A Question Of Guilt – First Chapter

Chapter 1

“You said this bank robber had lots of guts but no brains.” Joe Hardy gave a puzzled smile to the man across the table. “How’d you know that?”

Will Resnick, the Hardys’ host for lunch, chuckled. “He was brave enough to try robbing a big bank at its busiest time. Hundreds of people were in there, cashing their paychecks. I guess he figured there’d be lots of money on hand.”

A wicked grin crossed Resnick’s craggy face. “And there certainly was. It was payday for the biggest tenant in that building — the New York office of the FBI.”

Joe’s father, Fenton Hardy, began to laugh. “Oh, yes! I heard about that would-be robber while I was still on the force in New York.”

Joe’s brother, Frank, nodded. “I remember reading about it. There were something like a hundred seventy-five agents waiting for the tellers.”

“I was one of them.” Resnick laughed again. “This pipsqueak pulls his gun, then we all pulled ours. I thought the poor guy was going to faint!”

“The guy sure didn’t do his research,” Joe said, laughing.

Joe enjoyed police war stories, and this was certainly the place for them. He, Frank, and their father had been invited as guests at a luncheon for members of the Vidocq Society, an organization of law-enforcement professionals and forensic experts. Joe found himself fascinated by the hundred or so people in the large private dining room that overlooked downtown Philadelphia. There were men and women, different races, and all ages represented.

They all seemed to have one thing in common, though, besides eating chicken parmesan with tomato sauce. Most of the people reminded him of his father. There was something about their eyes — a keen watchfulness combined with a sense that they’d seen it all.

Fenton Hardy had gotten that sharp expression from years in the New York City Police Department and his later career as a successful private investigator. He had the face of a veteran law enforcer.

Joe knew that he shouldn’t be surprised that the members of this club all had the same look. Dozens of police forces were represented here, not to mention the FBI and Special Agents of the Customs Department.

Will Resnick had proudly claimed that his group had experts in every kind of investigation, from accountants who traced dirty money, to psychologists who could track serial killers. The Vidocq Society could tackle any mystery.

“Dad says you’re one of the founders of the Vidocq Society,” Frank said.

“One of several people,” Resnick quickly replied. “We all had different areas of expertise when it came to investigating. By putting our talents together, we hoped to find the answers to unsolved crimes.”

“Why call it the Vidocq Society?” Joe asked as he cut a piece of chicken.

“Eugene Vidocq was a Frenchman who lived in the days of Napoleon,” Resnick replied. “He pioneered the use of investigative methods to capture criminals, earning himself the title of the world’s first detective.”

Resnick glanced around the room. “Our members donate their time and talents to hunt down murderers and other criminals who might other wise have gotten away. Sometimes, we also manage to clear innocent people who have been convicted unfairly.” The older man smiled. “We tried to sum it up with our motto, Veritas veritatum — ‘Truth begets truth.'”

“They call you commissioner of the organization. The only commissioner I ever met ran the police in New York.” Joe was joking, but he had to admit he was impressed by the Vidocq Society members he had met and their years of experience. Now Joe understood why his father was interested in joining the group, and why they’d come to Philadelphia for today’s luncheon meeting. He relished listening to the stories Resnick and the other members told about cases they’d worked on. Joe just wished that he and Frank didn’t have to go to Philadelphia to enjoy it.

The last time they’d visited that city, he and Frank were helping their father on a case. Fenton Hardy had been hired by the Bellamys, prominent Philadelphians, to investigate a murder in their family. But it had been Joe and Frank who’d unmasked the killer, prompted by police suspicions about one member of the Bellamy family.

Joe had heard of the young man before the case. Buford “Buff” Bellamy had appeared on the covers of several sports magazines. He was considered an up-and-coming star in American powerboat racing. But that was before the Hardys searched his car and found the murder weapon. Buff Bellamy had then become a famous fugitive, caught trying to escape by boat. And after his arrest, Buff became a celebrity defendant.

The Hardys had gone home, thinking they’d brought the investigation to a successful conclusion. Instead, Buff Bellamy had gotten off, and the newspapers had had a field day with the bungling “Hardy Boys.”

Frank Hardy glanced over at Joe and noted his distracted expression. “Thinking about the last time we came down this way?” He kept his voice low, his dark eyes intent.

Joe nodded, eating the last bite of his chicken before replying. “That’s why I’m leaving the war stories to everybody else,” he said quietly. “I don’t want to talk about that case. It’s not enough that everybody thought we were idiots. We had to know the lawyer who made us look stupid.” He scowled. “And of course it had to be the father of your special friend.”

Frank’s eyebrows rose. “My special friend? She’s not your friend, too?”

“Right now, I’m not so sure,” Joe said.

The waiter came to take their plates as Will Resnick rose and stepped over to a small lectern. “Good afternoon,” he said into the microphone. “Thanks for attending. We have a number of interesting guests today, including Mr. Fenton Hardy, a private investigator from Bayport, and his sons, Frank and Joe.”

With a touch of gray at his temples, Fenton Hardy looked every inch the professional as he rose and gave the group a little bow. Joe could feel his ears going red against his blond hair as he heard the buzz of whispered comments. Surely, the Philadelphians in the club hadn’t forgotten a case only six months old. They had to be talking about the pair of kids who’d blown it.

Resnick cleared his throat, and the muttering died. “I have to make an announcement. As you know, we usually have a presentation for each meeting. Actually, we were going to discuss a murder case today, but we’ve run into a hitch. We asked a few questions of the police officer who was bringing the case to us. One of those initial questions suggested a new line of investigation, so we’re leaving it in the hands of the local force.”

He grinned at his fellow society members. “Although I’m sure we feel that’s good news, it also means no case to talk about today. I was afraid I’d have to turn to our good friend Dr. Fell to fill the gap with one of his presentations on forensic medicine — “

“Another enjoyable lunch presentation of photos of dead bodies sliced up for autopsies!” a heavyset man said as he rose from one of the other tables.

That got a laugh from the group.

Resnick shot back. “But we’re not going to let Dr. Fell do his stuff again until we have a lunch without tomato sauce.” His mood suddenly be came more serious. “At the last moment, we were approached with a new mystery. I talked it over with our case officer, Paul Shank. Although it may seem a bit…controversial to some members, I was quite impressed with our initial contact. The presenters should be here at any moment.”

Joe noticed the headwaiter appear at the rear of the room. The man gave a discreet wave.

“Ah,” Resnick said. “Here they come now.”

The dining room door swung open, and in walked Carson Drew. Joe’s jaw sagged in shock.

Then he grit his teeth so hard, his head hurt.

Carson Drew was the clever lawyer who’d gotten Buff Bellamy off.

Joe also recognized the person behind the attorney. “What’s she doing here?” he whispered to his brother.

“I’m as surprised as you are,” Frank replied.

Nancy Drew had as good a reputation for solving mysteries as the Hardys did. The boys had even worked together with her on some cases.

Joe knew his brother was very fond of Nancy. Joe liked her, too. They’d faced danger and put a lot of bad guys away. To have her father work for the other side, helping a murderer evade punishment — well, it felt like a betrayal to Joe.

But there was a bigger shock in store than just seeing the Drews.

Nancy turned back to the door and beckoned.

A tall, well-built, and very handsome blond guy appeared in the opening.

Joe wasn’t the only one to gasp. His brother, his father, and several Philadelphia police officers were doing the same.

The newcomer was Buff Bellamy — the killer who’d gotten away with his crime!

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