Frank groaned. Even as his head pounded relentlessly he wondered at the timing of the explosion. It couldn’t have been Olive’s perfume and the flame for the dessert. Not for an explosion that big. Some kind of incendiary device, had to be. Why?
Smelling the strong scent of smoke, he slowly opened his eyes. Biting back a moan, he tried to move. Not an easy task. The frantic murmuring of frightened patrons and employees, some panicking, reached his ears.
Lifting his head, the debris that was across his shoulders fell off as he moved. He couldn’t see much. What had been an elegant dining room was now in shambles. Fire crackled and ate its way along one wall, giving off a choking smoke that filled the upper air.
Instinctively staying low, knowing to do that if he wanted to breathe, Frank searched for his date.
“Olive?” Frank called then began coughing. The smoke was getting thicker, causing his eyes to tear more. He reached into his pocket for his cell phone. He was pretty sure that emergency vehicles had already been dispatched, but he still called 911 first, just in case. After a brief report, interrupted by Frank coughing, he made another call.
Hoping to hear the ringing of her phone nearby, Frank punched in the number Olive had given him at the auction. No ringing or ringtone of any kind was heard.
Frank then hit a speed dial number.
When a tune could suddenly be heard, Joe’s eyes lit up, and he hit the button to answer it. “Frank!” he shouted into the phone.
“Joe….” Then only the sound of coughing could be heard for several moments. Finally Frank managed another word. “Explosion.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m right outside. Where are you? Are you hurt?” Joe’s rapid-fire words shot through the phone to Frank’s ear.
“Dazed…D-don’t…don’t…come in here….”
Joe shook his head. “Forget that. Where are you?”
“Near….palm trees.” Frank coughed again, trying not to take in too much of the acrid air.
Joe knew, having been there before, where the palm trees were located as he mentally pictured the dining room.
“Joe…don’t you…,” Frank coughed more before determinedly finishing his sentence, “dare…come…in here.” The struggle to remain conscious gained momentum.
“Stop talking! Just take it easy. Help’s on the way. Just a second, Frank. Hang on.” He told Iola and Con, “I’m going to keep him on the phone, but not let him use up all of his air. Found out he’s near the palm trees.”
Just as Joe finished that sentence, Con’s attention was abruptly redirected and he began to run.
Joe looked over to see what had fully demanded Con’s focus. His eyes widened and he started to go as well, but stopped when he saw his friend had it under control. A child, perhaps around seven, was wandering too close to the area of danger.
Acting quickly, Con swept up the little girl in his strong arms before she got any closer to the deadly heat and flames. He talked gently to her as he began the search for her parents. She clung to him, sensing she was safe.
Joe got hold of Iola’s hand and they hurried over to the side of the building closest to where Frank was located. There was an exit not far from them which led to a hallway before reaching one of the interior entrances to the dining area. Flames were present all along the roof, but thankfully this was on the opposite side of the main explosion that Joe and Iola had first seen.
The couple exchanged a look, ecstatic that Frank was alive, while understanding the danger was getting closer and increasing every second. The fire was intense and eating up the roof with an unstoppable hunger. Added to that, the explosion and the fire were both affecting the structural stability of the restaurant.
As sirens came closer, Joe turned his head in the direction of the front of the building where the fire engines were beginning to arrive. They had been slowed down by traffic, but some fancy driving had allowed them to get there as soon as possible. To get around a bus and car stopped to gawk, the driver of the fire truck had had to drive off-road a short distance, with another emergency vehicle following behind.
Right then a female came out of the nearby side exit with a shout for help. Joe and Iola rushed over and pulled her away from the fire. They both knew first aid and Iola immediately began helping, using the kit she had grabbed from Joe’s car and had kept clutched in her hand as they had searched.
Quickly assessing the situation, seeing that Iola didn’t need any help, Joe knew it would soon be time to personally take on the deadly burning restaurant. He disappeared to make that a reality.
Frank listened to Joe intermittently talking to him as the older brother coughed and searched for Olive. He wondered if he would be able to smell her perfume even over the fumes from the fire. Recalling the level of it, he almost didn’t rule out that possibility. He was so thankful his brother wasn’t in there. He could hear an occasional scream as more wreckage came down.
Hearing a noise above him, he looked up to see one of the fancy chandeliers begin to plummet right toward him. Moving more nimbly than he thought possible at the moment, Frank managed not to be hit as it hurtled to the floor. It landed with a huge crash near him, breaking into fragments. The overturned table he’d grabbed hold of had shielded him from the flying pieces. Lifting the phone back up to his ear, he could hear how scared Joe was by his tone.
“I’m o…kay. D-don’t worry.”
“Right. So how was the date?” Joe asked while he mentally drew on everything he and his brother had learned from their firefighting training and work with the Bayport Fire Department. He saw firefighters preparing to fight the inferno and rescue the restaurant patrons and employees.
“Improving…every…second,” was Frank’s dry reply.
“Wow, that bad, huh?” Joe’s eyes flicked over the building, assessing it. How long before it collapsed, he wasn’t sure. However, he was sure that his brother was trapped inside and needed help fast.
Frank stopped to move aside some junk that had fallen from the ceiling, sweat pouring down his brow from the effort, besides the heat from the fire.
“Hang on, Frank, okay? Help will be there soon. Can you get closer to the nearest exit?”
Frank glanced around, trying to determine where that might be. Everything was foggy from the smoke. “Havta….” he paused, unable to push aside the need for more coughing, “find…. Olive.”
Having switched from his phone to an ear set, Joe’s eyes scanned the area as he ran over to the fire trucks while he talked to his brother. He spotted the fire chief, a friend who knew both Joe and Frank had firefighting training. The chief was thankful for another skilled and brave firefighter to help with the dangerous fire threatening to be one of the worst ones they’d seen for a while. He prayed Joe got to his brother in time.
After quickly receiving permission to use the equipment, Joe prepared to enter the building, suiting up with a protective coat, pants, boots and helmet, and grabbing gloves. He moved with precision, quickly getting an air pack to strap to his back then he was running toward the building once more. Adjusting his SCBA, a self-contained breathing apparatus, with one hand, his other hand clutched the fire extinguisher from his car.
As she finished bandaging a long cut on the victim’s arm, Iola looked toward the burning restaurant just as Joe’s tall form disappeared into the smoke and flames.
Joseph. Hardy. She clenched her jaw, scared, worried. And proud. You better get yourself and your brother out of there. Iola’s eyes were focused on the victim she was helping, but her heart was right there in that fiery building with her Joe. And Frank.
When Con came back from finding the little girl’s parents, he found Iola finishing helping one victim. But no Joe.
“He had gear on and went in there, Con,” she said, looking up at him, fear shining in her eyes. Con placed a hand lightly on her shoulder and gave it a gentle, sympathetic squeeze.
“Not at all.” Iola stated.
Along with a couple of EMTs, who came running over with a gurney, Con loaded the victim Iola had expertly helped into one of the ambulances.
The flames didn’t yet seem to be paying heed to the powerful streams of water being dealt to it by the firefighters working steadily. While some fought the fire, others rushed into the building, searching for survivors. The majority of the focus was in the front of the dining room where the most patrons were located. But not Frank.
Her eyes focused on the crowd of people around the burning restaurant while she pulled up as close as she could without being in the way, Nancy Drew sought the Hardy brothers. A tall officer she instantly recognized was talking with someone she couldn’t see yet as she hurried over.
“Con! Con Riley!” she called.
Hearing his name, he turned toward her. Nancy saw a worried-looking Iola standing there. Knowing how tough Iola was, the fear Nancy had been feeling increased.
Con raised his eyebrows. “Nancy! What are you doing here?”
“Coming to see Frank and Joe….” Her eyes traveled over to the flames then back to Con’s concerned face.
“No, I spotted Joe’s car zooming by right after I heard an explosion. I put two and two together that he was heading toward the fire.”
“Yeah, he does stuff like that,” Con muttered. He paused a moment not wanting to tell her, but knowing she would find out soon, “He’s one of the firefighters in there!”
Her eyes held terror at Con’s words and the sight of the structure fire. “Um…where’s Frank?” Nancy made herself ask the question she was very afraid she knew the answer to.
Con sighed and took a moment to wipe the sweat coming down from his thick hair. Then he reluctantly looked at Nancy, gentleness on his strong face. “Frank’s in there, too.” He got to the part he really didn’t want to say, “He was in there when the explosion went off.”
Nancy bit her lip and gazed once again at the building. Both of the brothers were in there. The bright light of the flames filled Nancy’s blue eyes, along with fear.
“And don’t you or Iola get any ideas of going in there!” Con said firmly.
“Does anyone know what or where the explosion was? Faulty gas line? Or what?” Nancy asked.
Con shook his head. “Don’t know for sure yet.” He gave Iola and Nancy each a look. “Can I trust you and Iola not to go running in there to find those two hard-headed Hardys?”
“I know not to go into a burning building, Con,” Nancy said, not making any promises as her blue eyes continued searching in hopes of seeing the two Hardy brothers.
Con wasn’t stupid. He recognized what she said. Or didn’t say. “I didn’t ask whether or not you had that piece of knowledge, because I know you do.” He paused a second before saying, “I should probably just go ahead and arrest you both.”
“For what?!?!” Nancy and Iola exclaimed simultaneously.
“I’ll think of something.” His eyes glanced at the flames. “Look, we don’t need any more people in danger. And I’m praying that Frank and Joe are going to be okay.”
It wasn’t looking good, though. In the back of Con’s mind, he knew there was a possibility that before the night was over he would have to inform Fenton and Laura that both of their sons had been killed.