Private investigator Fenton Hardy smiled in pleasant surprise at the man standing on his front step. "Mr. Rosado! Come in, come in!" He quickly ushered the other man into his two-story Victorian house, situated on the corner of Elm and High streets in the coastal city of Bayport.
At 6'2", Fenton towered over the much shorter man, who stood only about 5'6".
"Frank! Joe! Could you come down here please?" the detective called out. "I'd like you to meet my sons," he explained to Mr. Rosado with a warm smile.
The shorter man smiled back and nodded. "I'd love to, Fenton. I've just gotten back in town and had to stop by to say hello right away!"
The sound of feet on the stairs interrupted them, and both men turned to see a tall, dark-haired, handsome young man coming towards them. At 6'1", 18-year-old Frank Hardy looked a lot like his father. They had the same dark hair, eyes and many shared mannerisms.
The teenager immediately put his hand out to shake the extended one of his father's guest.
"Frank, I'd like you to meet an old client of mine – Mr. Antoine Rosado. Mr. Rosado, this is my older son, Frank." Fenton made the introduction and then looked at his son, questioningly. "Dare I ask where your brother is?"
Hurried footsteps along the top landing heading towards the staircase answered Fenton's query, even as Frank grinned, "Getting dressed. He was in the shower."
And indeed, Joe was still pulling a sweater down over his muscular chest even as he came down the stairs. Then he ran a hand through his damp curly blond hair, even as his brother rolled his eyes, amazed that Joe didn't kill himself on the stairs.
"Sorry," the younger boy said sheepishly. He blushed slightly when he realized they had seen him getting dressed, as he had expected them to be in his father's office.
The private investigator's home office had only recently been moved downstairs.
Fenton chuckled and introduced the 17-year-old before Joe shook Mr. Rosado's hand, but it was when he glanced into the face of the older man, that the man started in surprise.
"Is something wrong?" Fenton asked, but the other man was just shaking his head and starting at Joe's face.
"Oh no. I'm sorry, it's just that your son has the most exquisitely colored eyes I've ever seen. I don't think I've seen that shade of blue before. In fact, I know I haven't."
Frank turned away to hide a small smile as Joe, blushing heavily this time, glanced away self-consciously and moved to stand beside him.
The younger boy was used to people remarking about his eye color – an electric sapphire that intensified when he was upset – but this man's reaction made him feel very uncomfortable.
Unaware of his younger son's discomfort, Fenton beamed proudly, "He takes after his mom's family."
"Ah, Laura…yes, I do remember her very well. A very beautiful woman but I must admit I don't recall her eyes being so…well for lack of a better word – blue!" Antoine said as his eyes took on a faraway look for a moment before he returned his gaze to Joe.
"You're right; Laura's aren't that color blue," Fenton admitted, a bit surprised that the old man remembered her. "He takes after her brother."
As they moved to sit down in the living room, Joe tried to avoid Antoine by sitting down on the other side of Frank, as far away from the old man as possible. Absently he started to bounce his leg, ignoring the look his brother gave him.
His father, noticing his growing discomfort, quickly changed the subject. "Boys, Mr. Rosado is the head of one of the oldest shipping firms in Europe and…well, he was mine and Sam's first client when we went out on our own."
The younger Hardys were impressed, although Joe was finding Mr. Rosado's obtrusive gaze unnerving, and he squirmed in the seat next to Frank. His brother cast him a curious glance, wondering why he was fidgeting more than usual, even as he placed a steadying hand on Joe's leg to get him to stop moving it.
Finally after about ten minutes, the blond teenager couldn't take it anymore; the old man was creeping him out. Excusing himself, he went back upstairs under the pretense of starting an assignment for school.
"Okay kiddo," Frank said, after going into his brother's room and seeing Joe looking through his dresser drawers, "What's going on?"
Joe paused and looked at his older brother. "I'm looking for my black belt – you didn't borrow it, did you?"
"No, try the hamper. Maybe you left it on your pants," Frank offered, and then followed his brother into the bathroom they shared. "Now 'fess up. I'm not buying the assignment excuse." He watched as Joe dumped the contents of the hamper on the floor and then rummaged through it, finding his belt, just as Frank predicted.
The older boy cleared his throat when Joe started to leave the mess, and was rewarded by a stinky sock being tossed at him, but the blond teen did put the clothes back in the hamper anyway.
Joe shrugged. "I just didn't want to hang out any longer. Mr. Rosado is creepy."
Frank laughed and watched his brother slip his wallet into his back pocket as he finished fastening the belt. "Creepy? I thought he was a nice old guy. A bit eccentric maybe, but he is pretty rich. Old money, I think, if I remember from what Dad's mentioned about him before."
"Hmmm," Joe said thoughtfully, "You ever notice that if you're poor and off your rocker, you're 'crazy' but if you're rich, well then you're 'eccentric'? Crazy is still crazy big brother, no matter how you try and sell it."
Narrowing his eyes at the other teen, Frank teased, "That's pretty deep, little brother, especially for you."
"Ha, ha," Joe said sarcastically, and then he looked into Frank's warm brown eyes and sighed, "I can't explain it Frank. But the way he kept looking at me gave me the chills…"
"Joe," Frank said, as he could plainly read the unsettled look on his sibling's face, "he's not the first person to stare at you."
"I know," Joe admitted, "But I can't help how I feel…and that's just how I feel. Anyway, I gotta run. I'm supposed to meet Vanessa at the mall. You sure you don't need the van today?"
Frank shook his head, still puzzled by his brother. "Ironically enough, I do have an assignment to start on and Phil's coming over around lunchtime. So I'm home today. Have fun though, little brother, and please try to stay out of trouble for a couple of hours, anyway!"
Joe flashed him a bright smile. "You know me… 'Safety-boy!'" Frank groaned even as his brother left the room, calling over his shoulder as he went, "Talk to you later!"
Chuckling to himself, Frank went into his own room and pulled out his books. If the assignment's topic was any indication, it was going to be a very long day.
Seventeen-year-old Vanessa Bender looked around impatiently – where was Joe?
Although punctuality was not one of her boyfriend's strong suits, reliability was. He told her he'd be at the mall, so he would. She just couldn't figure out why he was so late.
Joe's normal window was plus or minus fifteen minutes. So an hour after they were supposed to meet and he hadn't shown up, the ash-blond teenager began to become very worried.
Frank was surprised to see Mr. Rosado was still downstairs talking to his father when he came down to get some fresh coffee.
"Your father has had a very interesting life," the old man said to the teenager. "I could listen to him talk about it all day!"
"Yeah he has," Frank admitted proudly as he stopped to talk to the two men. He found Mr. Rosado in no way 'creepy,' regardless of what Joe thought.
"And so have you and your brother, from what your father has told me," Antoine continued, "Come Frank, sit down and tell an old man all about what it is like to be the son of such a man. And to be such a man, yourself."
Normally Frank was not one who liked to talk about his own achievements much – that was more Joe's forte – however, he found Mr. Rosado such an attentive, animated audience, that he was soon regaling both him and his father with his and Joe's oft-times wild exploits.
A couple of times, Fenton found himself cocking an eyebrow at what he heard, realizing that it was not always exactly what he had been told – apparently the reports his sons gave him were quite tame in comparison!
But at the same time, his heart swelled with pride – they were good boys and he was very proud of them.
Mr. Rosado ooh'd, aah'd and even gave loud cries of excitement at certain points – his responses enticing Frank into the next tale!
Halfway through one of their cases, as the teenager was telling them about a run-in they'd had with a phantom freighter, the phone rang and Fenton excused himself to answer it in the kitchen.
A moment later he called out to Frank, "Son, did Joe mention to you that he had any place to go before meeting Vanessa at the mall?"
Frank shook his head. "No. He just said he was going to the mall—" He looked at his watch and frowned. "But that was over an hour and a half ago, now."
Fenton went back into the kitchen to finish talking to Vanessa, and when he came back, he had the same worried look on his face as Frank was wearing.
"Is something wrong?" Mr. Rosado asked, his ruddy face marking his concern.
Father and son exchanged a look before Fenton answered, "Actually Antoine, I think we need to cut this visit short. That was Joe's girlfriend. He was supposed to meet her at the mall over an hour ago, but he still hasn't shown."
"Oh dear," the old man said, "I hope nothing's happened to him. Maybe he got a flat tire or something…" He looked at Frank and winked, "No offence Frank, but young men are hardly ones to be considered high in the reliability area. He may be waylaid by his own heart's fancy. I may be old, but not so much that I can't appreciate a thing of beauty, myself…"
Frank stared at the old man for a second before shaking his head. "Not Joe. He might leave a bit to be desired in the punctuality department, but he's never this late." He headed for the phone as he said to his father, "I'll try his cell."
A few minutes later, he hung up, getting more worried by the moment. "The phone's ringing but he's not picking up." The Hardys shared a glance. "Dad, I'll take my bike and see if I can find him."
"Okay son," Fenton said, already following him to the kitchen where the vehicle keys were kept on a key rack. "I'll call around and see if anyone's seen him."
Revving the motorcycle engine and pulling his visor down over his eyes, Frank pulled out of driveway.
All right little brother, he thought, let's see what you've gotten into this time….
There was no doubt in his mind that Joe's absence was innocent…it never was.
To be continued...