Joe’s heart was beating fast in anticipation of the moment he’d dreamed of, when Iola would be in his arms again. Safe and secure. Home.
Finally he reached the hotel. He had a theory about the numbers he’d found indented on one of the pages in the briefcase. Chambers was apparently still a part of Iola’s case as well as Joe’s and was likely coordinating them.
Going over to an information stand, Joe picked up a brochure about the hotel and casually looked at it. It included a map and information about various rooms and suites.
He glanced at his watch. An idea formulating, Joe’s intelligent eyes looked over toward the gift shop. Keeping in mind how much money he had and the necessity for funds later, he went to make some purchases. This included a side trip to a nearby store.
Frank had just gotten off the phone with Arthur Gray, hoping to gain information from Network resources. Seconds after he had hit ‘end’, his ringtone sounded again. “Hi.”
“Good, you answered!” came a female voice over the phone.
“You’re surprised?” he asked, recognizing Nancy’s voice and wondering if she’d repeatedly been trying to contact him.
“Not exactly surprised, more like relieved. I was hoping everything was okay,” Nancy paused for only a moment before continuing. “When we saw Joe earlier–”
“You saw Joe?!?!?” Frank practically shouted, immediately sending a prayer of heartfelt, joyful thanks at the news confirming Joe was alive.
“Yes,” Nancy answered, surprised at the older Hardy brother’s tone. “Here in New York. I asked about you and he said you were busy. I just kept thinking I needed to call you.”
“Where exactly did you see him? What time was this, Nancy?” Frank tried to remain calm, but his excitement couldn’t be ignored. Time was of the essence. When he found out where and when she had seen his brother, he made a note.
“Did he look okay? Was anyone with him?”
“He looked fine, and no, no one was with him,” Nancy answered, knowing from Frank’s response that her instincts were correct. “Is everything okay, Frank? What’s going on?”
“I don’t know exactly, but we’re trying to find out,” Frank told her. He thanked her again, promising to call her back and let her know what happened.
At the hotel, breakfast time came and went. By lunchtime, Iola had requested they go down to the restaurant. She respected and, in a short amount of time, had become friends with the two marshals newly assigned to guarding her. After Chambers had informed them that her cover had been blown, the marshals had hidden her temporarily in that hotel.
Iola’s disguise, as a precaution, was complete with a hat that obscured her features, her hair swept up in a sophisticated style, and wearing clothes in the design of a successful corporate businesswoman.
The marshals and Iola were almost to the busy hotel restaurant when a guy with slicked down hair, glasses that were too big, pants that were too small, and a shirt that didn’t go with anything, ran right into them. Apparently he hadn’t been looking where he was going.
“I’m sorry!” he said, looking terribly embarrassed. He stared awkwardly at them for a moment, particularly at Iola, who was obviously the reason he wasn’t paying attention to his walking.
The male marshal rolled his eyes at the nerdy looking guy. “Watch where you’re going.” He had no doubt the nerd had been too busy looking at Iola. “She’s way out of your league, pal.”
Iola silently disagreed with that statement.
Nodding at what the one marshal had just said, the guy pushed his glasses that had started sliding down his nose, back up. She loves me anyway!
The female marshal could be heard as they moved away, “Did you see him wink at her? I can’t believe it!”
“Probably had something in his eye.”
“No, he was winking at her.” The female marshal looked over at Iola and asked her, “Do you think he was winking at you?”
All Iola could think was nerd love was extremely attractive and she couldn’t hide her smile.
It was very difficult acting nonchalant during lunch, but Iola pulled it off. Her heart was racing as was her mind at seeing Joe and trying to figure out what he had planned. Every once in awhile the smile on her face came unbidden with the sparkle in her eyes remaining constant.
Arriving back at the small suite, she told the marshals she wanted to go read quietly in her room. Once there, a book wasn’t what she wanted to read, but rather the note Joe had slipped into her pocket when he had appeared to bump into her.
Her hands were practically shaking with excitement as she read the words Joe had written to her. It was a series of questions and answers.
Why? Long story
How? Longer story
Quack? The boy was crazy. Yet, she realized what he must be saying. They had exchanged enough coded notes in class that she followed what he was meaning. But ‘quack’? She glanced around the room as an idea came. Over on the other side of the room, up near the ceiling, had to be what he was referring to.
Smiling, she knew she’d cracked Joe’s code. When they were little, Joe had heard ‘duct’ as ‘duck’ and couldn’t figure out what ‘duct work’ had to with ducks working, so he had asked his big brother. Iola remembered being very impressed with how thoughtfully, and how well, Frank had found out about it to explain to his curious little brother.
Having figured out what Joe’s message was telling her, Iola moved a chair over a short distance under the vent without making a sound. Going to the desk, she found some tape, then after retrieving a sturdy barrette and a string, went back and climbed up on the chair. Working cautiously not to attract attention with any noises, but as quickly as possible, she set to work on the grate.
She soon had it so she could let it slide open, the grate being held by the remaining screw. Hoisting herself up, she was glad the duct was at least big enough for her not to feel claustrophobic. She went down to a junction, turned around and crawled back to her room. Getting the tape she’d adhered to the string she had already tied to the grate, she pulled it up. Then she used a lot of tape hoping to hold it in place, for a while anyway, depending on how strong the tape was.
The grate now back in place, she crawled backwards until she came to the junction again. Remembering Joe’s instructions she had memorized, ‘RLLRLR’, she knew to go what would be turning right at first when going forward. She spent the next little while following the mental map he’d drawn for her.
Continuing on she saw, after she had made the sixth turn, Joe’s handsome face up ahead where he was waiting for her, a big grin on his lips.
“Come here, my feisty little dust bunny,” he whispered to her. Reaching in, he easily pulled her out of the ventilation duct and jumped down off of the small box he’d been standing on. Still holding on to her for a moment, he hugged her while she hugged him back. Wrapped securely in his arms, Iola finally felt safe. The marshals were doing a great job, but Joe was her hero. Knowing they had to get going, they reluctantly moved apart.
While he put the grate back in place, she glanced quickly around noting they were in an empty hotel room.
“This part of the hotel is being worked on,” he told her as he finished replacing the grate. His hat and clothes indicated he had gotten in that area pretending to be one of the workers. “I managed to check the computer the person in charge of this renovation had. They got distracted by something falling in another area they were working on, so they left it unattended.” As he threw that grin of his over at her, she thought of how much she’d missed him and how happy he made her feel. She was also duly impressed with his accomplishment of finding out about the duct work location and grinned back appreciatively.
Joe came over, and Iola could see in his eyes how much he wanted to hold her forever, but they had to leave. His strong, gentle hands reached toward her face and cupped it, and although they only had a moment to kiss right then, it was powerfully passionate.
Stepping away a moment, he came back and gently placed a baseball cap on her head. Her hair was still swept up but after the duct traveling it was slightly askew, with tendrils tumbling down around her face.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” Joe said, taking off his coveralls. Underneath he wore his regular jeans that he had changed back into earlier from the too small pants. Tossing the cap aside, and putting on the baseball cap he’d bought, he reached for her hand. Together they went over to the closed door. After listening, then opening it quietly, they were on their way.
Quickly taking the stairs, hoping to avoid being seen, Joe and Iola soon reached the plaza outside the hotel. Hurrying over to a waiting taxi, Joe opened the door for Iola, telling her quietly to keep ducked down.
Once she was in, he saw a vehicle in his peripheral vision just pulling up several cars away. Turning momentarily, his eyes looked directly at the driver – his brother. Frank and Joe didn’t move for a second, both surprised.
Frank started to get out of the van, but before he could, his little brother mouthed ‘I’m sorry’ and got into the taxi, which sped away. The elder Hardy brother was shocked but quickly put it in gear. He closed the door back and took off after the taxi.
“So, do you think you can lose that black van?” Joe asked the taxi driver, Kalil, who glanced back at him.
“Are you serious?” Kalil asked, hoping his passenger was. It had been a boring day so far, but that sounded like fun!
“Yeah.” Joe watched out the back window, knowing what an exceptional driver Frank was. The traffic could possibly help, as his brother was stuck back a number of car lengths. Joe couldn’t tear his eyes away from his brother, his heart breaking. He stubbornly stuck with his idea, though, to get somewhere safe, away from there then decide what to do. He thought he was keeping both his brother and his girl safe.
In the van, Frank’s frustration was heard as he tried to maneuver around the traffic. Not just any traffic – New York traffic. When he had spotted the tall guy starting to get into the taxi, he could see from his profile it was Joe before his brother turned and looked right at him. What’s going on? Frank could almost sense Joe was doing this somehow for his safety. I appreciate the sentiment, little brother, but you better hope when I catch up to you, that you have an excellent explanation ready.
“Is that Frank back there?” Iola asked. The Hardy’s sedan had been blown up by a bomb, and it had been feared Iola as well, and they’d had the black van ever since that day.
“They are safer if we leave,” murmured Joe quietly in her ear, leaning down.
Kalil turned out to be not only a great driver, but also a resourceful one. Using the traffic patterns to their fullest advantages, and a little sign language to a local policeman they passed, the taxi disappeared out of sight.
Frank couldn’t believe it when the officer pulled them over. Later they would find out Joe didn’t know the taxi driver had requested that.
The time it took for the officer to check Frank’s license, and the van, was long enough so that the taxi was nowhere to be seen when they pulled back into traffic.
“I got the cab number and you better believe we are going to be talking to that driver,” Frank stated, his voice steely.
Joe had Kalil drop them at a random location, so Frank wouldn’t be able to get much information when he investigated. Kalil had enjoyed the excitement so much, he didn’t charge the couple extra fare, much to their surprise. Still, Joe and Iola’s finances were dwindling, so before heading out of the city, they made another stop.
The pawn shop stood in between a used clothes boutique and a pet store. Joe covered Iola’s eyes as they went by the pet store, so she wouldn’t see the little animals begging for a home. Whether it was a human or an animal in need, Iola’s heart was huge, as was Joe’s. It helped him not to look at the animals clamoring for attention by trying to keep her from seeing the earnest little faces of the puppies in one window and the kittens in the next.
Joe opened the creaky door of Rosie’s Pawn Shoppe and held it for Iola. The shop wasn’t big, but it looked to have a little of almost everything available. A counter ran along the two side walls and the back wall. Musical instruments were in abundance. There were various guitars, including Epiphones and Fenders. Saxophones begged to be picked up and played. Intricately crafted violins were for sale, and although not made by Antonio Stradivari or sons, still beautiful.
Joe and Iola weren’t there to buy, though.
“Hello, what can I help you with? Looking for a ring, perhaps?” The woman behind the counter, presumably Rosie, smiled at them.
“No, um, actually we need to sell some stuff.” Iola glanced up at Joe as she spoke. He nodded but looked reluctant.
The pawnbroker noticed immediately what a great looking couple they made. Him tall and golden, her petite and dark.
“Well, you came to the right place. I’m Rosie. What’ve you got?” she asked, liking the way the guy was obviously considerate of his girl. Darn it, don’t go getting soft, Rosie, you’ll be out of business before you know it.
Joe and Iola smiled a greeting. Iola placed earrings and both of their watches on the glass countertop, then looked over at her boyfriend as he pulled the ring off his finger.
Rosie picked up each item and examined them, occasionally glancing at the couple, who watched her while trying not to look anxious. “You were probably hoping for a pawnbroker with a big heart and a romantic.” She paused a moment before adding, “Too bad you got me instead.”
That was what she said, but she ended up giving them a good deal.
Later, after they left, Rosie had two visitors who were both interested in finding out about the couple. The first one to visit she didn’t like and wouldn’t give him any real information, but in fact sent him in the opposite direction. The second man who came in she trusted, and she wasn’t much of a trusting person. And she didn’t just like him because he made some purchases. He was a good man. She hoped he caught up with the couple before that evil man did.