In the morning, Fenton came downstairs and spotted Frank in the kitchen finishing up a quick breakfast of doughnuts and coffee.
“Morning, Frank.” Fenton smiled as he entered the kitchen.
“Hey, Dad.” Frank smiled back. “Heard you get in early this morning. Didn’t think you’d be able to get home before tonight at the earliest.”
“You heard me? And I thought I was pretty quiet.”
“You were. I probably wouldn’t have known except that I heard the garage door.”
“It gave me away,” joked Fenton. He poured himself some coffee and sat down across from Frank. “Joe still asleep?”
Frank smiled and shook his head. “Nope, he actually got up early. He went over to see Iola. They’re out on the porch now.”
“Good. I have something for them.” Fenton set his coffee mug down and got to his feet. Then he spoke quietly. “You did a great job tracking your brother and Iola.”
Clearing his throat, Frank looked up at his dad. “Thanks. Since you trained us both, it made it quite a challenge. You, uh, know all of the details?”
Fenton nodded. “Marshal Winston told me about Joe’s decision to disappear and be in WITSEC. And about Joe disappearing on them. I also spoke with Arthur Gray again and got the info on the Network angle. I pieced together the rest. But I’d like to hear more from both you and Joe.” Fenton was silent a moment contemplating, his heart full. “Thanks, Frank.” He reached over and gave his son’s shoulder a squeeze before he went to find Joe and Iola.
Frank sat there a while, staring at his coffee. Being choked up made the simple task of drinking the liquid a little difficult.
As Fenton stepped to the doorway of the porch, he smiled at the couple sharing the glider. Joe had his arm around Iola and she was snuggled next to him. Fenton cleared his throat, not wanting to startle them – too much.
Joe and Iola both looked over and smiled, then Joe commented, “Hey, Dad, you were pretty quiet when you came in early this morning. Mostly.”
“Mostly?” Fenton gave his son a look as he went over and leaned against the porch railing to face the couple. He crossed his long legs at the ankles and put his hands back on the railing.
“Okay, you were quiet.” Joe grinned, his eyes sparkling with humor. “But something else wasn’t in stealth mode.”
“The garage door, right?” Fenton asked.
“You got it.”
Fenton smiled at Joe’s teasing and he sent up a prayer of thanks as he regarded his youngest. The thought that Joe might have disappeared made him feel sick. He didn’t even want to think about what it would have been like if he’d stayed missing. The short amount of time had been way too long.
“While I was investigating, I came across some items that just might be of interest to you both,” Fenton told Joe and Iola. He watched as they glanced at each other curiously and then back to him.
“What’s that, Dad?” Joe asked.
Fenton tossed the small box he’d had in his hand over to his son. Joe caught it then opened it.
“Oh,” Iola gasped when she saw the contents nestled inside. She looked back over at Fenton. “Thank you,” she said softly, and accepted the pretty earrings that Joe handed her. She’d been wondering when they could return to Rosie’s Pawn Shoppe to get them back and she knew Joe had wanted to, also.
“Thanks, Dad,” Joe said surprised, but knowing his dad’s talent and thoroughness, not totally surprised. Joe slipped the ring onto his finger. “When did you get these back?”
“I was tracking a lead; following a hunch. Chambers was on the move and he had become a suspect to me, so while Frank and the others covered one area, I was keeping an eye on Chambers. He had gotten a tip from someone who’s now in custody and who decided to give me the info also.”
“Nice job, Dad,” Joe grinned.
Fenton allowed a brief smile across his handsome face. “Thanks. I got to Rosie’s Pawn Shoppe a short time after Chambers had left and I checked it out. Rosie told me about the guy who’d just been asking about you two. She didn’t like him. Thankfully she has good instincts.” Fenton smiled at the couple’s clasped hands. “She said it was sad that you two had to pawn some of your things.”
“As much as I love these earrings, they don’t compare to how much I love Joe,” Iola stated.
“I’m glad to hear that,” Joe told her playfully with a grin.
Iola pulled a face. Then she explained, “Well, some girls seem to like things more than their guys.”
“Yep, I’ve heard them. And I’m glad you’re you.”
“You are an answered prayer, Iola,” Fenton told her. His mind took him back to not that long ago. He’d gotten home from a case and heard the quiet voices coming from the living room. Stepping to the doorway, he’d stilled when he saw Laura hugging Joe. Laura had been facing the doorway and saw Fenton and Frank, who’d just gotten home after his dad. The three Hardys shared a look of support for their wounded.
When Joe spoke, his voice was thick with emotion but the rest heard his words clearly. “I know Iola’s out there somewhere, Mom. Alive. We just have to find her.”
Fenton cleared his throat at the memory, thankful that Joe had been right. He resumed telling Joe and Iola what had happened. “I thought it was you, Iola, but I needed to confirm that. So I lifted a few fingerprints while I was at the pawnshop. Want to know exactly how I checked it out?” Fenton asked, his eyes twinkling.
“Yes!” Iola exclaimed.
“Well, Joe’s heart had clearly told him that he’d found you. And for scientific proof, I sent the fingerprints back here. Then Laura checked them against the ones Joe has on file and of course they matched.” He smiled and remembered the tears of joy in Laura’s voice when she had told him over the phone. Then, also by phone, Fenton had been the one who got to let Frank in on what they’d found out.
“Cool, I remember when he first decided a few years ago to collect all of our fingerprints. I had no idea at the time what all would happen!” Iola stated, memories running through her mind.
“I sure didn’t, either,” Joe agreed. “But I figured it couldn’t hurt.”
“So you two thought going into hiding was the answer?” Fenton asked, his tone as serious as his expression.
“It was only temporary, Dad. But I just thought that we needed to hide somewhere for our families’ safety then decide what to do after that. Iola thought we should get in touch with you and we probably eventually would have.”
“’Probably’ nothing,” Iola commented. “More like ‘definitely’.”
Fenton smiled. “And you well know how stubborn he is.”
“I can handle him.” She had a teasing look on her face, while her eyes were filled with love. His held just as much for her.
Fenton chuckled as he looked at feisty Iola. “Yes, I believe you can.” Leaving the couple on the porch, he went back inside the house and saw his wife coming down the stairs.
“Morning again,” Laura smiled at Fenton’s look for her.
He met up with her and grinned. “Morning again to you, too.” They walked toward the kitchen.
“The boys awake?” she asked as they walked with their arms around each other toward the kitchen.
“Yep,” Fenton answered and proceeded to catch her up. “Frank and Joe are headed back into New York to wrap things up this afternoon.”
Joe had taken Iola home and the brothers were just about ready to head out when the phone rang. Joe answered it. He didn’t recognize the accented female’s voice as she began her spiel.
“Hi! You’ve been recommended for products that will help you and your family. Unlike most so-called ‘relevant ads’ which are based on what a company has paid hoping to sell their products and services, this call is based on the actual, real-time, relevant needs of your family.”
“Um-“ Joe tried to interrupt, but that wasn’t going well for him since the caller wasn’t stopping. He rolled his eyes as she kept talking. And she didn’t sound like she was going to be finished anytime soon.
“Babies and toddlers need a lot of care as your family obviously knows. Making sure they stay safe and out of trouble is a top priority. So with the deluxe wireless monitoring system we offer, you and your whole family will benefit. They’ll be safe and you’ll be stress-free. Doesn’t that sound nice?”
Finally Joe was able to get a word in. “We don’t have any babies or toddlers here, so we’re not interested. Thanks.” He wasn’t fast enough hanging up because she started talking again.
“Are you sure? We were told otherwise.”
“Uh, yeah, pretty sure. Who’d tell you that? Whoever it was got it wrong. Afraid you have the wrong residence.” Joe glanced over at his brother who was listening in amusement. Frank indicated for Joe to put it on speakerphone so he could hear, too.
“No,” she stated persistently. “We have been suggested for the Hardys based on their youngest’s needs with his proficiency for getting into troubling situations. Joe Hardy is the youngest’s name.”
“Oh, well, is there someone there who can take this call? We really should be discussing this with someone older than 2.”
“I’m not a baby or toddler!” exclaimed Joe. Frank’s smile of amusement turned into chuckles as the conversation continued.
“Can you prove that?” the caller asked.
“Do I sound like a baby or toddler?”
There was silence for a moment as she seemed to ponder Joe’s question. “No, I have to say, you don’t sound like a baby or toddler at all. Your voice is too deep for a toddler and you seem to know a lot more words than a toddler.”
Frank laughed when Joe’s expression of incredulity was just too funny.
The caller’s next question came as a surprise. “Does your family go through puberty sooner than most, perhaps? And your voice has already changed now at two years old?”
“WHAT?!? I’m NOT a baby or toddler!” Joe repeated, only louder this time.
“I’m trying to think of why you act like a toddler, but sound older, that’s all,” the caller said defensively, sounding offended. “Are you saying that our products aren’t needed there? Really?”
“Yes, that’s what I’m saying!”
“So you aren’t prone to getting into troubling situations and causing your family and friends a great deal of stress and worry?”
“Well….” Joe knew what an honest answer to that question would have to be. “Wait a minute. Is this for real?” He tried to guess who the person was calling, but her voice didn’t sound familiar.
“It’s very real, sir!” the caller responded. “I believe that one of your family or friends wanted this call to be made and I’m stuck right in the middle!” She sounded like she might cry.
Joe looked over at his brother to see if he was the family member or friend who had requested the call. Frank shook his head in response. “Look, I’m sorry. I-“
“No, no, it’s okay. I should be used to this, but….” An audible sob came very clearly to Joe’s ears.
“I’m really sorry!” Joe looked desperately at Frank. “I’m not trying to upset you….”
“What about your family or friends?”
“Well, of course I’m not trying to upset them, either,” Joe said.
A slight sniffling could then be heard. “Well, I guess if you promise to do better.”
To Frank’s amusement, he watched as his younger brother nodded emphatically and promised to do better.
“Okay, I guess that’ll have to do,” the caller said mysteriously. Then she spoke in her regular voice. “You better never try a stunt like that again, Joe!”
“George?!?!” Joe exclaimed into the phone. He could hear her laughter as she hung up. Looking over at his brother, Joe stated what was now obvious. “That was George!”
“That must have been a little revenge for the disappearing act you pulled the other day on her – and me!” Frank said.
“Did you know about this?”
“No, but I whole-heartedly approve.” Frank smiled.
The sunshine shone brightly as the two brothers arrived in New York to finish up the case of the Levinshefskis’ stolen diamonds.
Details were being worked out as situations were improving. Abdel, now a new participant in WITSEC, had confessed to stealing the property as suspected. Working right there in the store, pretending to be Chassidic, had given him opportunity and access. He had been about to meet with the Assassin to give him the diamonds when Joe spotted him. Since that had been interrupted, Abdel had hidden the diamonds at his rented office and was on his way to get them when he was arrested.
After letting the Levinshefskis know that it had been Abdel, and giving them the number of the person to contact to have their diamonds returned, the brothers stopped by the deli.
Benjamin was working that day and very happy to see the brothers reunited. And they finally got to eat their pastrami sandwiches, seated there talking with Benjamin while they all ate. Joe spotted Peter walking by outside and had invited him to join them. Peter, happy to see them, also had news of his own. He was going to rehab for alcoholism, desiring to make something of his life. He knew he, like everyone else, could make a difference, either for good or for bad.
“Well, I better get going,” Peter stated and told them as he shook the brothers’ hands. “Thank you for caring and solving the case.” Then he turned to Benjamin. “And thank you for caring and helping – and making the best pastrami sandwiches ever.”
The other three laughed as Peter gave a wave then left. Benjamin glanced at his watch.
“I better get back to making those sandwiches,” he noted. Shaking Frank and Joe’s hands also, he reminded them, “Stop by whenever you’re in New York. We’ll make sure you’re fed well while you’re stopping evil.” He started to leave, but then turned back. “If you ever need any help – let me know.”
The brothers agreed and thanked him.
Before leaving the city to go back home to Bayport, the Hardy brothers had something else they wanted to do. They soon reached the huge building they had wondered about when they were little in New York City.
“Let’s see who’s right!” Joe exclaimed in anticipation.
Frank smiled at his little brother’s enthusiasm, thankful beyond words to be blessed by having Joe as his best friend. When they found out the number of windows and rooms, it turned out that Frank was closer to the number of rooms and Joe the number of windows. Joe kidded Frank about his ‘lucky guess’, but older brother didn’t miss the impressed look his little brother had for him. Then he remembered something.
“Hey, Joe, just for the record,” Frank said, his deep voice serious, although his eyes twinkled, “that wasn’t careful.” He referred to when Joe had first gone to get the pastrami sandwiches and had been requested to be careful – Frank’s definition.
“I’ll try to do better next time,” Joe grinned.
Frank just smiled and shook his head. He knew there would be a next time.
Never the end!