Chapter One – A Cry For Help
We join the Hardys discussing their latest case with their father, Fenton Hardy. It’s as good a time as ever to point out this particular ghostwriter’s aversion to the word “said”. Vincent avoids it like the plague.
Apparently a gang has been stealing mercury. The Hardys chat a bit about mercury, revealing facts that that may or may not be true. This was written in 1970, so who knows. The mercury is being transported in flasks about the size of milk bottles that weigh 135 pounds each when filled with mercury.
Suddenly (get used to that word) a boomerang smashes through the window! Yep, Chet Morton, the fatass comic relief friend, is on the scene, and boomerangs are his latest craze, which means that in a stunning coincidence boomerangs will also be related to the main plot of this book.
Mr. Hardy is heading off to Baltimore under the alias of L. Marks. I’m not sure why he doesn’t use an actual first name – say “Larry” or maybe “Leroy”. He asks the Boys to do a little investigation for him and takes off for the airport, where the Hardys’ private pilot, Jack Wayne, will fly him in the Hardys’ private plane to Baltimore. It must be nice being that rich.
The following morning after church services (page 6).
Believe it or not, the Hardys do attend church, like the wholesome, all-American WASPs they are.
Anyway, they head out to Chet’s farm, picking up Frank’s platonic girlfriend, Callie, who is mostly here to remind the audience that Frank is straight. They arrive and meet up with Chet and Iola (Iola? Is that even a name?), Chet’s sister and Joe’s platonic girlfriend, who is mostly here to remind the audience that Joe is straight. They all fuck around with boomerangs for a bit. Joe makes a bad throw and it almost hits an antique lamppost, but Frank leaps dramatically into the air and manages to save it! Holy shit that was close. My heart was pounding. My god, if they had broken it….Chet would have been chewed out by his mother, definitely.
The next day, they’re at their friend Phil’s house, and they make the call to New York for their father. However, Joe accidentally dials the wrong area code and gets a wrong number in Washington, D.C. He’s about to hang up when there’s a shout and a voice yells about someone being after the Super S data.
Chapter Two – Mercury Mystery
Joe thinks it’s a practical joke of some kind, but Frank stops him to exposit to the audience that this may be some kind of vital clue about a crime in progress. They listen as the room on the other end is ransacked, and then they hear words: Bombay Boomerang. Then the line goes dead.
The Boys are confused, but they go ahead and make the call for Mr. Hardy and find out that an incoming ship has mercury aboard. Then they tell Fenton about the phone call, who is a bit worried.
“This could be of vital importance to our national security,” he declared (page 14).
Fenton decides to call one of his pals at the Pentagon. Later, when the Boys are at home, a couple shady characters show up and ask if they have a Mercury [!!] for sale, which confuses them because they’re not selling a used car. The characters give them the address of the hotel they’re staying at and ask the Boys to stay in touch if they hear of anyone selling a Mercury. Normally, I’d think this was some kind of weird sexual proposition, but these books don’t even have kissing in them.
Frank remembers that their friend Biff’s uncle actually has an old Mercury for sale (weird coincidence, right?) and they decide to head to the hotel as an excuse to see what these chaps are up to. They ask Phil and Biff to come with them as backup and tell them that if they’re not back in 10 minutes, to come in afterwards. They head up to the room, commenting on how shady the hotel is, and once inside the thugs reveal that actually they’re after mercury, and Mr. Hardy is getting involved with things he shouldn’t be. Which, okay, fair enough. Why all the random subterfuge about a Mercury, then? Why would they assume the Hardys would randomly know someone selling a Mercury and come to the hotel? Why not just torch their house and kill everyone inside?
Anyway, the one wearing a beret, (yes, a beret) steps between them and the door.
“Come on,” he barked. “I’m itching to take care of you. Next time you bob up, it’ll be in the bay, and you’ll be as dead as an iced mackerel!” (page 19)
Chapter Three – The Hotel Caper
At that exact moment Biff and Phil kick open the door. Apparently it took Frank and Joe 10 solid minutes to walk up to the room.
Tony makes a witty comment. Then Biff does. Then Joe does. Then Frank. Then Biff makes another one. Jesus, guys, you’re not James Bond. The thugs (god I love that word) realize they’re outnumbered, so the Boys stroll outside and are greeted by Chet, who announces in a loud voice that Mr. Hardy called from Baltimore and they need to contact him right away. The Boys glance up and see Beret looking out the window and realize he might have overheard what Chet said, which isn’t surprising. If they’re ever running some sort of undercover op, you can count on Chet to fuck things up.
Biff and Phil offer to stay and watch the hotel and the Hardys head home to call Fenton. They compare notes, and he asks them to meet up with an Admiral Rodgers at the Pentagon to discuss the mysterious phone call.
The boys head over to meet up with the chief of police, Collig, who, like most police officers in this series, is slightly incompetent and is willing to let a couple teenagers handle all the investigative work for him. Collig says he’ll put a couple officers on the thugs at the hotel. But, when they get back to where Biff and Tony are, they find that the thugs (seriously it’s a great word) have already checked out and snuck out the back entrance.
Later, when they get home, they talk about everything and suddenly (told you) something smashes through the window. It’s a bolt with a message attached to it:
WE KNOW ALL ABOUT YOU! SPLIT OUT OR YOU’LL WIND UP IN A CEMENT BARREL! (page 28).
Chapter Four – The Battered Car
Aunt Gertrude busts in and reads the message and freaks out a bit, but the Boys have to head off to the BBQ at Phil’s. As they leave, they say hi to Mrs. Jackson, who arrives in a fancy car to visit Mrs. Hardy.
At the BBQ, the Boys want to talk about the mystery, but it’s put off until after dinner by Chet (because he’s fat and wants to eat all the time) so they start eating all the delicious food that the girls have barbecued (because they’re women and their place is cooking food for men).
After some nothing, they get a frantic call from their mother and head home to find Mrs. Jackson’s fancy car beaten to shit with a crowbar and a threatening message spray-painted on the side. Jackson describes the guy she saw, and it’s Beret!!!
Joe mans up and calls Mrs. Jackson’s insurance agent and finds out the damage is covered, which soothes Mrs. Jackson’s womanly nerves.
The next day they head for the airport and Jack says a couple toughs (almost as good as thugs) have been asking questions about them. The Boys discuss it and then head into the cafeteria for a cup of tea [???]. Apparently the Boys are British. As they sip their tea, they’re paged, and a clerk tells them that there’s a Mr. Marks waiting for them in a repair shop. Hooray, Dad’s back! They head over and are unceremoniously bashed over the head and black out.
Chapter Five – The Missing Missile
The pilot, Jack, revives them. They have a headache but are otherwise completely unharmed. I actually credit the Hardy Boys with more or less singlehandedly inventing the Tap on the Head trope: they are knocked unconscious at least once per book, but never suffer any permanent injuries of any kind.
The Boys realize their jackets, wallets, money and ID are all gone. Not to mention that clearly the thugs know their father’s secret identity. Fortunately, Jack bails them out and loans them enough cash for their trip, because what good is having your own pilot if he can’t float you when your wallet is stolen?
When they arrive at the Pentagon, they meet up with the Admiral and explain everything. In turn, he explains that a commander in charge of a secret missile base had his office burgled. Fortunately, he hit a button that started a hidden tape recorder in a desk drawer, because all officers at the Pentagon have hidden recorders in desk drawers instead of…I dunno, security cameras?
The Super S is a bitchin new top secret missile that’s totally unbeatable and only the US has it, which makes me wonder why the Admiral is telling a couple teenagers about it. Frank asks about the contents of the tape, but the Admiral says that’s classified. So…the super-secret new missile is free game, but the contents of a tape is classified. A tape the boys probably already know the contents off, because they were listening on the phone. Okay then.
However, the Admiral then swears them to secrecy and explains that a Super S missile was stolen! Holy shit! I had no idea that all you needed to do was swear random teenagers to secrecy and then it was okay to divulge highly classified military secrets to them.
They call Fenton’s hotel and it turns out L. Marks has returned and wants them to come. They fly to Baltimore, tell Jack to come looking if they’re not in contact within 3 hours, and head for the hotel in a taxi. As they drive, a sedan tries to ram into them, so the driver swerves out of the way and skids into a side street straight towards a telephone pole!
Chapter Six – X Marks L. Marks
Frank glances out the window and memorizes the license plate, and then they skid to a halt just short of the telephone pole. Whew! Good thing that cliffhanger turned out be nothing at all.
The cops show up, nothing happens, then another cop finds the abandoned sedan, which is stolen. They go to check it out and upon arriving, Joe happens to find something under the door mat that the cops missed, because policemen are incompetent. Turns out to be Frank’s driver’s license! Naturally, this makes the fuzz suspicious that the Boys are involved with a car theft, because when people steal a car, they leave their driver’s license beneath a floor mat and then have someone else drive the car, try to run them off the road, and then abandon the car in broad daylight.
They try to find their father to vouch for them and accidentally blow their father’s identity to the hotel clerk due to their own incompetence, before remembering the Admiral at the Pentagon. They call the Admiral and he straightens things out. The Boys head back to the hotel to take a look at the ledger to see if their father was actually registered there, pausing to call Jack, and hang for a bit. Eventually the clerk leaves the desk and they duck in to examine the ledger, where the find the name L. Marks with a big X next to it.
Suddenly they hear a voice that says “I saw you!” Oh noes! They’ve been caught! Cliffhanger!
Chapter Seven – Desperate Dive
Well, no, they haven’t. Turns out the clerk just saw them and wants to know if they want a room. They say they do, and give fake names, which allows them to register at the hotel, this being the trustworthy 1970s where you didn’t need ID to do anything.
That night they wake up to suspicious sounds from the next room of thumping and the sound of something heavy being moved, which makes Joe suspect that someone is disposing of a body. That’s quite a jump. Maybe they’re just moving the bed so they can have loud sex without the headboard banging against the wall?
They open the door a crack and see some guys wheeling a cask on a handcart. The boys tail them outside and watch them load it onto a truck. They jump on the back of the truck, completely unnoticed, and ride as they drive down to the docks, then jump off and hide without being caught. The men roll the barrel into the water and then take off. The Boys watch the cask sink, and notice bubbles coming out if it, which alerts them that someone must be inside. Yes, or maybe….I dunno…there’s AIR inside?
They dive in, fish the cask out, and pry the lid open….revealing Fenton Hardy! What a stroke of luck.
He wakes up (with no ill side effects from being knocked unconscious). The cask has the words ‘Quantico Quicksilver’ printed on the site, which is a local company that has been losing mercury flasks to thieves. What a coincidence! They head back to the hotel, go into the back alley, and climb the fire escape until they’re outside the window where the cask was and listen to the men inside, who are smugly expositing about how they figured out L. Marks was Hardy by tapping his phone.
“Rest his soul in the briny deep,” another said with a laugh. “He’ll never know about the Super S now!” (page 65)
You mean…these mercury thefts just happen to be connected to the theft of the super-secret government missile! Who would have thought?