Snow was beginning to travel softly through the air outside but that was not noticed by anyone in the new toy store behind the still-closed glass doors, locked in with danger.
Frank frowned. Any second Joe was supposed to give his signal. They had to time it just right because it needed to coincide when the leader was distracted by the doors not opening as expected. Plus, they didn’t want the thieves to have time to realize that they were one less in number, with Frank having taken the place of one and capturing another.
He could see his brother in basically the same location as a moment ago, where he was supposed to be. Yet Joe wasn’t moving in the direction he was supposed to be moving. He was standing absolutely still. That shouted clearer to Frank that something was wrong than Joe jumping up and down yelling the fact.
Joe wouldn’t look over at him, his face totally averted from Frank’s direction, not about to give away his position. Frank worried what could be wrong. His dark eyes observed his brother and the people nearby.
Then all of a sudden, right as the leader was stepping to the door, from the group of customers being held hostage, Joe’s voice rang out, loud and clear. “Now, Frank!” He was looking in the opposite direction as his brother, hoping to divert the thief, holding a gun to his ribs, away from Frank.
While the thief in the crowd looked in the purposely directed opposite way, Joe reached around and grabbed the gun. He held onto the barrel and twisted it, keeping it pointed away from himself and others, and instead toward the ceiling. At the same time, Joe shot a stream of neon green String Stuff from a can right into the face of the other person. With a gasp of shock, the thief lost the grip on the weapon.
The customers, as they’d been warned by Joe, all moved away from the thieves, ducking low. The nearest thief, surprised as expected by the yell, also looked in the direction Joe had indicated. With the added problem of the hidden thief in among the hostages, Joe had suddenly had two armed thieves to take care of. He had to disarm one while hoping not to get shot by the other thief. He had no doubt his brother would react quickly and accurately.
Frank calmly leveled his borrowed automatic weapon on the leader, who was stunned when the door wouldn’t open and at the yelling and even more so when he saw one of his own group, he thought, holding the gun on him.
“What?” the leader asked, looking betrayed.
“Drop it,” Frank said. “And kick it, carefully, over here.”
The leader did so while glaring at Frank, who scooted it over closer to himself with his foot while never dropping his guard.
In his peripheral vision, he tried to keep an eye on his brother, hoping he was doing okay. He could see the other thief was startled and hadn’t yet seen that Frank had captured the leader.
Joe twisted around with his hand gripping the gun he’d taken off of the previously hidden thief. “Drop it!”
The armed thief aimed his weapon at Joe. “No.”
“Really? You can’t see this is over?” Joe asked, his blue eyes steady. He gestured with a motion of his head. “Your friend isn’t going to be able to help you.”
Behind Joe, another customer had the formerly hidden thief in a chokehold. Joe’s statement was very accurate. “And your leader has been captured. And the other two members of your gang aren’t even present. My brother took them out a long time ago.”
“I still have a gun. I’m not putting it down,” the thief snarled.
Joe sighed. “You are going to take the chance I’m not going to pull this trigger?”
“Are you sure?”
“Really, really sure?”
“Huh. You’re that sure?” Joe asked, cocking the semi-automatic while allowing a slight tone of near amusement into his words.
“Why?” Joe asked.
“Why?” repeated the thief in confusion.
“Yeah, why are you so sure?”
“Yeah, you don’t really have any basis for this assumption, do you?” Joe’s eyes were twinkling and he was practically laughing. “I might have a seriously itchy trigger finger.” Then Joe’s sapphire eyes glittered dangerously and he stopped smiling. “Or I might pull this trigger because you dared try to hold up a toy store. In my hometown.”
The thief was feeling not as confident by now. Joe’s stare and gun were unwavering.
“I might be looking for an excuse to shoot you, if I think you’re about to pull the trigger. It would be self-defense. There are plenty of witnesses to testify to that.” Joe raised his eyebrows. “Still sure?”
“Okay, wait a second-” the thief could see the anger in Joe’s eyes.
A short distance away, Frank watched from the corner of his eye, trying to make sure he kept the weapon trained on the leader while the showdown with his brother and the remaining armed thief was taking place.
“DROP IT!!!!“ Joe shouted, and this time the thief complied.
The security guard, an off-duty Bayport Police Officer, who had been knocked out and tied up when the thieves had first taken over the store, came running up and grabbed the thief’s weapon and held it on him. When possible, the manager had hurriedly untied him where he’d always been in sight of the thieves. The security guard was the one who had disabled the security cameras so the thieves wouldn’t see Frank and Joe. He had seen the Hardy brothers were in the store and knew they would try to help.
A number of Bayport police cruisers had raced into the parking lot, and the officers had jumped out and were anxious to get in the store.
Frank took his mask off. He told the manager to cut the power for a moment and that would override the system and reboot it. He hadn’t wanted to do that earlier, but they could now.
As soon as the doors were opened, the police quickly arrested the thieves. It would be found out that the one who had hidden among the customers had known that the store would have more money than usual that day and had called in friends to help with the robbery.
Before the officers took the thieves out of the store, a radio-controlled police car raced up and sat there with its siren and strobe lights running. That was followed by the arrival of a radio-controlled plane with a small game card attached to it by a string. The card told the thieves to go directly to jail and not to collect $200. Frank and Joe didn’t want to waste backup diversionary plans that hadn’t been needed. Although the thieves found it annoying, most everyone grinned or laughed.
Frank stepped over to his brother and clapped him on the shoulder. “Nice job!”
“You, too!” Joe grinned, throwing his arm around his brother’s shoulders for a second. “You got to take out three and I only got to take out two! But who’s counting?”
Frank laughed. He saw the gun that Joe had held on the thief and went to pick it up to hand to the police.
“Um….,” Joe started to say before Frank picked it up. He cleared his throat and turned and started walking toward where the kids were safe in the tent. “Let’s go get our kiddies.”
“Joe.” Frank’s voice was quiet, but his brother heard him. “Joseph.”
Joe glanced back and tried to sound nonchalant. “What? Let’s go.”
Frank’s dark eyes were serious. “It’s empty.”
“Uh, yeah.” Joe shrugged. “When I took it away from the other thief, the clip dropped out of it. Thankfully they didn’t see that.” He grinned at his brother, hoping he didn’t find out there wasn’t a bullet in the chamber, either.
Frank waited a moment, thinking, then threatened, “Wait until I tell your wife what you did.”
Now it was Joe’s turn to look scared. “Aw, come on. You weren’t supposed to find out, either. It turned out okay, didn’t it?”
“I’m willing to do whatever it takes to keep you alive,” replied Frank. “Just don’t ever do that again and I won’t tell her.”
“Awww,” Joe said, making a face. Frank grinned. Then he punched his brother in the shoulder for pulling such a stunt.
When the Hardys finally emerged from the store, the snow had picked up. With the cell phones finally working again, Frank called Callie, knowing she wasn’t the one driving. Both he and Joe were concerned to see that their wives weren’t yet there.
Callie answered and told Frank they’d been trying to get through to them. They had gotten caught up in a lot of traffic outside of Bayport but that their surprise had been successful. She suggested, since it was so near dinnertime, that they all meet at a favorite restaurant instead of the toy store, which they could check out more another day.
Frank ended the call and glanced over at his brother. “Those mysterious wives of ours are up to something.”
“Guess we’ll soon find out what it is. I trust them so it must be something good.” Joe grinned.
“True,” Frank agreed with a smile.
As they were heading for their cars, a customer who had been unable to get in the store for the sales went by the Hardys, muttering, “There’s always trouble around you Hardys!”
Right then, Tony arrived with his girlfriend, whom he was going to propose to very soon. They had heard about the situation on the news while on a date. Tony couldn’t let what that customer had said slide. “Hey, you know what? Take a thought about what it would have been like had the Hardys not been there and risked their lives for everyone’s safety.” Tony rolled his eyes.
The customer ignored Tony and went into the store. The Hardys didn’t have time to allow such attitudes to bother them. They knew what was true, and their family and friends were there for them. Plus, Operation Take-Back-Our-Toy-Store-Despite-Smuff, another Joe Hardy titled mission, was successfully completed.
Once they met at the restaurant, Tony and his girlfriend included, they immediately saw what the girls’ mysterious trip to New York was all about.
“Unca Biff!” shouted Jonathan and launched himself into tall, smiling Biff Hooper’s arms. The rest of the kids all shouted their welcome.
“Biff!” Frank, Joe, Tony all came and hugged their friend.
“We haven’t heard from you in a while!” Joe exclaimed.
“We weren’t sure he was going to be able to make this flight,” Callie explained. “Until he disembarked from the plane!”
Everyone was grinning like crazy. The impromptu reunion was an emotionally moving one. Biff’s girlfriend stood beside her handsome Marine, so happy he was back safe. They had a big party planned for the next day so that everyone could see Biff and visit with him.
While they waited for the food, Frank’s wife and Joe’s wife questioned their husbands on whether or not anything out of the ordinary had happened at the toy store.
“Not for us,” Joe said, throwing a grin over at his brother, who had to agree with a chuckle.
The same question was posed to the children.
“We saw lotsa cool toys and a big treasure chest and we sat in this neat big tent and Joshua read to us,” answered Jonathan, the littlest one, with large, innocent eyes. “It was fun!”
That night, before going to bed, Frank moved the curtain on the bedroom window and his dark eyes looked up into the cloudless sky, dotted with millions of glittering stars. He thought of when he and his brother were little and their dad and mom had taught them about having faith in the right things. Fenton had just finished reading to the brothers before they went to sleep….
“Daddy, do miracles happen even when someone doesn’t have faith?” Frank asked. He knew a kid at school that didn’t seem to have faith in anything, and he had tried explaining to his friend.
“Sure, but they might not know it is a miracle,” Fenton answered. “But miracles can happen anytime.”
“It’s good to have faith, huh, Daddy?” Joe asked.
“In the right things, yes,” he answered. “Having faith in the wrong things, that’s not going to help you.”
“Like what?” Frank pondered.
Joe piped up with what he felt was a good answer to his brother’s question. “If I had faith that Brussels sprouts tasted good, no matter how much I believed it, they still aren’t going to taste good.”
“But some people think they taste good,” Laura pointed out with a smile at her youngest son’s intent expression as his eyes sparkled with good humor.
“They’re wrong!” Joe stated emphatically.
“Let’s try another example of misplaced faith. What if I believed I could fly?” Fenton asked.
“But you could if you got in a plane!” Joe grinned.
Frank had an answer with a grin, too. “Or if you strapped a mini-jet propelled power pack to your back you could!”
“Or a hang-glider!” Joe suggested with enthusiasm.
Fenton and Laura smiled. Their sons were smart, thinking little kids, ones who were taught to sort through things.
“Okay, here’s the real deal.” Fenton waited for their sons’ attention to be focused to hear what he was going to say. “I have faith that I’m loved. I’ve no doubt about it in my heart. You both know that you’re loved, too, don’t you?”
Frank and Joe nodded.
“That peace you have from believing in true things, people will try to steal that from you, but you have to guard it and never let them win,” Fenton told them, his dark eyes serious as he looked at both of them. “It’s very important to make sure things are correct and worthy to have faith in and then you believe it with all of your heart and don’t let go.”
As he watched the stars wink in agreement, Frank thought about the peace he had since he was little. Things didn’t always go right but always that peace was there in his soul, and he treasured it. He had faith in the right things and, his eyes seeking past the velvet sky, thanked the Creator of those stars and his peace. That’s the top – the secret of life – faith and love.
Two weeks later the contest prize winner was announced. And it didn’t go to anyone named Hardy. It went to Smuff’s four kids, who were shocked and delighted to win. Their names were all printed neatly on the entry blank. Oscar Smuff got a little choked up at how excited and happy his kids were.
Frank’s son, Joshua, was the one who had entered their names into the contest with his one entry blank, hoping that the four kids whose dad was out of work would receive the treasure chest. He was the one who truly won. And he and his siblings and cousins didn’t miss out on that “edible gelt”. Before Joshua had even entered the contest, his grandparents had already bought plenty, unknown to him.
Rachmonis is a Hebrew word that means compassion; throughout the year, wherever we are, we can all make the world a better place by showing rachmonis in many ways.
Never the End!