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CHAPTER LIST

INTRODUCTION

THE STORY

 

THE STORY

FENTON

This recent failure of ours to apprehend Joe and Emma’s kidnapper reminds me of my first failure as a private investigator. It galls me these criminals got away with the million dollars in ransom, but it pales in comparison with the time another kidnapping nearly resulted in the loss of something infinitely more precious: the life of one of my children!

That is where a lot of my parental guilt tripping stems from, I think, as I never used to be so strict with the kids or paranoid about safety before it happened. Sam and I only ever used our guns when strictly necessary up until this one case, but since then, we’ve carried them almost everywhere (except at home).

I‘ve seen Joe head off to the range to practise two days in a row now, but this morning, Frank went with him and I get the feeling that they’ll be keeping their side-arms with them more often than not in future, just like Sam and I after the Southport smuggling case…

Let me take you back fifteen years into my past: I was 32 years old and had been in business with Sam nearly five years at this stage.

Laura and I had been married for nearly nine as Frank, our eldest, was seven, just about to turn eight in July and it was late May, just before Memorial Day weekend, rapidly approaching the end of the school year. The twins were six and two-thirds (very important at that age, those two-thirds!).

Sam and I had been working with the police, the DEA, the Coast Guard and our C.I.s to investigate and infiltrate one of the larger smuggling rings in the North-eastern U.S., which we had discovered had been working a lot of its operations out of Bayport and nearby Southport.

At Easter we had discovered that the top guy went by the code name of Janus and that he was proving to be quite adept at shielding himself from the lower tiers of his organization, as this was all we knew after several months of solid investigating.

“Well, it’s still more than we knew three months ago, Fenton!” admitted Ezra Collig, the recently appointed Chief of the Bayport Police, who was still coming to grips with being in charge of the entire police department after five years of being Captain of the Crimes Against Persons division. He exchanged a meaningful look with Lieutenant Conner “Con” Riley, who is one of my best friends from the Police Academy. He transferred here to Bayport a few years ago when Sam and I went private and moved out here from the City.

We are all former NYPD, but Sam and I were in the Marines together (we went to Iraq and did our tour of duty there). We met Con at the Police Academy and became fast friends. Sam and Con are my children’s godparents as well as being my two best friends.

Two months later, our task force was closing in on Janus, as I had gone undercover and infiltrated the ring. Then, the unthinkable happened: my cover was blown and my family was threatened.

Janus had one of his crews hijack an entire school bus full of kids just to get at my three precious offspring, Frank, Emma and Joey.

I remember Ezra calling me personally and, when Sam and I got there, it took Sam and Con to hold onto me while the bus driver reported that it was only my children that had been stolen by the gang of masked men with guns who had set up the roadblock.

[From the school bus driver’s witness statement:]

We got to the bend in Shore Road and there was a large SUV blocking the road across both lanes, so I carefully slowed to a stop and another large SUV pulled up behind us. About a dozen men wearing ski masks and toting large guns piled out of the two vehicles and surrounded the bus. Two of them forced their way onto the bus by prying the door open and another two pried open the emergency door at the back and climbed in.

They threatened the children and me with their guns. The lead guy demanded to know which children were Mr Hardy’s, saying “I want Frank, Emma and Joseph Hardy. The rest of you will be free to go once we have what we want.”

The guy pointed his gun at Biff Hooper, who was sitting in the third seat on the left with Joe Hardy right next to him. I think the guy must have been given general descriptions of the three kids: one blond, blue-eyed little boy, one red-haired, green-eyed little girl and one dark-haired, brown-eyed boy who looks like a miniature version of his father, if you’ll pardon my saying so, but the resemblance is utterly unmistakable.  [Aside: I clearly remember that the driver met my desperate gaze with a look of sympathy at this point] 

“Which one of you is Joseph Hardy?” the gunman asked Biff Hooper. Both boys remained silent and the man cocked the gun at Biff. “I won’t ask again!” he threatened them.

“You leave my friend alone!” Frank Hardy yelled from halfway towards the back of the bus. Frank got up from where he was sitting next to Chet Morton and strode angrily towards the man aiming a gun at his brother’s good friend.

“Well, aren’t you just a chip off the old block? You really do look like your old man, kid!” The gunman grabbed Frank by the arm and pulled him towards his colleague, who still had his gun pointed at me. I’ll never forget that look of fear and alarm on Frank’s face when the masked man seized him.

The lead gunman looked back towards the two guys at the back. One of them pointed at Emma Hardy with her bright red Pippi Longstocking braids, who was sitting by the window on the left, next to Iola Morton who had two long, dark braids. They were just across the aisle from where their brothers had been sitting together.

The two guys at the front took Frank by an arm each and started to drag him off the bus, while one of the guys at the back reached over Iola and lifted Emma straight off the bench. The girls screamed and Joe Hardy lost his temper and leapt on the main guy, pummelling him and yelling: “Leave my brother and sister alone you big bullies!”

Next thing I know, they’ve all got off the bus and the men are carrying all three kids, who were kicking and fighting, biting and yelling like little demons – you taught them well, Mr Hardy – if we had been anywhere less isolated, they certainly would have attracted plenty of attention. I’m sorry I couldn’t do more to stop those guys, but I had a whole bus of screaming, crying, terrified children to think of.

They put the Hardy kids in one of SUVs and drove off. I finally remembered that I have a cell phone and called 9-1-1 to report the hijacking and kidnapping. The rest you know. Parents are coming to collect their kids as I called the Bayport Elementary School principal, Mr Bainbridge, next and he activated the emergency phone tree.

[End of statement]

I remember being rigid with shock, listening to the guy give his statement to one of the other police officers at the scene. Another officer was interviewing the Morton children as Catherine and Chester had arrived first to collect them and take them home.

Laura arrived with Georgia Hooper, and I recall holding her tightly in my arms while Ezra filled me in on what they knew so far. Georgia stood with Biff while Con took the boy’s statement. He said how brave Frank and Joey were when the men with big guns were threatening the other children.

“Why did the bad men with the guns want my best friends, Mr Hardy? Do they know you? They said Frank looks just like you and then they took him and snatched Emma out of her seat, then Joey jumped on the bad man who was taking Frank away. The bad man held Joey on his shoulder and followed the other guy who lifted Frank out of the bus. The two men at the back of the bus left with one of them carrying Emma out the emergency door and the last one off the bus slammed the door shut.” Biff Hooper looked up at me expectantly, his big blue eyes hopeful in his certainty that I would go rescue my children from the bad men.

“The bad men want me to not arrest them, Biff. They took Frank, Emma and Joey to make me stop investigating them. Sam and the police are going to help me find Frank, Emma and Joey so we can arrest the bad men who took them. I promise,” I told the earnest young boy who reminded me so much of my youngest child – who also happened to be Biff’s best friend.

He and the Morton children were so calm and precise remembering what they could about the masked men who had taken their friends that I recollect being quite impressed with the clarity of their witness statements. They hadn’t started to cry when the bad men with guns came on the bus, but then neither had my own children who were sitting right next to them, though the girls had been the most scared and had been holding onto each other when Emma was snatched away.

I recall one of the other fathers who had come to collect his own child shouting that I shouldn’t put my kids in regular school and endanger other people’s children like this. To which Chester Morton, along with the school principal, leapt to my defence, coolly retorting that my children were just as entitled to an education as everyone else’s and if Mr. Cooper wasn’t happy with allowing Sheldon to go to the same school as a detective or a farmer’s kids, then he was welcome to go enrol him at Bay Crest Primary, the local private school. Laura and I cast grateful glances at Chester and also Mr Bainbridge, the principal.

I took Laura home. Sam drove Georgia and Biff home. The Mortons finally took their children home. Laura wept on my shoulder as we stood in the middle of my office waiting for the dreaded phone call when the threats would come and hopefully we would get to speak to at least one of our children.

It was nearly midnight by the time the call finally came. Sam was with me in my office and his wife, Ethel, was in the kitchen with Laura and Gertrude. Con had brought the FBI tech guys over earlier in the evening and they had set up the latest in tracing and recording equipment on all the phones in the house. We had allowed the FBI to take over our dining room.

“Listen Hardy, you drop this investigation, and you send those Feds packing, or we start sending you back your children one little piece at a time. As proof of our seriousness in this regard, we’ve left a little present just outside your front door. I suggest you go look right away. The clock is ticking…we’re watching you!”

Laura raced to the front door, yanked it open and screamed. I was right behind her and I will never forget that sound or the sight indelibly etched into my brain along with it: my baby girl, stabbed multiple times, lying bleeding to death on the front porch of her own home.

“Sam, call the hospital!” Con ordered, taking charge. He had me and Laura keep pressure on Emma’s wounds in the back seat of his patrol car while he drove with siren blaring and lights flashing as quickly as he could to the ER at Bayport General. There would have been no time for an ambulance. Emma would have died right there at the house if Con hadn’t been there and acted so quickly. As it was, she flat-lined three times in surgery as her blood pressure was already so low from the severe blood loss of the multiple stab wounds.

While I paced anxiously in the small sitting room that one of the nurses had put us in after filling in all the required forms, Laura sat quietly in shock on the sofa. Ethel sat with her, having followed us in Sam’s car, and Sam talked on his cell to Con as quietly as possible in one corner.

Two hours later, the crime scene guys had finished going over the entire front of the house, the path and the lawn. Collig had sent officers to interview the neighbours asking if anyone had seen anything suspicious, but as it was such an ungodly hour, there had been nobody up and about to notice anything suspicious.

Worst night of my life: my daughter was dying and both my young sons were still missing, kidnapped by the very criminals Sam and I had been working so tirelessly to arrest. I took the phone from Sam and told Con to ask the FBI to leave my house immediately. My persistence had nearly gotten Emma killed, so I wasn’t about to give the kidnappers cause to hurt Frank or Joe! Laura would never forgive me – I’d never forgive myself if anything happened to my boys!

“I want them gone now, Con. Emma nearly died tonight and I won’t take any chances that Janus’ men will hurt Frank or Joe,” I ordered my friend angrily. Sam put a comforting hand on my shoulder and I lifted my eyes to heaven, praying God to let my daughter live and to help me get my boys back unharmed.

As it turned out, Laura spent a tense five days by our daughter’s bedside. Emma lapsed into a coma after surgery, so we had no idea if she would ever wake up. Meanwhile, Sam was out discretely chasing down leads while I worked in my study, tirelessly compiling and going through everything we had discovered up until the kidnapping. I made a copy of my files and turned them over to the task force. I locked my notes away in the bottom drawer of my filing cabinet under UNSOLVED.

I had my suspicions as to the real identity of Janus, but the deal was that I dropped the case. Janus took a week to relocate his most lucrative branches of operations: human trafficking and arms smuggling. The DEA had shut down most of his drug smuggling operations already, besides, why should he bother to compete with the cartels when he could keep his other more profitable ventures safe? The ATF were nowhere near as close as Sam and I had gotten, but then he had hit us where it hurt the most: family. There was nothing Sam and I weren’t prepared to do to save my boys, not after what Janus’ men did to Emma.

I had been allowed to speak to my sons the day after the kidnapping, as proof of life. I had arrived home from the hospital that morning to find a photo in the mailbox of Frank and Joe bound and gagged in the back of an SUV. I could see the terror in their brown and blue eyes, so I went straight into my office after re-setting the alarm. Gertrude had joined Laura in her vigil at the hospital, so I was alone in the house. Ethel had taken Sam home to get some sleep.

I stared at the picture and saw again in my mind’s eye my baby girl lying on our front porch in a pool of her own blood, her pale green sundress stained crimson and her long, fiery red hair fanned out around her head. I wept for several minutes, relieving some of the emotional overload which had built up since the previous afternoon. I was terrified that the career I loved and excelled at was about to cost me three of the people I loved more than life itself: Frank, Emma and Joe!

Then the phone rang, signalling the beginning of the end, of this nightmare, of this case!

“Daddy? We want to come home!”

“Frank, are you okay? Have they hurt you or Joey?”

“I’m scared, Daddy. They haven’t hurt me or Joey, but the bad men said they had to hurt Emma so that you would do what they said.”

“It’ll be okay, Frank. Mommy and I found Emma and Uncle Con took us in his police car to the hospital really fast so the doctors were able to help your sister. She’s sleeping now at the hospital and Mommy is there with her.”

“Daddy, is Emma really going to be okay? I can’t find her.” Joey asked quietly.

“I hope so, baby. She needs lots of sleep right now so she can feel much better when she wakes up.”

“How touching, Hardy. Drop the case. I think I’ve proved my point, or do I need to repeat the lesson with one of your sons?” Janus demanded.

“No! I’m dropping the case and so is Sam Radley. Now how do I get my sons back?” I pleaded with the criminal mastermind.

“Stay out of my way for a week, Hardy, and then I’ll tell you and Radley where you can find your boys. I won’t harm them. They’re far too valuable a commodity. Your lovely little Golden Boy and the one who is virtually a miniature replica of you, Frankie Boy! If you break your word, I can guarantee that you will never see either of them again! They’ll fetch a fine price at auction if you or Radley attempt to pursue me. I’m a man of my word. You leave me alone and I will let you have your boys back unharmed. I’m glad your little girl didn’t die, Hardy; she’s quite a little jewel too, with those beautiful emerald-green eyes!”

 “You have my word, but if you break yours and cause any further harm to my family, then Sam and I will hunt you to the ends of the earth if we have to. Just so we understand each other, Janus. Is that clear?”

“Like crystal, Fenton, but I’ve given my word. I’m a man of honor.”

And just like that, the deal was made. Sam and I had our first incomplete, unresolved case, but the cost of success would have been far too high! My children were one of the few things that neither of us would ever sacrifice to solve a case; our wives and my sister were the others. We would possibly sacrifice our own lives, but never those of our loved ones! Janus got me between a rock and a hard place, but I knew that was because we had come far too close to positively identifying him.

A week later, Sam and I went and got the boys from the warehouse where they had been kept prisoner. The galling part was that we had suspected that was where Frank and Joe were being held, but without proof, the police couldn’t get a warrant to raid the place, so we were forced to abide by the deal I had made. It was too dangerous to attempt to mount a rescue all on our own. We probably would have gotten both ourselves and the boys killed, and we weren’t prepared to take that chance.

We took the boys straight to the hospital to get them checked out. They had been heavily sedated before the criminals finished vacating the building, so they were still groggy as Sam and I carried them to the car. I sat in the back holding my sons while Sam drove quickly, but carefully to the hospital.

Sam went and sat with Emma, who had been recovering quite well after finally waking up a couple of days earlier, while Laura and Gertrude came rushing out to see the boys. I was relieved to have my family back in one piece. Laura came over and kissed me quite soundly, once she was done hugging Frank and Joe. The boys were obviously starting to feel better, as they both looked bemused at our public display of parental affection and Joey interrupted quite loudly as I continued to kiss my wife for several more minutes. “Daaaaad! Can we go and see Emma now, pleeease?” That’s my boy! Impatient as always...

It would be another ten years or so before my path crossed that of Janus again. That was the second time anyone would take all three of my children. Janus came right into our house this time and gloated while I was helpless, tied to one of the dining room chairs and he took Joe from right under my nose. Laura was away, but it was all over by the time she made it home a few days later. It was a very different outcome this time as Janus was led away in handcuffs. I had the satisfaction of seeing him arrested by Con. He had made it personal by coming into my home to steal my son!

It was exactly who Sam and I suspected it was all that time and the trial caused an international sensation. A highly respected business figure turned criminal mastermind was caught red-handed terrorising the children of renowned private investigator, Fenton Hardy! It may have gone UNSOLVED fifteen years earlier, but four years ago, we finally closed it.

Sometimes failure is only a temporary setback, so I’m hopeful that one day we’re going to get this “Red” King and his cohorts…

 

THE END

Author’s note: This one-shot story is narrated by Fenton, who is relating this story after chapter 10 of The Hardy Affair but before the events of Chapter 16 take place.

 

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The Hardy Boys belong to Simon and Schuster and the Stratemeyer Foundation. The Hardy Boys Fan Fiction author(s) of the Hardy Detective Agency have just borrowed them for an adventure or two. The author(s) promise to give the boys back when they are done with them. The authors do claim copyright to any original characters in their stories. Please do not borrow original characters without express permission of the author(s) in question.