Yanking his hand back, Joe envisioned the likely suspects of what the culprit could be, starting with the worst possibilities.
“What is it?” Frank asked in a hushed tone, fearful for his brother when he heard Joe’s sharp intake of breath. He moved closer to where he estimated the sound of his younger brother’s voice had come from.
“I’m not sure…” Joe had already moved in the opposite direction that he had been going. He kept his voice quiet in hopes of not spooking whatever it was, not knowing how near it was, how fast it was…or how deadly. “Stay back, Frank, I’m thinking maybe a spider…a furry one or some small animal. Of course, it could be a big animal, I don’t know, although it is quiet, whatever it is.” He listened, trying desperately to hear any sounds that could give him a clue as to what had touched his hand. His body was tense, half expecting the mysterious creature to bite him or attack him at any moment.
Frank also listened but didn’t hear any movement or growls or anything. It was as if the other living thing had stopped moving as well. “Are you sure it wasn’t an upholstered piece of furniture or some cloth or something like that?”
“It could be…but I’m really thinking it’s something alive, Frank, but I’m not sure it’s dangerous. In fact I’m thinking it isn’t. It just startled me and I think I startled it.”
“You have no proof that it isn’t dangerous!”
“Well, I also don’t have any proof it is dangerous! It could have immediately bit me or stung me but it didn’t!” Joe stated.
“Well, you also moved your hand really fast, too, didn’t you? Maybe you startled it enough so that you had time to move.” Frank wanted his brother on high alert, not lowering his guard.
“Yeah, that’s true, but now that I think about it, after the initial scare, it seemed more…cuddly than deadly.”
Frank groaned at Joe’s words.
Joe was about to say something else when all of a sudden he could feel his hand being licked. It took great fortitude to not instinctively move his hand away but he held it steady as a grin spread across his face. “It’s definitely harmless, big brother.”
Sighing, Frank had a question. “And how is it you are so sure?”
“It’s licking my hand, not eating it, so I’m taking that as a good sign.”
“Not funny, Joseph.”
“Well, I’m happy about it!” Still trying to guess exactly what the animal was, Joe reached to attempt to pet its head. The little animal had yet to make any noises whatsoever. “Hmmm, it has long ears.” His fingers gently felt the soft floppy ears. “And, likely, it also has a fluffy cotton ball tail.”
“See, it is statements like that that make people think you are the smarter one.” Joe grinned as Frank’s deep laugh was heard. The younger Hardy carefully lifted the small rabbit and held it in his hand while continuing to pet it. He felt his brother’s hand trying to feel for the rabbit’s diminutive head and so Joe took hold of Frank’s wrist and helped guide him.
“Friendly, content little thing, isn’t it?” Frank asked quietly, gently running a finger over the rabbit’s head and ears.
“Yeah. Sure likes to cuddle.” Joe realized that sounded like a good name. “Cuddles – that’s what we’ll call you!” Frank smiled at the name for the rabbit.
“Guess we better try again for an exit. Shame this isn’t a talking rabbit.” Frank stroked the rabbit’s fur once more then went back to searching the room again.
Keeping hold of their new little buddy, Joe joined the search. The brothers worked efficiently as they sought an exit.
“Another door.” Frank’s voice came from a few feet to Joe’s right.
“Exterior?” Joe asked hopefully.
“No, I don’t think so.” Frank listened before turning the knob.
“This is so weird!” Joe tried not to let his frustration with his lack of sight get to him, but the longer it took to get out of the castle the less patience he was managing.
Another hallway led to yet another door. The next one they could feel the carpet wasn’t as thick and wondered once more if they were just about to reach their goal of an exit.
As Frank walked he listened to every little sound, determining whether each noise was one to be concerned with or not. The subtle click he heard was strange and he immediately zoned in on it. It came from the wall it seemed, about at the level of the brothers’ heads. Frank instinctively felt it was one of Baxter’s traps but what it was, he didn’t yet know. Afraid that they were going to find out the hard way, he tried to guess whether the attack would come from up high or down low and whether speeding up or slowing down would make the difference in life and death.
“What was that?” Joe asked, also trying to figure out the puzzle. Only seconds had gone by since they’d first heard the click.
“Down!” Frank made a swift decision, praying all the while. They both instantly dropped to the floor while the sound of whooshing began to be heard as a number of objects tore through the air right where Frank and Joe had just been walking. They lay there, listening as items whistled through the air above them and thudded into the wall with deadly force, followed by silence.
“That was close!” Joe exclaimed after a moment.
“Don’t move for a minute, Joe.” Frank wanted to be certain the coast was clear before returning to their feet and possibly the line of fire if there was a second barrage.
Not sure when the danger was past but trying to give it enough time, the brothers moved forward, staying low and using their forearms to travel before they chanced standing back up.
After several minutes without another attack, Frank ventured over to feel what was now embedded into the wall. His fingers told him the story.
“Darts,” he stated as he wondered if the tips, solidly situated in the wall, were laced with poison.
“Real nice,” Joe said.
Picking up on the distraction in his brother’s voice, Frank asked, “Are you okay? Did any of them hit you?” The thought terrified him, especially with the possibility that the darts could be poisoned.
“No, but Cuddles is gone!” Joe sounded distressed as he felt around the floor searching and began calling for the little rabbit.
Frank was concerned, too, but his first responsibility was to get his brother and himself out of there. “I’m sure Cuddles will be alright. We’ve still got to get out of here as quickly as we can.” He hoped Joe wasn’t going to insist on finding the rabbit before leaving. Frank would have to put his foot down if so.
“But…” Joe started to say as he didn’t cease from searching. Walking over toward the direction of his brother’s voice, Frank got hold of Joe’s shoulder with a firm hand.
“Come on, we’ve got to find the exit. The information we emailed from Baxter’s computer to the police will be causing a stir. Although he won’t know we’ve done that. But he could come back here at any time to finish us off. I’d rather have better circumstances than the present ones,” he said dryly.
“But, Frank, with the traps around here, Cuddles–” Joe’s eyes held fear that his brother couldn’t see but could sense.
Frank pulled his brother to his feet by his arm. “Look, Cuddles has survived so far and will probably have an easier time of it than we will, so don’t worry, okay? Let’s focus on finding the exit.”
Joe reluctantly followed his brother but was not happy about the situation.
Continuing their search, they found themselves in yet another room. As Joe felt along the wall, his foot ran into the edge of something. A table was in front of him. His hands ran over the smooth top of the table until hitting something solid. Something odd-shaped, sorta boxy. Joe frowned as his fingers traced along the object; his mind painting a picture of what was there. His concern grew as he felt wires. He knew what it was.
Frank turned immediately from where he had just come across yet another barred window and hurried to his brother’s side. “What?” The single word that Joe responded with sent fear straight through Frank’s very being.
Moving with super caution, Frank carefully gave the object a brief, blind examination and came to the same conclusion as his brother.
“Do you think it is set?” Joe asked, not hearing any ticking but knowing there could be a silent, digital timer.
“I don’t know,” Frank muttered, examining it again with his hands. If it was…how could he possibly disarm it without his sight? He’d disarmed several before, obviously successfully, but he could see those other times. He sighed in frustration and rubbed his face.
“Maybe it’s not armed.”
Frank could feel the slight warmth to the object when he placed a finger on what he correctly assumed was the digital countdown and he could feel the minor movement as it changed numbers, getting closer every second to zero. He had no idea how much time was on it, but he had little doubt that Baxter had set this after having the brothers knocked out and brought there to the castle.
Even as he contemplated their options, his mind recalled a few brief moments earlier that day, almost coming to and then something that felt like eye drops touching his eyes, and falling back into unconsciousness. That must have been when Baxter halted their sight.
“It’s armed.” Frank’s statement shot fear through Joe, but he wasn’t entirely surprised.
“Would he blow up his own home?” questioned Joe.
“If he thought he could get away with killing us and no one ever being able to find our bodies or connect our murders to him…yeah, he would.” Frank and Joe both remembered the ruthlessness and brutality in Baxter’s eyes.
Then Joe asked the question Frank was unsure of the answer. “Can you disarm it?”
Sweating increasingly, Frank could tell from the feel it was likely a large destructive charge readied for the detonation. Trying to get as far from it as possible, not knowing when it was due to go off, didn’t sound like a great idea considering they still hadn’t found an exit. Yet neither did trying to disarm it and accidentally setting it off early. Did they have seconds or hours? Which plan had the most possibility of them not blowing up were it to detonate?
“Frank?” Joe’s voice was hushed and serious.
“I don’t know.” Frank wiped the perspiration from his face. “I don’t know.”
“It felt like it would pack a serious charge,” Joe noted.
“Do you think I should try it?”
“Yeah, I have blind faith in your abilities, bro,” Joe told him. “Always have, always will.”
“Apparently.” Frank felt the sweat roll down from his forehead. He fingered the device again, cautiously and meticulously taking in each detail and mentally examining them, using touch and prior knowledge of such things to give him as many facts as possible.
Frank sighed. “I want you to go back down the hall, close the door and get as far away as possible.”
“Don’t waste time. Focus on what you have to do, Frank. I’m not going anywhere,” Joe told his brother.
“I can focus better if I’m not worrying about you as much and that would mean you getting out of here.”
“Talk me through what you know about it so far. That might help,” Joe said stubbornly, not even acknowledging his brother’s statement.
Frank set his teeth a moment, then began describing what he was ‘seeing’. It felt like a typical explosive, although it could have a secondary timer or be booby-trapped. From his findings it wasn’t as complicated and tricky as some he’d faced, but regardless, the level of deadliness was still present. If there had been certain elements or details used in the structure of it, he knew he wouldn’t be able to defuse it blind.
“You know what you’ve got to do,” Joe stated finally. “Pick the right wire and yank!”
“Sage advice,” Frank commented dryly. He wiped his sweating palms on the sides of his jeans before placing his fingers back on the wires.
Here goes everything, Frank thought then prayed. His forefinger and thumb tightened on the wire he’d selected. Droplets of sweat ran down the side of his face. His hands were threatening to become too slick and wanting to shake, but didn’t. Beside him, Joe was quiet, waiting.
Then Frank pulled the wire.
How can you ready yourself for an explosion? It hits before you can blink.