Hardy Boys: To Wash it White as Snow
What if this cursed hand
Were thicker than itself with brother's blood, —
Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens
To wash it white as snow?
(Set several years after the third season of the TV series)
"Frank. We're out of time." Joe stood in the den doorway, eyes scanning up and down the massive hall for any sign of movement from either end.
"Almost got it," Frank whispered back as he fought to still his shaking hand. Couldn't pick a lock with the shakes and even without Joe telling him, he knew they were cutting it close. "The buyer's here. We're not going to get another chance. If we—"
The lock popped.
Frank yanked open the drawer and grabbed the small plastic case. "Got it." He closed the drawer, returned the desk chair to its proper position then turned off the desk lamp. Having everything as it was would buy them some time but not much. He followed Joe out of the office, closed the door and then all hell broke loose.
Shouts, screaming, gunfire. Lots of gunfire.
"Damn it." Frank grabbed Joe by the sleeve and dragged him in the opposite direction of the main stairs.
"Maybe the buyer decided on a double cross, keep the money and the chip. I don't know. Come on." Frank led the way through the master bedroom and out the French doors to a glass enclosed patio that faced the ocean. At the end of the balcony was a spiral staircase. Frank went first with Joe close behind. Just as they reached the lower level, the glass wall above them shattered, sending glass shards down like an unmerciful rain.
Frank felt a quick, hot slice in one arm as he raised it up to protect his face. Joe cried out, lost his footing and went tumbling forward into his brother. Frank blocked his fall, then grabbed Joe's arm and pulled him down the last few steps just as another round of gunfire reverberated through the house.
"We need to get out of here," Frank said unnecessarily as he ran over the floor plan in his mind. A right turn now would take them back into the kitchen. There was an exit there – into the yard, but from there they would have to go around the side of the house in order to get out to the street. The only other option was straight ahead, across the wide open expanse of the rec room. It was a shorter shot to the outdoors but would afford them no cover whatsoever.
"What do you think? Straight across or the long way?"
"Straight," said Joe, pushing the word out on a panting breath.
"Straight." Frank dropped into a crouch then ran forward until he hit the far wall. Joe tucked in right behind him. Now, through the archway and to the left. Footsteps sounded overhead and then more shouts. This wasn't supposed to be happening. In and out. Get the information and go. No gunplay. No one gets hurt. "We're going to have to run for it. Ready?"
He turned and saw Joe sliding down the wall, hands gripping his left side. "What happened? Did you get cut?" He stooped down and peeled Joe's hands away. The shirt beneath was soaked in blood. "Did you get shot?"
Joe shook his head yes, but said, "I don't know. Feels bad." He sucked in a shaking breath and with that came a moan of pain.
"Okay. We're going to get you to a doctor but we have to get out of here first. Can you walk if I help you?'
"I think." Joe tried to push himself up but Frank got under his shoulders and did most of the work.
"Not much further, okay?"
With no other option left, Frank said a prayer then stepped into the open archway. Instantly there was a gun in his face.
"Frank! Jesus!" Avery Mitchell lowered her weapon but still kept it at the ready in a locked elbows position. She was their justice department liaison. The one that Frank should have reported to instead of taking matters into his own hands but this was the job. Sometimes you had to improvise and sometimes people got hurt.
"Joe's been hit."
Avery didn't look at him, her eyes were drawn to the smoke pouring over the upstairs balcony. "The bastard is burning the place."
"He's burning the office," Frank corrected. "It doesn't matter. Come on." Now supporting even more of Joe's weight, Frank followed Avery out the front door. There were agents on the lawn and a couple of young men face down on the ground. Frank recognized two of them and felt bad about their predicament. They weren't involved in the dirty dealings. Just two computer geeks who hooked their wagons to a falling star.
"Taylor," Avery called to the other agent. "I've got a man down. I'm going to take him out of here. You got this?"
Seeing Joe fading, Avery slipped under his other arm and together she and Frank got him down the drive to her car. They loaded him in the back and Frank climbed in with him. Before Avery got in, she took off her jacket and then her blouse, leaving only a thin, white tank. She tossed both items to Frank.
"Use the shirt to put pressure on the wound and cover him with the jacket if you can. Keep him warm."
"Frank," Joe's hand searched through the air until it found his brother. "Am I going to die?"
"No. You're healthy and you're strong and you're going to be fine. Just don't give up, okay."
"Hurts though," and that was followed by a grating wheeze.
"I've had to listen to you sing those same songs over and over, can't be more painful than that."
"Glad to hear you say it. The sense of humor is the first thing to go, so there's proof that you're going to be fine." But even as he said it, he could feel his brother's warm blood oozing through his fingers. "Avery? Hospital, right?"
"I don't think there's anything that close." She grabbed the radio mic under the dash and used it to contact the dispatcher. "I've got a medical emergency. I need to know my options around Quinn's place."
Joe shifted as if he might find a more comfortable position but the movement only served to heighten the pain. He gasped and shivered, head and shoulders twisting in Frank's lap.
"Easy, easy. You gotta lie still."
"It hurts. I know but you can do this."
Joe twisted again and Frank lost his hold on the wound. He wrapped his right arm around Joe's chest and pulled him in tight, then got his left hand and the bundled shirt back into place. It was hard to tell the exact spot but it was above the hipbone and near the bottom of the rib cage. From the erratic way Joe was breathing, Frank suspected the bullet may have impacted the lungs. If that was true, a full collapse would be imminent and then they'd be completely screwed.
"How did I get shot?" Joe asked, his voice oddly clear and focused. "I didn't see the shooter."
Avery was back on the line with the dispatcher talking streets and turns.
"A ricochet, maybe. The bullet that broke the glass in the stairwell."
Joe shivered even as his face broke out in a sweat. His hand went searching again and this time he latched on to the front of Frank's shirt.
"I'm scared." And it was the voice of his baby brother worried about monsters in the closet. But monsters could be chased away with a flashlight and big brother sharing the bed. If only this could be fixed as easily.
"I know, Joe. I'm scared, too but it's going to be okay. Just like the plane, remember? In a storm over the Bermuda Triangle and we got through that one. This is a piece of cake compared to that. "
"There's a doctor's office a couple of blocks from here," said Avery and it took Frank a second to realize she wasn't talking to the dispatcher anymore.
"Too far to drive. We get him to the doctor. The doctor can stabilize him and then we'll airlift him out of here."
"Hear that?" Frank wiped Joe's bangs off of his sweaty forehead. "There's a helicopter in your future."
Joe's only response was a painful shudder.
Fear and frustration pushed Frank to his limit so he turned it all on Avery. "Why the hell did you come in shooting? We had everything under control."
"First of all," Avery snapped back. "We didn't start shooting. Quinn's people did. And second of all, we didn't know you had it under control because you didn't check in and our informant turned up in a fisherman's net off the coast."
That rubbed off a bit of the edge. "Henry? He's dead?"
"Single gunshot to the head but not before he'd been tortured. We had to figure he gave you guys up that's why we came running."
It was Frank's turn to shudder. He clutched his brother tighter, more for his own benefit this time than Joe's. He'd heard Quinn's right hand man mention his name, saying they were going to have a talk when the deal was done. Still, from the tone, Frank hadn't even suspected that his cover had been blown.
"The buyer was there. It was all going down—"
Avery took a corner too fast and it jostled them both hard in the backseat. Joe cried out as if he'd been newly stabbed and it dug into Frank's heart as if he'd been cut, too. He was about to snap at her to be careful but let it go when the car rolled up a driveway and stopped.
"We're here, Joe. Not much longer, I promise."
Avery leaned on the horn a couple of times then got out and opened the passenger door so Frank could climb out. Together, they maneuvered Joe out of the car then carried him between them up the path to the rural house.
There was a sign next to the door that said, Hugh Bennett M.D.. That was some comfort. At least they had the right house. Lights popping on inside before they could even ring the bell also went a long way to calm Frank's nerves.
A moment later, the front door opened inward revealing a man of about 40. Clean shaven with neat, short brown hair. He was dressed in jeans and a pull-over shirt with slippers on his feet.
"Bring him inside," was the first thing he said to them and Frank wondered if he often found bleeding souls standing on his doorstep at night. "What happened?"
"He's been shot," said Frank.
The doctor stopped and looked at them, his gaze dropping to the gun on Avery's hip. It was clear he was wondering what he'd just gotten himself into.
"We're the good guys," Avery assured. "FBI. I'll show you my badge as soon as we get him on an examining table."
"Of course, this way." Bennett ushered them down the hall and into an exam room. Avery helped Frank get Joe on the table then she pulled out her ID as promised. The doctor was satisfied with a quick look then went to work.
He snapped on latex gloves, then loaded instruments on to a metal tray. "I'm going to need an assist."
"Tell me what to do," said Avery.
Bennett moved around the table then asked both of them to help roll Joe gently on to his right side. His left side was one big, bloody mess of matted clothing from mid-torso down to his hip and it looked even worse in the well-lit room than it had looked in the car. The doctor picked up a pair of scissors then carefully cut away the clothing around the wound.
"Avery," she prompted.
"Avery. Across the hall is a storage room, you'll find an IV set up and I need some drugs from the cabinet. It's locked, keys are in my pocket." He thrust his hip out toward her keeping his gloved hands up in the air as she fished out the ring.
Frank didn't hear anything after that, he was too mesmerized by the sight of his brother's blood smeared across the ghostly, yellowy fingers.
"I tried to stop the bleeding."
"You did good, it's coagulating nicely but sadly I'm going to have to go in to get that bullet." He traded the scissors for a pair of forceps which he used to remove the bits of fabric that had been drilled into the wound. "What's your name?" he asked without looking up from his work.
"Frank. Frank Hardy, this is my brother Joe."
"I have an Uncle named Joe. He's 300 pounds and he smokes two packs a day. I think even with a bullet in his gut your brother is in better shape than he is." His probing fingers hit a spot that made Joe writhe and gasp. His hand shot out, fingers flexing for something to grab on to. Frank took hold and squeezed.
"I'm right here, Joe. The doctor's taking care of you; it won't hurt for much longer." Frank looked up at Bennett hoping for confirmation on that promise.
"Soon as we get the IV going. Does he have any allergies or conditions I should know about?"
"Any chance you know his blood type?"
"He's AB positive; I'm A positive if you're thinking of a transfusion."
"I think I've got it covered, if you'll go down the hall, you'll see a refrigerator with plasma bags. Bring me one."
"Okay," Frank said but he didn't move. He stayed right there, clutching Joe's hand, brushing the sweat-soaked hair away from his pale face.
Bennett switched on an overhead light then brought it closer to the wound. "The bullet's right here. Looks like it's resting against a rib. I need that plasma before I can go further."
"Oh, yeah. Okay. Joe. I'll be right back." Frank ran out of the room but felt the pull of his brother every second he was gone. He located the fridge easily, grabbed a plasma bag and returned just as Avery was wheeling in an IV setup.
"This is what I need." Bennett positioned the pole, hung the bag and expertly inserted the IV line in Joe's arm with minimal fuss. He hung the blood bag next and finished by injecting a liquid into the line. "I'm going to sedate him so I can get that bullet out. Then we'll pump in the new blood, stabilize his vitals and then we'll see about getting him to a hospital."
Bennett stripped off his gloves, tossed them in the trash then put on new ones. He checked Joe's blood pressure, pulse and heart as Joe faded into a deep sleep.
"Do you need me?" Avery asked as the doctor collected more tools for his tray – sutures, needles, clamps and gauze.
"No. This won't take long and I have a feeling big brother is going to hang around."
"You bet I am."
Avery stroked her hand down Frank's arm. "I've to check in with Taylor, make sure everything's okay with the team."
She didn't deserve the anger in his voice but it had to put it somewhere. The only other option was to blame himself and that idea was already starting to erode his emotional wall. Yes, he'd pushed it too far. Yes, he'd put them both in danger but they would have gotten away without a scratch if Avery hadn't ordered the raid. It was a matter of trust. Even with the informant dead, she should have found a way that didn't include blowing up the whole operation in their faces.
Frank focused on what the doctor was doing then had to look away. He wasn't usually squeamish but when it was his brother's flesh being peeled away. . . that was a different story.
"Did the bullet do much damage?"
"It didn't hit anything major. Looks like the ribs took most of the punch out of the bullet. Was he very close to the shooter?"
"No. We didn't even see a shooter, I think it was a ricochet."
"Well, he's lucky. He's going to be sore for a while and he's going to have some trouble breathing until the ribs heal but it could be worse. A lot worse." Bennett straightened up with a bloody bullet clamped between the tines of the forceps. He dropped it into a cup on his tray then switched the forceps for sutures. "Kind of unusual isn't it?"
"What is?" Frank asked, sure that he'd missed a sentence in between.
"FBI agents who are brothers, working the same case. Seems like it'd be hard to keep your feelings out of it."
That's the truth. "We're kind of special and we're not FBI agents."
Bennett looked up at that.
"Avery is and we're. . . consultants, I guess. We work with the Justice Department when they need a younger face for an undercover assignment. We got loaned out to the FBI for this one."
"I probably shouldn't ask any more about it. Guess I'll see it all in the papers, tomorrow." He looked up again. "Or will I?"
Frank shrugged. "Not my department." And that was when he started to feel sick. The blood, the smells, the adrenaline drop. "Bathroom?"
"Down the hall, second door on the left."
Frank practically ran there. He dashed inside, leaned over the sink and felt his stomach heave but nothing came out. Deep breath, straighten up and there he was, looking at himself in the mirror. His hair was a tangled mess and there was a streak of blood across his cheek. He leaned down again and splashed cold water on his face.
He turned to use the toilet and was confronted with a full-length reflection of himself. His white dress shirt was splattered with so much blood anyone would have thought he'd been injured. He yanked it off, popping a few buttons in the process then threw it in the sink. The t-shirt underneath was also stained red in spots, but not as much and not as dark. He wished he could change all of his clothes and take a long, hot shower, too but that was going to have to wait.
Suddenly remembering, Frank slipped his hand in his pocket and found the plastic case with the computer chip inside. Should give that to Avery but he wasn't going to. Not just yet.
Turning back to the sink, he rinsed his shirt, all too aware that it was his brother's blood going down the drain, then wrung it out as best he could. It was going to take forever to dry. He'd ask the doc about a dryer after he finished caring for Joe.
As he walked back to the exam room, he heard Avery curse from the front of the house. "Jesus Christ, Taylor. That was the whole purpose of this mission! " Pause. "I don't care about him! It's Quinn we need so you damn well better pray that we find his body in the ashes!"
All of which meant, Quinn could be out there, looking for his chip. Looking for the people who had betrayed him. Damn it. Frank's brain said breathe, but his body had other ideas.
Avery slammed down the phone. Swore again, then picked it up and dialed. "This is Agent Mitchell. I need to talk to Hammond."
Frank saw her appear at the end of the hall, phone base swinging in one hand, receiver to her ear. She twirled with nervous energy and spotted him. "Doc all done?"
"Almost." Frank reached for the exam room door handle.
"We need to talk."
"Later," Frank mumbled but most of it went into the door anyway.
Bennett was washing his hands when Frank returned.
"How's he doing?"
"Good. His vitals are stable, the wound closed up neatly. Unless his condition worsens, I'd like to keep him here through the night, let him get his strength back before we send him to the hospital."
"If you think that's best."
Bennett dried his hands on a paper towel then tossed it in the trash. "There's a bed in the next room. If you help me, we can get him cleaned up and moved in there. He'll be more comfortable."
"Sure," but now Frank was getting antsy. They were only a few miles from Quinn's place and if he knew somehow that Joe had been shot. . . Frank shook the thought away. There were FBI agents crawling all over the estate. He'd never get past them or Avery. She'd protect them with her life, which was why they were in this mess in the first place.
The growl of metal sliding in a track brought Frank back to the present. The wall on the north side of the room wasn't a wall at all. It was a sliding pocket door. Beyond that was room with flowered wallpaper and a Union blue chair rail that ran waist high around three walls. A hospital bed took up most of the space and with the pocket door open it was only a few feet from it to the exam table.
"You've done this before," said Frank, marveling at the ease of it all.
"Not with bullet wounds but broken legs, appendicitis and a bleeding ulcer." Bennett unlocked the wheels on the bed then pulled it even closer. He turned down the blankets, then repositioned the IV stand. "Just watch out for the lines when we move him." He got behind Joe's head and Frank took his feet and without too much effort they transferred him from hard table to soft bed.
Bennett double-checked the IV then attached a heart monitor by gluing small rounds with wires to Joe's chest. Frank went more for comfort, adjusting the pillows and tucking the blankets in around his brother's sleeping form.
"His color looks better." Frank swiped his hand over Joe's forehead, lingering longer than Joe would have allowed if he was awake.
"I'll get him started on antibiotics to lower the risk of infection. That's our next big concern. You're sure he's not allergic to any medications?"
"None that I know of." Because come to think of it, Frank couldn't remember the last time Joe was sick enough to need an antibiotic.
Avery entered through the exam room door then crossed over the threshold into the sleeping space. "This looks promising."
"I've done all I can," said Bennett. "I'm going to clean up and then make some coffee. I'll let you know when it's ready." He stepped back into the exam room then pulled the pocket door closed with a mighty whoosh. As soon as he was gone Avery went after Frank.
"This is entirely your fault, you know. If you had checked in like you're supposed to-"
"I couldn't!" He glanced at Joe then grabbed Avery by the arm and dragged her out of the room and across the hall into the doctor's office. "A couple of days ago, Quinn started watching us, real close. At first I thought he was on to us but then I realized it was just the opposite. He wanted to bring me closer in and I couldn't risk blowing it. Joe tried to leave once but Quinn's man, Korshak, he shut him down. We found out later it was because the buy was about to happen and Quinn was nervous."
"Because he knew he had a leak and somehow he figured out it was Henry." Avery paced from one wall to the other in the small room. "He tortured him to find out how much we knew. Henry couldn't have told him about you, or Quinn would have canceled the buy."
"I'm not so sure. I heard Korshak talking about us but I didn't pick up the context."
"That alone should have made you nervous enough to pack up and get out."
"But it was my job to take down Quinn and that's what I was doing."
"It was your job to gather intel, that's all. You had explicit instructions to get out if things went sour."
"But they didn't go sour!" Frank shouted. "That's what I'm trying to tell you. Quinn was bringing me in on the deal. He asked my opinion on the plans."
That stopped her. "You saw the plans. You saw what he was selling?"
There was a sharp knock on the door then it nearly hit Avery as it opened a little. Doc Bennett stuck his head in and said, "Do you think you could take this down a notch? I have a patient who's trying to sleep."
"Of course, sorry," Frank said sincerely. He took a deep breath to calm himself then paced and shook his hands to get rid of the rest. "He asked me to review a code sequence, but I think it was a test because it didn't add up."
"I don't understand." Avery took a step toward him but Frank countered, not wanting to feel what she made him feel.
"It was a computer routine designed to initiate a series of complex commands. Commands where the computer could actually make decisions based on a variety of input and all of it happening within minutes, seconds even. But there were holes in the code." Seeing that he wasn't getting through, he sat down behind the desk and wrote out a series of equations on a legal pad.
"Look at this. We can follow the calculations until we get to the 40+ and the =8. There's something missing in between. There's a lot missing because we can't add something to 40 to get 8, except maybe a negative number, but after that the calculations make sense again."
"And the code he showed you, it was missing a piece, like this."
"More than one piece. It was a test to see if, a – I'd notice the gaps and b, if I'd tell him the truth about the problem."
"And c- fix the problem," Avery suggested.
"I couldn't have done it. It was too complex."
"Too complex for you? Maybe it couldn't be fixed."
Frank laughed. "I appreciate your confidence in my abilities but that code was way beyond me and anyone I've ever met. If Quinn could make that work, he's a bigger genius than we imagined." He dropped the pencil and leaned back in the chair. "If he had a working version of that code, it could be used to automate a missile attack like we've never seen." The answer was in his pocket, but still Frank resisted giving it up. He had a new plan formulating in the back of his brain and he'd need the chip to make it work.
Avery scrubbed her hands over her face and moaned. "Christ. We knew what he was doing had military applications but we had no idea it was this advanced.
"Well, for now, you've got his buyer and he's out of business and I need to decompress."
"Me, too." She turned to face the wall then softly banged her head against the wood paneling.
"Why don't you go get some coffee? Give me ten minutes and I'll join you."
Avery heaved a big sigh. "All right."
He thought she might come back for another kiss but she surprised him by leaving without another word.
What a mess. And if Quinn was still out there. . .
He knew what he had to do.
Frank picked up the phone receiver and dialed a long distance number from memory. "Agent Hammond, please. Frank Hardy." He got up from the desk chair and moved as much as the phone cord would allow. Hammond came on a moment later.
"Frank, Agent Mitchell filled me in. How's Joe?"
It might have sounded like an obligatory question but Frank knew Hammond had grown genuinely fond of the boys since they first met up two years earlier. Now he was going to make that fondness work for him.
"He's doing good. I think if he makes it through the night without any trouble then we're out of the woods."
"Glad to hear it. I almost called your father but thought you'd want to do that yourself. You haven't spoken to him have you?"
"No, not yet. Listen." He filled his lungs to get more force from his voice. "This whole assignment went to hell tonight and Joe's the one who paid the price. Yeah, he's going to make it but only by the grace of God, I'm telling you."
"Field work can be dangerous but—"
"Don't. This is my fault, I know that. In the past, I've convinced myself that we're working for you because it means helping people, making a difference. But the truth is, we agreed because it was exciting and new and it got in our blood and when it was over, we couldn't wait to do it again. And so we did and we got in deeper and deeper with every new assignment. Remember Chicago? Atlantic City? Those were both close, close calls but I let it ride because you couldn't tell me I wasn't invincible."
"You're passionate about what you do, that's why you're good."
"Don't patronize me. The hard truth is that you've gotten into the habit of sending two untrained, unarmed civilians into the lion's den."
"Now wait a minute," Hammond said, his own level rising. "I offered to send you to the Academy for training and you said no."
"Well, I'm saying yes now. And I want a couple more things." Frank took another deep breath before diving in. "Before I go out on another assignment, I want to be licensed to carry a gun."
"Your father won't like that."
"My father carries a gun. He of all people should understand the need. If I had had a gun tonight, I wouldn't have had to sneak out of that house like a scared rabbit. Your agents all carry guns. I'm going to carry a gun from now on."
"I understand," said Hammond. "And if you deal with your father, I'll get you the training and the permit."
One down. Now the big one.
"Second, I want Joe out. No more cases for him. I'll stay on and do whatever you need me to do, but he's done."
"Shouldn't that be Joe's decision to make?"
"No. I'm making it for him. He's going to finish college and write songs and become a famous musician and no one is going to shoot at him ever again."
"It's fine to say but—"
"But nothing. You're going to make it happen because I have something you need."
Hammond went silent for a moment. "And what exactly is that?"
"Quinn's chip. He burned the office so I bet you didn't get any of his plans or notes, but I've got the chip in my pocket. I stole it out of his desk just before the FBI decided to reenact the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. You cut Joe off the payroll, you get me a license to carry and it's yours."
Another moment of silence then Hammond's voice came back slow and metered. "That sounds like extortion."
"I call it looking out for my brother's best interests. It's about time somebody did."
"That's not fair. I never pushed either of you to take on a mission you didn't want or couldn't handle."
"Doesn't matter. Joe's out of it. I'm not kidding and I'm not backing down. This chip nearly got him killed. Now I'm going to use it to save his life."