Great displays were abundant in Bayport’s largest toy store. Joe’s daughter, Chaya, bypassed a lot of other toys and went straight for the top. He watched as she gently gave it a spin and delighted as it spun around on the display surface. She had several at home, as did the other Hardy kids, and adored them.
“You shouldn’t get her that. It’s a choking hazard!” a brash voice said near Joe.
Turning, Joe saw an angry looking woman staring at him, holding a little girl of her own in her arms.
“My daughter can handle it. Thank you,” Joe said, smiling tightly at the unwanted intrusion and started to watch his daughter again.
“That’s not very responsible of you!” the woman said.
Joe counted to five in one second and didn’t bother continuing on to ten. He glanced over at the woman’s daughter, who somehow appeared to have her whole fist up one of her nostrils. “It looks like you have more areas of concern. Maybe you should focus on that.”
The woman looked at her daughter. “Stop that!” she told her, and yanked her arm. She turned back to snap at Joe. “Are you saying my daughter’s liable to stick it up her nose?”
“Seems like a favorite place.” Joe shrugged.
At that moment, Frank hurried up to his brother. He had seen the discussion taking place and even though he hadn’t been able to hear what was being said, he had the distinct feeling he needed to step in. Now.
Talking to his brother, he said, “What’s the name of that toy selling out everywhere? I heard the store manager talking about when they were going to get the next shipment in and something about a sign-up sheet.”
“Where?” the woman asked, butting in.
“Hmm?” Frank glanced over at the woman like he hadn’t known she was there and listening. “Oh, the manager was saying this at customer service.”
Without a “thank you” she rushed off. Joe raised an eyebrow at Frank, who shrugged and said, “The manager said they’d be lucky to get even one shipment in and not to even bother with a sign-up sheet because they couldn’t promise they would come in.”
“She might come after you,” Joe said.
Frank didn’t look concerned. “That’s what big brothers do. Save their little brothers. All the time, regardless of the danger.” By the time he finished talking, he was grinning.
“You enjoy being a big brother, don’t you?” Joe grinned.
“Yeah, I have a little brother who makes sure life is never boring,” Frank stated.
The Hardys continued their tour of the store and came across the section they’d all been anticipating. It was a fantastic sight. There, waiting for them patiently on several huge bookcases, were many books with shiny covers of favorites and soon-to-be-favorites. Bright colored pictures and action scenes could be seen pretty much in three directions as the shelving was situated so that it curved around. That left plenty of room for places to sit and read without getting in the way of those looking at the books in the bookcases.
Awed and excited, the kids started looking, calling out as they found various books.
“This is great!” Joshua exclaimed as he looked for the stories he was interested in reading. His cousin Lev agreed, his large eyes trying to read all of the titles at once.
Frank and Joe shared a grin, knowing exactly how they felt. It was an impressive department, clearly designed by someone who loved books.
“Look!” called Jonathan, who had picked what looked like the biggest book there. His hands were clasped on either side of it, and he couldn’t really see past the thin, huge cardboard book.
Joe grinned at his little boy, seeing him carefully carrying the book, pretty much of the same height, over to him. Scooping up his five year old in one arm while simultaneously and unobtrusively helping with the big book, he stretched a long jean-clad leg over to scoot a chair closer then sat down.
“Cool!” Joe nodded as his sapphire eyes took in the story Jonathan had selected. They started reading it together out loud.
The older kids had all chosen books to look at and decide on, talking excitedly before quietly reading.
Frank smiled, seeing his kids, his niece and nephews, and his brother in the one department they could easily spend hours visiting. Recognizing a good opportunity to search out some surprise gifts, he tapped his brother on the shoulder. He motioned he was going to look around.
Joe nodded, grinned and mouthed, “Don’t break anything.”
Frank stuck his tongue out then turned and left, smiling after he did at the good sound of his brother chuckling.
The elder Hardy brother came to the sports department next and was impressed with the great selection the store had to offer. He checked out a few things, knowing what items were wanted and needed due to wear and tear. All of them enjoyed playing a number of sports, at least at home, with friends.
He took a minute or two to look at the comfortable-looking tent set up, wondering whether it was time to buy a new one or not. The sign boasted a great price with the suggestion to buy now, save money and be ahead of other campers when the weather got warm. Frank thought of several times he and Joe and other friends had camped when there were mild temperatures during the winter months.
After making mental notes of a few more items, he then left that department to check out another. Once Frank’s dark eyes caught sight of a large display of electronics he immediately walked over to it.
There were several intriguing and clever toys that caught his attention. One was a “spy set” that had a small mobile device that claimed it had great camera range and a clear visual display and microphone allowing you to “see and hear” no matter where you were. Except underwater.
Hmmm, he thought, picking it up and examining it, wonder how well it works. Be interesting to see what kind of range and capability it has – should it work at all. He saw the manual lying nearby and flipped through it. Reading of the fascinating features, he decided he needed to test its claims.
Setting the small device with wheels on the floor, and after checking to see that both it and the handheld transmitter had batteries, he then engaged it and watched it start rolling. It didn’t take him long to figure it out. Glancing down at the decent size screen on the control, he watched as the camera began showing him what video of the shelves looked like within the current visual settings of the lens.
He was a delighted little boy as he found that it really did have a number of camera angles and heights, which he tried out by hitting another button to engage that feature. It had pretty good speed and maneuverability so it was easy to keep it from being in peoples’ way. With a deft flick and click of his long fingers, he decided to let it go out of his sight and keep to the inside of displays so he wouldn’t trip anyone.
As he zoomed in on a display of scientific toys, he noted that it had traveled up almost to the front of the store, having caught a glimpse of the sky through a small clear path to a section of one of the sliding doors.
He had just about decided that this was a must-have quality toy when he was suddenly distracted by something he’d just seen on the screen. The clarity of the video was pretty good. Not the best, of course, but better than he’d expected, so he could get a decent read of the front of the store, little sections at a time. And what he was seeing he was wishing was just some glitch with the toy. Yet as he continued to watch the display, he knew it wasn’t.
He frowned as he panned around, his heart beating faster. One, two, three so far, he counted, masked individuals were standing near the registers, holding weapons. While continuing to watch, he snagged his cell phone and with one hand maneuvering the controls on the transmitter, the other dialed. Holding it up to his ear, he closed his eyes for a moment when he heard nothing. A glance at the message displayed on the cell told him no help would come from there.
Quickly constructing a plan, he directed the mobile “spy” under a table where the gunmen wouldn’t see it. Frank had seen a total of four now and kept a lookout for more. There were still a large number of customers in the store, quite a few employees, and with the store being so big it was possible for the others to not even know what was going on up front. Until they got there.
Deciding he would get a little more information before going back to his brother and his children and his brother’s children, Frank reached over and grabbed the headphones. He attached them to the transmitter and activated it.
He needed to get closer to hear anything, though. Hoping it wouldn’t be seen, he sent the “spy” nearer to the individual he could see was talking.
By listening very closely he could faintly hear what was being said. A man’s voice, speaking loud enough for the nearby cashiers, manager and the unseen mini spy to hear, was telling them to relax and no one would be hurt. They would accept the large amount of money the store currently had on hand and leave. The rest of the store would never even need to know about it as long as everyone cooperated. Anyone coming into the store was stopped and not allowed to go back out. He also told everyone not to bother contacting the police because they had a cell phone jammer stopping the ability to contact them.
Then things suddenly changed. For the worse. On the edge of the camera’s visual, Frank saw a man step near.
Frank nearly groaned aloud when he saw who it was. Smuff. He had left but apparently had returned.
Don’t do anything, Smuff, don’t….
Yeah, Smuff didn’t listen to the Hardy wisdom.
Frank listened as Smuff addressed, presumably, the leader of the thieves. “You are all under citizen’s arrest. Drop your weapons.”
The leader, even under his mask, could be seen staring at Smuff. “If I may be so curious as to ask why we should do that?”
Smuff looked smug. “Because I just had the manager activate lockdown for the store. All of the doors, including the emergency exits, are locked. Can’t even get out through the back of the store. It’s all electronic.”
“And what’s to stop us from ‘requesting’ the manager to unlock them?” the gunman asked after one of the other thieves checked to see that the doors near them were indeed locked.
Smuff looked a little less smug. “I’m a detective, and you don’t want to cross me.”
“Yeah.” The gunman looked over at the nervous store manager and told him, “Unlock it.”
The manager nodded and went to do so but then returned, looking more scared than before. “I…I can’t! It’s jammed or something!”
“What?!?!” the gunman snarled. “You better hope you’re wrong!”
“Maybe your cell phone jammer is causing a problem?” the manager asked.
“No, if that was the case it wouldn’t have worked to lock them to start with!” Gesturing to one of his fellow thieves, he ordered that person to go fix the problem. A curt nod and that thief went into the office.
As the lead thief began telling Smuff how he had just really messed up, Frank slipped the headphones off and quickly walked back to the book section.
“Joe.” Frank was calm when he spoke, but Joe immediately looked over when he heard his brother.
By then Joe had already finished reading the big book with Jonathan and quiet, serious Micah had recently told him all about a book he had found.
Stepping over to his brother, Joe tried to guess what had that look of fear in his brother’s eyes but not on his face. As soon as Joe was near enough to hear without anyone else hearing, Frank said, “The store is being robbed. Right now.”
Joe’s eyes widened as his brother quickly told him what all he had seen and heard.
Frank and Joe looked over at their kids reading quietly. “We have to do something,” Joe muttered.
“Yeah, look there’s a tent down to the right, as you’re facing the books. The kids will be safe there. It’s as far away as possible and together they will be safe. Those thieves could panic any minute….”
“I know.” Joe glanced back at his brother. “I’ll meet you in a couple of minutes.”
Frank nodded and quickly strode back in the direction of the front of the store to keep an eye on the gunmen.
Inside the tent, Joe looked at each one of his children and his brother’s children, fear making his heart pound for them at the thought of them being so close to danger. He made himself be calm and smiled at them. “You guys be good while Frank and I go take care of some things.”
“A surprised, Daddy?” asked his littlest, Jonathan, his big eyes wide. Joe nodded.
“Yep, a surprised.” Especially for the bad guys, he thought to himself. “Stay right inside this tent and read. Joshua, how about going ahead and read that Encyclopedia Brown book we’re buying to your siblings and cousins?” Joe suggested to Frank’s oldest. He knew that Joshua, always full of energy, would focus on the book and be able to sit still and read, having that to do.
Joshua nodded and held up the book, already anticipating solving the next mystery Encyclopedia would find. They had several volumes of the series at home and had been really looking forward to this one.
“You make sure everyone stays in the tent, okay?” He looked at Lev, knowing that he was the one who naturally kept an eye on everyone, a lot like Frank. Joe watched as he nodded solemnly. “There are too many strangers around and you guys know not to talk to any of them and to make a lot of noise if necessary, okay? Remember we practiced that?” Joe talked fast, knowing he needed to hurry, but he wanted to be certain the kids were going to be okay.
“Yeah!” Jonathan said. “We’ll kick anybody who tries to bother us!”
Joe nodded, feeling reassured they would be okay. They were together and as safe and out of the way as possible. He needed to hurry if he was going to help keep them safe.
Safe from gunmen who were basically holding the entire store hostage and who could panic any moment. Frank and Joe were determined that the gunmen would have to get through them before they got to any of the Hardys’ precious children.