A/N: Well, good news/bad news. When I said at the beginning of the last chapter that there were two chapters left, that was including the last chapter! LOL! Which makes this the final chapter.
I cannot give enough thanks to Phx, TraSan, Polaris, Miss Fenway, MissMe113, Helen, SurrealEpiphany, Natedawg, whashaza, bookworm002, lexifisher, Duckyumbrella, Tifal55, nicoleylewis, jillynn1975, daisymall13, asnlfan101, emachinescat, Cheryl, KatSol (um… where's your next chapter????), catti-dono, josie and tiger lily roar for your supportive, encouraging and downright funny comments throughout this story. There were times you all had me laughing out loud. :D THANK YOU!!
For those who asked, yes I do have another story to follow this one. And for those who asked, no it does not involve Keith Rashman going after Frank. :p Sorry! LOL! It is the next story in this series but we are moving on… for now, anyway. ;-)
Again thank you SO MUCH to everyone who reviewed as well as everyone who put this story on their favorites and/or story alerts and to everyone who read it. I hope you all enjoyed it!
I'd like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas (or Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Winter Solstice or Happy whatever holiday you enjoy celebrating!) and a very, VERY Happy New Year!
Sitting in the courtroom waiting for Keith Rashman to arrive, Frank felt the tension grow with each passing minute. It had occurred to him on the drive over that if Rashman had already been informed of his brother's death and held Frank responsible, his best chance for revenge would be right here in the courtroom. Frank was absolutely certain Rashman would be found guilty today and immediately transported to the federal penitentiary. Once there, his chances of escape would be slim and none.
As the door at the back corner of the room opened, Frank felt as if his every nerve was open and exposed. He kept his eyes glued to Keith Rashman and the armed guards who flanked him, looking for anything that could be considered even remotely suspicious. Just when he thought he would snap, Frank caught the smirk Rashman threw at him.
Once Rashman knew Frank had seen him, he turned his hateful glare on Joe as he had every day since the beginning of the trial. For the first time and only time, Frank was thrilled to see Rashman looking at Joe with the same unabashed hatred.
'He doesn't know. They haven't told him yet.' Frank let out an audible sigh of relief.
The simple fact that Keith Rashman had the same cocky attitude he'd displayed since day one told Frank he had no idea his brother was even dead, let alone the circumstances surrounding it. Frank raised his eyes upwards. 'Thank you.'
Feeling some of the tension drain away, Frank watched as the jurors filed into the room looking decidedly impassive and then stood as the judge entered the courtroom. Seeing Joe fidgeting nervously, Frank gave him a quick, comforting pat on the back as they sat down again.
'Only a few more minutes, bro,' Frank thought, wishing Joe could read his mind, 'then you can start putting this whole thing behind you.'
Quickly dispensing with the opening formalities of declaring court now in session, the judge asked the foreman of the jury if they'd reached a verdict. Getting an affirmative response, the bailiff retrieved a piece of paper from the foreman and handed it to the judge. After reading the verdicts to himself the judge returned the paper to the foreman, requesting he officially announce the verdicts.
"On the count of carrying a concealed weapon, we the jury find the defendant, Keith Richard Rashman, guilty as charged."
Joe closed his eyes, surprised to find he was shaking. 'Please, please let them all be guilty.'
"On the charge of terroristic threatening," the foreman continued, "we find the defendant guilty as charged."
Joe allowed himself a small measure of hope.
"On the charge of aggravated assault, we find the defendant guilty as charged."
And so it went – kidnapping, assault and battery, assault with a deadly weapon, attempted murder – with the jury concluding that Keith Rashman was guilty on every single count. By the time the foreman had finished reading off the litany of charges and verdicts, Vanessa, Laura and Callie were crying tears of joy and relief. Joe finally allowed himself to believe the man who had haunted his dreams for the past six months might finally be put to rest. Even Fenton Hardy found himself wiping away a tear. Only Frank noticed the absolute hatred Rashman had displayed for Joe from the outset of the trial had grown immeasurably.
As the judge declared the trial over and entered his chambers, Joe felt an overwhelming sense of relief. Stepping out into the aisle next to Vanessa, he stopped to wait for Frank, Callie and his parents. Looking up, Joe found himself staring into the cold, hard eyes of Keith Rashman. He shivered involuntarily hoping Rashman didn't see it, when Joe's vision of the man who almost tortured him to death was suddenly obscured.
Seeing the silent exchange between Rashman and Joe, Frank had stepped in front of his younger brother completely blocking him from Rashman's line of sight. Frank stared at the man who tried to murder his only brother. The symbolic message he sent was not lost on Rashman.
If you want my brother, you have to go through me first...
Almost imperceptibly Rashman nodded, a tight smile gracing his lips.
I accept your challenge...
Frank never moved, waiting until Rashman had been escorted from the courtroom before he stepped out of the way, satisfied that Joe never saw the hatred that had been directed squarely at him. Turning around, Frank draped one arm around Joe and the other around Vanessa. Slowly he looked first as his father, then his mother and finally Callie.
"Shall we go?" he said with a smile. "I believe we still have a birthday to celebrate!"