Joe Hardy turned his head a couple of times then sat up quickly, gasping for breath. His eyes frantically searched his surroundings, finally coming to rest on the still figure of his eighteen year old brother.
Frank must have sensed Joe's gaze for he awoke, his soulful brown eyes clashing with Joe's intense blue ones. "Easy, baby brother," Frank said, pulling his six foot one inch frame from the chair he had been vacating. "It's over," he soothed Joe, moving to stand by the bedside and ease him back onto his pillow. "You're safe now," he added, pushing a lock of Joe's blond hair from his eyes.
"Callie?" the name came unbidden to Joe's lips but even so, no sound came out.
"She's fine," Frank said, guessing what Joe was trying to say. "She escaped and met us on the highway when we were looking for you."
Frank hit the call button above Joe's head. "Get Dr. Bates in here," he ordered, knowing he was on the premises because he had just been in to check on Joe twenty minutes ago.
"I...I'm thirsty," Joe mouthed but Frank didn't understand him. He just grew more concerned when he realized Joe couldn't speak. Joe cupped his hand and held it up to his lips, tipping it to indicate he needed a drink.
Frank nodded. "Sure, little brother," he said, reaching for a pitcher of ice water and a cup by Joe's bedside. He poured Joe a cup and handed it to him as Dr. Bates entered the room.
A man of medium build, he came no higher than Frank's shoulder as he came to stand beside him. "And how are you feeling today?" Dr. Bates inquired, his green eyes twinkling behind his wire framed glasses as he gazed down at Joe.
Joe finished his water before trying to reply. "Weak," Joe tried to say, but the word never made it.
"There's something wrong with your throat?" Dr. Bates asked, his eyes troubled as he pulled a penlight from his shirt pocket. "Open up and let's have a look," he ordered, turning the light on.
Joe opened his mouth as wide as he could and stuck out his tongue not closing it until the doctor had turned off the light. "I don't see the problem," Dr. Bates said, turning to face Frank. "We will..."
Joe had tried to get their attention by shaking his head but the two were looking at each other and not him so Joe grabbed Dr. Bates' sleeve and tugged on it a bit timidly to gain his attention. Dr. Bates broke off speaking when he felt Joe's tug. "What is it?" Dr. Bates asked Joe.
Joe held up a hand to his throat and curled his fingers to indicate a needle had been injected into it. "Someone gave you a shot in your throat?" Frank asked in disbelief.
Joe held up four fingers then five and shrugged. "All in your throat?" Dr. Bates asked, his face going pale. Joe nodded. "Do you feel up to some tests?" he asked. Again, Joe nodded.
Dr. Bates turned to Frank. "Why don't you go and call your parents while I try and see how much damage there is?" he suggested, taking Frank's arm and leading him away from Joe.
"Do you have any idea what they gave him?" Frank hissed as he was led out of the room.
"No, I don't," Dr. Bates admitted. "But I'm not going to sugar coat this. If he has had more than a few injections, then the damage to his vocal chords could be severe; perhaps even permanent. No matter what they gave him."
Frank went to the nearest pay phone while Dr. Bates went to the nurse's station and ordered the tests for Joe. An orderly with brown hair arrived in Joe's room as Frank returned. "I can push him," Frank offered after Joe had been helped into a wheelchair.
Joe was still very weak from his recent ordeal at the hands of a santanic cult who had prepped him for sacrifice for weeks. He had been starved and given a large amount of wine which had pushed him into a diabetic coma. The IV's he had received to control his sugar level had worked and his levels were once again normal without need for any more medication. However, he had long way to go before making a full recovery.
"Sorry," the man replied. "You won't be allowed in the lab. You can wait here," he told Frank, rolling Joe out of the room. Frank scowled as he watched them leave and sat back down.
As Frank waited he thought back to the events which had led them here. He had just graduated from high school and started the summer session at Bayport University. He had thought his brother was a counselor at a boys' camp for the summer but his dad had paid him a surprise visit only to find out Joe had never arrived at the camp. Instead, Joe had been abducted by a cult who had wanted to use him as a sacrifice.
Frank, Fenton Hardy, and the police had arrived in time to save Joe's life but not in time to rescue him from the pre-sacrifice rituals which he had been enduring for several weeks. Frank had dropped out of college to find Joe and after finding him, to care for him at the hospital. He still felt guilty because he hadn't been there for his brother. Had he been the kind of brother he should have been, Joe would never have taken up with Francessca Wyndham, or Angela Dasher as she was really known. It was Angela who had kidnapped Joe and delivered him into the cult's hands.
Frank sighed and ran a hand through his thick mane of brown hair,a sure sign he was bothered by something. He wondered if Joe would ever be able to forgive him? Oh, Joe hadn't said or done anything to imply he held it against Frank, but then, Frank thought, he hadn't had time. He had only been conscious for a few minutes and already he had been taken for tests to find out what other damage his stay with the cult had caused. Frank shuddered. So many problems and the psychological effects hadn't even been touched upon yet.
He stood up and strode over to look out the window. He could see his parents car in the parking lot and he looked around to see if they had entered the building yet. He spotted them just before they hit the walkway. His dad looked like he had aged ten years in the past few days. He had sat in on the interrogations at the police station. Frank had wanted to as well but his dad had flat out forbidden him to be present. Frank had no idea of what was said but he knew it must be terrible for his dad would come home, go straight to his room and cry. These were at the times when his mother had been at the hospital with Joe. He had no idea how his father reacted when she was home and he had been with his brother.
Mr. and Mrs. Hardy arrived in Joe's room a few minutes later. "How is he?" Mr. Hardy demanded of Frank as they entered the room.
"He can't talk," Frank told them, his brown eyes showing them how worried he was. "Those bastards gave him some injections in his throat."
"I know," Mr. Hardy said, lowering his head. "It was Thrimone-X. It paralyzes the vocal chords."
"You knew he wouldn't be able to talk!" Frank shouted in disbelief, his eyes going wide and his expression becoming thunderous.
"No, no," Mr. Hardy quickly denied. "The drug isn't supposed to be permanent but if he was given too many injections in a brief amount of time, they could be."
"And was he?" Frank demanded.
"I...I don't know," Mr. Hardy admitted. "Was he all right?" he asked, steering the conversation away from Joe's talking. "Did he let you near him? The doctor? Was he all right emotionally?"
"He seemed okay, but he wasn't conscious for very long," Frank replied. "But he did seem a bit afraid of Dr. Bates when he was trying to get his attention," he added thoughtfully.
"What did they do to Joe?" Mrs. Hardy demanded, looking at her husband. Her blue eyes clashed with his brown ones and he turned away, unable to face the scrutiny in her eyes.
"They fixed it so he couldn't speak and no one spoke to him," Mr. Hardy said, sitting down in the chair Frank had vacated before their arrival. "They bathed him daily in front of the congregation and starved him. His only sustenance was a glass of wine and a single grape each day right up until the last three days. They began giving him more wine then. One of the sect said it was to sweeten his blood so they could consume it."
"What else did they do to him?" Frank asked, knowing his dad was holding something back.
"Hello," said Dr. Bates as he entered the room. Mr. Hardy breathed a sigh of relief. Dr. Bates would never know how opportune his appearance had been.
"How is he?" Frank asked. "Is the damage permanent?"
"He isn't here?" Dr. Bates asked instead of answering Frank.
"Of course not," Frank replied, his stomach tightening into a multitude of knots. "The orderly took him away. He told me to wait here."
"What did the orderly look like?" Dr. Bates demanded.
"Why?" Frank countered, swallowing fearfully for he knew what the doctor was going to say.
"Because Joe wasn't in the lab," Dr. Bates answered. "I can't find him anywhere."