Hey, don’t give up; it’s not over! That was what Chet was silently shouting to himself as he struggled to regain control of the helicopter while it plunged into the seemingly not-wide-enough space between buildings. Way below them a park with trees afforded no space for them to land. His muscles strained and beads of sweat ran down his normally happy face. Never was he more aware that this was not a training simulation or a video game. He wouldn’t be surprised, though, if some of those video games he’d played over the years didn’t help at least a little bit as he fought to keep the helicopter in the air.
Big difference between the games and right now, though. They wouldn’t get a second chance to do over were they to explode against one of the buildings or crash to the ground. Don’t think about that, he told himself. Just gotta keep this baby in the air. Then try to land. But one thing at a time….
The helicopter shuddered again and dipped to the side. Gripping the controls, his hands slick with sweat, his focus was zoned in on what needed to be done.
Over his headset, he heard Joe’s voice. “I’ve seen you pull through worse than this in Crash Course: Helicopter Drop. At least you don’t have to be shooting at enemies while piloting like in that game.”
Chet didn’t answer, but his friend’s words of encouragement, while it didn’t erase the danger or make it easier not to crash, did help.
While that was taking place outside, inside the facility another drama was unfolding. When Tyler Ephanes, the director of the formerly compromised scientist’s department had gotten word about the escape from those he’d hired to watch their virtual prisoner, he was shocked. And angry. No one did this to him. He’d already added more thugs, backups, after the scientist’s family had somehow escaped. Ephanes was continuing to look into that and hoped to kidnap them again. It had been a setback, but he had still planned on keeping the scientist his prisoner by monitoring his every move and communication so he wouldn’t find out his family was safe.
The whole game had really changed now that the scientist had also escaped. Ephanes wanted him returned, but if not, he wanted him killed so he couldn’t talk or advance in his work for others.
When Ephanes received the call about the escape from his hired goons, he had been on his way to his office. Just as he reached it, he was finishing up another call to one of his thugs to act as his bodyguard, just in case. And also to send someone to guard the scientist’s lab and not to let anyone in.
After quickly shutting and locking the door back, he hurried to his desk. Sitting down in his leather chair, he started to look at his computer but then stilled; his eyes unbelieving as he read the note on the top of his huge desk.
Roses can be yellow
Violets are actually more purple than blue
You’ll be an unhappy fellow
Because you and your papers will get their due!
Ephanes looked around the room, wondering how anyone could have gotten in and left that note. Then his eyes moved to where his safe was hidden. And the location of those papers the poem had referenced. How could anyone know about his carefully concealed, compiled papers? Plus, no one could have gotten into the safe with all of the high-tech security features he’d personally installed.
Anxious to make sure the papers were still there, Ephanes hurried to the safe built into his wall. Sliding back the panel that blended perfectly with the rest of the wall, he went through all of the biometric codes needed to access the safe.
Finally, it was open and Ephanes grabbed out the thick envelope. Opening it, he saw with relief that all of the papers were indeed still there.
The relief was very short-lived.
“Effective security features,” a male voice spoke up.
Turning around in shock, Ephanes stared at the man standing over near the still closed door. He’d never heard him open the door.
“What? How?” Ephanes’ expression was one of disbelief.
“I molecularly transported through the door,” the man said calmly, one dark brow arched slightly, wondering what Ephanes would say to that.
“What?” Ephanes asked in bewilderment.
“Never mind,” Fenton grinned, hearing the expected response and deciding to leave him guessing about stuff from comic books and cartoons. Why tell him that he just quietly picked the lock? “The important thing is for you to give me those papers you so thoughtfully got out for me.” While investigating, the Hardys had figured out that Ephanes would have a paper copy on hand of useful information for security purposes, having mentioned the need for such things during a speech.
“You’re not getting these papers!” snapped Ephanes.
“You’ve already been wrong so many times; are you sure your mental state can handle all of these setbacks in such a short time?” Fenton asked, his dark eyes steady on his opponent, ready for any tricks.
“Who are you?”
“Someone you don’t want to make angry.”
“Or what?” Ephanes sneered as he looked at Fenton’s arm in a sling.
Fenton gave a slight shrug, his stance calm and relaxed as if he had all the time in the world. “You’ll find out.”
“How about a deal?” Ephanes asked. He wasn’t about to have his plans go up in smoke. “I’ll give you these papers and you let me leave.”
“Don’t you think it’s a little silly for you to try to make a deal?”
“Because you’re not in any position to do so.” Fenton took a step closer. “Carefully hand the envelope to me.”
“Why should I do that?”
“Does the floor feel a little different to you?” Fenton asked. “But don’t move. Just tell me.”
Ephanes frowned, realizing it did. “It feels a little uneven.” He glanced down and saw that under the expensive rug was the slight outline of a good-sized thin metal panel. That was not there before! His right foot was on the edge of it, while his other was completely on it.
Fenton smiled. “Any ideas as to why? Let me ask you a question that might help give you a clue. Do you know what a pressurized detonating device that’s been activated would do were it to suddenly be depressurized?”
A sickly pallor came over Ephanes face. “No!”
“So you see I have the strategic position here.” Fenton looked at the envelope. “About how much do you guess that weighs?”
Ephanes eyes got big. “I-I don’t know! You want me to guess?”
“Or I could.” Fenton’s attitude was extremely calm, which was unnerving his opponent.
After thinking a moment and wondering where his bodyguard was, Ephanes ventured a guess as to the weight of the envelope. Then he asked, “What if I’m wrong?”
“Sensitivity level of the weight setting isn’t too exact, so no worries.” Fenton smiled as he picked up a paper weight off the desk and began tossing it up in the air and catching it, using his uninjured arm. “I’ll take the papers now.”
Ephanes very carefully reached the envelope toward Fenton, who exchanged it with the paper weight.
Stepping near the door, Fenton said speculatively, “You know, might not be a good idea to sweat too much. Might redistribute the weight….”
“But, but you said it’s not too exact!”
Fenton shrugged. “I could be wrong.”
Seeing Fenton reaching for the doorknob, Ephanes asked in panic, “Where are you going? You’re not going to deactivate it?”
Fenton raised his dark eyebrows. “I don’t think that was part of the plan. But I’ll call someone to come get you.” With that calming reassurance, Fenton left.
Ephanes wondered again what had happened to his bodyguard, who should have been there way before that….
Right after finishing the phone call from Ephanes, the hired goon had started on his way to the correct floor so he could guard his boss.
He was surprised to see a guy with black curly hair walking right up to him, carrying a pizza from some pizza place. Napoli’s Best he figured must be the name of it from the stitching on the guy’s baseball cap. Didn’t see too many pizza delivery guys on this floor….actually he’d never seen any there. He had no idea that since the cameras were being altered when necessary, no one on the security staff was actually viewing what was currently happening.
Frowning in suspicion, he looked menacingly at the pizza guy, who wasn’t bothered by the unfriendliness directed toward him.
“Hey, here’s your pizza,” Tony Prito said and started to take off the warming bag for the delectable food.
“I didn’t order no pizza,” the thug said. He couldn’t help but smell the aroma, especially with Tony waving it around whenever he talked.
“I’m pretty sure this has something to do with your boss,” Tony said with a grin.
“But he don’t like pizza,” the thug stated.
Tony arched a dark brow. “Dude, you can’t trust someone who doesn’t like pizza!”
“Yeah, but I’ll still take the pizza.” The thug reached for it, planning to eat it on the way, but Tony pulled the box back out of reach.
“How about some cash first?” Tony asked. He told him how much for the large pizza.
“Pizza first. Have to see if I like it.” The thug laughed harshly and grabbed the box out of Tony’s hands. He opened it and began throwing pizza down his throat.
Tony rolled his expressive eyes but just waited. “Wow, your manners are….ugly.”
The thug glared at Tony. “Did you just say I was ugly?”
“No, actually I was talking about your manners.”
“Oh.” He resumed eating but then the pizza suddenly dropped out of his hands. He stared at Tony. Two seconds later, the thug fell over unconscious to the floor.
Tony nodded his head. “Uh huh, I see. No tip, either, right?”
He quickly tied him up and left a text note on the dude’s phone for the police and FBI, explaining the thug’s presence and who he worked for.
Everyone involved in the detailed planning for the rescue of the scientist and his family, which included Laura Hardy and her two daughters-in-law, had been careful to do their homework for every part of it. Figuring out every aspect of the rescue included factoring in the necessity of backup plans. In this situation, the first idea had worked just fine.
After wiping his own fingerprints off the cell phone, Tony then had one more thing to say to the goon before he left.
“Like we’d waste a real Italian pizza on you. Wasn’t even a good fake pizza. More like cardboard with tomato sauce on it. Bought it in the frozen food department and nuked it. I think I might have forgotten to remove the cardboard.” He snickered and left.
Chet focused on keeping the helicopter in the air and also holding it as steady as possible. The controls were working sporadically, threatening any second to lock up again or completely quit. Silently praying for everyone, he did his best to keep them all alive. He didn’t dare take his eyes off of the sights of the city, in front of him and around him that he could see in his peripheral, for even a second.
“Everyone safe?” asked Fenton as he quietly left the facility. He had called Phil as soon as he was outside. His sons’ comms weren’t working, and he couldn’t reach them by cell, which scared him. He prayed it was only technical difficulty.
“Um, no.” Phil cleared his throat. “Not yet.”
“What’s going on?”
Phil quickly told him what he had seen via the facility’s security cameras on the roof. They were out of his line of vision now. “I haven’t been able to pick up anything on the comms.”
Fenton started running toward the parking garage. It didn’t take him long to get there.
Tony was already in the car, waiting in the driver’s seat. He was startled when Fenton jerked open the door and jumped in, while simultaneously commanding, “Go! Over on the other side of the facility. The helicopter’s been hit.”
Even as Tony quickly pulled out of the parking space and tore down to the exit, those four words that had instantly evoked a feeling of sickening fear continued to run through his mind. “The helicopter’s been hit….”
Traffic was a mess, as precipitation in the form of rain was falling and people were anxious to be home. Fenton tried to spot the helicopter, but there were still buildings in the way. His heart thudding with every prayerful silent plea, he tried to guess exactly where they would be if they had managed to gain any altitude. Phil had told Fenton that he had seen them clear the roof and then drop out of sight.
Fenton mentally went through the maps he’d studied of the populated city area. He was still on the phone with Phil so that whoever found out something first could let the other one know.
Phil’s voice came through, struggling for some hope. “Chet studied the maps of the area. He knows his options.”
“He could set it down on another roof. He just has to gain enough altitude to reach it. I hope he knows not to worry about explanations,” Tony spoke up as he did some fancy maneuvering to get them through traffic.
Fenton didn’t say anything; he just searched for the helicopter. He was thankful it was sturdily built and one just big enough for four passengers. The buildings were not too close together. There were several areas a very well-trained pilot could fly the helicopter, with just barely enough clearance for the blades but not much room for any margin of error. Of course, there was the additional problem of the helicopter being damaged and not responding correctly. Fenton felt sick.
“No!” Fenton’s voice came over the phone and Phil had no doubt he’d caught sight of the helicopter in the distance. It was too close to one building. Way too close! Should it shift, they would crash, without a doubt. It wasn’t looking very good, but they couldn’t give up hope. Fenton’s dark eyes watched the terrifying scene, right with them every moment.