Friday morning 2am
"Come on. Wake up, sleepyhead." Joe shook the shoulders of the boy curled up by his chest. "Hey, buddy, it's time to go." He propped a flashlight up against one of the rocks, making sure it was hidden from the cave's entrance.
The boy rubbed his eyes and stretched. /Is Frank back?/
"No." Joe worked to keep his voice flat, trying not to betray the depth of his worry. "He's probably keeping whoever it is away so we can get out of here. Laying some false trail or something." He pasted a small smile on his face, hoping it looked believable. "I don't know about you, but I could do with some hot food."
/Could we get burgers?/ Benj looked up at him, his eyes full of affection and absolute trust.
Joe swallowed, hoping the kid's trust was justified. He wished he knew what exactly was going on here. Who were the guys who had found them? Frank hadn't said anything about their being Korean. Of course, they could have hired anyone to do the dirty work. "Sure, kid. It may take a while, but I'll make sure you get a burger. I promise." He struggled to stand, his muscles complaining about the cold and cramped conditions, and gingerly put weight on his injured foot. Air hissed through his teeth as a stabbing pain shot up his leg. He clamped his mouth shut and straightened. "There, see? Not so bad."
"Tch." Sunny rolled her eyes, her arms twisted in a stretch behind her back. "Y.. you w.. won't get far like that," she said. "S.. sit back d.. down, and g.. give me y.. your f.. foot." She unclasped her hands and reached inside her coat, unwinding a silk scarf from around her neck. Once Joe was seated again, she gently removed his sneaker and wrapped the scarf around his ankle. "Not as g.. good as an ace b.. bandage, but it'll h.. have to d.. do." She examined her handiwork, then regarded him with weary eyes. "B.. better?"
Joe pushed up with his hands, waiting until he was upright before putting his foot back on the uneven surface. The pain had subsided to a dull throb. "Yeah, thanks. Nice scarf."
Sunny showed a bitter smile. "N.. not the use m.. my m.. mother intended it for."
"And not who she intended it for either. It probably wouldn't make her happy to know I've got it."
/You know Sunny's mom? How? She didn't come on move-in day./ Benj's hands expressed surprise.
Joe nodded, a smile twisted on his lips. "Let's just say I've met her and leave it at that. She doesn't seem to like me very much. Frank was more her type." He was interested to see Sunny's eyes widen. "We can talk more about that later," he said. "Right now, I need to get you two somewhere safe."
The word 'safe' seemed to reignite Benj's fear. He moved closer to Sunny. /What if they're waiting for us?/ His hands trembled as they formed the question.
Joe stooped so he could look the boy in the eyes. "Then you and Sunny run as fast as you can while I hold them off."
/But you're hurt./ Benj looked close to tears, and Joe wondered what else could have happened to him in his eleven years to bring up such panic.
"Doesn't matter," he replied, laying a hand on the side of Benj's face, his hand looking even paler against the boy's dark skin in the dim light. "I won't let anyone take you. Just stay close to Sunny, okay?"
Benj nodded and placed a hand in one of Sunny's. Sunny looked up at Joe, a grudging respect dawning in her eyes.
Joe scooped up the flashlight and indicated the cave's mouth. "Let's get going."
The trip down the mountain was painfully slow. They had gone fairly deep into the woods when running away the day before, and it took several tries before they found the right trail. Once they found it, navigating it in the dark was difficult, and Joe had to bite his tongue several times to keep himself from swearing when he came down wrong on his foot. He was glad for the need to concentrate, though; it kept him mind from dwelling on the fact that Frank hadn't come back for them, that there hadn't been any word at all. Just be safe, 'bro. That's all I ask.
By the time they got back to the closed visitors' center, it had started raining again, a light drizzle that had them all soaked. They huddled together in the bus shelter by the side of the road, trying to stay out of the wet and cold. Benj had his hands stuck in his pockets, his teeth chattering, and Sunny was shivering. Joe checked the laminated schedule taped to the wall and nodded.
"W.. What n.. now?" she asked, hugging Benj to her and rubbing his arms.
"Now I find somewhere we can hide," Joe answered, flexing his fingers, which had grown stiff from the cold.
Benj pulled his arms free. /Hide? We just were hiding./
"Yeah, but this is where they'd be expecting us to be. We're going to find somewhere less obvious." Although it appeared no one was around, Joe lowered his voice to a whisper. "We're going to hide in plain sight." Benj's eyes grew round.
Sunny raised an eyebrow. "And j.. just how d.. does one d.. do that?"
She talks just like Frank, Joe thought. No wonder she's got such a crush on him. He cleared his throat. "You've heard the expression 'It's like looking for a needle in a haystack'?"
/We're going to a farm?/
Joe shook his head. "No. We're going to find a bunch of needles." A loud vehicle noise came from down the road.
A nearly empty bus pulled up to the shelter, the letters PVTA visible in dark blue painted on a white background. Joe nodded to the open door. "And this is how we get to the needles."
He pushed the brim of Benj's hat farther down his forehead, then leaned towards Sunny and rearranged her hair so it hung over her face. Last of all, he yanked the hood of his sweatshirt over his head. Then he took one last look around and herded his charges inside the bus.
Saturday afternoon 2pm
"...So I told him if he was really that desperate to do something stupid, he could..." Frank looked up from the stack of shirts he had been putting in the chest of drawers. "Hey, Rog, are you in there?"
Roger stood in the middle of the room, a pair of pants in his hands, his green eyes staring at nothing. His head jerked up, his eyes meeting Frank's. The pants fell to the floor. "Sorry, man. I was somewhere else. What were you saying?"
Frank regarded his roommate with careful eyes. "Roger, is everything all right? I don't want to pry..."
"But it's what you do, right?" The tone of Roger's face was halfway between amusement and sneering. He closed his eyes and shook his head. "Sorry. I didn't mean that the way it came out." He bent down to pick the jeans up off the floor and sat down heavily on his bed once they were in his hands. "It's nothing. Problems with the parental units."
"I noticed they didn't help you move in. Are they off again?" Frank sat at his desk and watched as Roger's expression darkened, his eyes getting harder.
Frank nodded. Roger's parents – Peter and Emily Gardner – were a world-renowned archaeologist and anthropologist, respectively, and spent most of their time on digs in exotic, foreign locations. Roger had grown up all over the world, his time at Utica the longest he had ever been in one place. "How long this time?"
Roger fell back on to the bed. "Who knows? Too long? Not long enough? It's hard to say." He raised himself on his elbows and looked at Frank. "You are so lucky. You always know where your parents are."
"Uh, no," Frank said, shaking his head, a half-smile on his face. "You've met my dad, right? He was gone a lot when Joe and I were kids. Still is. Now I just don't notice it as much. At least your folks come back with interesting stuff." He smiled. "Mine just comes home with interesting injuries."
"Yeah, but you had your mother and your aunt," Roger shot back, "and a home to go back to." He waved a hand around. "As sad as it sounds? This is the closest thing I've ever had to a home, and it's slipping right out of my hands."
Roger turned his face to the wall. "They were back for a few weeks this summer. There's this new... project... they're going to be investing in." He took a deep, angry breath. "They didn't want me to come back this year. Said they needed the money for something else. Said if I took this year off, they'd make sure I could finish in a year or two." His voice dropped. "I told them there was no way I wasn't going to graduate in May, that I'd find a way to pay for this year if I had to. We compromised. They paid for this semester, and they're giving me this time to figure out how to fund next semester. Otherwise, I'm done."
Frank's mouth dropped open. As a private school, Utica was expensive. Even if Roger could get student loans, there'd be no way he could come up that kind of money on his own. He couldn't understand why Roger's parents had even suggested it. He had met and liked Peter and Emily, two adults who insisted he call them by their first names and treated him as an equal. This didn't sound like the people he knew at all, but Roger's voice and attitude made it clear this wasn't a safe comment to make right now. He ran a hand through his hair and swallowed. "I'm sorry. Look, whatever I can do to help..."
"Whatever." Roger cut off the words and pushed himself off the bed. "I'm going for a walk."
"You want company?"
"No." An angry smile played on the corners of Roger's mouth. "I heard Alex talking about an off-campus party tonight. I was thinking I'd go check it out. Getting loaded on your first night back to school's a tradition, right?"
"I wouldn't know." Frank's lips pressed together in disapproval.
Roger laughed, a mocking, humorless sound. "You need to loosen up, roomie."
"Like you're about to? No thanks."
"Hey," Roger shrugged his shoulders, "if this is going to be my last semester, I don't want to feel like I missed anything." He headed to the door. "Don't wait up."
Frank launched himself from the chair. "If you don't want this to be your last semester, you'd be better off staying here and letting me help you with research. Partying isn't going to do it."
"I can't believe you. Work, work, work." Now Roger was sneering."No wonder your brother went to NYU instead of following you here. No wonder your girl found someone more interesting to go out with. You're like an old man." Frank took a step back. He'd never heard this tone from Roger, and it stung. Roger turned his back on Frank and strode out to the hall. "And I have no intention of ending up like you." The door slammed behind him.
Frank reached for the handle, practically wrenching the door off its hinges. "Roger. Roger!" Concerned faces appeared from the doorways of other rooms. "Get back here! What the hell is wrong with you? Roger!"
An insistent hand shook his shoulder. "Frank. Frank, can you hear me? Wake up. You need to wake up!"
Pain shot through Frank's chest as he tried to sit up. "What...?" He blinked, trying to get control of his breathing, the cracked ribs violently complaining with the exaggerated motion of his chest. "Shit," he breathed out. "Hurts."
"You were shouting something in your sleep," Chet said, one hand pressed up to the side of his face. "You were practically jumping out of bed. I was afraid you were going to re-injure something."
Frank groaned as it occurred to him why Chet's hand was where it was. "I hit you, didn't I?" He closed his eyes and put his head back down on the pillow. "Chet, I'm sorry. I was having this dream. It was so real."
"You didn't mean to. You were jumping around. I was trying to keep the IV lines from pulling out." Chet massaged his jaw for a second, then smiled ruefully. "I'll try to remember to keep my face away from your hands when you're thrashing around in bed." He paused, a faint blush covering his cheeks. "And, while I'm at it, come up with an even more awkward way to phrase that. Anyway, what was your dream about?"
"An argument I had with my roommate a couple of months ago." Frank flushed. "I mean..."
Chet gave him a sympathetic look. "For you it was a couple of months ago. I didn't know you and Roger ever argued about anything other than who had the higher GPA. What was going on?"
"I don't know. It was a dream," Frank said, his voice growing angry. "I don't remember." He pounded the mattress with his right hand. "I can't remember. I can't help Roger. I can't help Joe. I feel so damned useless."
"Hey, none of that," Chet said. "I know it doesn't feel like it, but whatever happened with Roger was five years ago. And you can help Joe by calming down. Forcing your memory isn't going to make it come back any quicker." He put a hand on Frank's arm. "You're being too hard on yourself, Frank. You're injured. Even with all the knocks on the head you guys got when we were younger, this one's a lot more serious, and it's going to mess with your emotions until you're fully recovered. So stop beating yourself up and let yourself heal. Got that? I mean, you were pushed off a mountain. You're lucky to be alive."
"When did you get so wise?" Frank turned his face to Chet, the anger draining away, leaving him exhausted.
Chet raised an eyebrow. "I've always been wise. You just haven't been paying enough attention."
Frank barked out a laugh, wincing as it reverberated through his head. "Has there been any word?" Now that the anger had passed, he could feel his body shutting down. He fought the sleep that was trying to claim him again.
"Not as of yet. Kara said she'd let us know as soon as she hears anything." Chet's voice sounded far away.
"He's hiding somewhere," Frank murmured. "Somewhere in plain sight. Just like when we were kids. Needle in a..." His voice trailed off as his eyes closed again.
Frank could hear voices talking to him, feel hands on his shoulder, gently shaking him awake. Each time the person waking him up asked the same questions: Do you know who are you? Where you are? Why are you here? What day is it? Can you tell us what happened? What year is it?
The pity visible in the eyes of the questioners when he couldn't answer the last question made him grind his teeth in frustration.
Specialists woke him when he was dozing to do simple tests: Can you touch your nose with your eyes closed? Does it hurt if you put your chin to your chest? Read this for me, please. Here's some simple math.
He wanted to yell at them all to go away, to let him rest, to leave him alone to heal so he could find his brother. Instead, he performed the tasks they asked, knowing if he did he'd be allowed to leave sooner. But leave and do what? he wondered. In his present physical condition he wouldn't be much help to anyone, and unless his memory came back soon... I'm useless. Helpless and completely useless... He turned his head away from the door, closing his eyes.
Another hand touched his shoulder. "What?" The word hissed through his teeth. He heard someone swallow.
"I saw they finally left you alone. Thought I'd see if you wanted something to eat." Chet's voice was soft and held a note of understanding.
Guilt flooded through Frank. He hadn't realized it was Chet. He let out a breath and turned to face his friend. "Sorry. I thought..."
"No worries. Are you hungry?"
Frank shook his head gingerly. "No. Thank you."
Chet regarded him with a steady gaze. "Fine. Just tell me when you're ready. I'll order something for you. The patient menu doesn't look too bad."
"You know what I do need?" Chet leaned forward to catch Frank's words. "I really need some water on my face. Any chance you can help me get to the bathroom?"
"Sure." Chet's eyes lit up. "Give me a sec to see if I remember how to get you unhooked from all this. Last night's nurse showed me how just in case." Once the cables had been removed, Chet wheeled the IV stand closer to the bed, then sat down. "All right, slide your legs this way." A hiss escaped Frank's lips as Chet inched him to the side of the bed. "Are you sure you want to do this?"
"Yes," Frank grunted. "Keep... going."
It took nearly five minutes to make the six foot walk to the bathroom. Once inside, Frank leaned against the wall, eyes closed, trying to get his breath back. With a shaky hand, he turned on the cold water faucet and splashed some water on his face. He wiped his face with a paper towel and straightened, his eyes catching the reflection in the mirror.
It stopped his breath.
It wasn't the bruises on the side of his face – the mottled purple and black mist darkening the skin from the bottom of his ear up to his forehead – or the hair – longer than it should have been and parted on the other side from when he left for school two months ago.
It was his face.
The planes were sharper, the cheekbones more pronounced. There was a faint scar on his right temple. It wasn't the face of a twenty-year-old college student.
It was the face of an older man.
He fell heavily against the wall, suddenly dizzy and unable to breathe, jogging his shoulder and making his ribs protest. It was one thing to be told he'd lost five years. Seeing the evidence with his own eyes was another.
"Frank, are you all right?" Chet's panicked voice came from outside the bathroom. "Frank?" The door flew open. Chet took one look at Frank's face and ran inside. "I need some help in here," he yelled, as he pulled the emergency cord and struggled to get Frank upright. "Now!"
Within seconds a male nurse was in the room. Together, they got Frank back into bed, the nurse yelling out the door for oxygen. "You need to calm down, son. You're hyperventilating; it's not good for your ribs. Just listen to my voice. Calm down. Calm down." A portable oxygen tank appeared in the room, and Frank felt a mask being slipped over his face. "When's the last time he had any pain meds?" the nurse asked.
"I.. I don't know," Chet said. "I should have been paying attention."
The nurse shook his head. "Not your job," he said. Another nurse came in with a syringe. "That long?" he asked. She nodded, a grim expression on her face. "Go ahead then. He needs to relax."
As the medicine worked its way through the IV line, Frank felt his muscles slowly start to unclench. "Thank you," he whispered. "I'm sorry." His eyes filled with tears. "I'm sorry." Everything was spinning out of control. He couldn't stop the anger, the tears. He couldn't make his brain or his emotions cooperate. He hated it.
Chet grabbed his hand. "No. You don't apologize. We find who did this to you. They apologize." He blew out a breath. "If they can still talk after Joe and I get done with them," he muttered. He let go of Frank's hand and said something quietly to the nurse, who nodded. "Frank, you rest for a bit. They're going to get Dr. Finley. I think you need to talk to him."
"You'll stay until he comes?" His voice sounded weak and uncertain in his ears. The pain medication was taking effect, making it easier to breathe, eliminating some of the dizziness he had felt in the bathroom. He reached out again for Chet's hand.
"I'm not going anywhere."
It took nearly an hour for the doctor to arrive. Frank had taken off the oxygen mask and sat unmoving, staring out the window.
"Now that looks more like the Frank Hardy I remember."
The voice had startled him. He hadn't heard the door creak open or Chet silently leaving. "What do you mean? How do you know me?"
Dr. Finley put his tablet on the bedside table. "I couldn't believe it when I saw your name on the monitor. Thought it had to be some poor guy with the same name. Then I saw Agents Malone and Welker, and I knew." He paused for a moment, examining Frank with compassionate eyes. "I treated you in New York a couple of years ago."
"You were catatonic when they brought you in. A case you'd been working on. I still don't know all the details." His eyes took on a warm look. "I have to say, even with all this" he indicated Frank's injuries with a wave of his hand, "you look much better than you did then. When my partner got a job at Mount Holyoke, and we moved here, I figured I'd never see you again. Surprise, surprise." He leaned on the table, moving it slightly. "I was impressed by your tenacity, by the loyalty you inspired in your friends, by your relationship with your brother."
Frank grimaced, a flash of pain crossing his face. "I don't remember you. You seem... familiar, but I have no memory of ever meeting you."
Finley smiled. "It wasn't exactly a good time in your life, Frank; you were in pretty bad shape. Don't worry, though, I'm not offended." He reached up and loosened his tie. "Do you mind if I sit?"
The doctor pulled the chair Chet had been sitting in closer to the bed. "I haven't seen Agent Malone in a while. I would have thought she'd be glued to your side. Are the two of you together?"
"No." Frank closed his eyes, hoping when he opened them, this would all have been a dream. "She's with Joe," the words came automatically, without any thought. "My girlfriend's name is Anna." Air rushed from his lungs. His eyes flew open, his heart racing. A fleeting picture formed in his mind. Dark hair. Braids. He strained to hold on to it, to expand it into something bigger, something that would bring other memories with it, but the image blinked out as as quickly as it came. He put his face in his hands and swore.
"Frank? What was it?" Finley was leaning forward in the chair, concern in his voice, his brown eyes alert and curious.
"I don't... I don't know. It's gone now."
"So is Anna your college sweetheart?"
Frank shook his head. "I don't... didn't... date in college. I'm... I was too busy studying."
Dr. Finley smiled. "The memories are there, Frank. They'll come back." He sat back in the chair. "So, Mr. Morton was telling me you had a nightmare. Do you remember any of it?"
"Something about my roommate. I don't remember the details. It was just a dream." Frank wanted the man to leave. He wanted to concentrate on the flash of memory, to try coaxing it back.
"Nonetheless, it could be important. Why don't you tell me how your semester is going? Are your classes harder than usual? Is there some sort of conflict with your roommate?"
"What?" Frank stared at the doctor, his eyes incredulous, his manner dismissive. "You do remember I'm not actually in college, yes? That I've got a few other more pressing things on my mind right now?"
"Ah, there's the Frank I remember. Now that we've gotten the sarcasm out of the way, why don't you answer my question?" He looked at Frank, a wide, innocent expression in his eyes. "I'd like to believe your mind brought you back to your senior year for a reason, Frank. Why don't we figure out what it is? Now, you had a dream about your roommate. Tell me about him."
Frank sighed. The man was probably right. He swallowed, then started talking. He told Dr. Finley about Roger, how after three years of being roommates and close friends, their relationship was now strained by the time limit on Roger's education imposed by his parents. And by something else. "Something he's keeping from me. He hasn't blown up at me like he did that first night, but something's off. He's secretive, keeps hanging up the phone when I come home from class. I don't have any real reason to be suspicious, but..."
"But your line of work makes you think something's wrong?"
"Yes. It's frustrating to feel this way. He keeps telling me he's working on a project, but when I ask if I can help, he gets this odd look in his eyes."
"And he hasn't told you what the project is?"
"That's the most frustrating part. It's in my past." Frank practically growled out the words. "It's happened already, and I don't know what it is. I don't remember." Frank squeezed his eyes shut. "I'm getting really tired of saying that."
A buzzing noise broke the silence. Dr Finley started and put his hand in the pocket of his lab coat. "I'm going to have to cut this short, Frank. I'm sorry, but I'm needed with another patient." He rose and moved to the door. "I'd like you to try something for me. Have Mr. Morton get you a notebook from the gift shop downstairs. I'd like you to write down everything you remember about your senior year." He stopped in the doorway, an idea lightening up his eyes. "Better yet, have him get his hands on a laptop. Put your hands on the keyboard, and let your mind wander."
"What good will that do?"
The doctor flashed a grin. "You might be surprised. I've seen how you type when your mind is... otherwise occupied, shall we say?" He shrugged. "Consider it an experiment. Now get some rest. Dr. Phillips will be furious with me if he thinks I'm impeding your recovery."
Frank nodded and turned back to the window, trying to force his mind to recall the image of Anna. When Chet returned twenty minutes later, he found Frank asleep, his hands clenched into fists, a grimace of concentration still on his face.