Friday, February 5, 2016

Tricky Business (#88)

Tricky Business coverI read Tricky Business quite a while ago. I thought I could just put the book aside, but what I read keeps gnawing at me. I must get this out. I must tell you — tell you about the time …

Chet joined Amway.

Well, not really “Amway” — that’s a protected brand name, and Odin knows the Hardy Boys don’t touch those. And it’s not just a straight-up Amway clone either: it’s Trusty Teens, a company whose “entire sales force is between the ages of sixteen and nineteen … [who sell] household products and personal-care items, like shampoo and cosmetics … for the Trusty Home Products Company” (2-3). The Trusty Teens also get “bonuses” for “recruiting other teens and getting a percentage of their sales” (3) — a clear pyramid scheme. So it’s Amway for teenagers.

It had to be Chet that joined the Trusty Teens; any other character would have been frightened away by it’s secretive, cult-like nature. Chet is the person Bayport High School would have voted “most likely to join a cult / Amway,” anyway. He’s a joiner, someone who has always been willing to follow even the most foolhardy (ha!) orders of charismatic teenagers. You can read his obsession with food as a bit of an addictive personality.

With that set-up, it’s a shame we don’t get many scenes with Chet and Trusty Teens …

Anyway, on a late-night visit to Trusty Teens after a concert (featuring Iron Tiger! and Blaster Boys!), Frank, Joe, and their dates witness attempted arson of a warehouse. Trusty Teen salesman Andy Quayle (called “Jimmy” on the back cover) is blamed immediately, which makes Frank and Joe suspicious: accusations like that should be made only after a few days of half-hearted investigation. The boys run into Quayle on the way home; after their questioning, Frank believes in Quayle’s innocence, while Joe thinks he set the fire. When Joe gets a chance, he rats out Quayle’s location, prompting a genuine moment of conflict between the two boys.

The tension is almost immediately dispersed, but it was there, I swear it was, I saw it, it wasn’t swamp gas or the planet Venus or a commercial jetliner. And I didn't imagine it!

With Fenton on vacation, the boys decide to investigate. Sgt. Prescott of the Pine Beach Police Department gives them a hard time but lets them talk to Quayle. Joe offers the advice that “if you’re really innocent, then you don’t have anything to worry about,” to which the more world-savvy Quayle says, “Yeah, and you probably believe in the tooth fairy, too” (31). But Frank calls a bail-bondsman, and the brothers offer their help for free, so Andy and his mother accept

Because this is the Hardy Boys, Trusty Teens must either be under assault by unscrupulous employees or ripe for a RICO indictment. It’s just the way Bayport — or in this case, the nearby city of Pine Beach — works. If Andy Quayle didn’t set the fire, who did? Allison Rosedale and Vince Boggs were his chief rivals for the role of top seller — at least until Bob Goodrich, the executive manager, canned Quayle for being all distracted and stuff after Quayle’s father died.

The teenagers have to get evidence to support their wild accusations, so the Hardys send Callie and Iola into Trusty Teens undercover. Iola is a little reluctant, but she agrees, saying, “When have I ever refused a little excitement?”

“‘Never,’ said Joe, smiling at her” (42). I think we all know what Joe and Iola mean here, but don’t get too happy, Joe — she did say the excitement was “little.”

Before they head to a Trusty Teens rally, Frank and Joe get a threat in the mail — “DROP THE QUAYLE CASE … OR ELSE!” (47). The brothers ignore what is the emptiest of empty threats and head to a Trusty Teen gathering with their girlfriends. The brothers note the suspiciously quick rebuilding of the warehouse before a fight between Goodrich and Boggs ends the meeting. Chet — Newcomer of the Month! — keeps his supervisor from assaulting a teen, which then gets Chet sacked as well. It’s for the best; given Chet’s enthusiasms, he was most likely two weeks from quitting or being pulled in for life.

Frank and Joe figure some light B&E is the next logical step. They decide to go in early the next morning, using Chet’s extra Trusty Teens IDs and uniforms — and banking on their anonymity, since Iola tells Joe, “There are a lot of … blond, blue-eyed guys like you.” Joe tries to laugh it off, saying, “And I always thought I was one of a kind” (61), but we all know Iola could replace Joe in a heartbeat if she wanted.

Frank and Joe use the aliases “Chris Knight” (aka Peter Brady on The Brady Bunch) and “Randy Potter” (aka Joe’s ideal adult-film name). The Hardys discover nothing, other than Boggs was dating Goodrich’s daughter and Allison thinks she has something to hold over Goodrich’s head. After their criminal trespass, they follow a truck loaded with Trusty Brite detergent, except that the Trusty Brite boxes contain the explosive “Splode-All.” They grab a box, but when they bring it to Prescott, he pooh-poohs the discovery, partially because Splode-All is an incredibly stupid name that no criminal, military, or munitions company would ever use. But mainly it’s because he’s crooked and in Goodrich’s pocket.

The next day, they talk with Boggs, who tells them he has invented the Internet of Things, albeit not in those words (or really with the Internet part). Frank is eager to find the sinister implications of the idea. After they leave, they find a bomb in the van and chuck it into a field just in time. Soon after, someone tries to blow up Andy Quayle’s mom.

Then comes the most disturbing part of the mystery: Iola and Callie order two pizzas for themselves, Chet, and the Hardys. One of those pizzas is double cheese. What kind of teenagers (who aren’t specifically vegetarian) orders a double cheese pizza? Needing to order a double cheese pizza means the pizza place you’re ordering from skimps on cheese, anyway. And then, after eating, they immediately head to a restaurant. Sure, they do it to listen to music, but I’m sure they were going to nosh while listening …

Anyway, Iola and Callie have discovered Allison is dating a crooked foreman at Trusty, and she’d received a baby grand piano from Sgt. Prescott. The piano, Frank and Joe learn, are Allison’s profits for blackmailing Goodrich. Allison’s boyfriend — who, by the way, is much older and rocking the cradle of love with his Trusty Teen — cracks under the Hardys’ light questioning. With his information and the work of Pine Beach’s honest Sgt. Clement, most of Goodrich’s gang is arrested. However, the arrest of Goodrich is botched, and Frank and Joe’s throw themselves into the operation. They are immediately captured, along with Allison and her boyfriend; Goodrich admits to being a smuggler, a middle-manager in an international munitions ring, and to framing Andy. Goodrich almost gets revenge on the blackmailing Allison by locking all four captives in a burning building, but they manage to escape the conflagration.

While escaping in their van, they elude Goodrich but not Prescott, who orders them into the woods so he can execute them. Prescott admits to setting all the bombs and being Allison’s go-between for her blackmail scheme. However, Prescott’s proposed woodland execution goes awry when Goodrich shows up; the standoff distracts both villains long enough for the boys to get the drop on the gunmen and capture them. Andy is cleared, Allison’s boyfriend gets lenient treatment, and Allison gets arrested in Havenhurst. Everybody’s happy!

Well, except for the criminals. And Chet probably shouldn’t be happy, given that he was fired from his summer job. But it could be worse: he could still be working for Amw — Trusty Teens.

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