Even as they sank beneath the rapids, Joe didn’t let go of his brother. He struggled to return to the surface as water pounded over them. Trying to keep from swallowing water was almost impossible. Joe felt his feet touch the bottom of the river, as did his brother’s. Instinctively, they both pushed off, propelling themselves toward the surface. When they broke through, they took in air before the water came crushing down on them again.
Just as he was wondering whether they were ever going to reach the bank of the river, Joe felt strong hands grasp his shoulders. When he felt Frank being pulled away, he held on tighter. Hearing someone speaking to him, he was sure it was his imagination.
“Easy, Joe, we’ve got you,” came Fenton’s deep voice gently, but firmly. Once he heard his dad, Joe relinquished his hold on his brother. Unable to really help, he allowed his dad and whoever else was with him to pull him and Frank the rest of the way out of the river. He lay there panting from the exertion of his swim, feeling almost too exhausted to do even that.
Fenton had also watched in terror as his sons had gotten hit by the rapids, unable to stop it, but he had been right there as soon as possible. Now he began tending to his exhausted sons, worried at what injuries they might have sustained. As he did so, he answered the two questions he knew both of them were anxious about. “Everyone in the raft is fine and we’ve arrested the Assassins who were chasing you, including the two caught in the excellent trap you set.”
The trap he referred to was the one they had constructed at the river as the raft was being inflated. It consisted of strong, camouflaged netting that was placed on the ground, waiting to capture the Assassins. Joe had almost wanted to stay and see the bad guys get hauled up in the netting into a nearby tree, just like on the cartoons.
“S-shot,” mumbled Joe, in between coughing. Hearing that one word from his son enflamed Fenton’s worry. He’d already been checking for injuries, and now was expecting to see blood. Unable to find any, he questioned what his youngest son had told him.
“Where, Joe? Where are you shot?” asked Fenton urgently, fighting to remain calm.
“Frank….n-n-not….me,” Joe managed to say. Too exhausted to say anything else or move, Joe listened as his father checked Frank. His relief was great when Fenton told him what he found.
“Frank’s not shot. The bullet must have hit something else.” Fenton’s voice shook a little in relief.
Probably the paddle Frank had picked up right before he got thrown backwards. Joe realized that the force of it had been enough to knock his brother out of the raft. He could hear Frank coughing nearby. He tried to gather strength to go over to him and started to sit up, but was easily stopped.
“Why don’t you just rest a little more, huh?” Con asked. Joe looked in surprise at their friend, a Bayport Police Officer.
“How did you get here?” Joe asked.
Con smiled as he answered, “Flew.”
“Really. I flew your dad here by helicopter.” Con had recently completed his training, but hadn’t told anyone else he was going for it. “And he’s either brave or crazy. My theory is both.”
“A helicopter? Seriously?” Joe exclaimed, or the closest he could manage right then.
“You fly a plane,” Con pointed out. “What’s that different about a helicopter?”
“If you don’t know, then air traffic control better watch out,” commented Joe, earning him a look from Con.
“I think you know what I was saying.”
Joe grinned tiredly. “Yeah, but it’s funner pretending otherwise.” His expression turned back to one of concern as he looked again to his brother, whose eyes were still closed but was verbally responding to his father’s gentle questions.
When he was able, Frank sat up and grinned at his brother, who had come over and was staring at him anxiously. Once he saw Frank was doing better, Joe had a question for him.
“Was that actually a slingshot you had?” Joe asked his brother in amazement. Frank grinned.
“Yep, saw it at Jungle Jack’s and thought couldn’t hurt to get it.”
Right then a Humvee came tearing up an overgrown road before stopping a few feet away. Marshal Chambers, along with several of his men, jumped out with weapons drawn.
“I’ll take over now,” Chambers informed everyone. “Where are the Assassins you captured?”
“Uh, hold up there,” Con said, a smile playing about his lips. “They would be my prisoners.” He showed Chambers his badge.
Chambers looked at Con, his lip curling in contempt. “You think some Bayport cop can make this arrest?”
“Well, considering I’m ‘some Bayport cop’ and a Special Deputy US Marshal,” Con told him. “Yeah.”
“Who gave you that authority?”
“The same one who also gave others here that authority,” Con noted, obviously enjoying trumping Chambers. “Him.” He nodded his head toward a man coming from upriver. Chambers turned to see Marshal Jeff Winston walking coolly toward the gathered group. He had the right to make deputies of those desiring to assist.
“The Assassin was knocked out when Frank used that slingshot,” Winston informed the interested parties. He had handcuffed the Assassin and left him there for pick-up.
Striding up to Chambers, Winston matter-of-factly withdrew his Glock 23 and aimed it at him. As he did that, with weapons of their own, Con and Fenton immediately covered the four men Chambers had brought with him, playing it safe until they found out about them.
“What’s going on?” demanded Chambers.
“You’re under arrest, that’s what’s going on.” Winston looked steadily at Chambers then told him his rights. “I’ve got enough on you now to do so. I was just waiting for you to show up.”
“Are you out of your mind?” Chambers appeared unruffled by the accusation as Winston reached over and removed Chamber’s Glock from his shoulder holster.
“Nope, not at all,” Marshal Winston grinned. “You thought you had everything covered, didn’t you? Your plans are about to unravel on you. I’ll take your backup gun, too.”
“What did I do?” Chambers handed over his other gun.
“Where do I start?” Winston asked Chambers. “You cleverly helped save Joe’s life so you could wait for another opportunity to kill him that wouldn’t implicate you. You helped an Assassin escape and didn’t change his status from ‘dead’ to ‘alive’, so we wouldn’t be searching for him as a fugitive. You forged papers for both Joe Hardy’s and Iola Morton’s cases. Tried to frame me. And communicated with Assassins about our witnesses’ location to murder them. And you owe them a tire.”
“You can’t prove any of that bilge. That could all be explained as clerical errors or hearsay. Besides, everything you said about me is really you,” Chambers responded.
“Well, for one, I don’t have a nice, well-fed bank account overseas,” Winston pointed out. While they were waiting to get the map from Jungle Jack, Frank had used his computer to track Chambers to his secret bank account.
Chambers tried to turn it around, “I’ve been investigating you, and you were the one with the account. You just switched it to my name.”
“Chambers, it takes me forever just to save a file to my computer. Do you really think I could manage that kind of hacking?”
“You had someone do it for you.”
Winston laughed, “Right, and those who are speaking up to give information on you are all lying.”
“Not buying it.”
Fenton was listening and watching the exchange, already knowing that the case he’d been working on was tied into this one. Several of the security breaches could be linked back to Chambers and the Assassins, with proof gathered by Fenton’s careful investigation. Fenton had recognized Chambers from a photo Frank had emailed him. It was of a drawing done by pickpocket Henry of the man in whose pocket he’d ‘found’ Joe’s phone. Chambers had also erased Joe’s pictures and emails and tipped off Abdel to leave town.
Chambers could see that it wasn’t turning out the way he wanted it, but he knew what he could do to change that quickly in a deadly way. When he held his phone up, one of the men he’d brought with him stepped forward. Opening his jacket, the explosives wrapped around his waist were revealed.
“That’s real brave, making someone else wear a bomb,” Joe noted. Chambers ignored him.
“It’s a shame that the Assassins were able to kill all of you with a bomb before I got here to stop them,” Chambers said, starting to move away so he could be safe when he detonated the bomb with a signal from his phone. His other men also began to back away.
Frank mouthed ‘phone’ to Joe and watched as understanding lit his brother’s eyes. Joe was near his father so he was able to stealthily and successfully slip Fenton’s phone from his pocket then pass it to his brother in a matter of seconds.
Looking over at Biff, the older Hardy brother then flicked his eyes toward Chambers. Biff’s eyes widened slightly, but their brave friend nodded inconspicuously. Frank dialed the phone number he had found while searching for Chambers’ overseas bank account. As the phone began to ring, temporarily disabling it as a detonator, Biff tackled Chambers, wrestling the phone away from him.
Once Biff had the phone secure, Chambers tried to get free, but he met right up with Chet’s huge fist, which knocked him out cold. As one of Chambers’ men also tried to escape, Frank had recovered enough to be able to instinctively respond with an effective take-down in one smooth move. After Joe grabbed the guy’s arms to keep him from getting away, he looked over at Frank. The two brothers grinned at each other. They were back!
A short distance away, unknown to the others, another scene was unfolding. The fugitive Assassin whom Chambers had allowed to escape, had recently arrived and had planned to lie in wait to murder them. However, all of a sudden, he fell silently and quickly to the ground. He wouldn’t be found until later when the marshals swept the area.
Not far away, but sufficiently hidden by the foliage, two people quickly moved out of sight to avoid detection. Moving swiftly, the male and female ran together, hands clasped.
“I think that wraps that up.” Ned grinned over at Nancy. The smile of pride and love Nancy sent Ned’s way was enough to make him never regret his decisions.
As they got in their car, parked off of a winding side road, Nancy thought about how much she loved Ned. Watching as Ned moved to the driver’s side door, she smiled at her handsome man, whose bravery was only one of many reasons why she loved him.
As the prisoners were loaded into the Humvee, with the help of all the Special Deputy US Marshals present, things were getting wrapped up. Marshal Winston had more backup on the way to help him transport the prisoners so the Bayporters could go back home.
“I’ve got something to say,” Chet spoke up. Everyone turned to him expectantly where he stood, grinning, with his arm lovingly around his sister. “We survived – let’s eat!”
That statement was met with much approval. They stopped by Jungle Jack’s on the way back to tell him that they didn’t bungle, partly in thanks to some of the items they had bought from him. He, of course, was delighted and asked them to tell their friends. He had a little present for each of them once he learned that bad guys had been taken care of.
Fenton traveled with Marshal Winston to finish things with the case. Con flew the helicopter back to Bayport having offered to transport anyone brave enough to go with him. Tony, Biff, and Phil were interested and enjoyed the trip immensely. Everyone else went in the van. Neither siblings nor sweethearts wanted to be very far from each other.
Back in Bayport, celebrations, hugs, and smiles continued in a number of households. And two brothers had a lot of talking to do. They’d gotten in late and were now in the kitchen having a midnight snack.
“You were hard to find, but we still found you,” Frank commented, getting some milk out of the refrigerator.
“You didn’t find me until I let you find me,” Joe returned, causing Frank to raise his eyebrows and chuckle. “Truthfully, knowing what a natural tracker you are, I wasn’t sure how long I could keep ahead of you.” He accepted the glass of milk his brother gave him with thanks and brought over the brownies their mom, Laura, had made earlier that day.
“Joe, you should have let me know what was going on.” Frank sat down at the table and gave his younger brother a look, who tried to focus on choosing which brownies he wanted right then. “This look can stay on my face for quite a while.”
“Have some brownies!” Joe threw a grin at his brother, but it slipped off his face when he looked at Frank. “I know, Frank, but I was really scared of something happening to my family. I thought I was keeping you safe. Iola was in danger and it seemed you weren’t if the Assassins thought I was dead. Iola and I were going to try to get somewhere safe and then decide what to do.”
“I understand that, Joe, but the thing is, little brother, I wasn’t about to stop until I found you.” Frank regarded Joe a moment before picking up a brownie. It was suddenly very clear, seeing the memory of Joe’s recent fear in his eyes, that his little brother was willing to sacrifice having the support system of his family so he could keep them safe. “Did you make your decision before or after you found out about Iola and knew you wouldn’t be alone?”
Joe was silent a moment before answering, “Before.”
The depth of Joe’s love for his brother wasn’t a surprise, but it still managed to choke him up and Frank was suddenly glad he hadn’t taken a bite of brownie yet.
Knowing that his brother had been thinking about disappearing for the rest of his earthly life, he had a request. “Please don’t ever do that again, okay?” Frank asked, his voice sounding suspiciously choked up.
“No sooner than you would,” Joe said, looking directly at his brother.
“We’re a team.”
“Yes, we are, a serious kick-butt team,” Joe grinned.
A joyous party at the Mortons was in progress as Joe and Iola slipped out to the porch where they stood looking at one another. They were wearing matching T-shirts, as was everyone who’d been given one by Jungle Jack. The fronts of Joe and Iola’s T-shirts read as follows:
I didn’t Bungle in the Jungle
While the back of their T-shirts had the following words emblazoned on them:
Because I bought from Jungle Jack’s Outfitters!
“The tough would also bungle in the jungle without love,” Iola said softly, smiling at Joe. “We made it through the fire.”
Smiling tenderly at her and gazing at her in forever love, his voice low as he responded, “Yeah, not only did we survive, but our love is even stronger.”
She nodded, her heart so full she couldn’t speak. Her lips did her talking for her by kissing Joe, who returned it just as passionately.