Hope and prayer were running side by side in Frank’s soul, along with a plan. He kept watching the video display closely even as Joe stepped up beside him. Holding the transmitter so they could both observe the current happenings at the front of the store, Frank didn’t have much more to add to what he’d already told Joe. The situation hadn’t changed, one way or another. No one among the gathered customers up front or any of the thieves had panicked, yet. The masked holdup team was stretched all along the perimeter of the front of the store, close enough to the exits to stop any signaling to outside. Their techie, or the closest thing to one, was still in the office trying desperately to fix the glitch with the lockdown.
“Kids okay?” Frank asked.
“They’ll be fine,” Joe said, his blue eyes serious as he watched the small screen.
“Hopefully the thieves aren’t checking out the security cameras. The person working on the glitch with the doors is probably too busy and focused on that.”
Joe nodded. “We might not have much time so we have to make our move count.”
“Okay, as far as we know there are four, but we have to be prepared that I didn’t spot all of them with the visual obstacles. And we can’t count on Smuff helping but being a problem. It would be a serious error to try to work with him.” Frank frowned. “The thieves seem not to want to cause a panic, which is good, but that can change. They at least know a panic wouldn’t help anyone.”
“So, before anyone has a chance to panic, we’ll take the thieves out without them knowing,” Joe said.
Frank took his eyes off of the screen to look at his brother. “Okay, that sounds like a neat trick.”
“I mean, without the others knowing,” Joe grinned at his brother.
Frank smiled slowly as he nodded; that would work perfectly with his ideas. “Yeah.” They quickly discussed plans.
“I think I see some volunteers to help us,” Joe said and indicated a box on the shelf past his brother’s shoulder. Frank turned to look and agreed.
Joe trained the new recruit while Frank kept watch on the screen and worked out the details of the rest of the plan. He took into consideration the location of the thieves, the distance they were from the office, and the likely field of vision.
“Ready, Teddy?” Joe asked the teddy bear on the shelf. “You are going to be traveling in style.”
“Try not to have too much fun, Joseph.” Frank glanced at his brother.
“Me?” Joe asked innocently, carrying the teddy bear and a radio-controlled Corvette with him as he walked toward the front of the store. As he got nearer the thieves’ possible line of vision, he moved stealthily. Plus, he had to keep away from other customers as well as the thieves. He was glad the store was so huge and noisy and the thieves wanted it to seem as normal as possible to prevent panic.
Frank had access to the unique situation courtesy of the mobile “spy” and would be able to watch and listen. Joe snuck up to the location he and Frank had determined would be the best place for Teddy and buckled him into the Corvette. Then Joe went over to his own hiding place.
Now to get the one thief’s attention on Teddy. Working the controls, Joe had the Corvette drive up closer to the office until finally it was near enough to address the thief working on the computer. He could just barely be seen through the open door.
“Hey! Dude!” Joe said through the microphone that transmitted his voice through the speaker in the stuffed toy bear.
The thief turned toward the door and did a double take. “What?!” He didn’t look toward the area where Joe was hidden because he had no idea of his location. The thief’s eyes were riveted on the teddy bear in the blue Corvette….who was talking.
“Yeah, you! I’ve got a date so let’s get this show on the road. A guy over near the educational toys can fix the glitch with the doors,” Joe aka Teddy said.
“Something not clear about what I just said or is that maybe the only word you know? Limited time offer, though. He’s a busy guy.” Teddy appeared to back up the car and take off.
The thief stared after the teddy bear, blinking. Then he glanced over at his friend and fellow thief and leader, who hadn’t seen…or heard the teddy bear. He really didn’t want to go say anything about a talking teddy bear. He had just seen it, and he couldn’t believe it. There was a slight possibility there was someone over at the educational toys who could help with the lockdown. If so, the thieves would be able to get out of there soon, with the money. He didn’t really want anyone to get hurt, but he was willing to let that rule slide if it came between getting caught and getting out of there. So the longer they were in the store, the likelihood of violence increased.
Either way, he needed to go see what was going on. He couldn’t exactly interrogate Teddy, who had disappeared so quickly he couldn’t even follow him.
Grumbling at how bad what had sounded like such a great plan was going, he warily went over to the educational toys section. He knew he needed to sneak up on whoever was there.
He stopped in surprise as he peered around the corner of the aisle. No person was visible, just a lone plastic action figure standing in the middle, looking very tiny.
Away from the activity in the front of the store, safely in the tent, Frank’s kids and Joe’s kids were enjoying a good mystery book. Joshua was excellent at getting into a story and reading it with gusto. Encyclopedia Brown was one of his favorite series, and he could really focus on the book and figure out the mystery. He had already read a bit to his brother, sister, and cousins. He turned the page and was about to read more when there was a small sound.
Joshua read a half of a sentence.
“Shouldn’t we get him something to drink?” asked Clarice, looking at the little hiccupper, Jonathan.
“Can’t leave the tent,” said Lev firmly, but he wished they could help somehow and tried to think of what might work, without leaving the tent.
Hiccup hiccup hi-hi-ccup.
Joshua paused from trying to read any more of the story and looked seriously at the hiccupper. Innocent face, big eyes, just sitting there hiccupping.
“You poor kid,” Joshua said sympathetically. “I’m going to go get some water.” He stood up from the cot he’d been sitting on.
“No!” said both his brother, Micah, and his cousin, Lev, at the same time.
“But he needs to be watered!”
“We’re supposed to stay right here!” Lev reminded him.
“But this is….,” Joshua looked at his little hiccupping cousin then at the tent flap to outside, thinking of things his dad and uncle had said and finally admitted, “not an emergency.”
“He needs something to drink!” Joshua reiterated as he sat back down.
Then as all of the cousins watched in amazement, Chaya stepped over to her little brother and took the lid off a bottle of water and gave it to him.
“Where did you get that?” asked her cousin Clarice.
Chaya pointed over to her purse she loved carrying around.
“Smart,” her brother, Lev, commented approvingly, admiration for her on his face, causing her to smile in appreciation.
“Better now, Jonathan?” asked Chaya, hoping the liquid had helped. With hiccups you never could tell, sometimes they just had to eventually go away. Jonathan nodded his head emphatically as she took the water bottle back.
“Yeah, we can’t let him have too much water or he will need the b-a-t-h-r-o-o-m,” Joshua pointed out, but making sure to spell it so he wouldn’t give Jonathan any ideas. He started reading the Encyclopedia Brown book once more, and everyone settled down to figure out what clue would lead them to the identity of the culprit in the story.
The ex-hiccupper was thankful he’d stopped hiccupping; now he was hungry. He wondered whether his sister had any food in her purse or not. She was a very prepared girl.
The educational toy aisle was very quiet. No sounds at all. Looking around suspiciously, the thief didn’t see anyone as he moved closer to the action figure. It had to be a trick of some sort, he was positive, and one he had to take care of, however he was supposed to do that. He was nervous, with no idea what was going to happen next.
He stopped, feeling silly, armed and staring at some stupid little toy. Having been sent there by a talking teddy bear. Wow, his therapist was really going to hear a lot next session. On second thought, he was probably going to keep this to himself.
Glaring down at the action figure, he snapped, thinking himself clever, “Are you going to help with the lockdown?”
In his peripheral, too late, he saw very fast movement then he crumbled to the ground, unconscious.
Frank shook his head at the thief. “The answer is no. But I will.” He quickly removed the thief’s jacket and mask covering his face then put them on.
After tying him up and hiding him out of the way, Frank was soon on the way up to the front of the store. It had only been a few minutes since the thief had gone off at the teddy bear’s suggestion.
Timing it so that the leader was looking the other way, Frank slipped into the office. His dark eyes noted that the security cameras were off, much to his surprise. He didn’t know why they weren’t on, but appreciated that fact since it had kept the thieves from having a chance of spotting the brothers from there.
Frank began working on the computer, quickly sending an email to the Bayport Police Department, apprising them of the situation. Just as he turned his attention to the glitch, a voice spoke up from the doorway.
“Maybe we can talk about this. I took a course on how to negotiate with the criminal so I’m sure we can um….resolve this peaceably without any need for violence.” Smuff sounded like he was reading from a card.
Frank closed his eyes for a second. Then he shook his head and continued clicking keys. Smuff didn’t take the hint and tried again.
“Look, I’m willing to listen. Isn’t that what this is really about? No one will listen to you?” Smuff asked.
Rolling his eyes, Frank continued to focus on the computer.
“I’m sure you don’t really want to do this. Perhaps you are misunderstood…or society failed you. Yes! That’s it! You feel that this money is owed you, right? See I told you I understand. Now, we can talk and get your friends out there to put down their weapons and we’ll all talk-” Smuff suddenly stopped talking as the “thief” turned and shot an annoyed look at him. Intense, dark eyes glittered warningly at Smuff, making him swallow the rest of his sentence in fear.
Frank pointed at the door and Smuff backed up slowly until he disappeared from the Hardy brother’s exasperated view.
Smuff glanced back but kept walking. Well, I’ve done all I could! Now it’s up to someone else, Smuff told himself. He had hoped to save the day, finally show how much better he was than the Hardys, in his mind, and single-handedly take down the thieves, saving everyone. Including the Hardys. He had exhausted every possibility in his mind on what to do.
Sighing when he couldn’t fix the doors, having hoped to move the thieves out of the store before confronting them, Frank then flashed a quick signal to his brother from inside the office. Joe nodded from his location where he’d been waiting to see about the lockdown which would indicate what they would need to do next. The brother team was ready.
Frank stepped outside the office and motioned for one of his “fellow thieves” to come help him. As soon as the thief was not in view of the others, Frank quickly and effectively knocked him out. Two down.
Then he went toward customer service near the front of the store where the leader was stationed. Frank pointed to the sliding glass doors, as if signaling he’d gotten them fixed, although he never claimed they were working again. The leader gave him a thumb up sign and then told the manager to give them the money.
As Frank did this, Joe had quietly joined the cluster of customers held hostage and was telling them to take cover at his signal. He had managed to move as close as possible to the remaining armed thieves, whose attention was on the money bag that they would add to the credit cards taken from the hostages.
“Well, it’s been real.” The leader smiled at the customers and turned to go toward the sliding glass doors. He had the money in his hand and wanted to get out of there and knew the others would follow. The fourth member of the thieves, however, was doing some quick arithmetic and realizing that they were one short. He had no idea they were actually missing two thieves, courtesy of Frank’s presence.
Frank walked calmly up to the other two, waiting for his brother’s signal. He felt that they had this, but he knew that it wasn’t out of the question for something unexpected to happen, even with trying to make sure they hadn’t forgotten anything.
In the back of his mind, he wished he’d knocked out Smuff so he couldn’t cause any more trouble. Looking around in his quick, observant way, he saw Smuff on the outer edge of the gathered customers. Good, stay out of the way.
In the next few minutes it would be clear whether the Hardys’ ideas and actions had succeeded, or not. And whether a trip to the toy store would turn out to be more deadly dangerous than rescuing a scientist and his family, where they had been outnumbered by thugs with serious firepower.
The odds actually weren’t looking any better in this situation, especially since the thieves had one more member of their team hidden in the crowd of hostages, dressed as a regular shopper. The person, recognizing one of the Hardy brothers from news sources, took the semi-automatic they’d had hidden and pressed it against Joe’s ribs.
Joe stopped in shock as a quiet and deadly serious voice told him, “Hold it. I will shoot if that becomes necessary. Where’s your brother?”