Over the phone, Frank urgently told his father what was going on.
“I’ll be on the next flight available.” Fenton had just left a meeting where he had shared his findings with authorities he was working with there on a case involving security breaches. He paced the busy corridor as he got the news that his youngest was missing.
“I’m going to track down the employee from the pictures,” Frank said. “Try to pick up Joe’s trail. From the pictures it didn’t seem he knew Joe had seen him and from Joe’s brief message, he was pretty sure he hadn’t been spotted.”
“Why don’t you call Chet and the others; have some of them come help?” Fenton suggested, knowing that he would personally feel better for Frank not to be alone, since he himself wouldn’t be able to get there immediately due to flight availability. He had a feeling renting a car and driving up might end up taking less time in the long run.
“I will,” Frank agreed quietly.
“I’ll get there as soon as I can.” Fenton felt fear for both of his sons. “Please be careful, Frank.”
“Okay, Dad. You, too.” Frank hit ‘end’ then quickly made the suggested calls to Bayport, each one willing to drop everything and come help search for Joe. Danger was something that came with the territory of the brothers being detectives, but that didn’t make it any less worrisome.
At the deli, Frank finally got a chance to ask one of the busy workers behind the counter, “Did you see this guy come in here this afternoon?” He showed the man the picture of Joe from his phone. “Wearing a blue shirt, jeans.”
The man behind the counter stared at Frank for a moment like he was crazy, his expression saying he was certain of it. “Do you think I remember every customer? Do you know how many people have come in here this afternoon?”
“I know, but it’s important….”
“Of course it’s important, why wouldn’t it be?” The man looked like he was about to start working again.
“Please, do you remember?” Frank asked again.
The deli man, Benjamin, started putting together another order as he said, “Do I look like I want to answer twenty questions?” For some reason though, the man glanced back up and saw the seriousness on Frank’s face, and the anguish and fear not hidden in his dark eyes. Benjamin realized the situation was a real one.
“Let me see the picture again,” he said, wiping his hands on a towel. He hoped he would remember the guy, but like he’d said, he’d seen a lot of people.
Looking at the photo a moment, he tried to picture each recent customer. Frank tried not to be discouraged when Benjamin started to shake his head.
“I’m sorry…..,” he said. “Any other pictures?”
Frank nodded. He had several he’d taken and quickly flicked to another. “He’s my younger brother.”
“Hey, does he wear a ring?” Benjamin asked suddenly, spotting it in the picture but it was too far away to see the details of it.
“Yes!” Frank answered.
“Star with a heart wrapped around it?”
“Exactly.” Back before that terrible day when a bomb had been detonated in their sedan, Iola had given Joe a ring.* Frank remembered when his brother had proudly shown him Iola’s gift. Iola had told Joe that their love would always be even brighter and more vibrant than the very stars in the sky.
Benjamin nodded. “Yeah, I remember, I thought it was a really cool ring. Also remember thinking he looked a lot like my cousin, who lives in Elizabeth – Jersey.”
“Was there anyone else with him?”
“No, he got his order, couple of pastramis, sodas, fries, and left.”
Frank nodded. “Do you remember what he got the second time he came and if he was still alone?”
The deli man shook his head. “He was only in here once, alone, in the last few hours. I’ve been here the whole time. I know because if I saw him again, I was going to ask him where he got the ring and also if he was related to my cousin.”
“The ring was a gift from his girl,” Frank told him.
“Hope you find him and he’s okay.” Benjamin looked compassionately at Frank. He was well aware of the heartaches and troubles in the world and hoped this story wouldn’t be a tragic one.
“If I see him, you want for me to call you?”
“Yes, please. And thank you.” Frank wrote down the number for Benjamin and handed it to him.
Benjamin nodded and watched as the worried, lone brother left. His heart felt heavy and when the next customer started whining about something that was so infinitesimal in comparison to the brother’s worries, he found he had very little patience for such an attitude.
“You should be thankful you don’t have real troubles. Now what do you want?” The gruffness covered the concern he felt for that brother searching for his little brother.
Joe struggled back to consciousness. His head was pounding as he wondered what had happened. Where’s Frank?, his mind stressed, trying to discern what was going on. Is he okay? Where am I? What happened?
He listened before opening his eyes, hoping to gain some clues to his whereabouts. Silence. Like that was going to help him any. Okay, actually it could. That could tell him some places he wasn’t, such as any place noisy. He sensed he wasn’t alone, though. A man’s voice spoke, confirming that suspicion.
“Open your eyes. We can tell you’re awake.”
Refusing to obey, Joe’s eyes remained closed. He heard movement and almost jumped, but managed to refrain, when he felt the touch of cold on his arm.
“I guess he needs another shot to resuscitate him.”
Joe instinctively jerked his arm away and opened his eyes. Two men stared back at him impassively. The one holding the hypodermic nodded and took it away.
“Joe, I’m Deputy U.S. Marshal Jeff Winston and this is Deputy U.S. Marshal Bart Chambers,” he introduced them, placing the hypodermic back in a case. Joe glanced around as his eyes focused. He was seated in a plush chair, in either a lavish apartment or hotel suite. The marshal doing the talking at the moment, Jeff Winston, was tall with auburn hair and blue eyes. Chambers was pretty much generic looking.
“What’s going on?” asked Joe, as the two marshals showed him their badges. Well, they’re real or they stole the badges and forged very realistic looking IDs, Joe thought to himself.
“Someone tried to kill you a few hours ago.” Marshal Winston looked solemnly at Joe. “If we hadn’t been on that guy’s trail and administered the antidote to the poison you’d been given, you would be dead right now.”
Frank walked to Levinshefski’s, having called to meet with David and Golda, who appreciated the brothers’ help. The couple had heard about the Hardys’ sleuthing expertise from friends of theirs and was also impressed with their knowledge of diamonds. Working undercover at Levinshefski’s, the Hardy brothers intended on finding out who was responsible for committing the ongoing thefts of property.
After hearing about Joe, the Levinshefskis expressed their own concern and promised to pray.
“I pulled up all the info we have on him,” David said, referring to the employee in the photos Joe had taken.
Accepting the print-out with thanks, Frank had some startling news for the couple.
“I emailed another friend of mine earlier with the photos,” Frank told them, referring to Phil, who’d been working steadily on his laptop as Biff drove the Bayporters to the city. He had just called Frank back minutes ago. “The man’s name is actually Abdel.”
“Are you sure?” Golda asked, shocked.
Frank nodded. “Yeah, Phil has some really excellent resources and know-how.”
“This Abdel came with references from a Florida diamond merchant,” David said. “Why lie?”
“They might have been forged,” Frank suggested. “My brother got suspicious when he saw Abdel coming out of a fast-food place.”
Abdel had been masquerading as a Chassid, an ultra-Orthodox Jew. Frank and Joe knew for a fact that while not all Jews kept kosher, all Chassidic Jews did. That was why Joe noticed and got suspicious.
“I have a feeling Abdel is a very likely candidate for the thefts.” Frank told the Levinshefskis he’d let them know as soon as he found Joe.
Frank went back to the hotel where he received a phone call from Fenton telling him in code that his dad was going to need to stay in D.C. longer with a potential lead on Joe.
Just as he had finished talking with his dad, a knock sounded. Frank opened the door after verifying who was there. “Hey, guys, thanks for coming,” he said gratefully as he clapped Chet Morton on the shoulder as he went by, shook Phil Cohen’s hand, received a pat on the arm from Biff Hooper, exchanged a handshake with Tony Prito, then Callie Shaw, his girl, was there.
He wasn’t surprised to see her, and while he was concerned about the danger, right then he just took her in his arms and held her. Her arms encircled his strong chest and they stayed like that for a few moments.
Keeping his arm around her as he looked at each person’s face, he told them what all he’d found out so far. Fear for Joe didn’t lessen.
“What guy? What trail? What poison? What antidote?” Joe tried to make sense of what the marshal had just told him with his head still feeling very groggy.
“An Assassin,” Marshal Chambers said, handing Joe a picture of a decidedly unfriendly looking individual.
“Hadn’t come across him before today,” Joe noted, frowning.
“Well, he recognized you and that’s why he tried to kill you. As far as we know, you weren’t why he was in New York. He’s connected to some of the ones you and your brother have stopped,” Winston said. “You two have been very busy and successful.”
“For amateurs,” commented Chambers.
Winston didn’t agree with that assessment. “For anyone,” he corrected matter-of-factly. “Joe, we currently have the Assassin who tried to kill you in custody.”
“Well, you’re going to have a problem getting him to trial because they tend to like killing themselves,” Joe told him, rubbing a hand over his face.
“We know.” Chambers sat down on the chair across from Joe. “We’re keeping an eye on him. As far as his group knows, he was successful in killing you. Right before we arrested him, he’d just made a call to his leader. And they think he was killed while talking to them.”
Joe frowned and leveled a look at the marshal. “So?”
“If we can keep you hidden and alive, you can testify against him.”
“I’m not going to let my family and friends think I’m not alive.”
“If you love them, you will.” Winston’s voice was quiet and definite. “They would all be safer that way.”
Joe jumped to his feet. Too quickly. In his anxiousness, his speed was his downfall. Literally. The room tilted on him and he closed his eyes. His knees gave out and he collapsed back onto the soft chair.
“Hey, take it easy!” Winston exclaimed in surprise and concern. Throwing a glance over at Chambers, he asked, “Are you sure we shouldn’t take him to the hospital?”
“I’m sure. The antidote was checked out and would have counteracted the poison.”
“Probably got up too fast,” Winston noted.
Winston and Chambers voices were blending together to Joe and he couldn’t quite discern what they were saying as he worked his way through the dizziness.
Marshal Winston took his pulse as he told Joe, “I was a Navy Corpsman before I joined the Marshal Service.” He frowned slightly at Joe’s pulse but decided that keeping an eye on him would be sufficient. Joe still wasn’t looking in the best of health.
“Why don’t you rest and look over these papers?” Winston suggested, indicating legal forms and documents that would make it all happen. Joe nodded then waited for Winston and Chambers to leave the room.
Sighing, Joe tried unsuccessfully to find his phone. Spotting one across the room on the table, he got up slowly, and made his way over to it. Reaching it, he sank down on one of the chairs. Closing his eyes a moment, he then opened them to find things a little more in focus. He wasn’t entirely surprised when he found there was no dial tone for the phone.
Using the table as leverage, he stood up again then walked over to the sliding glass doors that led to a small balcony. He recognized they were still in New York, but definitely not in the same area. Joe’s intensely blue eyes searched for landmarks to let him know where his brother would be.
The lump in Joe’s throat didn’t dissipate as his mind processed all the things he’d been told and the knowledge of how much danger his loved ones would be in because of who had been after him.
Frank, I know what I have to do, but how can I? Joe leaned his head against the glass. The tear that left his eye was the result of knowing what he was going to be required to do, because he loved his family.
He looked over toward the east, seeking his brother.
Right then his brother was fighting – traffic. The mess of every kind of vehicle merging this way and that, most without any thought of courtesy to their fellow travelers, added to Frank’s headache. The van was at a standstill at the moment. Tony sat in the passenger seat, trying to see any break in traffic. Phil would occasionally tell them traffic updates as he received them on his laptop while continuing to work on what they knew so far.
Frank’s scowl deepened as he sensed Joe getting further away, although, unknown to him, he was actually going toward where Joe was right then. What is happening with my little brother? His dark eyes became even more determined, if that were possible.
“Detour ahead,” Tony said as he spotted the sign that had just been put up.
“Great,” muttered Frank, stepping on the gas and shooting forward when a brief window of opportunity presented itself.
On the detour there were still plenty of vehicles but they were able to pick up speed slightly as the traffic flow moved a little faster. Normally that would be a good thing, except all of a sudden there was a loud noise and the van swerved wildly. Frank fought to keep it under control, hoping to avoid a collision. Surrounded by vehicles, that looked to be an impossible mission.
“Hold on!” Frank yelled.
* Casefile #4 The Lazarus Plot – It was noted that sometime before the explosion at the mall, Iola had given Joe a ring and he’d give her earrings. The book didn’t give descriptions so I used my imagination.