by Ann ♥♪HB♪♥
Greeted by a sharp, loud sound instead of his brother’s voice, all other noises in the facility were immediately shifted lower in importance to Joe. It had sounded like a forceful blow making contact.
Joe’s stomach felt like he’d been punched. He was about to go from striding quickly to a run but then halted when he suddenly and clearly heard Frank’s voice over the comm. “Stop.”
Frank’s one word command was mostly to his brother but was effective on the scientist as well. Even more effective with the scientist was the strong grip he had on the previously oncoming fist. When Frank had seen the scientist’s fist coming right at his head he had reacted instantly by moving as much out of the way as possible. And grabbing the fist and stopping it, which is what caused the sound Joe had heard.
Frank glared at the scientist a second, irritated at the seriousness of the close call. The forceful punch had glanced off of the side of his head. His main thought, though, wasn’t the pain that would have come from a direct blow but that, had he been knocked out, it could have easily thrown off the entire rescue mission.
He took a deep breath, pushed his anger aside, and shoved the scientist’s fist.
“You okay?” Frank heard Joe’s voice, filled with concern.
The scientist’s eyes were wide with shock at what he’d almost done. “I’m so sorry! I was trying to hit-” He gestured toward his rival. “But he moved out of the way. Are you alright?”
Answering his brother while talking to the scientist, Frank said, “Yeah.” He addressed the one who had almost hit him. “I already have a headache from you two but that little display of anger nearly gave me even more of one. How about putting some effort into being nice little gentlemen? Or do you enjoy embarrassing yourselves in front of the lady?”
Having said that, Frank finished helping the female scientist as much as possible at that point. “Can one of you help her to the infirmary?” Frank knew he wouldn’t have time to do so since that would include filling out forms. And he didn’t exactly want a record on file of a mysterious scientist who helped then disappeared.
Both of the other men were anxious to assist but, after Frank’s reprimand, kept from fighting over who would help her better.
“Are these two going to annoy you too much?” Frank asked her quietly.
She smiled. “No, I’m used to it, thanks.” She let the other two scientists help her to the infirmary. Frank sighed in relief as they left.
“Way to go, bro,” Joe told him.
“Thanks,” Frank said as he resumed walking toward the corridor of the compromised scientist’s lab. “The two fighting over her actually worked well to distract her from her injuries; trying to keep them from killing each other.”
“Cool. Plus we still have fifteen minutes before Mr. Scientist makes his appearance,” Joe said.
“Yep, which I will use to recon the area in real time.”
There was maybe a minute of silence before….
“In the meantime, I have a question for you,” Joe announced. He could see the snow clouds increasing as he glanced up at the sky through the window.
“What’s that?” Frank asked.
“Why do they call it common sense when it’s not really that common?” his brother questioned.
“I should have known your question had nothing to do with the mission.”
“Of course not. I don’t have any questions about that; it’s all very clear.” Joe waited a moment. “Another question. Why do some people call green grapes white when they are really green? Got an answer, genius?”
“Well, like a lot of things, particular data has been ignored. Such as the actual color of the grape.” Frank paused a second. “Depends on whether a person knows their colors or not.”
“Ahh, I see.” Joe nodded.
“Now I’ve got a question for you,” Frank said. His expression was nonchalant and anyone observing him wouldn’t know he was taking in every detail of the area.
“Do your kids ask you questions like that?”
Joe laughed. “More like I ask my kids.”
“I believe it.” Frank chuckled.
After about a half minute of silence Joe’s voice came again.
“You know, oy is yo backward,” Joe commented. “Of course, if you’re reading it right to left, oy is still yo.”
“Joe, we need to focus,” Frank said. “Stop using the comms for jokes and one-liners. That’s not what we’re here for.”
“It’s not?” Joe asked in mock-shock then snickered. “You know, I actually have a theory on the necessity of jokes and one-liners during cases.” He paused for a nanosecond before asking, “Wanna hear it?”
Frank sighed, knowing he was going to hear it no matter what he said. His dark eyes observed the lab staff as they moved about and at the same time, listened to his brother’s ‘theory’.
“Okay,” Joe grinned, knowing exactly the calm, yet longsuffering and even slightly amused look that would be on his brother’s face. “They help the case.” Even though he knew there was no way Frank could see him, he held up his hand to stop any possible disagreement. “It’s true. Talking about stuff keeps us loose, ready to go with whatever curveball might be thrown at us. So we have details finessed by you, but I keep us on our toes. Heightens our alertness because we have to be extra vigilant.”
“That’s your theory, huh?” Frank asked, grinning. It made sense, in a unique Joe Hardy kind of way, but he wasn’t going to tell his brother he agreed.
“Yep, what do you think?” Joe’s hearty Hardy grin was a lot like his brother’s.
“I think we are going to have to wait to hear what I think,” Frank said. “That debate is going to take longer than the amount of time until the second phase of ‘Operation-Rescue-the-Scientist’s-Family-and-the-Scientist-and-Return-Home-Alive-Or-Our-Wives-Will-Kill-Us’.”
Joe snickered. He’d been the one to name the case, and it made his day to hear his big brother say the whole long title. Actually, what would make his day was the success of this mission, with everyone safe and sound. Including his brother and him. With mental pictures of each of his family members flashing through his brain, Joe moved into his strategic position.
Frank was doing the same things. When they had mapped out the plan of the rescue mission, he had known the risks and the danger of every detail and had tried to minimize those variables as much as possible. When the first stage of their case had worked so well, the knowledge that the next phase might not go as smoothly stayed persistently in the back of his mind. He had kept that to himself and didn’t know his dad and brother held the same worries.
As Frank and Joe waited until just the right moment, both mentally went over the next details of the plan, even though they knew it by heart. Joe went over it again because even though he knew it, Frank had made him promise he would.
Joe stepped into the large, busy foyer as people were coming and going. Security guards were positioned near the exits as usual. Everyone was in place and as soon as he heard Frank’s go signal, Joe would set things in action on the first floor. He turned and headed for the kitchen area connected to the cafeteria. Once there he made sure he was in one of the security cameras’ blind spots, courtesy of Phil’s computer work.
Phil had spent a lot of time and effort preparing beforehand and continued to be vigilant as the mission was in progress. He put a lot of pressure on himself, knowing his friends’ lives could be in danger were he to miss any detail that could throw everything off. He had to carefully choose what the security guards saw and make everything look like everyday situations. And not the rescuing of a top-level scientist. They weren’t positive of whose side every person in the facility was on; almost anyone could be with those who were holding the scientist a prisoner.
Then it was ‘go’ time.
Joe began putting the diversionary tactic into play. With gloves on, he took the necessary vials out of his pocket and set it up to mix and react after a few minutes. After starting up a nearby fan to move the concoction rapidly into the air, he moved away as fast as he could when it was just right.
Minutes later, as people were going by the kitchen, they smelled something.
“Hey, what is that?” asked one technician, sniffing the air.
“I don’t know,” another answered, also puzzled.
“Sheesh, wow, where is it coming from?” a scientist wondered.
More and more people were noticing it, including the guards. One came to investigate.
“What are they cooking in there?” he asked. “Should be about time to go home.”
“Whatever it is, I want to stay and eat some!” exclaimed one person.
The overwhelmingly delicious smells were pouring from the kitchen area. The guard hurried over to the door and opened it to peer in, wanting to know exactly what was cooking and why they were cooking it right then.
He stood in shock, opening the door all of the way. No one was in there.
While Joe was taking care of the diversion, Frank had fallen into step next to the scientist as he left his lab.
“I know you are being watched and pretty sure who’s doing the watching and who’s behind it. But as we walk, would you please quietly watch this video of your family? They are safe. We rescued them prior to this,” Frank said in a low, conversational tone as he casually handed the small device with the video on it to the scientist, who accepted it in surprise.
The scientist watched the short video, his heart wondering whether he dared hope that it was real. It showed his precious family safe. He looked over at Frank.
“Are you willing to trust us?” Frank asked quietly.
“You got my family safe?” the scientist asked. Frank nodded. The scientist made a quick decision. “Okay.”
Another difficult part of the mission was now complete. The next one would be getting out of there.
Several floors down, Joe raced to the stairs while most people were more at a standstill instead of hurrying to leave for the day as usual, due to the little diversion he’d put into effect. Now they had bought themselves some time before everyone would be expected to be out of there. The security cameras, thanks to the scientist who hired them and Phil, were being carefully taken care of.
Bursting onto the correct floor, Joe immediately spotted the scientist and Frank not far away. As well as the two thugs who had just separated from a group heading for the elevators. They started to go after Frank and the scientist. Joe knew they didn’t have much time. The thugs were going for their guns under their coats.
Joe got to his a lot faster and foom. “One for you.” Foom. “And one for you.”
Frank didn’t even glance at the two tranqed, unconscious thugs on the floor. “Come on!” They had figured there could be more bad guys around and needed to get the scientist out of there immediately. Shielding the scientist on the possibility that those behind the kidnapping and coercion might decide to take him out, Frank followed him through the door to the stairs that Joe was holding open.
Joe paused, battling mentally with orders, then gritted his teeth and ran up the stairs after Frank.
Running out onto the roof, they saw the helicopter and its pilot right where he was supposed to be.
Chet Morton grinned at them from the pilot’s seat as the blades of the helicopter started up faster from where it had been idling. He was really thankful he had decided to take up flying a helicopter as a hobby a few years ago. And that the Hardys had enough confidence in his ability to trust him to do this.
The scientist stumbled as he ran but was quickly helped back to his feet by Frank. Chet watched as the scientist, then Joe, and finally Frank, jumped in.
“Go!” Frank yelled as soon as he was in. As they were lifting off of the roof, they hurriedly made sure their seatbelts were hooked securely.
It looked like they were safe; home-free. Yet there was something about the two guys shooting through the door to the rooftop, aiming long-range weapons at the helicopter then firing at them, that completely changed that feeling.
Especially when the helicopter got hit.
“Cool. Our own smoke screen,” Joe muttered as he looked out the window and watched the smoke surround the helicopter. “We’ve got it made now. As long as they don’t aim for the moving cloud, we’ll be okay.”
Frank tried to guess, from the location of the main area of smoke, what might have been hit along with the damage results and their chances of getting safely to the ground. It wasn’t looking good.
Chet’s face was tense, not taking time to look at the smoke. He wondered whether he should set it back down on the roof and take their chances fighting those two armed guys or not, instead of trying to fly a damaged helicopter very far in the city. They had just cleared the edge of the roof but the controls weren’t responding the way they should be. The gunmen were probably supposed to take the scientist back alive which could mean that he, the Hardys, and Chet would have a fighting chance. Before they were shot.
Turned out, he didn’t even have time to ask Frank and Joe what they wanted to do. The helicopter decided for him.
Chet’s stomach plummeted. Literally, as the helicopter’s controls locked up and they began to fall. Fast.