Night of Danger
The sound of the screeching metal seemed to stay with Iola even though it had stopped. Stunned, she blinked her eyes, trying to recover. All she could think was Joe! She had been able to tell, even in the short time when they had flown off the motorcycle and were airborne, that Joe had tried to maneuver his own body to somehow cushion Iola as they landed. He had been successful.
Gathering her stunned senses, her head was on his chest and she could feel Joe’s breathing coming in short gasps. Iola’s relief at the fact he was alive was followed by her heart constricting in fear at not knowing how badly he was hurt. She rolled off of him, wanting to make sure she wasn’t a problem. Joe managed to reach up and pull off his helmet and looked over at Iola.
“’kay?” he managed to ask, “I’la? ‘kay?” His blue eyes, full of concern, tried to determine if she was hurt.
“Yes, are you?” Iola asked, taking her own helmet off. She hadn’t really been able to take stock yet, much more concerned about Joe than herself. He sounded so anxious; it made her want to reassure him immediately. He nodded, but his eyes slid closed again and he put his head back down on the ground.
From the road, Iola heard a shout and looked up to see Frank hurrying frantically to get to them. He half ran, half stumbled on the short hill, trying to reach them as fast as he could. He took his helmet off as he was running and let it drop on the ground from one hand. In his other he carried a first aid kit he’d grabbed off of his motorcycle after he’d removed his gloves.
Iola tried to move but a sharp pain shot through her ankle and she collapsed back. Struggling determinedly, she pulled herself up to a sitting position next to Joe. Peering at his face, she noted his eyes were still closed tightly. “Joe? Baby?”
Frank managed a smooth, controlled slide as he stopped beside his brother. Iola glanced quickly across Joe at the elder Hardy brother; her eyes filled with worry and then looked back at Joe.
“Joe, can you hear me?” Frank asked, his hand on Joe’s shoulder.
“Unh,” Joe managed to gasp. “Yeah….”
Iola gently touched his face, helping distract him from the pain.
Then, working together, Frank and Iola meticulously checked him over for injuries. They shared a glance at their discovery.
“Where all are you hurting, little brother?” Frank’s voice was gentle and also anxious. “Joe?”
Joe started to move, but his brother stilled him, “Don’t move, Joe, just be still for a minute or two, okay?”
Both Frank and Iola watched as Joe’s eyes blinked open and tried to focus. He opened his mouth to speak but only a groan escaped. His eyes slid back shut.
Iola caressed his cheek again with tender fingers. Joe’s brilliant blue eyes opened, trying to reassure both his brother and his girlfriend. He also had something very important to say, which he was extremely anxious to do.
“Take it easy, Joe,” Frank ordered, seeing the look of apprehension go over his brother’s face as he continued to move.
Joe’s eyes slid shut a moment in exasperation. When they flew back open, they regarded Frank with intense seriousness. Frank moved to put a hand gently on his brother’s head.
“Don’t worry. Just focus on breathing, okay?” He could see that Joe was hearing him and listening to him.
Then Joe’s words were straight to the point. “I’m …’kay. We …gotta….get outta….here!”
“We were quite a bit ahead of them,” Frank calmly reminded his brother. He was already very aware, as was Iola, of the extreme danger of the situation and the need to outrun and outmaneuver their pursuers. That didn’t change the facts of the problem right then.
“Help me up, please.” Joe looked expectantly at Frank and Iola.
“Joe…” Frank began, a serious look steady on his handsome features.
“I’m just bruised. We’ve got to get out of here!” Joe insisted once more while lifting his head off the ground again. Those goons could show up at any moment! His thoughts centered on that fact.
“Joe, your leg is twisted underneath you.” Frank glanced at Iola. “We’re not sure how bad it is. We can’t see part of it.” The angle it was twisted wasn’t good and Frank and Iola feared Joe’s leg was seriously wounded.
Joe was very conscious of the fact that he was sore and bruised, particularly his leg. “Yeah, it’s uncomfortable, that’s one of the reasons why I want to move it!”
“We just need to be careful,” Frank noted, his brow furrowing in concern, not wanting to cause further injury to his younger brother.
“And we need to hurry!” Joe exclaimed, starting to move. He gasped and stopped.
“Let us help,” Frank muttered in exasperation. Very gently and carefully, they moved Joe’s leg, taking it slow. It was only minutes, but it seemed much longer to all of them until they had his leg fully extended and straight. Joe gasped, although he tried to keep from it.
After checking it for any fractures, Frank and Iola planned to give him a minute to rest before asking him questions, but they didn’t have a chance to do that.
“Okay, help me stand up, please,” Joe requested, his jaw clenched and perspiration on his brow. He didn’t feel that they had any time to waste on such things as resting.
Frank looked doubtfully at his brother. “It won’t do much good if you can’t walk yet.”
“I can walk. Help me!” Joe reached an arm out to each of them, his face a picture of determination.
As Iola carefully stood up to be able to help, she tried to hide any pain, to keep it off her face and to keep from gasping. She found with relief she could stand without falling and had held back any cry to indicate that she was injured.
Feeling a hand on her elbow, she looked over in surprise at Frank and saw his look of concern. She had tried so hard to hide the pain in her ankle.
“You okay, Iola?” Frank asked quietly. Iola looked over at Joe, who hadn’t failed to notice either, and was gazing at her with serious concern in his eyes, his question of worry even louder than his brother’s spoken words.
“I’m alright,” she said resolutely.
“Me, too,” Joe said then immediately afterwards stuck his tongue out at her. She let out a laugh and stuck her tongue out at him. Now that Joe knew she was injured, there was no way he would allow her to help. She berated herself for being unable to keep her pain from being seen.
With Iola standing, Frank helped her while Joe, now sitting up on the ground, gently checked her ankle. Joe tried to keep his expression neutral, but his face couldn’t really hide his concern. Iola’s badly sprained ankle was already swollen above her sneaker. Joe reached over to the first aid kit his brother had brought and grabbed the athletic bandage. Expertly and carefully he wrapped her ankle with gentle hands.
Just as he was getting done taking care of her injury, a sound caused concern. “I hear a vehicle up on the road!” Joe looked up quickly, hoping not to see the four armed guys appear at the ridge of the road. He tried to jump to his feet. If Frank hadn’t been vigilant and ready to grasp his brother’s arm, Joe would have had an unwanted, brisk meeting with the hard ground.
“I’ve already called the police,” Frank told them as he held on to his brother’s shoulder, helping to give him balance. He spared a glance up toward the road as well. Nothing, thankfully. Just motorists going on by. Frank had quickly made the call to the police while running to get to Joe and Iola after they had disappeared out of his sight.
“We’ve got to get to the road!” Joe stated. He shook off any pain, took stock and decided everything was okay. Testing his weight on his leg, he was pretty sure he could climb back up to the road. He was going to give it his best, anyway. Joe reached out and cupped Iola’s face with his large hand and she felt his love. Looking over at his brother, he then moved slowly to one side of Iola while Frank was on her other side.
Joe wrapped his arm around her waist and they began to maneuver over to the incline leading back up to the highway. Iola tried to favor her hurt ankle as much as possible but was determined not to allow it to slow her and the brothers down. Once she would have slid, but Joe’s strong hand held onto her waist and firmly steadied her, keeping her from falling.
Frank glanced down at his brother’s feisty little girlfriend and then over to Joe, thankful they were basically okay from the crash and wondered if the motorcycle had faired as well. Hopefully it still runs, he thought to himself. First, though, they had to reach the road.
Shining his mini-flashlight on the ground ahead of them, the strong light beam helped him to determine the best path. His dark eyes took in the fact that since Joe and Iola had been airborne, they had been able to miss a number of rocks and avoided even more injuries.
Joe tossed his helmet all the way up to the road, causing him to groan from the movement and force required. He received simultaneous reprimanding looks from both his brother and his girlfriend.
After the perusal of the incline, the brothers shared a look over Iola’s head to silently agree on the necessary course of action. So then one second she was walking and the next she was cradled securely on their hands and arms. She started to protest but stopped when Joe shushed her. Iola was worried about his injuries but seeing the stubborn look on his face, she knew it would just waste time to argue and they really did need to get out of there.
Frank glanced over to Joe, whose face was turned toward Iola. Then Frank lowered his eyes to see Iola’s face as she looked up at Joe. With Joe and Iola having very expressive faces, full of animation, Frank hid his grin, not missing the fast, silent debate that took place between the two, which his brother won. Smart girl knowing when to call it!
As fast as they could, which wasn’t anywhere near the speed they wanted to go, they started on their way up the fairly steep incline.
Just as they were nearing the top, they were stopped in their tracks.
“Looks like you survived your crash. Can’t say you’ll survive these bullets.” The voice belonged to one of the men who had arrived as they were taking care of Bryan and his associate. “Too bad, too sad.” He and the other three with him stood there staring coldly at them, aiming their guns point-blank at Frank, Joe and Iola. It would be impossible for the gunmen to miss at such a close range.
No cars were in sight and there were no sounds of approaching sirens. Only the wind, which had slowed to a forlorn whisper, was heard as the gunmen got ready to shoot.
“Are you going to shoot us right here?” Frank asked, his tone one of apparent skepticism of the sagacity of that idea.
“No, of course not, someone could come by at any moment,” the first guy who had talked retorted. “Then we’d have to shoot them.”
“Yeah, and then while you are shooting them, another person could happen by, and you’d have to shoot them, too, then things could really start getting messy,” Joe said.
“Smart aleck, huh?”
“I’ve been called that. Among other things,” Joe stated matter-of-factly.
“Go back down the hill,” the first gunman ordered.
With no choice yet, since they were covered by four guns, Frank and Joe turned and started down the hill. As they walked, they felt a conversation was needed; one that would hopefully gain a few answers.
“So can you at least tell us what is going on? Who are you and who were those other two guys back there and what does it have to do with us?” Frank asked, glancing over at the one who’d done all the talking so far.
“Yeah, it’s not like we’ll be able to tell the police if you kill us,” Joe stated.
“Sure, it won’t do you any good. I never miss when I shoot someone.” The guy’s bragging caused his voice to get a little louder. “The two idiots back there that grabbed this girl, grabbed the wrong one. That’s why we had to come.” He looked over at Iola. “The one they were supposed to grab owns the car you were driving. Bad time to borrow her car.”
“Didn’t they see that she was the wrong girl at the diner?” Joe asked.
“Both girls are petite with dark hair and while I can see the difference in their looks, Bryan apparently isn’t as smart.”
Frank was ready with the next question, putting together pieces of information he’d collected earlier from his web search on his phone. “This is because of who the intended kidnap victim’s dad is?”
The gunman looked at Frank with startled surprise at his deduction. “Yeah, her stubborn dad owns the company our boss wants to buy, so after many fair offers, we had to play rough and grab his daughter to exchange for her father’s company. We knew the wrong girl had been grabbed when we spotted the other one arriving home where we were watching.”
“Is your boss as stupid as you are?” Joe asked calmly as they reached the bottom of the hill. “He must be, if he hired you.” Joe glanced over at his brother, seeking ideas of what to do. They would fight all they could and he knew Iola was every bit as determined.
“Our boss didn’t become the success he is by being stupid,” the leader retorted.
“What is he successful in?” Joe asked. He communicated silently with his brother then glanced down at his girlfriend. Iola looked up at him and he gave her a wink then looked at her helmet she was carrying in her lap. Frank had his own helmet in his left hand that was providing a seat for Iola’s legs.
“I don’t think I’ll tell you.” The first gunman stopped their progress, deciding they wouldn’t have any witnesses to the shooting at this point.
“Why not? You worried we’ll survive? Your marksmanship must be real great,” Joe said. Frank got a better grip on his helmet as his brother worked on getting answers as well as distracting the gunmen with his sarcastic comments.
Frank looked calm but his brain was in turmoil, trying swiftly to sort through a workable plan with none of them getting shot. One plan had the optimum possibility of succeeding, with the most danger directed at himself, and that was the one he was going to put into play when the best opportunity presented itself. Whenever that was would hopefully be very soon and he wouldn’t miss it. A well-timed distraction was needed.
The gunman was tempted to tell Joe off, but decided he wasn’t going to take any chances. Most of the people he took care of for his boss didn’t have such smart mouths, but also most of them got whacked before they could do much talking.
Frank glanced over at Joe. “They might not know who their boss is. Don’t make fun of them.”
“Oh,” Joe nodded, stifling a snicker, his expression one of embarrassment and amusement at the thought. “Sorry.”
“You aren’t going to trick us into telling you who our boss is by making fun of us,” the first gunman retorted.
“Who says we’re trying to?” Joe asked. “We wouldn’t think you would be concerned at losing face and being laughed at by people you are about to kill. I mean, just because we’d have the last laugh…”
“Especially if you don’t know and we do.” Frank regarded the gunmen with a serious face.
“You can’t know,” the gunman said.
“Is that a fact?” Iola responded from her perch on Joe and Frank’s hands and arms. If it hadn’t been such a deadly situation it would have been fun. She hoped to look back at it and enjoy it, should they survive.
“I don’t think you know,” the gunman stated again.
“Well, we certainly aren’t going to tell you if you don’t know,” Joe chuckled.
“Yeah, you can find out for yourselves,” Frank agreed.
“I’m curious as to who you think it is,” the gunman said.
“Don’t tell them,” Frank told Joe and Iola.
“What? Like I’m just going to blurt out Brent Carlton’s name?”
“JOE!” Frank and Iola shouted at the same time.
One of the gunmen stopped and stared at the Hardys and Iola in shock. “How did you know?”
“Shut up!” the guy who had done the most talking yelled at his cohort.
“Oh, so you guys do know, huh?” Joe asked.
“Enough chit chat.”
Frank and Joe set Iola down on her feet very carefully then stepped in front of her, effectively blocking her from the bad guys view.
“Isn’t that gentlemanly of you both?” the leader sneered.
Joe casually held Iola’s helmet in his hand, waiting for his brother’s signal.
Frank had just about decided that the element of surprise was going to have to be enough before the brothers swung the helmets as weapons, but he had really hoped for a vehicle blowing its horn for some reason up on the road, preferably a truck’s loud air horn. That would add to his and Joe’s yells and Iola’s scream when they made their move.
When that well-timed distraction he had been hoping for came, it wasn’t what Frank expected at all. It was even better.