And this time it was not disturbing at all. It meant there was no explosion.
“You did it!” Joe said, awed.
Frank gave a sickly smile and didn’t say anything. He felt like he wanted to sit down…really soon. His fingertips told him that the digital counter no longer moved.
“You did it!” This time Joe said it louder and clapped his brother on the shoulder. “Wow! You’re awesome!”
Frank felt a little shaky so it was all he could do to remain standing when his brother slapped his shoulder in celebration.
“Let’s get out of here,” Frank mumbled, turning and trying again to find a door that led outside.
“It would probably take longer to try to find something to break or cut our way through the bars that’s at least on all the windows we’ve come across,” Joe noted.
“Yeah, I think it will be quicker just to find the door.”
“You know that will probably be booby-trapped, if Baxter had any idea we would escape all of these other traps,” Joe pointed out.
“True. We won’t know until we get there, though,” Frank said. Both tried to guess what would find them next.
“This feels like an exterior door!” The relief in Frank’s voice was apparent as they anticipated escaping the treacherous castle. Only one more hurdle. The door. Going over it carefully, Frank unlocked then opened the large door. Nothing happened. Could it be possible there were no traps connected to that exit? Waiting a few moments, Frank heard Joe step forward, closer to the doorway. Reaching out, he came in contact with what he sought – his younger brother’s arm.
“Careful. I’m going first.”
“I’ll go first,” Joe argued. If there was a trap he wanted Frank to have the advantage.
“Not happening, little brother.” Frank used his you-aren’t-winning-this-one tone.
Joe sighed then grabbed hold of his brother’s arm and projected them both through the doorway. He had a feeling speed was going to be important to get them past any traps.
They both felt the whoosh as a large blade flew by right behind them. If they had been any slower…
Stumbling out onto the walkway that they could feel underneath their sneakers, Frank and Joe moved as quickly as they could. Managing to keep from falling, they planned on putting some distance between them and the creepy castle.
“Hold it!” Frank spoke as sounds a short distance away reached his ears. Joe stopped instantly at Frank’s command. Listening, he heard what his brother obviously had. Voices, but not quite discernible yet. Until they heard those voices turn to shouts.
“Frank! Joe!” The sound of one of their friend’s voices, Chet Morton, could be easily heard in the quiet of the night. Two girls’ voices also heightened at the sight of the brothers.
Joe felt feminine arms go around him and he quickly returned the happy hug. “Iola.” Not being able to see didn’t keep him from recognizing his girlfriend.
At the same time Callie was hugging Frank tightly. He wrapped his arms around her as she whispered to him, “We were so scared for you two!”
“We were a little nervous a few times ourselves.” He grinned.
“Tough guy.” Her relief at seeing him caused her voice to tremble.
“Are the police on their way?” Frank asked. Shocked looks went all around as everyone, except for the brothers, looked at one another.
“They are here. Practically anyway,” Tony Prito told his friends quietly, wondering what had happened. Biff and Phil flipped their flashlights toward Frank and Joe’s faces. Neither one flinched or turned away. “We called them when we started looking for you guys. Then called them again when we found this place.” Tony glanced over his shoulder as the blue and red strobe lights from the approaching police cars got nearer, flashing on the surrounding trees. Sirens weren’t being used so their presence wouldn’t be announced too early. The two vehicles Tony and the others had arrived in were parked halfway down the winding lane.
Iola, still nestled in Joe’s arms, looked up at him, concern on her face. She stifled a gasp as she realized that those eyes that were always sparkling couldn’t see!
“Joe?” Iola asked, her entire question wrapped up in her tone.
“Yeah, we can’t see. Hopefully it’s temporary, but to be honest, at this point we don’t really know. Right now it’s actually a good thing, since someone’s shining a flashlight right at us,” Joe noted, feeling the warmth from the light on his face.
“Sorry.” Phil quickly moved the flashlight away, while Biff stopped shining his as well and added his apology. Finding out that Frank and Joe were blind drew concern from everyone.
“Frank! Joe!” Chief Collig hollered as soon as he got out of the police car. “Why am I not surprised to find you two here?” He glanced over as his officers ran up to the castle; the sounds of their shoes hitting the blacktop of the driveway were heard.
“Because it’s SOP now.” Joe grinned. “Chief, there are some traps in there they’ll want to watch out for.”
Chief Collig nodded, found out the information from the brothers, then gave orders to his men.
“They can’t see, Chief,” Chet blurted out as soon as the police chief had turned back to the group.
“Yes, I noticed that.” He threw a look toward the road, eyeing the emergency vehicle that was working its way up to them. “SOP is also requesting an ambulance, eh, Joe?”
Joe had to agree with the chief’s words and did so with a grin. “Yep, ain’t it the truth?”
As soon as the ambulance parked, the chief called the EMTs over directly and informed them, “Neither one of them can see.”
Everyone moved over to the ambulance as a unit, where Callie helped Frank sit down on the back of the emergency vehicle while Iola did the same for Joe. The whole group watched anxiously as the paramedics examined the brothers. Minutes ticked by while Frank and Joe were asked questions, which they answered quietly. Several times the emergency workers sought but didn’t find encouraging reactions of the brothers’ pupils as light was shone into them.
“Man, what if it is permanent?” whispered Tony, making sure his voice was quiet enough so that Frank and Joe wouldn’t overhear him. No one was sure what to say until Iola spoke up.
“They will still be Frank and Joe and we’ll go from there,” she said firmly and matter-of-factly. Her determined expression didn’t falter as she gazed at her boyfriend, who, at the request of the paramedic, closed his brilliant blue eyes for a few moments then opened them again. She could tell they still were not focusing. A disturbed frown went over Joe’s face and Iola felt his worry.
Callie was having a similar experience. She stood where she could constantly see Frank, wanting to go hold his hand but knowing she would be in the way. Frank followed each request made by the paramedic and asked a few questions of his own. Although they couldn’t really answer any of them, Frank’s strong jaw stayed set in determination.
One of the paramedics, having found out that both brothers had gotten knocked out from blows to the head, was sure that their lack of sight was a result of that.
Chief Collig had gone back to coordinating the investigation of the castle. Frank and Joe’s information proved invaluable as the Bayport police gained even more evidence against Baxter. When Chief Collig went in the castle and saw for himself what the brothers had encountered and survived, he knew how easily it could have been a tragic scene that night. He was very thankful that wasn’t the case.
He listened to various reports come in from his officers and once he heard the description of one of the rooms, he decided to go see for himself. As the chief of police entered and saw what was obviously a well-kept laboratory he acted on an idea that had come to him at first report of the large room.
Requesting an expert to come and help in the search and investigation of the contents of the laboratory, the chief heard that the ambulance, transporting the wounded Hardys, had just left and was currently en route to the hospital.
Praying that he was indeed right with his suspicions, he glanced over to see tall Officer Con Riley standing in the doorway.
“It really is a laboratory!” Con exclaimed in shock, his eyes widening at the sight of the glass vials on the countertop and table, microscopes, glass enclosed cabinets with who-knew-what contained within. “I thought it was someone’s idea of a gag and wondered who the guilty party was!” He moved over next to the chief, still unable to tear his eyes off of the contents of the room.
“It’s real,” Chief Collig confirmed. “Harlan Baxter is apparently somewhat of a chemist and I’m thinking he concocted whatever has caused the Hardy brothers’ eye troubles.”
“So you think he might have an antidote here somewhere?” Con shifted out of the way of another officer hurrying by as the police identified and tagged substances. He noticed the open metal door to a small cage and absently wondered what it had held captive.
“Exactly,” said Chief Collig. “I’m hoping.”
“Me, too,” Con agreed quietly, thinking about Frank and Joe. He had seen them right before they left in the ambulance. He suddenly wished that Harlan Baxter was in the laboratory right at that moment. Con would make sure he got the necessary answers.
In the ER, Joe leaned his head back against the hospital pillow of sorts on the gurney. He felt exhausted and closed his eyes with a sigh. Maybe if he just went to sleep for a little while he would wake up and see again. He had asked where his brother was and the nurse had told him the doctor had taken Frank to get X-rays and it would be Joe’s turn next. They’d both already been examined initially by Dr. Dixon, the attending ER physician at Bayport Hospital. Great, I just love X-rays, Joe thought to himself, not that they hurt or anything but it’s just…annoying.
His feeling of being alone changed to one of happy surprise a minute later when he heard his brother’s voice right next to him.
“How’re you doing, little brother?”
Joe sat up. “Okay, how about you? How’d you get over here? Where’s the doctor? What did he say? Does he think our sight will come back? What -”
Frank laughed. “I’m holding up my hand to slow you down, but like always, it doesn’t work.” Frank was about to answer what he could of Joe’s questions when they both heard excited talking nearby.
“What’s going on?” Joe wondered aloud.
“Dunno.” Frank turned his head more to try and hear the conversation. He could pick out a few voices. Chief Collig was telling one of the doctors about a laboratory; Frank and Joe tried to piece together the conversation from the snatches of words that floated over to the brothers.
“What are they saying, Iola?” Joe asked his girlfriend. She had just slipped past the nurses and over to Frank and Joe after listening to the doctors and police. Not having had a chance to say anything yet to announce her presence, she was very impressed with Joe. As she looked at him a moment, his warm, bright smile appeared on his face, sensing her looking at him in surprise.
“There was a laboratory there at the castle and Chief Collig thinks that Baxter had concocted whatever messed with your eyes and they think they found the antidote for it,” Iola told them as both brothers listened to her intently. “A police unit just called in over the radio that they picked up Baxter on the warrant issued from all of the evidence you guys sent by email from his computer. By the way, the techies at the police department are totally impressed with how you two cracked Baxter’s encryption and codes.”
“You got all of that just now?” Frank asked, impressed.
“Well, despite what my brother says, I can be quiet and listen occasionally,” Iola said with a dimpled grin. “I gathered that as I made my way over here, stopping and listening at strategic times.”
“Nice job, Cute Sleuth,” Joe grinned. Iola beamed at the praise. Right at that moment, Dr. Dixon came over and began to tell them pretty much what Iola just had.
“Frank, Joe, we have lab technicians testing the antidote right now,” Dr. Dixon said. “We are going to go ahead and admit you and hopefully it will be ready shortly. So cautious optimism is in order, but I can’t promise you it will work.”
“I’ll take cautious optimism,” Frank stated with a grin.
Joe laughed. “Those are Frank’s middle names.”
Once the brothers were settled in a double room, they rested from their earlier adventures and discussed the case. And waited, with much anticipation of success mixed with some trepidation of failure, for the arrival of Dr. Dixon with the antidote. It seemed much longer than it really was before the doctor finally came to their hospital room.
After a concise explanation, it was time to find out if the antidote would work. Introducing it into their systems in the form of eye drops, Dr. Dixon carefully applied it first to Frank. Not sure if it would work or what would happen, the wait was intense as the elder Hardy brother lay there on the hospital bed, resting and waiting to find out if his sight returned.
As he opened his dark eyes and the light from the outside met up with the continual light inside that hadn’t stopped shining despite the physical blindness, Frank felt tremendous relief. As his vision cleared and his eyes focused, he could see Dr. Dixon smiling. He immediately looked over to check on his brother.
“Well?” Joe questioned from the next bed. He had been waiting anxiously and couldn’t stand not knowing one second more.
“It worked.” Frank stated the simple truth. Joe grinned and waited while Dr. Dixon finished examining Frank. Before long, Joe felt the coolness of the drops as they hit first one eye then the other, making him blink despite being ready for it. Then it was his turn to relish the return of his sight, experiencing exactly the same thing that Frank had and determined to appreciate his vision even more, if that was possible.
Glancing over after a few minutes when his eyes had stopped watering from the drops, Joe focused on his brother, who had been watching anxiously from the other bed. Seeing Frank, knowing they had just survived obstacles that the murderer had intended to cause their end, Joe felt an overwhelming sense of relief. So he said the first thing that popped into his head to express how happy he was that they were okay.
“Well, you aren’t any better looking, but it is still good to see you.” Joe grinned and watched as his brother gave him a return grin and retort.
“Right back atcha.”
“Hey, Frank, Joe,” Chet whispered, as he glanced toward the door of the brothers’ hospital room. They were being kept overnight for observation and Chet had been waiting patiently for any nurses or doctors to leave the room. “Guess what I found at the castle?”
Frank and Joe both looked at Chet with curiosity. Their friend reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out…a small tan colored rabbit.
“Cuddles!” Joe exclaimed. Chet gave Joe a startled look but then reached the rabbit over to Joe’s outstretched hands with a smile. Frank grinned as he watched his little brother talk to Cuddles. Joe reached the rabbit over so Frank could also greet their little friend, brushing his hand over the bunny’s head and ears.
After explaining to Chet about how they met Cuddles, Joe had a question he’d been curious about.
“Hey, how did you guys find us at the castle?” Joe asked. Although he knew the others had continued looking for Baxter’s hidden home, he’d heard one of the police officer’s say that the roads were purposely unmarked and the long driveway had been camouflaged. Chet looked at him in surprise.
“The lights. We figured you guys must have turned all of the lights on in the castle – the place was lit up like you wouldn’t believe.”
Frank and Joe looked at one another in amazement. Lights. Lights will always be there and light will eventually win, despite the darkness.
Never the end!