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Other titles in the Hardy Boys: Undercover Brothers series:
Hardy Boys: Undercover Brothers #01: Extreme Dangerby Franklin W Dixon
Chapter One: Terror at 12,000 Feet
I'm going to die.
That's what I thought when I pulled the cord of my parachute — and nothing happened.
Definitely not cool.
As I plummeted downward through the sky, it felt like I was floating. The earth below, on the other hand, was rushing up to greet me at a speed of 120 miles per hour.
To make matters worse, it was my first solo jump.
And probably my last.
I tried not to panic. I looked over at "Wings" Maletta, the jumpmaster of Freedombird Skydiving School. The big bearded man was Freedom-falling about ten yards away from me. I waved to him like a maniac, pointing at my broken parachute cord.
And guess what he did?
Seriously. Like some sort of cartoon villain on Saturday morning TV, he threw his oversized head back and laughed.
Then it hit me.
He knows who I am.
In case you haven't figured it out, I'm no ordinary thrill-seeker who jumps out of planes. I'm Joe Hardy — undercover agent for ATAC (American Teens Against Crime) — and I was on a mission. A pretty dangerous mission, as it turned out. The police had reason to believe that the Freedombird Skydiving School was just a front for a fly-by-night smuggling ring. Wings Maletta wasn't a real diving instructor — he was a DVD pirate. So the ATAC team asked my brother Frank and me to go undercover to crack the case.
Hey, why not? Who would suspect a couple of teenage boys taking skydiving lessons?
Wings Maletta, that's who.
I stared at the broken pull cord in my hand and the big-toothed grin on Wings's round furry face. He looked right at me — then pointed up at the plane.
My brother Frank stood in the open doorway, getting ready to jump.
"Frank! Wait! Don't jump!" I shouted through the walkie-talkie in my helmet.
Frank leaped out of the plane.
"They're onto us, Frank!" I yelled. "Maletta cut the pull cords!"
I waited for a response.
"Frank! Can you read me?"
I didn't know what to think. Did Frank hear me? Did someone sabotage his parachute too?
One thing I did know. If I didn't grab onto Wings Maletta in the next few seconds, I was going to be digging really deep for clams in the sandy beach below.
And I hated clams.
So I angled my body headfirst toward the dude who wanted to kill me — and tried to "swim" after him.
Hey, it works in the movies.
But this wasn't a movie. This was real life, and I didn't have a stunt double.
I didn't even get five feet before a wicked blast of air sent me spinning off course. I quickly straightened my arms into a diving position and managed to catch a "wave" of wind. Before I knew it, I was sailing right toward my target.
It was almost like body surfing, except I was swallowing mouthfuls of air instead of water.
And, oh yeah, my life depended on it.
Like a human rocket, I zeroed in on Wings Maletta and — pow — the guy didn't even know what hit him. I plowed into his bulging beer belly with a soft thud. Then, throwing my arms around his barrel chest, I held on tight.
Wings was totally stunned. You should have seen his face. With his eyes bulging in his goggles and his furry beard poking out of his helmet, he looked like a very large — and very confused — teddy bear.
Except teddy bears don't usually throw punches when kids hug them.
Wings's huge hairy fist slammed into my jaw and sent me flying backward.
Man! That hurt!
It was still daylight, but I was seeing stars. And clouds. And the earth, too — spinning around me.
Time to get a grip.
I spread out my arms and legs to steady myself, then tilted downward. Wings reached for his parachute cord.
If I didn't grab onto him in the next second or two, I was going to plunge to my death. Not an option.
So I bucked against the wind like a wild bronco and thrust myself headfirst at Wings. With all my strength I lunged at him with my right arm.
Somehow I managed to grab his wrist — before he could pull the cord.
But Wings wasn't having it. He tried to brush me off like a bug, smacking my hand and swatting me away. I reeled back from his blows.
Then my hand started to slip off his wrist. One inch. And another.
Get a grip, I told myself again. But this time I meant it. Literally.
Suddenly the walkie-talkie in my helmet crackled with sound.
"Joe! Hold tight!"
It was Frank!
I glanced up. There he was! Swooping down like a bomber plane!
I grabbed onto Wings Maletta with both hands — and braced myself.
Frank crashed into us with shocking force. The collision sent the three of us tumbling through the air like a clumsy circus act. Frank clung on piggyback-style while I swung from my arms. And Wings? He kicked and screamed with every twist and turn.
"Get off me, you brats!" he howled. "The chute won't hold us all!"
I pulled myself up until we stopped spinning. But Wings wouldn't stop yelling.
"You idiots!" he bellowed. "When I pull the cord, you'll be flung off! You don't stand a chance!"
"Oh, no?" Frank shouted back. He held up a pair of tandem cords and clipped both of us to Wings's backpack.
I had to hand it to Frank. That kid is always prepared.
Wings let out a sigh. "We're still too heavy," he shouted.
"Just pull the cord," I said.
Wings shrugged — and pulled.
With a massive jolt, Frank and I were ripped away from our bear-sized enemy. We plummeted downward, then shot back up again, held by the tandem cords. The parachute opened above our heads, but it sagged with our weight. In seconds we were drifting toward the drop zone below.
Problem was, we were drifting too fast.
"I told you," Wings grunted. "At this speed, we'll all die!"
Frank and I ignored him as we scrambled up the cords and grabbed onto Wings's legs.
"Let go!" the phony instructor yelled, trying to kick us off. "One of you has to let go — if you want to save your brother!" he added.
I looked Frank in the eye. I knew what he was thinking: No way. We're a team.
"I have another idea, Wings," I said, shimmying my way up the guy's body. "Maybe you can break our fall."
Wings cursed. I ignored him and straddled his thick neck. Then I reached down to help my brother until we were both standing on Wing's shoulders, holding the parachute lines for support.
"But wait! The fall could kill me!" Wings protested as we floated swiftly to the field below. "I'll break my legs, for sure!"
I glanced at my brother and shrugged. "That's a risk we're willing to take," Frank said with a smile.
The earth was only a couple hundred feet below us. Wings was freaking out. "No! My legs! I'll be crushed!"
"I have a suggestion, Wings," I said.
"Tuck and roll."
As it turned out, Wings did break his legs in the fall. Which made it impossible for him to run away when the police arrived. They'd been watching the whole thing from the ground — and had an ambulance waiting to pick up the pieces.
I was just happy that none of the pieces had "Hardy" written on them.
"Good job, boys," said Lieutenant Jones, smiling and shaking our hands. "Sorry we got here a little late. By the time we realized your cover was blown, you were already in the air with Maletta."
"I can't believe that guy actually tried to kill us," Frank said, shaking his head.
"Well, he is a pirate," I pointed out.
"A DVD pirate," Frank added. "It's like he made us walk the plank for a bootleg copy of Spider-man 6."
I laughed. "Hey, we survived," I said, punching his arm.
Frank returned the favor by pushing me off-balance.
"You boys need a lift back to the skydiving school?" Lieutenant Jones asked, opening the door of his squad car.
"No, thanks. We're undercover," Frank explained. "Some kids from our school showed up for diving lessons today."
The police officer nodded and said good-bye.
Five minutes later Frank and I reached the Freedombird Skydiving School. We were totally beat, not to mention a little bruised. But it felt good to complete another successful mission. Wings and his smuggling ring were safely behind bars. And the Hardy brothers were ready to relax and chill out with some friends.
Unfortunately, Brian Conrad was the last "friend" we wanted to see — and the first person to spot us approaching the Freedombird School.
"Why did Brian have to show up for lessons today?" I moaned to my brother. "Talk about a bad coincidence."
"More like Murphy's Law," Frank chipped in.
"Hey, Hardys!" our least favorite classmate yelled from the parking lot. "I saw you jump. What's up with the double tandem diving? You girls get scared, or what?"
I glanced at Frank and rolled my eyes.
Let me tell you about Brian Conrad. The guy is like that public access TV — nothing but bad news, twenty-four seven. If the yearbook committee was voting for Boy Most Likely to Need a Good Lawyer, he'd win, hands down.
Of course, he hated Frank and me. In case you hadn't noticed.
"Too scared to go solo, huh?" Brian taunted as we approached the school building.
I growled under my breath.
"Ignore him, Joe," my brother whispered. Then Frank looked Brian in the eye and said, "Our parachutes malfunctioned, Conrad. We almost died."
"Yeah? I almost believe you," Brian shot back. He leaned against his SUV and shouted to his sister in the backseat. "You hear that, Belinda? Your boyfriends are too scared to jump solo! What a pair of wimps!"
Belinda glared at her brother. She opened her mouth to say something — but she was interrupted by a high-pitched voice inside the school building.
"Wimps! Wimps! Wimps!"
Brian Conrad burst out laughing.
Frank and I turned toward the small brick building and exchanged puzzled glances. We didn't know who it could be. The police had rounded up all of Wings's men. So we headed for the door and carefully peeked inside.
The sound came from a large gold cage in the corner.
It was Wings's pet parrot — the official mascot of the Freedombird Skydiving School.
"Figures," I muttered. "The pirate had a parrot."
Frank entered the small reception room and walked to the cage. "Poor thing," he cooed to the red and green bird. "Your daddy's behind bars now. Just like you."
The parrot tilted its head as if it understood.
"Maybe we should set you free." Frank opened the cage door and the bird flew out.
I ducked as it fluttered past my head. "Easy there, flyboy," I said.
The parrot circled the room a few times — and landed on Frank's head.
"Looks like you have a new friend, Frank," I said.
Frank rolled his eyes upward. The bird squawked.
And then Brian Conrad walked in.
"What do we have here?" the jerk sneered. "One parrot and a pair of chickens!" He pointed and laughed.
Okay, stay cool, I told myself.
If my brother and I could survive a parachute jump without pull cords, we could put up with Conrad's obnoxious jokes.
But come on. Did the bird have to join in, too?
"Chickens! Chickens! Chickens!"
Copyright © 2005 by Simon and Schuster
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