called to say someone was stealing designs from his computer company, SecuriCorp, Fenton had thought it would be a good opportunity to test his sons' abilities. Frank and Joe had proved themselves to be more than up to the challenge, discovering that it was a company employee who was leaking the secrets.
The thief had been Ira Wendelmahn, a company director and Willis' most trusted employee. Randy Willis had been blown away by Fenton's sons and told the detective that they were a hundred times sharper than any of the previous 'so-called professionals' he had hired, and he would call on them again if ever he had a problem.
"Dad, how long before we get back to Bayport?" asked Joe, interrupting his father's train of thought.
"Another two hours," Fenton replied, glancing at his son's face in the rear-view mirror. Joe was drumming his fingers and shifting restlessly in his seat. He scowled at his father's response.
Of course, some people still have to learn a little patience before they can become a fully-fledged detective! the detective grinned to himself.
"It was so cool, Mom," Joe proclaimed gleefully later that evening at dinner. "You should have seen Wendelmahn's face when Frank produced the disk, he looked like he was going to be sick!"
"You did very well, boys," smiled Laura. "I'm very proud of you."
"Hmph!" snorted their Aunt Gertrude. "Fenton, I'm not so sure it's a good idea for boys their age to be getting involved in such things. They should be concentrating on their studies."
"We would never let detective work interfere with our grades!" Frank put in hurriedly. "And we do learn some pretty useful stuff doing detective work."
"Besides," Joe chimed in, "it's good practice for when we're finished school and working full time as detectives."
"But that's still a few years away, Joe," his aunt reminded him. "And you might decide you want to study something else by then, like Law or Medicine," she added hopefully.
The three Hardy men erupted with laughter and even Laura smiled.
"Keep dreaming, Aunt Gertrude!" teased Frank with a grin, and his aunt sighed.
"Hey, Frank," said Joe. "Are you coming with me to meet the gang at Mr. Pizza's later?"
Frank shook his head. "I have Karate."
Joe groaned. "Karate! How do you stand it? It's so boring! And it always looked so cool in the movies too."
"It's a discipline, Joe," Frank pointed out. "An art, and-"
"Yeah, whatever!" Joe waved his hand dismissively and Frank sighed.
Both boys had started Karate classes a few months previously, feeling it would be a good idea to learn self-defence for their detective work. However, Joe had only lasted through three classes before he had gotten bored. Secretly, Frank was amazed that Joe had even lasted through that many; his brother wasn't exactly known for his patience.
"I think you should come to Mr. Pizza's instead," said Joe. "All the gang will be there and they're really looking forward to hearing about our weekend."
"I'm not missing Karate class, Joe," Frank told him firmly.
"Callie will be there," said Joe with a sly smile and Frank immediately blushed.
Callie Shaw had moved to Bayport several months earlier. She was in Frank's year at school, and Frank had immediately been smitten with the pretty blond. He had tried to hide this fact from Joe, but unfortunately for Frank, he was prone to turning neon-red whenever Callie was in the vicinity and Joe had not been long in working it out…or in using every opportunity to tease Frank about it.
"Why so eager to get Frank to go to Mr. Pizza's, Joe?" asked his mother with a grin, coming to Frank's aid. "Could it be because you need a lift?"
This time it was Joe's turn to blush and everyone laughed.
"Don't worry, Joe," said Frank with a grin. "I'll drop you off on my way to Karate."
"Thanks," said Joe sheepishly. "Um, you gonna drop in afterwards?"
Frank laughed again. "I'll pick you up on the way home. You could just ask, you know."
"I know," Joe mumbled, looking down at his plate and Frank grinned a little. It was a sore point with his brother that Frank was able to drive and he wasn't.
"Cheer up, Joe," said Frank. "You'll be sixteen next year and then you'll be able to get your licence too."
"I suppose I'll just have to put up with having a private chauffeur until then," Joe joked.
"Watch it you, or you'll be walking to Mr. Pizza!"
"That sounds awesome, Joe," said Biff enviously.
"Yeah," Chet nodded in agreement. "When's your next case?"
"I don't know," Joe answered honestly, tearing into his fourth slice of pizza. "Soon I hope."
"Joe," Callie grimaced as she watched him. "Is there any particular reason you're shovelling food into your mouth like you haven't eaten in a month?"
"Coach told me I need to put on at least twenty pounds before I can get more field time. I'm too skinny."
"Well, at the speed you're eating, you're probably burning more calories than you're consuming!" Callie teased and everyone laughed.
Joe scowled at her. Callie got on his nerves sometimes, but she and Iola had become firm friends ever since they had met on the school paper. Joe just didn't understand how Iola could be friends with someone so girlie; Iola was one of the guys after all.
"Hey, Frank!" Tony yelled suddenly, waving. "Over here!"
They all turned to see Frank weaving his way through the crowded tables in their direction. "Hey, bro, what gives?" asked Joe once Frank was in hearing distance. "I thought you were going to Karate?"
"Class was cancelled," replied Frank, dropping into a chair beside Phil. "Hi, guys."
"Joe was just telling us all about your weekend," said Chet. "Bet school will seem pretty boring after that."
"Don't let Aunt Gertrude hear you say that," Frank remarked dryly. "She'd use it as another excuse to try and stop us helping Dad."
"Well, you can understand why she'd be worried about you," Callie pointed out reasonably. "You two are her only nephews and she's probably just afraid that something might happen to you."
"She can be as worried as she likes so long as she doesn't go putting ideas in Dad's head," Joe put in and Callie shot him a despairing glance.
"Well, at least this means you two will be around for my brother's welcome home party next weekend," Biff told them.
Biff's brother Nick was twenty-one, and the oldest of the three Hooper children. He had joined the Air Force when he had graduated from high school and had been away for the last year.
"Friday night, isn't it?" asked Joe and Biff nodded.
"And does anyone want to know who Phil will be going with?" Tony interjected suddenly, with a devilish grin at the quiet boy.
Phil blushed. "I'm sure everyone would prefer to hear about Frank and Joe's weekend."
"No, we wouldn't!" said Chet at once. "Who are you going with?"
"Karen Saunders," Tony told them.
"Karen Saunders?" yelped Chet. "Are you serious?"
"That's the last time I tell you anything," Phil muttered, shooting a murderous glance at Tony, his face now a nice deep purple.
The other boys started to grin. "What did you do? Hypnotise her to say yes?" teased Biff.
"Actually, she asked me out," Phil mumbled and the boys roared with laughter.
"Seriously, Phil, that girl is cute! What's she doing asking you out?" demanded Chet.
"Maybe she's decided to give brains instead of brawn a chance?" suggested Tony wickedly, as Phil buried his face in his hands.
"Leave him alone!" cried Iola, coming to Phil's defence. "When was the last time any of you had dates?"
The boys stopped laughing at once. "Did you see the game Friday night?" Tony asked no one in particular and the others started talking quickly.
"Yeah, great game, wasn't it?"
"Awesome touchdown by Madison."
Iola rolled her eyes and Phil shot her a grateful glance.
"Thanks," he mouthed to her and she smiled. Phil then joined in the discussion on the game.
"Boys," Callie muttered to Iola, shaking her head.
The next evening after school, Frank drove home alone because Joe had football practice. The radio was playing, and Frank sang softly to himself while tapping his fingers on the steering wheel. It was his mother's car and although she was very liberal with how often she gave it to him, sometimes Frank wished he had a car of his own.
Maybe next year when Joe turns sixteen we could buy one, he mused, as he turned onto Elm Street. He resolved to suggest it to Joe later.
Hey, Dad's home! the teenager realised, pulling into the driveway and turning off the engine. He was surprised because their father had left early that morning and the boys had fully expected that he would not be back until late that night.
"Mom? Dad?" Frank called as he entered the house.
"Hi, honey," his mother greeted him, appearing in the doorway of the kitchen. "Does Joe have practice?"
Frank nodded. "Tony is giving him a ride. Don't worry, Mom, he promised to be home on time for dinner."
"Good," his mother smiled. "We have company this evening."
"We do?" asked Frank. "Who?"
"Mike Wilson!" exclaimed Frank in delight. "Seriously?"
Laura nodded. "Your father ran into him this morning in town. He's on a missing persons case and he's here in Bayport for a few days following a lead. Your father invited him to dinner."
"Where is Dad?"
"Out helping Mike chase down whatever lead he's following. He came by earlier to drop off his car and took off again," said Laura, smiling fondly and shaking her head.
Frank grinned and headed up the stairs to start his homework.
"Dinner will be in two hours," Laura called after him.
"Okay, Mom," he called back.
All thoughts of a car driven from his mind, Frank felt his excitement grow as he entered his room. Big Mike Wilson was almost legendary in the New York Police Department and one of his father's oldest friends. They had graduated from the academy and been rookies together, and Mike had even served overseas for a few years before returning to the NYPD.
Frank and Joe had met him a few times, the last time being when they were eleven and twelve. He was now a detective with NYPD and had a schedule every bit as busy as Fenton's, meaning the men rarely got a chance to meet up.
Mike Wilson was a huge man with a booming laugh and gentle nature; Frank and Joe had always been very fond of him, particularly because every time he saw them he told them stories about what he and their father had gotten up to in their younger days, something the boys found most entertaining.
Smiling to himself and looking forward to dinner, Frank sat at his desk and started his homework. He was still working away diligently nearly an hour and a half later when Joe got home. "Frank!" he could hear his brother's excited yell as he raced up the stairs.
"Frank!" Joe burst into his room, breathless with excitement. "Stand up a sec!"
"Joe," Frank groaned, knowing what was coming. "Not this again!"
"Come on, Frank!" Joe begged. "Coach said I've finally hit five foot seven and I just want to see."
"Why can't you just mark off a measure stick on the door like everybody else?" Frank muttered as he stood up. He was glad that Joe had finally stopped being the short kid and was starting to shoot up, but what if his little brother passed him out? Frank knew it was stupid, but he felt that as the eldest, he should also be the tallest.
Joe was now measuring himself beside Frank, his face a mask of intense concentration.
"It's not really that much," he said finally, a look of disappointment crossing his face.
Joe looked so forlorn that Frank took pity on him. "Cheer up, Joe. It's not that big a deal."
"But it is!" Joe insisted. "I've played in exactly four games this season and all for less than three minutes. If I want to get more time on the field then I need to get bigger!"
"Joe, you're one of the fastest guys on the team, surely that counts for something?"
Joe shrugged unhappily. "Coach thinks I could get hurt 'cause the other guys are bigger than me."
Frank frowned a little. "There are plenty of guys on the team only an inch or two taller than you, and if I remember correctly, Dan Anderson is shorter than you."
"He's also about seventy pounds heavier," Joe reminded him with a slight grin. "Other players just ricochet off him! And those other guys are pretty heavy too."
Frank glanced at Joe's skinny frame. "You're still growing, Joe. I wasn't exactly Mr. Muscle this time last year either."
Joe raised his eyebrows and grinned. "Frank, I hate to burst your bubble but you're still not exactly Mr. Muscle!"
Frank sighed in exasperation. "Joe, the point is I've grown. I filled out, and you will too."
"But why does it have to take so long?" Joe groaned impatiently.
"Because it just does!" replied Frank with a grin. "Besides, I have some news that'll cheer you up."
"Mike Wilson is coming to dinner tonight."
"Mike Wilson? Seriously?"
Frank nodded and Joe cheered with delight. "Excellent! Wonder what story he'll tell us about Dad this time?"
"Joe?" a voice sounded from the hall and both boys turned to see their mother standing in the doorway. "Dinner will be ready shortly, you might want to wash up."
"Is Dad here yet?" asked Frank.
"They're on the way," smiled Laura. "They'll be here soon."
"Cool!" said Joe and dashed into the bathroom that he and Frank shared to clean up.
The boys were seated at the kitchen table ten minutes later when the front door opened. Their mother and aunt were busy bustling about the kitchen.
"Laura?" they heard their father's voice from the hall.
"In the kitchen," she called back.
Their father entered the kitchen followed by the massive shape of Mike Wilson. "Laura," he greeted her cheerfully, kissing her cheek and proffering a bottle of wine. "It's great to see you, it's been a long time."
"You too, Mike," Laura returned warmly. "Oh, thank you," she added accepting the wine.
"And, Gertrude, still as lovely as ever," Mike addressed the boys' aunt with a twinkle in his eye as he approached her.
"Now! Less of that!" she said tartly, although she was smiling as he kissed her. "It's very nice to see you again, Mike."
"Boys!" the big man boomed turning to face them. "Damn! - Sorry, Gertrude - but you boys have sure grown since I saw you last. Frank, you look more like your Dad every time I see you. Much smarter of course," he added with a conspiratol wink at Frank.
"Hey!" Fenton mock-glared. "I was always the brains of the operation!"
"Ah, but I only let you think that," Mike responded putting his finger on the side of his head.
Joe laughed and Mike turned to him. "How's little Joey doing?
"Uh, Mike?" Fenton cut in. "It's just Joe now."
"Joe, eh?" said Mike. "I suppose that sounds about right. And you're not so little anymore either; you've grown so much, I wouldn't recognise you.
"Why don't you have a seat, Mike?" said Laura. "Dinner's just about ready."
"Thank you, Laura," Mike smiled, as he and Fenton sat down.
"So, boys," he addressed Frank and Joe. "I believe you two have decided to follow in your Dad's footsteps?"
The boys nodded eagerly. "Well, be careful not to get into trouble," he warned them. "It can follow you around like a bad smell if you're not careful."
"Of course, some people manage to find trouble even when they're not detectives," Gertrude put in, looking pointedly at Joe.
"Bit of a trouble magnet then, eh, Fenton?" asked Mike.
"He's turned more than a few of my hairs grey already," Fenton responded dryly.
"Well, at least he doesn't go looking for it," said Mike in response, shooting a supportive smile at a red-faced Joe. "Not like you when you were younger-"
"Let's not talk about me when I was younger!" interrupted Fenton hurriedly.
"Afraid I might tell the boys something you don't want them to know?" Mike challenged with a grin.
"No, it's not that, it's just-"
"Then what are you worried about?" Mike cut in and turned to the boys while Laura suppressed a laugh.
"Did I ever tell you about the first night your Dad and I met?"
"Dad did," Joe answered.
"Bet you he didn't tell you everything though," said Mike with a smile. "Did he tell you about the room next door?" The boys shook their head.
"Didn't think so," Mike commented with a gleeful look at Fenton.
"You know your Dad and I were assigned as each other's room mate," he said, starting his tale. "But I'll tell you, when I walked into that room and found this skinny looking beanpole sprawled across the bed reading a crime novel of all things, I thought the accommodation office must have made a mistake!"
Frank and Joe laughed.
"I hope this is a clean story," Gertrude commented, with a warning look at Mike.
"It is, don't worry," Mike assured her. "Anyway, we didn't really talk much that evening, but later that night we had trouble sleeping; the guy next door snored so bad it sounded like a freight train was coming through the room. Eventually, at about three in the morning, your dad gets up and leaves. Five minutes later, silence falls in the next room. And while I'm lying there wondering what happened, your Dad comes back, gets into bed and goes to sleep!"
Mike paused to take a breath before continuing. "The snoring never started up again and I was completely freaked out, thinking I'd landed myself with a serial killer roommate! I didn't sleep one wink that night I was so afraid of your dad."
"Well? What happened?" asked Gertrude, obviously listening to the story, despite her disapproval.
"Apparently, Fenton had the bright idea of putting this guy's hand in a bucket of cold water. Don't ask me where he got the idea from; I mean, everyone knows what happens when you do that to someone, and it's not stop them snoring!"
"It worked that night!" said Fenton with a wicked grin.
"Oh, don't tell me," gasped Frank, laughter bubbling in his throat.
"Yup," said Mike as he started to laugh. "Guy shows up at our door next morning, in one hell of a temper - the roommate had let Fenton in, so he knew who to blame - and shouted himself hoarse while standing there with his boxers all wet!"
Frank and Joe roared with laughter while Gertrude looked horrified. "Fenton!" she gasped.
"The best bit of it was," said Fenton, joining in the laughter, "he woke up the whole dorm, and of course they saw everything! He got the worst nick-name of our entire graduating class, and I won't repeat it. I don't think even Mike will do that."
"That I won't," Mike agreed. "But I can tell you that what followed was several months of practical jokes between our room and his. Course after that, I realised your Dad was an okay guy and we became friends."
"We had to really, to defeat Steve," Fenton smiled reminiscently.
"Fenton, I can't believe you did that to that poor boy!" Gertrude reprimanded him indignantly.
"I was only eighteen!" Fenton defended himself. "And besides, Steve was one of the most unpleasant people I've ever met in my life; he'd already played a particularly nasty trick on one of the girls in the dorm earlier that day."
"Doesn't make it any less acceptable," she sniffed.
"Well it's over and done with now," said Fenton.
"You're right," Mike agreed. "I have a lot of stories about you to share with your boys."
"That's not exactly what I meant!"
"I know, but it's my job to keep them informed," teased Mike. "After all, you very kindly filled Louise in on all my exploits the last time you were at our place."
"I knew that was going to come back to bite me in the ass sooner or later!" Fenton groaned.
"Louise is my daughter," Mike explained to the boys. "Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, your father! Did you boys ever hear about the time he arranged our Captain's office furniture on the front lawn of the Academy? Exactly as it was arranged in his office?"
"No!" exclaimed Frank and Joe as they exploded with laughter.
"Excellent!" said Mike gleefully. "Well, you see, it all started when Fenton was told he couldn't go on this particular training course…"