NOTE: This is based on the TV universe, where I assume that the boy's mother is deceased. I also realize that in spots, this sort of sounds like my last fic, but I think I'm still finding my way here and I think this is a much better story than A Cavern Dark Enough. I'm just so excited with how the story has been flowing. I hope you're surprised by the twists and turns and I'd love to have your comments.

The Hardy Boys: House of Cards

"Where's your brother? We're going to miss our flight if we don't get going soon." Fenton Hardy set his suitcase down on the brightly colored, tiled floor right next to Joe's bag and his briefcase which he'd brought down earlier.

They'd all over slept but at least he and Joe had had time for breakfast and cup of coffee while Frank was yet to put in an appearance.

"I warned him not to stay out so late last night," Joe said as he headed up the sweeping staircase. "I was back here and in bed by eleven."

"Yes, you're the good son," said Fenton. "For a change. Now will you roust him please and tell him he has less than twenty minutes to get his act together."

"Will do," Joe called as he rounded the top of the stairs and disappeared down the long hall.

That was the Villa Rivera, long halls, tall ceilings, huge chandeliers and works of art that took up entire walls. And outside, it was lush gardens, an Olympic size swimming pool and an exquisite view of the ocean. It was paradise, for more reasons than Fenton could count but now they had to go, with the primary reason for his visit still undone.

"Carlos is bringing the car around," Marguerite Rivera said as she came around from a door under the stairs. "And Louise packed a lunch for the three of you, because she says airplane food is terrible." She handed Fenton a paper bag. She was a beautiful young woman of thirty, thick black hair that she wore lose around her shoulders and perpetually tan skin thanks to her heritage and a south of the border sun that never wanted to leave the sky.

"Has Louise ever been on a plane?"

"Never. As far as I know, she's never left the borders of this town. I think—" She was interrupted by galloping footsteps coming down the upstairs hall.

"He's not in his room," Joe called as soon as he was within sight of his father. "His bed hasn't even been slept in. Frank never came back last night!"

"Now hold on," Fenton said, always the voice of reason. "Maybe he got up early and made his bed. He could be out walking on the grounds or sneaking in one last swim."

"No way. His bed was made by an expert, sharp corners and perfect folds. Frank didn't do that." Joe reached the bottom step then stopped there so he had an inch on his father. "I'm telling you, he didn't sleep in that bed. Something's happened to him."

"You're jumping to conclusions," Fenton replied with a little less confidence than before. "I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation."

"He probably met a girl," said Marguerite.

"And what?" Joe cut in. "He spent the night with her? No. Not Frank."

Marguerite lifted an eyebrow in response but Joe wasn't having it.

"He's not going to sleep some girl he just met, he's not like that. And he certainly wouldn't leave us to worry about him and he especially wouldn't make us miss our flight."

Fenton frowned and shook his head, his own calm demeanor slipping slightly. "Joe's right. I've never known Frank to get swept away like that over a girl."

Marguerite's well-manicured eyebrow rose to an even higher arch. "And maybe he simply didn't feel comfortable calling his father to say I'm sleeping in someone else's bed tonight, I'll see you in the morning. Discussing your sex life with your family is tricky business." There was a sharp point at the end of that stick and Fenton felt the poke loud and clear.

A phone jangled somewhere deep in the house and a moment later the housekeeper appeared.

"Miss Marguerite, Captain Rivera is calling for you."

Victor Rivera was the chief of police and he was also Marguerite's uncle. A couple of years ago, he had helped Fenton locate a missing college student from Boston University. The boy's parents had hired Fenton, sure that their son was in dire danger but it turned out he simply wanted to get away from the pressures of home and school in favor of cold beers and fishing trips.

Right now, he hoped that he'd find an equally innocuous and ridiculous reason for his own son's disappearance.

"That's got to be about Frank," Joe said, worry lacing his tone, "It's too early in the morning for a social call."

He and Fenton followed Marguerite into the living room. She picked up the receiver on an ornate, old fashioned phone, one that would make it impossible for them to hear anything but her side of the conversation. To frustrate them even further, she spoke in Spanish that was too intricate and fast for Joe to pick out anything more than his brother's name.

The call lasted less than two minutes but it felt like time had ground to a halt. Joe even startled when the grandfather clock in the room chimed 9 times. They were going to miss their flight.

"Looks like Frank did get into some trouble," she told the Hardy's after hanging up. "Uncle Victor says a patrol car stopped Frank about twenty minutes ago. He was driving erratically and he was very agitated when they spoke to him."

"Agitated?" Fenton repeated, that didn't sound like his oldest at all. Frank was usually very calm and in control.

"The officers don't speak much English but they got that he'd been attacked, a mugging they figured or a carjacking gone wrong and that he was trying to find his way back here but he got lost. They're bringing him now."

Fenton sighed. "I don't know whether to be relieved they found him or more worried about what happened to him." He turned to Joe. "What I don't understand is why you boys split up last night?"

Good question. One that Joe had pondered for several hours before falling asleep in the wee hours of the morning. He shifted his gaze from his father to the intricate pattern on the living room carpet. "It was nothing. Frank wanted to stay longer at the club and I didn't, so I caught a cab back here."

It wasn't a lie but it wasn't the whole story either and Fenton knew it. He hit Joe with his, 'I'm still waiting for an answer' look which never failed to illicit the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

"We had a fight, but it was nothing. I sang with the band last night and Frank made a crack about it. I know he was joking but it rubbed me the wrong way and it just escalated from there. I don't know, he was in a weird mood and I just . . . " Joe sighed. The argument had gotten pretty heated but now he wished he could take it all back.

"Was he drinking?" asked Marguerite

"A little."

"Wait," Fenton snapped. "He was drinking and you left him with the keys to the car?"

"He had a couple of beers!" Joe shot back, voice rising in both volume and pitch. "I may be his brother but I'm not his keeper. He made that perfectly clear last night. He said he was sick of me always tagging around like we're joined at the hip or something."

"Frank said that?"

"Well, not in those words," Joe said, backpedaling a little. "But that's how it sounded, to me anyway." And it had hurt more than he wanted to admit. For as long as Joe could remember, he'd been at his brother's side. Even though they both had their own interests, they'd always found a way to share them. Frank surfed, Joe took pictures of the competition. Joe sang with the band and Frank. . . well, he always meant to listen even though 9 times out of 10 he was gone before the end of the set. Still, when you added up the hours, the two of them had spent more time together than apart and it was an arrangement that was fine with Joe.

Frank, on the other hand, was starting to get itchy. Most guys his age were off in college or starting families of their own. Joe couldn't really blame him for wanting some alone time, but he worried that it was just the first step toward a much bigger split.

"I should have stayed with him. Then this wouldn't be happening."

"We don't even know what happened yet, so don't beat yourself up."

They all tensed at the sound of the front door opening, but it turned out to be Carlos, the driver. In broken English, he reminded them that they had a flight to catch and Marguerite told him the trip was off.

Carlos didn't ask why. He simply nodded his understanding then left the room, only to return moments later with Frank and two police officers.

Frank looked like a man who had had a rough night. He'd gone out wearing a crisp white shirt, a jacket and sharply creased trousers. Now, the jacket was gone. The white shirt was dirty, wrinkled and splotched with greasy stains and his pants looked like they were wet down one side. His usually well-styled hair was windblown and tangled, his lip was cracked open and there was a dark bruise on his chin. But with all of that, it was his eyes that really told the story. The sparkling blue was buried beneath a glistening glaze.

"Dad."

Fenton met him half way and was as surprised as everyone when Frank threw his arms around him.

"I kept picturing your face, thinking about you having to tell Joe. . .I can't. . . I couldn't do anything. I couldn't save her." Frank stepped back from his father and there were tears running down his face. He reached out to Joe who had come in close then slipped his hand behind his brother's neck and pulled him to his shoulder in an awkward half hug. "I can't believe I'm standing here. They-" His words twisted into a choking cough.

"Easy, son. Let's take this a little slower, okay?" Fenton signaled for Joe to help him get Frank to the couch. He heard Marguerite speaking in Spanish to the officers and when he looked their way they were all gone.

"They killed her," Frank said into the air and then he found his focus again. "They were going to kill me, too but one of them didn't like it. He helped me get away but I couldn't save her."

Fenton pulled a footstool up so he could sit facing his son while Joe took the seat on the couch beside him.

"Tell us what happened. From the beginning. You were at the club," he prompted.

"Joe and I had a fight." Frank glanced at his brother but quickly turned his gaze back to the floor. "He left and I met this girl. . . well, I met her a couple of days ago at the beach. But she was at the club last night, Lisa. She's from Chicago and we started talking and later she asked me to drive her home." Frank swallowed hard which led to another short coughing spell.

"Here," Marguerite handed him a glass of water. She had also returned with a bowl of water and a washcloth which she set on the coffee table.

Frank's hand shook as he downed the water, the glass banging against his teeth in an uneven rhythm. With his right hand lifted, they could see that the cuff of his dress shirt was dotted with blood. It was the same for his other hand.

Gently, Fenton unbuttoned the left cuff then peeled back the sleeve to reveal a bloody, red welt around Frank's wrist.

Frank handed the empty glass back to Marguerite with one hand, while Fenton bathed the other wrist with cool water from the washcloth. "They tied me up. I struggled to get loose for hours but I couldn't."

"Let's back up. You left the club with Lisa," Fenton prompted softly. "You drove her home."

"Yeah. We drove along the coast road and she asked me to stop at this one spot. It was beautiful. This long stretch of empty beach. There was a full moon. The ocean sounded like it was breathing. We were just going to sit on the sand and enjoy it for a little while." Frank hesitated as Fenton held his chin and gently swabbed the cool, wet cloth over his face. "We um. . . " He lifted his hand to make his father stop. "We got lost in each other, you know. I didn't see the guy until he was on me. He stuck a gun in my back, made Lisa blindfold me and tie my hands. I didn't fight him. I figured he'd have to put the gun down to tie her hands and then I'd make a move. But he wasn't alone. As soon as he had control of me, the others showed up. Three of them, I think. They put us in a van and drove to a place a few minutes away. I don't where. It was cold and echoy. The floor was concrete, damp." Frank shifted on the couch as he ran his fingers through his tangled hair. When he brought his hand down, he set his eyes on Joe who looked like he was barely holding it together himself.

Too tough.

Frank shifted so he could look straight at his father and no one else.

"They took turns with her," he said, voice barely above a whisper. "I could hear it all. They wanted me to hear it all. That was part of the fun. She kept calling my name. Begging me to help her. To stop them." He shifted again, this time turning sideways on the couch away from all of the horrified looks. He stuck his thumbnail in his mouth and bit down on the edge. Fenton reached for him but Frank batted his hand away.

"She was screaming and the sound bounced around the building and it was like there were dozens of her all around the room. And then she was quiet. And one of the guys started freaking out; he was screaming at the other one that this wasn't part of the plan. He didn't sign up for murder. The other one laughed at him and said, 'well you're in it now and the sentence is the same for two as it is for one.'"

Again Fenton reached out and this time Frank didn't push him away.

"I guess I knew from the start that I wasn't ever going home but when I heard him say it. . . when I realized that Lisa was dead, so they had nothing to lose, I . . . " He swallowed hard and swiped at a his eyes with his sleeve. Fenton pushed another glass of water into his hands but he only got down a few sips. "Next thing I know I've got a gun to my head. I could smell it."

The couch cushions dipped. It was Joe, getting up and walking away.

"Then they all started arguing and one said that it would make things worse. I couldn't identify them and if they dumped Lisa's body there would be no proof. One of them even suggested that I might end up taking the fall for her murder. Young American in a foreign country. The last one to see her alive. Not a bad plan. Everyone at the club saw me leave with her."

Frank took a deep breath then shifted back around. Fenton was still perched on the edge of the footstool but Joe had moved to sit on the arm of the loveseat. Marguerite was sitting there and Joe had her hand clutched in his lap.

"They couldn't agree on what to do with me and so they decided to party instead. They drank and laughed with Lisa laying dead right in front of them." He looked down at himself then plucked at his ruined shirt with two fingers. "They insisted I join them for a couple of rounds." There was a new, dark, coldness to his voice as if he were no longer describing events he'd lived through but a tale he'd heard someone tell. "They all fell asleep eventually, or passed out and I knew it was my last chance to get away but I just couldn't break free. Then one of them came and got me. He didn't say anything, just dragged me back to the van. For all I knew he was taking me out to kill me, some place where he could easily dump my body when it was done. But he took me back to the beach then cut a couple of strands of the cord around my wrists so it frayed. It took me a little time to break through. Time for him to get away. I went back to the car and just sat there for a while, I didn't know what to do. It was daylight and I really just wanted to get back here but I got lost and frustrated. I think I cut off a cop car which is why they came after me."

"I'm glad they did," Marguerite said softly.

"We didn't know you weren't home until I went to wake you this morning," said Joe. "I should have checked sooner."

"Wouldn't have made a difference," said Frank. "Marguerite, I need to talk to your Uncle. We have to find out who did this. . . to Lisa."

"He'll be here soon. Why don't you go upstairs and get cleaned up in the meantime. Put on some fresh clothes and have some breakfast. You'll feel better."

Frank got to his feet but made no move to step away from the couch.

"Come on," said Joe. "I'll go with you."

That got him moving; right to the doorway then he turned back. "I feel like they've done this before. But without the murder. That was new and except for the one guy, I think they liked it. Which means they'll do it again."

"We'll catch them before that happens," said Fenton and as he finished the clock chimed.

"We missed our flight," Frank said flatly.

"Doesn't matter." Fenton stood and nearly followed the boys out of the room watching them until they had disappeared around the bend at the top of the steps then he went back into the living room and wandered aimlessly until Marguerite caught hold of him

"Breathe, Fenton."

He took a long, exaggerated breath but it did little to break up the tightness in his chest. "You have no idea how hard it was for me to sit so calmly and listen to all of that. I just wanted to scream and hug him and go out and find those bastards that did this to my son."

She moved closer then slid her hands up and over his shoulders kneading away at the knots there. "You did good. You kept your cool and that's what he needs right now."

"For sport, Ree. They tortured my son and killed that innocent girl for fun." He sounded like he was going to choke on the words. "Sick, sick people and can you imagine what Frank went through being held like that thinking he's going to die. I—" He looked down at her and then realized what he was saying. "Oh, Ree, I am a stupid man."

"No. That was a long time ago and my life has been amazing since. Especially lately."

He smiled slightly as he brought his hand up under her chin, after a quick glance toward the doorway, he set a gentle kiss on her lips. She responded with more than he was giving, pressing up to her toes to gain some height. She crossed her arms behind his neck, forcing him to stay close when she felt him start to pull away.

"Unhand that woman!"

They both startled, breaking apart as if they'd been caught by their parents, or more accurately, his sons. It turned out to be neither.

Captain Victor Rivera moved toward them like a soldier inspecting the troops. "Am I to take it from this display that the secret is no more?"

"The secret is still a secret," Fenton replied. "And right now we have much bigger issues to deal with."

"Is that so?"

Marguerite took her Uncle by the hand. "I think this is best discussed in the garden." She turned him around and led him back out into the foyer beckoning for Fenton to follow.