Title: Deliberately Impossible Case of the Corroded Electrical Contact--A Hardly Boys Adventure
Date Written: April 17, 2003
Tweaked, Re-Written, and Modified for the Web Site: March 16, 2019
Written By: Joel T. Kant
Copyright (c) 2019
Carrying a small red plastic cooler, a man named Fritz Hardly who appeared to be eighteen-years-old but was really much, much older entered the boathouse. It housed their wooden speedboat. Inside, the boathouse had a strong odor, but not of must, dust, and mildew as it had in the summers for the last several decades whenever Fritz had gone in, but of cleansers, brass polish, fresh paint, wood varnish, and caulk.
Fritz yelled, "Are you in here, John or Craig? I brought sandwiches and cold sodas."
A man who appeared to be seventeen or eighteen years old named John Hardly shouted back, "Craig and I at the bow putting on the finishing touch. I'm glad you brought food. I'm starving!"
Fritz headed to the front of the speedboat. He watched as his brother John put a sticky decal letter T on the bow. It currently spelled, "INVESTIGAT."
Fritz noticed that through continued exposure to the bright Port City summer sun, his brother John's light brown hair had naturally bleached so it could be properly called blond. His own hair always remained dark, almost black or black, even if he spent time in the sun. He realized he had spent little time in the sun this summer. While Fritz's pasty skin had hardly any tan because of being indoors so much, John had gotten a golden tan. Their chum Craig Peters had gotten many more freckles than tanned. However, Craig's red hair had grown more intensely red with the sun exposure. Fritz thought many girls would kill to have hair like Craig's.
Still noticeably chubby despite all the hard labor on the boat that he and John had been doing for the past two years as the speedboat from over seventy years ago was restored, Craig Peters said, "This has to be the oldest speedboat on the bay."
John proudly said, "I don't think there is another wood speedboat still in use on the bay."
Craig complained, "Fixing fiberglass is a lot easier than steaming and bending wood boards, then caulking all the joints! It might have been easier to start from scratch then restore a boat this old!"
John boasted, "It's worth it.
Fritz admitted, "The Investigator certainly is a beauty. Modern speedboats simply do not look as good as a classic wood one like this."
Craig admitted, "She's certainly nice looking, but a wood boat requires so much maintenance. John and I've spent much of the last two years steam bending new boards, getting everything put back together and re-caulked, then painting and re-varnishing it. Only a few pieces of wood on this baby are original anymore. The job would have gone faster if you'd helped us, Fritz."
"I was busy solving cases," Fritz replied.
Craig asked skeptically, "Without your brother helping? Without leaving Port City?"
Fritz shrugged, "These were the boring kind of cases that never make it into our books. A few days on the computer and telephone does it. It's amazing what some people will pay detectives like us to do. If they knew a few tricks for getting people to give up information on the telephone as well as some Internet search strategies, they wouldn't need me. Still, these sorts of cases pay well."
John said, "Better you than me doing that kind of work, brother. Can you say BORING? Sitting at a computer or on a telephone during a beautiful summer like this is such a waste. Besides, it's not like we need the money. We've been successful amateur detectives since even before we bought this speedboat brand new."
Fritz pointed out, "Many of those cases didn't pay anything since we are sometimes supposed to be amateurs."
John countered, "Occasionally we got paid as a real job. Others had generous rewards. We're not like that female detective in the other book series that won't take big money rewards, but only sentimental value tokens like an old clock! Those monetary rewards are often our source of income, so we certainly don't decline them!"
Fritz replied, "I don't really like to brag about money."
Craig said, "I hate to rag on you two, but the last few years of your books might as well have been about Fritz tricking people into giving information they had not intended during phone calls, as that would likely be far more interesting. You know, I read this fascinating book a few months ago. Maybe you guys should have a story like this. It was an old book, well not old to you guys. Ever read Robert Heinlein's Methuselah's Children?"
John said, "The author's name sounds familiar, but not the book. When did it come out?"
Craig went over to where some of his stuff like a jacket not needed on this hot day sat on a corner table in the boathouse, and in the jacket pocket found the battered paperback and read, "Copyright 1958."
John said, "No, that rings no bells."
Fritz thought and remarked, "We met a Bob Heinlein in 1941, just before WWII started. Might be the same guy?"
Craig put in, "It says this is an expanded version of a story from the pulp magazine Astounding Science Fiction that came out in 1941."
John said, "Oh, that Bob."
Fritz recalled, "Quite the insightful guy. He guessed I was born around 1912. In 1941 when we met, he computed that I should be twenty-nine, but I still looked eighteen."
John said, "Bob said he was an author, and that gave him a story idea. I never thought much about it."
Craig said, "Why not have a mystery about that mystery of aging very slowly like in Heinlein's science fiction novel rather than the current pedestrian cases that the Unseen Author choses to write about? Frankly, the latest Hardly Boys mysteries have been extremely dull."
John responded, "Can't do that. Wrong genre."
While John was saying this, Fritz admiringly went over the speedboat which he had not seen for about a month.
Fritz admitted, "You two did great work. She's gorgeous. She may not be all that fast after over seven decades of technological improvements in speedboats, but she'll be not slouch. Back to the subject of why I am doing the computer work this summer, I'm keeping in practice for our real job, which is being detectives. Not fixing very, very old speedboats, even though this is very impressive!"
John shrugged, then asked, "Hey, Craig, why are you griping? We're paying you well for your time. You said you needed a job."
Craig returned, "I do appreciate the pay. Given the number of hours we put in during the past two years, which you have generously paid me for, I don't see how this old boat is worth it to you. I need the money for college."
Fritz remarked, "If we worked on less cases, we might have our own college degrees by now."
John said, "We graduated high school in 1930. Seventy-three years to almost get a college bachelor's degree is only a little longer than normal."
Fritz nodded, then remarked, "I must admit you work hard, Craig. Out of the many chums we've had over the many decades, you certainly are the hardest working."
Craig said, "My point is it would be cheaper if you'd get a new boat rather than rebuilding this antique. Plus, you could get a more technically advanced, much faster boat."
Fritz proudly proclaimed, "The Investigator was once the fastest boat on the bay."
John said, "My brother is right, Craig. Speedboat races crossing the bay used to be held every August. We won four years in a row, then came in second the next year."
Craig skeptically said, "I can't imagine this boat winning anything other than a contest against other antique speedboats."
John declared, "Well, the last time we won was in 1932."
Fritz corrected his brother, "No, that was the year we came in second. The last year we took first was 1931. We then only got honorable mention in 1933. We stopped racing after that."
"Oh, that's right," John agreed.
Pointing at his younger brother, Fritz said to Craig, " Imagine what his memory he'll be like when he gets to be old if he's like this when still so young."
John Hardly grinned and claimed, "No need to worry about that. We''ll never get old!"
Fritz said, "Craig, you are correct that the Investigator would not win against expensive modern speedboats. Technology has advanced since my brother and I built this boat seventy-five years ago. Still, if you two have it ready for the water, I think Craig will be pleasantly surprisingly by the respectable performance even now in 2003."
Craig recalled, "John showed me the inboard motor. It's a lot bigger than I expected."
John said, "It's a 1927 Chevrolet V-8 engine. It's actually an automobile engine that we took out of our Dad's wrecked car."
Fritz thought back and said, "Using a V-8 engine from an automobile to power a boat was a common trick for moonshiners back then. Even a boat like this barely gave us an edge for catching moonshiners because they were doing the same thing."
John put in, "When some of our earliest cases were selected to make a children's book series, the issue of Prohibition and alcohol was left out, except I remember once as a red herring."
Fritz said, "That was where the real crime was smuggling."
John recalled, "Hey, that was for smuggling illegal drugs! How was that allowed in our children's books?"
Fritz said, "It was only our second major case. The book on it was the second in the series back in 1927. What made it into the books tightened up and sanitized later."
John said to Craig, "My brother means things were sanitized long before the books were far more sanitized to become positively saccharine starting in 1959."
Fritz said, "There was a case at the airport with a pilot who flew and had an accident when drunk. That had more impact at the time because of Prohibition in 1930."
John responded, "I think that it was Prohibition was too subtle for most readers who read those books after Prohibition ended. I think drunk flying was a crime then and still is, so the post-Prohibition readers just pick up on that. It's a shame that drunkenness seems taboo from those of our adventures turned into novel because Prohibition led to some of our most exciting and dangerous early cases."
"Besides the smuggling case and the airport case, the books didn't entirely leave out moonshining," protested Fritz. "It came up in our spelunking adventure. That was also in 1929."
John said, "Only as another red herring, though."
Craig scratched his stubbled chin as he had been lax about shaving this summer and asked, "I thing of moonshiners as being that controversial Eighties TV show with the orange 1969 Dodge Charger automobile with the funny horn. I thought the moonshiners had hidden stills out in the woods, so needed fast cars. I can see airplanes being of use, although pretty high tech back then. Why speedboats, though?"
John laughed and responded, "Because Port City is so close to Canada. Whiskey was legal up there. Prohibition was limited only to the United States. It was a lot easier to just zip up there and buy some then making a still in the woods. The problem was getting the booze back to the U.S. without getting caught."
Fritz said, "The roads between the U.S. and Canada were well watched back then, but the ocean is a big place."
John added, "It was risky going out beyond the bay and into the open ocean in just a speedboat, but it was worth the risk to the moonshiners. With a fast boat, they could simply get away. It was almost a parallel to the cigarette boats used to smuggle cocaine into Florida in the Eighties. Given the target audience in the books, nothing of that sort ever appeared in them! That was left for stylistic TV shows about Eighties cocaine smuggling intended for a target audience that loved pop music. We had lots of similar excitement with speedboats and illegal booze back in Prohibition, just not much of it made it into the books."
Fritz elaborated, "But the Prohibition-era jazz music was very different than Eighties pop! Back during Prohibition, a reward was offered by the U.S. government for helping catch the moonshiners. The reward wasn't enough for John and I to bother making a speedboat fast enough, though."
John said, "That is, it wasn't worth it until Dad wrecked his sedan. He completely destroyed his car, but at least he wasn't hurt. He was just knocked out, but getting knocked out never permanently hurts us Hardlys. It's a genetic trait, just like only slightly showing aging."
"The moonshiners kidnapped Dad, then we had to rescue him. That was a big deal," Fritz asserted.
"Yes, but rescuing him finally made Dad treat us more like real detectives," John said.
"Not by much. He sometimes still treated us as foolish teenagers even after that. He sometimes still does that!" Fritz countered.
John said, "Well, nobody is perfect, not even our Dad. Anyway, that wrecked car meant we had a V-8 engine from it. We decided to build a boat designed around the engine, which we did."
Fritz remarked, "We then caught some moonshiners. They never expected to race against a speedboat as fast as the Investigator. Since we didn't have to pay for the motor, the government reward did fully pay off our speedboat after all."
John grinned and added, "Plus, it was great fun having the fastest boat on the bay."
Fritz looked at the boat and said admiringly, "After two years of hard work by you two, she looks ready."
John said, "She is. Only two more letters to stick on, then we can take her out for a test ride. The next letter, please."
Craig peeled off an "E" and handed it over.
Fritz chimed in, "No, Investigator ends in O-R, not E-R."
"Oh, right," Craig said with obvious embarrassment. He peeled off an O and handed that over. The R came next.
As Craig and John finished the name, Fritz stowed the red cooler on board.
The three boys then got the boat lowered into the water. Fritz opened the door that looked somewhat like a garage door for an automobile. However, below the door was water that the boat floated in rather than pavement.
Fritz cast off the ropes, then jumped onto the boat, joining the others already in it. John turned over the starter. The newly rebuild and re-honed V8 motor roared to thunderous life.
John smiled and proclaimed, "She still runs great after all these many years."
Craig put in, "After a complete engine rebuild that cost four times what my entire car cost, it should!"
John then put the boat in gear. He moved at trolling speed past the various other boathouses and docks and moored boats along the shore. Once clear of these and out to open water, he suddenly shoved the throttle to maximum.
Craig had just started to get up from his seat when John did this. Craig fell back into his seat. He was amazed how fast the Investigator accelerated. It felt like riding a rocket.
John said with glee, "This baby can still move!"
Fritz ordered, "Cool it with the full throttle. You're supposed to take it easy for a while on a rebuilt motor. Why don't we head out to Cottage Island, but at medium speed?"
"Good idea," John said. "We haven't been out there in I forgot how many decades. I wonder if the new condos are done yet. We used to have some wild adventures on that island."
The Investigator cut straight across the wide bay, a distance greater then the width of many large lakes. Although the winds were brisk so the waves were fairly high, the speedboat handled the voyage with ease. They came to the island. There were twin towers for the condos on the island, each about fifteen stories tall. A two-lane bridge stretched to shore. Besides the twin towers, there were several obviously very expensive mansions on the crowded island. Just looking at it showed this was highly valuable property.
John said, "It looks like the condos in those twin towers are finally completed."
Fritz sighed and said, "Seeing this island makes me sad. It used to be covered with woods with just one cottage on it, which is how it got its name. Even that one cottage didn't have electricity."
John brought the Investigator in close to shore, then said, "Oh, big deal about the lack of electricity, Fritz. There were various farms in this area that still didn't have electrical power back in 1929."
Craig asked, "Why mention 1929 specifically?"
John said, "That was the year the cottage on Cottage Island was destroyed by a storm. We were doing a winter vacation with the owner's permission when the storm hit. The place came down around our ears. It was a miracle that none of us was hurt. Still, we solved the case and received the reward."
Fritz snorted, "That was the only time we got a reward that I felt we hadn't earned."
John shot back, "Sure we earned it! We solved the case."
"God, Fate, or the Unseen Author solved the case, not us. Most Deux Ex Machina ending to a case that we ever had! However, we got the reward," Fritz said.
Craig asked, "How can God, Fate, or an Unseen Author solve a case?"
Fritz replied, "Even the Hardly Boys can hardly take credit for a terrible storm that knocked down the cottage. We found something that solved the case in the wreckage that we never would have found if not for the storm damage."
Guiding the Investigator around the island, John said, "At least Fritz and I wouldn't cause a storm that would then bring a cottage down on top of us! No case is worth doing that. The cottage was located where the northern of those twin towers is now located."
Fritz thoughtfully said, "That was perhaps the only time that God, Fate, or the Unseen Author played such a direct role in solving one of our cases. However, God, Fate, or the Unseen Author has played a huge role in our getting us started into about half of our cases."
John agreed, "It's amazing. We got into a remarkable number of cases just by doing mundane tasks like going to a gas station, a mall, a bank, or whatever. Cases would just fall into our laps."
Fritz said, "God, Fate, or the Unseen Author delivers the cases to us. If our airplane crashes or our car breaks down, it is because we need to be in that place to get involved in a case. It's quite remarkable and consistent."
Having completed a circling of the island, including going under the bridge, John pointed the Investigator back into the main bay.
John said, "One of the most remarkable times we got involved in a case was out in the middle of this bay with the Investigator speedboat."
Fritz remarked, "Which case do you mean?"
John rolled his eyes at his brother, then said, "Isn't it obvious? The case from 1951 when a wallet containing two thousand dollars simply fell from the sky when we were out here in the middle of the harbor."
Fritz recollected, "It didn't really just fall from nowhere. The wallet fell from a helicopter."
John said, "We're about in the middle of the bay now. Just look around how big this place is! For a wallet to fall out of a helicopter and land close enough to our speedboat to find it had to be God, Fate, or the Unseen Author playing with us! Of course, we guessed that no angels were really dropping evidence down to our boat. We figured it fell from an airplane, but it was cloudy enough so we couldn't see it."
"It was really a helicopter, so we were close," Fritz said.
John thought back, "When was the last time using the Investigator directly impacted one of our cases? The current God, Fate, or Unseen Author seem to have forgotten we even own a speedboat."
Fritz said, "That last big case I recall was 1959, but most of of the time on the water wasn't in this speedboat. We had a small Chinese ship that we bought to use as a ferry. Only a small part of the time were we in the speedboat."
Craig looked incredulous and said, "A small Chinese ship?"
Fritz said, "With hidden treasure in it, which is why the bad guys gave us such grief."
John remarked, "How do you explain the implausibility of hidden treasure on a ship we bought fair-and-square without God, Fate, or Unseen Author?"
Fritz stated, "It was a lot more plausible than the wallet falling from the sky in 1951!"
Craig looked back at the island falling away into the distance. The two fifteen-story towers were like miniature skyscrapers.
This caused Craig to say, "Those twin towers remind me of the former World Trade Center in New York City."
Both of the Hardly boys looked back.
John said, "I suppose at this distance they do. They were both about a hundred stories so far too short for your comparison."
Craig said, "I know these are small in comparison. However, these made me think of terrorists attacking the large twin towers. A couple of the terrorists were supposed to have gone to Canada first. It was much easier to get into Canada then the U.S. Once in Canada, it was easy to sneak into the U.S. without getting caught. I read that the border control has gotten much tighter since September 11, 2001. However, don't you think that even now in 2003, it'd be pretty easy to sneak to Canada in back in a boat like this?"
"I suppose it would be," Fritz said thoughtfully. "However, my brother and I don't work on cases with terrorists. We leave those to our clones."
Craig asked incredulously, "Your clones?"
John said, "Yes, our clones. They have exactly the same names as us, but fortunately live much further south. The bay they live on never freezes over like this bay does on some winters. They work for a secret government agency called the Institute rather than their father's detective business like we do when the Unseen Author decides it is okay for us to earn money to make a living like that isn't some terrible sin, other times we are amateur detectives. Unlike us, our clones often battle terrorists. They have their own series of children's books. Perhaps you've seen their books. They are the Incident History series. Unlike our cases, our clones are often involved in cases with planned mass murder, terrorist attacks, political assassinations, and so on. They stopped some nuclear bombs once. The kind of stuff like in a prime-time TV action-adventure show. My brother and I don't have cases like that. Too grisly and violent."
"Much too grim-n-gritty," agreed Fritz.
John said, "If our clones want those sorts of cases, more power to them."
Fritz said, "The Incident History series was canceled in 1998, so before September 11, 2001. I don't know what our clones have been doing since the cancelation. Perhaps going against terrorists is the sort of case we'll start having to get involved in, John. It might be our patriotic duty to get a terrorism case at last."
John for several moments drove the boat without comment. It seemed like he was about to say something when the motor sputtered. John fiddled with the throttle. The motor sputtered again, then died.
The three men looked around. They were in the center of the large bay. No other boats or ships were close.
Fritz shrugged his shoulders and said, "Looks like God, Fate, or the Unseen Author has decided to involve us in another case."
John wondered, "Do you think it will be as implausible as a wallet falling from a helicopter into the middle of the bay like happened to us in 1951? This is about the same spot."
Fritz said, "I doubt that repetitive. Maybe it'll be a terrorist case like Craig suggested, but much toned down from what our clones face. More a child-friendly sort of terrorism where nobody dies or is even in much risk."
John chuckled and said, "Imagine us getting in a case by running out of gas when out in the Investigator. It's been a long time since the Unseen Author used that out-of-gas trick on the Hardly Boys."
Fritz suggested, "We would get in far fewer cases if we were careful about checking the fuel in our boat, car, and airplane."
John remarked, "We need these sorts of minor disasters to get into our best cases."
Craig told the other two men, "Early this morning, I checked the tank. There wasn't much gasoline in there. This is where we would have run out if I had not filled it, but I did fill it full so it can't be that."
John looked at a gas gauge, then said, "Hey, Craig is right! We have plenty of fuel. For once, we didn't run out of fuel!"
Craig Peters currently drove a thirty-year-old rusted out wreck of a car. While fast muscle car when it worked, but a car of that vintage tended to break often. Fortunately for Craig, cars of that vintage were also much easier for an amateur to repair. As a result, Craig had gained much mechanical experience fixing it. Craig thought about how the Hardly boys mentioned the Investigator had an automobile engine in it.
Craig said, "Let me take a look at the engine."
John shrugged, then he and Fritz opened the cowl. As Craig fiddled with the engine, the Hardly boys went back to sit in the front seats of the boat. The two brothers popped open cans of soft drinks. The two brothers relaxed. They were content to wait for a case to fall into their laps, even though they were alone in the middle of a very large open bay with good-sized waves pounding the side of their non-functioning but beautiful antique speedboat.
John held up a sandwich high, then said, "We've got food. Why don't you give that up and come eat?"
Fritz said, "We know how you love to eat."
"No, thanks," Craig said as he kept working. "I'm on a diet."
"Sure," said John with a wink at his brother. "But you and I've worked hard already today. You've earned this. Come up here and relax. Have a bite and we'll see what case comes to us."
"I'm serious," Craig said. "I'm on a doctor-approved diet. Being the obese always-hungry comic-relief sidekick isn't considered amusing anymore. I'll eat what's in my diet plan when we get back."
John said, "Your loss. Fritz and I are about to split your sandwich."
Craig ignored this and bent down over the engine. Both the brothers seemed surprised by his dedication.
Craig declared, "The contact on the ignition coil is corroded, probably because of the salt from the saltwater in the bay. I forgot my pocketknife. Did either of you bring one?"
Fritz did not have one. He used to carry one, but stopped because of the Zero Tolerance policies at various school they visited. Fortunately, since it was summer and they weren't visiting school now, John had resumed his old habit of carrying a pocketknife as it was a useful tool in the boat repairing. He pulled out his pocketknife and handed it over.
Craig used the blade to scratch off the corrosion. He then reattached it and said, "Give that a try."
John turned the key. The old and much rebuilt motor roared back to life, sounding strong.
Fritz whistled and said, "I'm shocked! Not us, but Craig Peters solved the Case of the Corroded Electrical Contact."
"About time I solved something rather than it always being the Hardly Boys, even if it was just a small mechanical problem," Craig said in obvious embarrassment and pleasure.
John engaged the gears. The propeller spun. The old Investigator confidently surged forward, heading back to the waiting boathouse.
Fifteen minutes later, out in the center of the bay exactly where they had been, the sound of a motor could be heard. Soon, a speedboat appeared, but nobody not on the Investigator speedboat was there to see or hear it. This was a pity because the boat had on board several terrorists sneaking from Canada to the United States with a scary but decidedly and unusually nonlethal evil plan appropriate to this genre. God's plan, Fate's plan, or the unseen Author's plan to get the Hardly Boys deeply involved in this important case had been thwarted because Craig had against all expectations for the obese comic-relief sidekick had unexpected solved the case of the corroded electrical contact.
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