Hours went by before the group from Bayport could go back to Jungle Jack’s for the map. It was morning, but Frank didn’t wait for it to get light out. Having just received disturbing news, he made a few additional purchases.
While Frank and the others were following the map, Assassins were already at the cabin, intent on murdering Joe and Iola.
The killers barely made a sound as three of them climbed the steps in front while the others went around to the back. Each anticipated the looks of terror on their potential victims’ faces.
The Assassins were about to be disappointed, because the only expressions to be seen were on their own faces, and they were looks of extreme confusion.
The cabin was empty.
After Joe and Iola had eaten that previous evening, they had spent several hours setting up a unit of wireless, battery operated motion sensors surrounding the cabin. Buying the system had seriously depleted their finances, but they had agreed it was worth it. Joe had been impressed with Iola’s idea.
The couple had placed the sensors as far as the system’s range would allow for sending a silent signal back to the main unit in the cabin. They hoped they wouldn’t have too many false alarms with animals. As it turned out there was only one earlier and they had cautiously looked out the window to see a chipmunk go running by.
When Joe and Iola had been alerted to the possibility of intruders later, they put their plan into action. Joe had hoped it was his brother, but he didn’t think it was. With hearts beating fast, they moved toward the back door. The sensors were far enough away that they could leave without the uninvited guests seeing them.
Leaving their stuff behind, and holding hands, the two ran noiselessly down a path they had spotted hours earlier while putting up their alarms.
After several minutes of running, Joe and Iola glanced at each other, noticing that the trees were getting fewer and fewer as they ran. They had bought another map of the area but it obviously wasn’t a totally accurate or well-detailed one. The map Jungle Jack had drawn for them was accurate and detailed, but it was only to the cabin. Joe and Iola were currently ahead of the Assassins but for how long remained to be seen.
Joe glanced around, his eyes lighting on the quickest escape route. He could hear the Assassins coming behind and from the sides. They were basically surrounded. In front of them was a sheer drop where the ground disappeared and only air could easily coexist with the law of gravity.
There wasn’t much time and there wasn’t much choice, but there was one choice. And it seemed the likeliest, while looking decidedly unlikely.
Iola glanced behind them then back at her boyfriend. “What?” she started to ask as he began to unbuckle his belt. She followed his gaze to his plan, realizing what it was and turned quickly back to him. “You’re not serious?”
“Very,” he said, quickly pulling his belt through the loops and heading for their escape route a few feet away. There was an abandoned ski lift from the top of the cliff to the ground below. Only the heavy cable remained, the chairs had been removed.
Iola followed him, her eyes on his strong shoulders, trying to focus on him, not the enemy behind or the danger ahead of them.
“Joe….maybe we could….,” Iola’s voice trailed off as she was unable to come up with an alternate plan. Joe stopped and turned toward her.
“No, I think this is the fastest and most likely.” Joe gently laid his finger under her jaw and tipped her face up, away from the deep drop and toward him. She felt a surge of strength, and a bit weak in the knees, at the level and amount of love she saw in his vibrant orbs.
“Trust me,” he said softly. “I would pick the safest, most possible choice to succeed for you.” He gave her a quick kiss.
Then with a prayer that his crazy plan would work, Joe turned and tossed one end of his belt over the cable, and held onto each end, gripping it tightly in strong hands. He gave the belt and cable a swift but effective stress test to make sure it was stalwart enough.
“I’m glad for this strong Italian leather belt Aunt Gertrude gave me for my birthday!” Joe noted, hoping he would have a chance to thank her again soon. Testing the cable with the belt once more for strength, he then nodded to his girl. He waited as Iola came to his left side, reached up and locked her hands on her wrists on his right shoulder. Then she held on for dear life, her feet no longer touching the ground, her body melding against his.
As soon as Joe was sure she was holding on tight and secure, he took off at a run then pushed off with his feet at the last possible moment to gain every bit of speed he could. There was no longer ground beneath his feet, only air and lotsa faith.
Iola was tempted to close her eyes as they took off and started to slide down the cable. With her hands and wrists hooked together, she was securely holding onto Joe. She felt his muscles ripple as they flew at a breath-catching speed toward the other end. The wind generated by their plunge blew her hair back. She couldn’t help but notice that they were coming up really fast toward the corner of the building where the other end was attached. She just held on tight, trusting Joe.
The blond Hardy brother got ready for the jarring stop that was seconds away. He tensed, anticipating the next move. “Hang on tight!” he yelled to Iola, and she tried to tighten her hold even more, if that were possible, knowing what he was about to attempt.
When they were near enough to the wall of the building, Joe put his feet out to halt their descent. As he hit the wall with his feet, he felt the impact of the shock right up through his ankles, calves of his legs and thighs, but he didn’t drop his hold on the belt.
They were still alive.
Sliding off, Iola looked up at him after he had jumped to the ground. “That was fun, let’s do it again!” The grin he gave her would have lit up an entire city. He grasped her hand and they ran.
Frank grabbed the binoculars, squinting. What? He could tell what he thought he was seeing; he just couldn’t believe he was seeing it. Yet when he looked through the binoculars, he had to say, he believed it.
“What do you see?” Chet asked, coming up.
With a tone that held a mixture of relief, fear, amusement, as well as some slight irritation, Frank answered, “My little brother.” Joe and the girl holding onto him were sliding down a cable, right toward a building.
“Over that way, we need to hurry, I just saw who they were trying to get away from,” Frank told him tersely, checking the map for a shortcut so they could be in front of Joe.
Joe and Iola ran as fast as possible, not taking for granted the jump they now had on the pursuing Assassins. They weren’t going to be surprised if their enemies had followed their route. And that would mean the couple wasn’t as far ahead as they would have liked.
They were both startled when they heard a shout from the right of them up ahead. Looking over, instead of the dreaded sight of more Assassins, they saw the beautiful sight of Frank, Callie, Chet, Biff, Phil, and Tony arriving.
“They’re likely not far behind us,” Joe called. Frank nodded as Joe and Iola quickly caught up with the others. Siblings and friends were going to have to wait for the happy reunion, but their hearts were ecstatic at seeing one another.
“Nothing like a little excitement, huh?” Joe grinned over at his brother as they ran, who just grinned back and shook his head. “Guess you have a plan?”
“What do you think?” They could hear the roaring of the river ahead of them.
“Show your brilliance, brother!”
They reached the river and immediately began inflating the raft that Frank had purchased as a backup for an alternate route, knowing that Joe was being pursued.
Carefully pushing the now inflated raft half in the torrent of water, Frank, Biff, and Chet held it steady as Joe lifted Iola and then Callie easily into what he hoped Jungle Jack was correct about. Namely the best made raft in the US. The guys climbed in, with Biff being last so he could give it a mighty shove into the whitewater.
The loud crashing water required anyone who wanted to be heard to shout. With Assassins trying to kill them all, conversation was the last thing on any of their minds. It had apparently rained a good deal upriver, as evidenced by the surge, as well as the level, of the water.
Not being strangers to rapids, they worked together to keep the raft upright and away from the prevalent rocks that jutted out of the water and created obstacles to be avoided.
They all hoped that not only would going to the river throw the Assassins off their trail, but also move them rapidly away from their enemies.
Joe paddled steadily through the water, his strong arms battling the shock of the powerful crests. While he was glad at the distance they were putting between them and the Assassins, he was also anxious to go back and keep them from escaping. He didn’t like things unfinished, but first things first. The main thing was getting everyone in the raft to safety.
Then it happened. With help from a beam of sunshine, Frank’s dark eyes picked up the glint of something metallic over on the bank. An Assassin, partially hidden by the brush along the river, was lying in wait for them, with a high-powered weapon.
“Get down!!!” Frank yelled at the top of his lungs, fear coursing through him at their precarious situation. Everyone complied, but there wasn’t much they could do, floating in a raft on a river. Being in the rapids, moving constantly, however, did help make it difficult for the shooter on the bank to get a bead on any of them. The brush along the edges of the river also made it difficult for the Assassin to follow along.
Out of the corner of Joe’s eye he saw his brother, who was seated across from him, reach into his jacket and pluck something out. Is that a slingshot? For Frank to hit the Assassin would require him to place himself in a more vulnerable position.
As Joe was opening his mouth to yell for Frank not to try it, it was too late. The younger brother watched as his big brother sat up straight and used the slingshot, his hand never wavering. Then to Joe’s horror, moments after Frank fired, the older Hardy brother jerked back violently and crashed over the side into the crushing water.
Joe knew what he had to do. Just falling into the rapids, with the potential for hitting any of the rocks, would be treacherous enough; the danger of a bullet wound only added to the dilemma. He saw Frank being carried further away. They could maneuver the raft, and have him grab the paddle, but that was only if he were conscious. Otherwise he could drown before that happened. With Iola’s cry of fear for him touching his ears along with Callie’s and shouts from the other guys, Joe jumped into the rapids.
Thankfully the river was deep enough, and Joe was quickly swimming, trying frantically to reach his brother. Barely missing one large rock, he had been able to keep Frank in sight most of the time, but then the water crashed around him and temporarily blocked his line of vision. Blinking the stinging water from his eyes, Joe sought out his brother.
In his peripheral vision he had thought he’d seen the shooter go down when Frank had let loose with the slingshot. It would be helpful not to have to try and avoid bullets as well as battle the rapids. Joe was still concerned for the safety of everyone in the raft, but right then his brother was in the most danger.
Come on, Frank, where are you? Joe’s worried eyes swept the area where he thought his brother would be, considering the speed and current of the river. There was no way he was giving up until he rescued his big brother. In the back of his mind, he was still amazed and thankful that Frank and his other friends had shown up when they did.
Fighting panic as his search had yet to be successful, Joe narrowly missed another rock. This one would have given him much more than a headache.
Then he spotted what he thought and prayed was a glimpse of Frank’s dark head. His soul daring to hope that he had seen his brother, Joe surged toward the spot, keeping his eyes focused.
Come on, it’s gotta be Frank, he thought to himself as he fought against the turbulent water. When he saw his big brother, he gave a silent shout of joy.
Trying to hurry over to him, he felt like it was forever before he reached him. Frank was barely conscious but he was alive! Tears of relief mingled with the water from the river on Joe’s face.
“I’ve got you, big brother, take it easy,” Joe said gently as he grabbed hold of his brother. He didn’t know if Frank could hear him or not, but he talked when he could anyway. Although exhausted, Joe kept swimming. With the crosscurrents pulling at them, Joe tried to reach the bank of the river, an arduous battle.
He worried when Frank started to move, but realized his brother was regaining consciousness and trying to help. “It’s okay, Frank, I’ve got you.” Joe almost didn’t have the strength to say anything by then.
Tiring more every second, he was pretty sure he was going in the right direction, but he kept getting swept along. His muscles aching, his determination strong, he continued.
Those riding the raft tried to keep the brothers in sight, paddling to keep as close to them as possible to help when the opportunity presented itself. There had been a collective sigh of relief when Joe had reached his brother and kept him from going down again.
Then, as they watched anxiously, they saw the tumultuous water hit the brothers with force. Their fear heightened and distress tore at their hearts when the blond head and dark head disappeared beneath the speedily moving water.