Shining through the clouds was a light from the setting sun, not allowing its beam to be ignored.
Chet very carefully adjusted the cyclic. Any slight shift would send them crashing against the building. The trickiness of maneuvering a helicopter was never greater than right then. Sweat slipped just past his eyes but didn’t get in them. He couldn’t afford to blink at the wrong time.
Finally they squeaked through the barely-wide-enough space between the two buildings.
Several death-defying, heart-palpitating minutes later, Chet worked the controls to set the helicopter down in a small, empty parking lot of a closed up building. From their seats, Frank, Joe, and the scientist watched out the windows as the ground came closer every second. The helicopter gave Chet some trouble, but he won. Everyone sighed in relief, having been holding their breath until the skids were safely on the blacktop. The landing had been accomplished with such proficiency that Chet wished his instructor had been there to see it.
“Thank you for flying with us,” Chet said with a grin as his passengers stumbled from the shot up helicopter. “For your next flight, please do consider us as your first choice for a trip you’ll never forget.”
“Chet, after I puke all over you, remind me I want to shake your hand.” Joe slapped his friend on the shoulder.
“Uh, I’d rather you didn’t,” Chet said. “Puke all over me, that is.”
“Shoot,” Joe suddenly muttered. Frank glanced over and lifted his eyebrows in question. “No, it’s okay, for a second I thought I’d dropped my pocket protector.”
The look big brother gave him told younger brother he should be really thankful that he was happy he was okay.
Fenton and Tony were racing to where they had last seen the helicopter, which had disappeared from their sight behind buildings and trees. The roads and traffic didn’t seem to be concerned that they were in a hurry.
Even though Ephanes was essentially immobile, his thugs were continuing to carry out his order to stop the scientist’s flight to safety. Fenton and Tony weren’t the only ones tracking the damaged helicopter’s path. Two more thugs, contacted and informed by the gunmen on the roof, had also been following them but faster by motorcycles. After guessing where Chet would set the helicopter down, they were able to be at the parking lot, and hidden, before everyone else arrived.
So even though there wasn’t a news crew or police there to greet the Hardys, Chet, and the scientist, they hadn’t been forgotten about.
The thugs waited until all four were out of the helicopter. They covered the short distance to the helicopter from where they had been hidden, then shot a burst of gunfire from their automatic weapons into the air.
“Since this is just about him,” one thug gestured to the scientist then to the Hardys and Chet he said, “we’ll just go ahead and shoot you.”
“You shoot them and I’ll never talk!” the scientist shouted.
“Isn’t that…noble,” sneered the second thug. “I believe you have a copy of your work. Give it to us.”
The scientist glared at the two thugs. “I have it in my head.”
“And on a flash drive. I’m sure you have it with you, so hand it over. Empty your pockets.”
The scientist complied. No flash drive was found.
“Okay, maybe you gave it to one of these heroes here. Empty your pockets.”
By the time everyone had emptied their pockets as ordered, there were wallets, cell phones, keys, a little loose change, candy wrapper or two, a plastic top – sealed and full of candy that Joe had gotten, and a stick of gum, all lying on the ground.
The thugs looked like they just wanted to shoot everyone.
“It wouldn’t be too smart to kill him without finding out where he hid the flash drive,” Frank warned them.
“I don’t think they’re really interested in being smart, Frank,” Joe told his brother. “Plenty of clues point to their preferring to be clueless.”
Frank, with a nod and a lift of his shoulders, agreed with Joe’s opinion.
The one thug took out a case. “I’m a bit of an inventor myself. I carry around this portable lie detector I fixed up. It helps my work a lot.” He revealed a small box. “I think we’ll have Mouthy tell us,” he said, “since he likes to talk so much.”
The thug laughed and told his associate, “He knows who I’m referring to, don’t you think?” The two laughed.
“Chuckleheads,” Joe muttered.
Inventor Thug glared at Joe. “Okay, Mouthy, this cuff goes on your wrist. And I don’t care how accurate it is, when it shows you telling me a lie, by emitting a beep, I’m going to shoot one of your friends here. Got that?”
Joe gave a glare of his own, listening for the sound of his dad and Tony coming. Nothing yet.
“Do you know where the flash drive is?”
The lie detector didn’t beep.
“Okay, where’s the flash drive?”
Joe could see Frank from where he was. The calmness coming from the older brother helped the younger brother in controlling his pulse rate. “It’s top secret.”
No beep was heard.
“Yeah, we know that. Where is it?”
“Not at the facility.”
Again, no beep.
“Is it here?”
“It’s top secret.”
Inventor Thug looked like he wanted to hit Joe but refrained. He was too polished for that. At least at the moment. “Okay, Mouthy, tell me where it is now or I’ll shoot your brother.” He leveled the automatic at Frank.
“He wouldn’t like that,” Joe said.
“Of course not.”
“Although my brother wouldn’t like it either, he’s not who I’m talking about.” Joe grinned. “I mean him!”
The thug suddenly realized someone had snuck up to them while they were focused on the lie detector. He turned, but the only thing he saw before lights out was a strong fist. Joe was right. Frank’s dad didn’t like someone about to shoot his eldest son. Nor would he like someone about to shoot his youngest son, for that matter.
Chet tackled the second thug and knocked him off his motorcycle. There was a burst of gunfire, scaring all of them instantly and filling their hearts with dread. Then Chet stood back, unhurt. And although the thug couldn’t say the same, he hadn’t been shot. Frank was the first to speak.
“Nice tackle.” He rolled his eyes at the understatement and grinned at Chet, slapping him on the shoulder.
“Thanks,” Chet grinned.
Fenton was on the phone, giving the information of where to pick up the two now tied up thugs to a trustworthy friend in the FBI, Agent Carbonelli, who was about to arrest Ephanes.
The damage to the helicopter was quickly examined. After a little tweaking, Chet decided it was safe enough to take it into the air again. Frank and Joe would ride along with their dad, the scientist, and Tony to the safe house instead of adding any extra passenger weight to the helicopter.
“You sure it’s safe?” asked Joe.
“Aw, you care.” Chet grinned.
“Yep, about surviving the trouble I would be in with your sister should that thing not get you back alive.” Joe grinned back. His blue eyes showed his concern despite his joking as he looked warily at the helicopter.
“It would be better to get this helicopter out of here,” Chet said. Joe knew he was right, but he was still worried.
On the way to the safe house, the scientist had one question for Joe. “I handed you the flash drive back at the facility. Where is it?”
Joe grinned. “You tell me. I told the truth. It’s top secret.”
Tony gave a laugh as he guessed but didn’t say. “Yeah!” He had seen the wallets and other items lying on the ground as they were being gathered up and returned to respective pockets.
The scientist was puzzled. “The top? But it’s still sealed.”
Frank explained that. “Joe just peeled the sticker partway, opened it, put the flash drive in there and pressed the seal back.”
“Since it’s a micro flash drive it hid among the candy just fine.” Joe grinned. “A toy helps saves the day.”
When the authorities arrived to arrest Tyler Ephanes, they found him still standing in the exact same spot as Fenton had last seen him. They’d heard from a reliable source the details of the “activated pressure plate” under the rug. After a quick check, Agent Carbonelli gave a short laugh and with a shove, knocked the corrupt director off the plate.
Ephanes screamed but stopped when nothing happened. Staring in confusion at the floor for a minute, he then looked at the agent who had shoved him.
“Yeah, looks like you were bluffed,” stated Agent Carbonelli with a shrug and an amused expression. “But, don’t worry, our trip here wasn’t unnecessary. We have an envelope full of fascinating reading. Sure to be a bestseller, in my opinion.”
Ephanes couldn’t believe it. All of his plans were destroyed. And those incriminating papers in the hands of the authorities….There are some things that even the best lawyers can’t change.
The Hardys and company weren’t the only ones facing peril that day. Thousands of miles away, in a desert, US Marines were about to stop a merciless group planning the destruction of a hospital.
One of the Marines, covered in sand as they waited covertly, thought of home. He smiled thinking about his girlfriend, his family, his friends, all praying for him and missing him. One of his fellow Marines had asked him before whether he believed in miracles or not. He had said he couldn’t help but believe in them; there was too much evidence to ignore. Many people were alive because of miracles. And he knew miracles were ahead in the future as well, and he was looking forward to seeing them.
Chet was able to fly the helicopter to where he needed to then get back to Bayport safely, as did Phil and Tony. The scientist was joyously reunited with his family and hidden away safely and the guilty parties were arrested for their part in the kidnappings and coercion. Finally, the Hardys were home and relishing every moment. Days that were treasured, as always, for the beauty they held. There was a distinct possibility of snow and the week also had a very rare occurence this year when part of Chanukah and Thanksgiving shared a day.
As morning light streamed into the room, Frank awoke and stretched his lean, muscled body while simultaneously checking to see what time it was. He had heard his wife up a short time ago and she had come back to bed. After a brief bathroom visit, he was in bed once more, also.
Then, just as he had ever since he’d married his sweetheart, Callie, he tenderly kissed her fully awake. Her lips responded with a good morning greeting. A tradition they very much enjoyed. Always, she was so thankful for Frank and his love for her.
Sometime after that he went to check on their three kids, likely getting ready for the day’s excitement. They had been a little difficult to get to go to sleep the previous night from the anticipation of going to the new toy store. They had been raring to go right then.
Now, stepping into his two sons’ room, he smiled.
Joshua, the oldest of the Hardy cousins, at age ten, was still asleep, burrowed down in his comforter. Seven year old Micah sat by the window. He looked over at his dad, smiled and put a small finger to his lips then gestured with a slight move of his chin at something outside.
Frank noiselessly came over to the window seat and sat down next to him. In a nearby tree, a family of birds was flittering around. Father and son watched the scene quietly for a little while.
As they were focused on that, Clarice, Micah’s twin, had come into the room. She needed to get the males of the house down to breakfast. And nothing said she couldn’t have fun doing so.
Silently, she moved over to her oldest brother; not surprised he was still asleep. She was going to need to use stealth to be able to surprise all three of them. Even though the comforter was partly covering Joshua’s blond head, his face could be seen. He would need to help her get their dad and Micah, a difficult thing to do.
Ever so carefully she put her hand over her brother’s mouth and his eyes flew open. Seeing his sister standing there almost giggling, he nodded as soon as she put a finger to her lips. Joshua quietly shoved the covers off and sat up in bed while looking to see their dad and brother gazing out the window. He grinned then in seconds he and his sister were tiptoeing toward them.
Before Joshua or Clarice said anything, they caught sight of what had the other two Hardys’ attention. Despite themselves, they were soon watching the little family of birds as well.
And they continued until Callie came upstairs a few minutes later, wondering where they were. Callie had a lot of mental snapshots she collected and this one was instantly added.
Frank spoke without turning around. “We better go get breakfast because your mom might burn the cereal by us taking too long. Then it would be our fault.” His tone was serious.
“Frank!” Callie exclaimed. He turned around, a grin tugging at his lips.
“Daddy!” Clarice’s eyes regarded Frank. “Did you know Mommy was standing there?” His expression gave her the feeling he had.
“Yep.” Frank grinned at Clarice then over at Callie, who was trying to look stern, but found it impossible with such a playful look on her husband’s handsome face.
“How?” Clarice asked.
Frank picked his daughter up so she could see the window better. “Look.”
She did and saw the reflection of her mom in the window. “Oh! I can see her, too!”
“Plus I knew she was in a good mood so I could tease her.” Frank grinned.
“Okay, let’s go eat the burned cereal!” Callie said, her eyes twinkling.
As they left the room, Joshua whispered to Micah, “Is it possible to burn cold cereal?”
“Only if things go really, really wrong.”
As they all went downstairs, the conversation quickly turned to the opening of the toy store and that they would soon be there. The excitement had reached quite a level by the time they were sitting at the table.
Frank really didn’t consider himself an extraordinarily brave man that day in November. Yet a short time later, standing in front of the huge store, with its large grand opening banner proclaiming: Welcome to Bayport’s Largest Toy Store!, he suddenly wondered what in the world he’d been thinking. He glanced over his crew. Seven excited kids; six of them ten or under. The seventh one his brother.
Their wives would be meeting them there later, after a mystery trip to NYC. Frank had promised them they would be fine at the toy store.
He really hoped he could keep that promise.
His dark eyes sought upward before following all of them into the store. The blustery wind seemed to laugh behind his back and tug at his coat right up until the sliding doors snapped shut once the Hardys were inside the large, warm store.
Music blared happily over the sound system for the many shoppers. Sales signs from individual departments tried to attract everyone’s attention, at the same time.
Frank gave a precursory glance around, checking out the inviting fun then looked again at his revved up gang. The sounds and sights were clearly enticing and there seemed to be an unspoken agreement to wait for Frank’s signal to go.