Sitting on his bed, Joe typed on his laptop. He had no doubt there were additional details about the fire that needed to be investigated. Some things were adding up and some things weren’t. Reaching over to the nightstand, he snagged his phone and pressed a much-used speed button.
“Morton’s Dessert Kitchen,” Iola answered her cell.
Joe smiled. “Chet’s new hobby.”
“Yep,” she responded. “How’s Frank?”
“Asleep. Feeling and looking healthier,” Joe told her.
“That’s great,” Iola responded and Joe could hear the happy smile in her voice. “And how about you?”
“Very thankful,” Joe stated quietly, his mind again seeing the flames and trying to get his brother out of the burning restaurant. He cleared his throat, “So what’s the news with Morton’s Dessert Kitchen?”
“Chet is a baker extraordinaire and I’m his official taste-tester.”
“How’s that going?”
“Not bad. I haven’t puked or had to go to the hospital yet to get my stomach pumped. So I’ll put that in the win column.”
Joe laughed and could hear Chet’s indignant voice stating, “Have a little faith. I’m not going to poison my baby sister.”
“He’s so easy to get going,” confided Iola in a loud whisper, making sure her brother could hear her.
Chet said equally loud, “Hmmm, next ingredient for this dish is Ipecac. Wonder where Mom keeps that.”
“You better not, Chet Morton!” Iola squealed.
Grabbing Iola’s phone, Chet told Joe, “She’s so easy to get going.”
Joe laughed at the Morton siblings’ antics. “You two are funny.”
“He/she is funny-looking!” Chet and Iola exclaimed at the same time with the appropriate wording.
“You are!” Chet countered.
“You are!” Iola returned.
Joe cut in. “I hate to interrupt this fascinating and highly-intelligent conversation, but I need to ask you, Iola, at the fire, wasn’t the arm you bandaged of Olive’s her left one?”
“Yep, her left arm. Why?” asked Iola.
“She visited my poor brother at the hospital, and I noticed she bumped into the chair with her left arm and didn’t react at all. She had a coat on so I couldn’t tell whether it was still wrapped. But I don’t think it could have cushioned it enough to not register on her face.”
“She’d have to have it still wrapped up,” Iola stated. “It was pretty bad. But maybe she can keep her expression controlled.”
“I wondered that, too, but when she was flipping her hair, it caught on her bracelet and she scowled like you wouldn’t believe.” Joe looked at the screen of his laptop in front of him. “That’s one of those odd-shaped puzzle pieces about this fire that needs to be figured out.”
“It’s definitely odd.” Iola shook her head. “Maybe she does have a high tolerance for pain, so the arm hurting was pushed aside, but the scowl from the bracelet pulling her hair wasn’t pain, just irritation that it messed up her hairstyle.”
“I’ll put that down as a possibility. Thanks,” Joe smiled.
“You’re welcome, but I think I’m about to reject my own theory. When I was helping her at the fire and I asked her where all she hurt, I think she was still naming all of her pains while they were loading her into the ambulance. So….,” Iola said, shrugging as she watched Chet flour the round pans for the cakes he was baking.
“It doesn’t add up, and it just keeps bugging me,” Joe muttered, saving his notes.
“It’ll fall into place. Just keep at it. I’ll puzzle on it, too. Uh oh. My brother is about to pour batter all over Mom’s clean kitchen floor.” Iola watched as Chet poured the batter into a cake pan positioned precariously close to the counter’s edge.
“Sounds like your brother needs some help, and I should go check on my brother, too. See if he’s awake,” Joe said.
“Ok, talk to you later! Love you!” Iola made loud kissing sounds into the phone for Chet’s benefit.
Joe laughed. “Love you.” After ending the call, he closed his laptop and left it on his bed. Standing up, he stretched then went to see about his brother. On his way there he got a call from Con.
The short but informative conversation was finished by the time Joe got to Frank’s room. Leaning around the partly open door, he saw that his brother’s eyes were closed, so he started to leave.
“I’m awake,” came Frank’s voice, stopping him.
“How’re you feeling?” Joe asked, stepping into the room. The shades were down so that the afternoon sun wouldn’t bother Frank.
“Better, thanks.” Frank looked over at his younger brother. “How about you?”
“Trying to figure this all out,” Joe admitted, running a hand through his curly hair. He pulled Frank’s desk chair over and sat down. “Need anything cool to drink?”
Frank shook his head. “I’m good.”
Joe nodded, but even in the darkened room, he could see his brother’s eyes were still irritated and could hear the temporary effects the smoke had on his throat. “I’m not convinced the fire investigation is over.”
“I just found out from Con that the Hamptons have confessed. To planning on setting the fire for insurance money and that they did it all themselves. He said they kept emphasizing that no one was supposed to be hurt and that the explosion had been planned to be when the restaurant was empty.”
Frank closed his eyes again as he listened to his brother and mentally tried to put the puzzle together.
“Even though the police found online searches for putting together explosive devices and their credit cards showing all of the purchases for what would be needed, something doesn’t feel right about that picture,” Joe said. “They had enough money, why not hire someone? Why take a chance and do all of that themselves? Did they not realize the police would check their credit card purchases?”
Frank shrugged his shoulders. “Doesn’t make sense. I need to ask Phil to sketch the face of a suspicious guy I saw leaving the Hamptons’ office.”
“That’s great!” Joe said enthusiastically. “Whenever you feel like working on that, I can call him and ask him to come over.”
Frank nodded. “Call him now.”
Joe did, but Phil wasn’t home right then. Ending the call, he told his brother, “I’ll try again in a little bit.” Thinking over his notes, Joe said, “I’m curious about Olive.”
Frank groaned. “It’s one thing reliving the fire, but do I have to relive the date?”
“Sorry, bro. Just going over all of the details. There’s something strange about her.”
“I’ll agree with that,” Frank whispered, opening his eyes long enough to roll them before closing them back.
Joe smiled sympathetically then told Frank what he and Iola had discussed about Olive’s arm. The brothers talked over theories.
“Yeah, she doesn’t seem like someone who suffers in silence,” Frank commented then yawned.
“I’ll let you get some more rest and call Phil again later.”
“Good plan,” Frank mumbled. His head wasn’t hurting as much as it had been, but he was still healing.
“Thanks,” Joe said, glancing at his brother after putting the desk chair back and heading toward the door. “Need anything?”
“No thanks. What are you going to do?”
“Do some more checking on the computer then maybe check out the Riviera.”
“Don’t you get tired of saying that?” Joe asked, grinning.
“Nope. I’m an eternal optimist. One day, just to be different, or accidentally, maybe you’ll be careful.”
“I doubt it.”
“Yeah, I doubt it, too. I’m a realist, as well.” Frank smiled and shook his head.
Frank had a visitor show up at the Hardy home. Laura and Aunt Gertrude were in the middle of preparing a delicious dinner that would be soothing to both the Hardy brothers’ smoke-irritated throats when the doorbell rang.
Aunt Gertrude said she would answer it and went to do so. The person standing there didn’t introduce herself, she simply began with a statement.
“This is 123 Elm Street.” Olive looked expectantly at Aunt Gertrude to agree with this. But Aunt Gertrude happened to know better.
“No, it isn’t.”
Olive was slightly surprised and perplexed. “Is this the Hardy residence?”
“Yes,” Aunt Gertrude returned.
“Then this has to be 123 Elm Street,” Olive stated, still sure she was correct.
Aunt Gertrude rolled her eyes. “No, it doesn’t.”
“But I’m looking for the Hardys at 123 Elm Street.”
“Which do you want – 123 Elm Street or the Hardys?” asked Aunt Gertrude.
“The Hardys at 123 Elm Street.” Olive frowned and pouted.
“Well, you are going to have some trouble with that.” Aunt Gertrude figured Olive must like standing there making wrong statements.
“Did the ‘1’ fall off the house?” Olive pursued her error, looking again at the house number staring her right in the face beside the front door – 23 Elm Street.
“Seriously?” Aunt Gertrude wondered how many times this person had to be told before she accepted that she’d been wrong.
“Frank Hardy lives here,” Olive stated. “I’d like to see him.”
“That’s nice,” Aunt Gertrude responded. “He’s resting. You can leave a message.”
Olive was determined to see Frank. But she didn’t know she would have to get through Aunt Gertrude to do so.
And that just wasn’t going to happen.
Later, when Frank awoke, he decided he’d rested enough. Once he was over at his desk, with the computer on, he saw that Joe had sent him the notes he’d been working on. Frank read over them and added in about the guy he’d seen at the restaurant. Reading about the explosives being set all along the perimeter, he pulled up an application.
Tapping the keys while he reconstructed the exterior of the restaurant in his head, and then on the computer, Frank frowned thoughtfully at the screen. He filled in the fields for the dimensions and waited for it to process. He closed his eyes for a moment.
“Frank Hardy!” came Aunt Gertrude’s voice from his doorway, almost making him jump. “Is staring at the computer helping your eyes?”
Turning to look at his tall, slender aunt, Frank’s handsome face had a slightly embarrassed ‘no-you’re-right-it’s-not-helping-my-eyes-but-I-ignored-that-fact’ look on it. “Something’s been bothering me about the restaurant fire.”
She came over and glanced first at the screen then back at her nephew. “Lie down, rest your eyes then tell me what you need to find on this thing.”
As he stood up, he gave her a kiss on her cheek then did as she’d said. He had just closed his eyes and a minute later he felt a cold cloth cover them, feeling very soothing and good.
“Have to take care of your sensational eyes,” Aunt Gertrude stated. “That Olive came by to see how you were doing.”
Only a loud groan came from Frank. Aunt Gertrude smiled and went over to Frank’s desk. “I told her to go away.”
“Bless your heart,” said Frank in relief.
“She talked on and on. Might still be standing on the porch talking for all I know.” Once Aunt Gertrude was seated and looking at the restaurant graphic on the screen, she asked her nephew, “So what are we looking for here?”
“Joe overheard the fire marshal talking to Chief Collig, describing what they’d found,” Frank began.
Trying to distract herself, with the sight of the building where her two favorite nephews had almost been killed displayed in front of her, Aunt Gertrude commented, “You two have always been good at ‘overhearing’ things.”
“It comes in handy with our cases,” Frank admitted with a smile. “Joe typed up the intriguing tidbits of info he ‘overheard’ and other information. The notes are minimized there.”
Aunt Gertrude clicked on the bottom of the screen, seeing the words ‘Fire Marshal Findings for the Case of the Riviera That Burned’. “I’ve got it up on the screen.”
“Could you read it out loud, please?”
Aunt Gertrude began to read about how the small remote-controlled explosives were placed all around the perimeter of the roof. The fire marshal didn’t think they all detonated at once, based on the fact that if they had been, it would have been worse. He had decided several of them were duds.
Once Aunt Gertrude finished reading the notes, Frank said, “We think this was all carefully planned out. Craig and Monica Hampton aren’t capable of several things that they would need to be in order to have done this by themselves.”
Frank’s voice was still a husky whisper and Aunt Gertrude felt that he shouldn’t be talking very much. “Rest your voice a minute, Frank, let me theorize.” She already had an idea of what Frank was thinking, but she put it much more bluntly than he would have. “You think they’re too stupid to have rigged it by themselves.”
Smiling a little, Frank said, “Yeah, you sure came up with that quick.”
“I met them, too, remember?” Aunt Gertrude remarked. When the restaurant had opened, she and her beau she’d been reunited with, as well as Fenton and Laura, Frank and Callie, Joe and Iola had gone on a quadruple date there. They had all met the owners. “That’s the impression I got from them.”
“Me, too. And also, Joe said he doesn’t think they would have taken a chance with their patrons and would have set it up after hours and blown it up then.”
“You never know what stupid people like the Hamptons are going to do.” Aunt Gertrude was having a difficult time not going and strangling them. “And according to Joe’s notes here, the explosives went off early. That goes along with them doing it by themselves.”
“True. But who was the guy I saw leaving the Hamptons’ office last evening?”
As Frank and Aunt Gertrude puzzled on that, Joe had reached what was left of the Riviera. Getting out of his car, Joe’s eyes stared at the blackened, destroyed building. He felt a chill go through him, and it wasn’t just from the coolness in the air.
Hearing a sound, he whirled around and caught sight of a figure disappearing around a section of wall that had been one of the Riviera’s banquet rooms. Joe took off in pursuit without hesitation.