I have to confess to never having been camping in my life – I LOVE the outdoors and being outside. I can easily spend an entire day outside, hiking and enjoying nature, but I need indoor plumbing and somewhere to plug in my hair dryer so yeah, no camping. Given that, and the fact that 85% of this story is set in the wilderness, I tried to be a little vague in certain instances so as not to make a complete fool of myself in front of people who DO know a thing or two about camping and surviving in the wilderness. James Smith had very graciously offered to read this before I posted it and let me know where I went astray and give me advice on how to do some rewrites, however I've come to realize that with real life interfering and being transferred to a new department at work that is going to require almost two months of intense training, I am not going to have time to do any writing, or rewriting, for a very long time. So, I'm just going to go ahead and post this as is. I apologize in advance for any errors in what it actually takes to survive for a couple of days in the woods. Feel free to send me a PM with constructive criticism and helpful hints – I can always use them for future stories. And thank you again, James, for the offer; it was very much appreciated!
Seven-year-old Jamie Bingham lay on the cot next to his brother, Ford, and stared out the window on the opposite wall. Gazing out at the stars calmed the boy, allowing his imagination to wander. Tonight he was counting the stars, making a wish on the brightest ones; a wish that he and his brother would soon be home again.
While they hadn't been mistreated by their captors, the boy was still afraid of the men who never smiled and carried the big guns. More than anything, he wanted to be home in his own bedroom surrounded by his own toys, knowing his mommy and daddy were right down the hall. Maybe if he wished really hard, it might happen tonight. As Jamie tried to muster all the hope he could manage, a large, black shape floated silently past the window.
"Ford!" he whispered harshly. "Did you see that?" Scrambling to the other side of the room, he dragged a chair to the window and climbed up peering out into the night.
"See what?" his ten-year-old brother asked.
"A big… thing… just flew by the window!" Jamie gasped and bounced on the chair impatiently. "It was a parachute! LOOK! There's another one!" He turned and waved his brother over. "I bet they're here to rescue us! I wished really, really hard this time!"
Ford sighed and gently coaxed his younger brother off the chair. "Maybe." He guided the blonde boy back to the cot. "Or it could be the people who kidnapped us practicing or something. Come lay down and I'll read to you some more."
Jamie scowled at his brother, not wanting Ford to dash his hopes of rescue – again. Stopping halfway across the room, he crossed his arms over his chest and stared at Ford. "I don't want you to read to me! I wanna go home!" Defiant, he stamped his foot for good measure.
"So do I, but it might not be tonight."
"But it could be!" Jamie was petulant. "You don't know absolutely, positively, cross your heart and hope to die for sure that it won't be tonight." Suddenly the small boy's resolve crumbled and his lower lip began to tremble. "I wanna go home." Hot tears burned his eyes and rolled down his cheeks. "When are we gonna go home?"
Through blurred vision, Jamie saw his brother return to his side. He felt a comforting arm around his shoulders as Ford led him back to the cot. They sat down, side by side and Jamie snuggled close to his brother. Sniffling, he wiped the sleeve of his shirt across his nose and swiped at his eyes.
"I'm not crying," his voice wavered. "Only babies cry and I'm not a baby.
"I know you're not." Ford hugged him a little tighter. "But can you stay right here next to me? It makes me feel better."
"Well… okay." The younger boy cuddled against his older brother.
Jamie listened half-heartedly to his brother reading from one of the books their captors had given them. He strained to hear if there were any unusual noises outside the window or the locked door. By the time Ford had reached the end of the book, Jamie's hope had also reached an end.
"Guess we won't be rescued tonight." He willed the burning sensation in his eyes to go away.
Ford's voice was soft. "Maybe tomorrow." He turned off the lamp on the table, lay down on the cot and pulled Jamie close to him.
"Maybe." Jamie curled up between the wall and Ford. Closing his eyes, he silently warned the monsters away, knowing he was safe and protected in the shadow of his big brother.
Frank Hardy crouched in the underbrush, his 6'1" frame protesting the cramped position. As his deep brown eyes continually swept the foreboding mansion and grounds in front of him, he thought back to the series of events that landed him here.
Three days earlier the F.B.I had contacted Fenton Hardy, requesting the help of Hardy and Sons Investigations on a very sensitive matter. Forrest Bingham, the key witness in the government's case against one of the largest crime families on the East Coast, was scheduled to testify in a few days. His wife and two young sons had been placed in protective custody by the government but somehow, members of the crime family had managed to slip past all the security measures and kidnap his sons. Bingham had received a message that as long as he took the stand and did not implicate the family in any way, his sons would be returned unharmed. If, however, he testified as planned, bringing down the crime family's operations in the process, his sons would be killed. The government had wanted to change the date of his testimony until they could locate and rescue the boys, but Bingham had refused, knowing if the date were changed his sons would be killed immediately.
After much pleading and prodding he agreed to testify, but only if certain conditions were met, the first being that Fenton Hardy arrange a safe house for his family and take charge of their safety with no interference from the government whatsoever. Bingham was certain he knew where his sons were being held and was insistent that he would share that information with Fenton on the condition that the Hardys use it to rescue his sons and bring them to the safe house where his wife would be waiting for them. His final stipulation was that the Hardys guard his family until his testimony was complete and they were all in the Witness Protection Program. Reluctantly, the agent in charge had called in the Hardys to meet Bingham's demands.
Frank smiled as he recalled the first meeting with Forrest Bingham when he had briefed them on his two sons. The picture he'd given them showed ten-year-old Ford Bingham with dark brown hair and matching eyes framed by wire-rimmed glasses, who was described by his father as quiet, intelligent, thoughtful and fiercely protective of his younger brother. Seven-year-old Jamie had blonde hair, mischievous blue eyes and an infectious smile.
"All boy." Forrest Bingham had said with a wistful smile.
Glancing to his right at his own brother, Frank couldn't help but be a little awed at the similarities once again. Twenty-four-year old, blue-eyed Joe Hardy was also watching the imposing structure they were preparing to infiltrate.
'All boy,' Frank thought noting the tiny smile on his brother's face despite the danger that awaited them. 'Still.' Frank checked the luminous dial on his watch. "Ready?" he asked quietly.
Joe tugged on the dark baseball cap covering his blonde hair and grinned. "Let's go."
The brothers silently made their way towards the first building, hugging the cement wall that surrounded the sprawling compound. Forrest Bingham had attended enough meetings here to give the Hardys a good description of the complex. He was certain his sons were being held in the building that housed the security offices rather than the house itself.
As they got closer to the building, Frank signaled Joe to stop. Staring at the structure, Frank visualized the layout in his mind, trying to get his bearings. His eyes ran the length of the two story building coming to a stop on a door at the end closest to them. Nodding to himself, Frank began moving forward again. When they were directly opposite the door, Frank sprinted across the expanse of grass and flattened himself against the building. Seconds later, Joe was beside him. While Joe kept watch, Frank disabled the door's alarm and then nodded at his brother.
Dropping to his knees, Joe pulled a small case from his pocket, unzipped it and pulled out a slim piece of metal. Frank held a penlight as Joe expertly worked the lock, flashing a triumphant grin when he heard a 'pop'. Returning the lock pick kit to his pocket, Joe stood and opened the door a crack. Peering inside, he saw nothing but a long empty corridor. Pushing it open a little further, he slipped inside with Frank right behind him.
Frank immediately looked up, his eyes searching the ceiling. He spotted the vent for the heating and air conditioning duct a few feet away. Moving forward, he stopped directly underneath it. Joe silently appeared next to him and stared up at the grate.
"Flip ya for it," he murmured hopefully.
"Forget it," Frank chuckled. "You're stronger. Give me a boost."
Joe huffed and rolled his eyes but laced his fingers together nonetheless. Frank placed one foot in Joe's hands and, using the floor for additional leverage, pushed himself upward. Joe grunted but held steady as Frank reached up and pushed the grate up and to the side. Putting both arms through the opening, he nudged Joe who boosted him up and into the duct. Getting his upper body through the small rectangle, Frank pulled himself up and into the duct. Turning around in the claustrophobically small space, he reached one arm back down through the opening. Joe bent his knees and jumped, propelling himself upwards. He grabbed Frank's outstretched arm with one hand and grasped the edge of the opening with the other. With Frank's assistance, he tumbled through the opening and whacked his head on the top of the ductwork with a dull thud.
"Graceful, aren't ya?" Frank laughed softly as he slid the grate back into place. Joe scowled and rubbed his head. "This way," Frank whispered and started crawling through the small, dusty passageway.
For several minutes the brothers crawled along the cramped space, stopping once when two security guards passed right below them. Frank could so clearly hear what they were saying that he actually held his breath. Even then he was almost afraid they might hear his heart beating. When their voices and footsteps finally faded away and there was nothing but silence, he began moving again. After another series of twists and turns Frank suddenly stopped abruptly, causing Joe to run into him. Frank rolled his eyes and glared over his shoulder at Joe who shrugged an apology.
Frank hovered over the grate, listening intently. Hearing no sounds from the hall below, he carefully lifted the grate and poked his head out. Scanning the hall, he saw no one and dropped down to the floor without making a sound. Joe quickly followed and immediately crouched down. Frank climbed onto his shoulders and Joe slowly stood up.
"Man, you need to lose a few pounds," he cracked as Frank slid the grate back into place.
"Maybe you need to lift a few more," Frank countered as he slid off Joe's shoulders and back to solid ground. Jerking his head towards a door at the end of the hall he motioned Joe to follow. Opening the door a crack, Frank listened for a moment and then pulled the door open. He and Joe entered the stairwell and quickly climbed to the second floor. Once more Frank cautiously opened the door and made sure there was no one in the hall before entering. Confidently, he strode to the second door on the right and stopped directly in front of it. "This one," he said softly.
"You sure about that?" Joe teased.
"Just open it," Frank muttered.
Dropping to his knees, Joe pulled out his lock pick kit and set to work while Frank hovered behind him, constantly scanning the hall.
'So far, so good.' He hoped their luck would hold out until they had accomplished the first part of their mission and were safely off the compound.