Act Two, Scene Three

Frank spent a futile two hours trying – and failing – to convince Anna to agree to his idea.

"No," she said. The blanket slipped from her shoulders as she pushed her dark hair from her face. Frank was amazed by the intensity of her gaze. "I don't want someone in my home."

"Someone's already been in your home," he pointed out. She flinched and her hands grabbed convulsively at the blanket, knuckles whitening. Frank perched on the edge of the coffee table. "Look, I know this is hard for you. You don't know me, and I'm trying to convince you to let me intrude on your life for G-d only knows how long. I wouldn't be doing this if I wasn't convinced it was necessary to keep you safe. I'd feel better if you had someone with you pretty much all the time." He softened his voice and decided to change how he approached this. "Joe would, too. He considers you a friend, and he doesn't want you to be hurt."

Anna closed her eyes. "I can't say yes right now. I need to think about it." She let out a long breath, shifted her legs so they were under her, then sighed. "When will Joe be back?"

Frank sensed her discomfort with how close he was and moved back to the chair. "I'm not sure," he said. He stood and pointed to the small kitchen. "Are you hungry? I could see if there's anything edible in the fridge."

"Thank you, no." Anna opened her eyes and looked at Frank. "You must think I'm insane."

"No." Frank shook his head. "I think you're scared, and rightly so. I think you feel powerless and need to find something you can have some control over. I can respect that." He moved back to the table and, needing something to do with his hands, started organizing his papers.

Anna nodded and turned away, one hand wiping at her eyes. She covered the movement by appearing to examine the apartment's furniture and décor. "It's very... utilitarian, isn't it?" Frank nodded in agreement. He found Joe's apartment almost spartan, tending more toward function than comfort. The living room had a sofa, chair and coffee table. The walls were bare aside from a handful of photographs scattered about, mostly of their family and friends. Anna gestured towards one with her chin. "Is that her?"

Frank knew without looking what and who Anna referred to. He looked at the photo on the wall Joe had been staring at earlier in the afternoon. "Yes. Her name's Kara."

"She's pretty. Joe seems really torn up." She paused, not taking her eyes from the picture. "Frank?" She suddenly seemed more unsure of herself, younger and more self-conscious. "He said it wasn't... that I wasn't..."

"He was telling you the truth. It wasn't the assignment. There were other... issues." Frank was relieved to see her shoulders relax but hoped they could change the topic. He didn't feel very comfortable discussing his brother's relationship. Or former relationship, he thought.

"Do you think..." The rest of the question was cut off as a noise came from the hallway.

The door flew open, and Joe strode in the room, his eyes drawn to Anna sitting up on the couch. "Good, you're awake." Anna threw off the blanket and rose unsteadily to her feet. Joe pulled his hands up and away from her. "Frank?" His voice rang with alarm. Frank reached out to help Anna catch her balance and threw a puzzled glance at his younger brother. "Sorry. I'm covered in pollen." He turned his back to them, showing a piece of paper sticking out of his back pocket. "Chet found this wrapped around one of the vases. Take it." Frank grabbed it. "I'm going to shower. Then we can talk." He disappeared into the bedroom, and a few seconds later, they heard water running.

Frank unfolded the note, only marginally aware of Anna standing behind him, reading over his shoulder. The paper and font resembled the other notes, but this one appeared to have been printed on an inkjet printer; the letters were slightly smudged where water had slopped over the edge of the vase. The message was short and direct. The modest Rose puts forth a thorn,/ The humble sheep a threat'ning horn:/ While the Lily white shall in love delight,/ Nor a thorn nor a threat stain her beauty bright.

Anna let out a strangled cry, and Frank swung around to see the color draining from her face. "Blake," she whispered. "How could he know about that?"

The paper fluttered to the floor. "William Blake? I don't understand. What does..."

The bedroom door opened, and Joe ran out, pulling a t-shirt over his damp hair and dragging a duffel bag behind him. In three strides he was at Anna's side, pulling her into his arms. Frank watched as she gradually relaxed in Joe's embrace. "I promised I'd keep you safe, and I will. Let's get you home."

"Home?" Frank asked. "Joe, are you sure that's a good idea?" He examined his brother. While the arms holding Anna were steady, Joe's face looked haggard. Dark circles stood out under his blue eyes, and his cheeks were pale. "You look exhausted. Maybe you should both just stay here."

Joe leveled his gaze at Frank. "No. I can't let this guy think he's chased Anna out of her apartment. I talked to the super and got the locked changed. No one's getting in who doesn't have a key."

Anna released herself from Joe's arms. "Are you sure?" She unclenched her arms and traced her fingers over the strap of the duffel bag. "Wait, what's this for?"

"Clothes," Joe replied. He moved his gaze from Anna to Frank. "I wasn't planing on leaving you there alone." A lopsided grin covered his face. "Gossip columns be damned. I'm sleeping on the couch in your front room for the foreseeable future."

Frank sighed. "Joe, I still think..."

"No. If she stays here, he wins." The grin faded and was replaced by a look of willful determination. "I'll keep her safe until we catch him." He glanced back at Anna. "If you're okay with this, that is. If you want to go somewhere else, I'll take you there."

"I'd prefer to be at home"

Frank nodded reluctantly. He knew this wasn't an argument he could win. "Fine, but do me a favor. Check in with me every couple of hours, so I know everything is all right." Joe nodded. "And you should put my number on Anna's cell." Joe cocked his head to the side. "In case your battery dies again," Frank explained. "I'd rather be safe than sorry."

They stopped at a small pizzeria on the way back to Anna's apartment. "We seem to have missed most of our meals today," Joe said. "This place has a great cheeseburger pizza. It's not as good as our friend Tony's back in Bayport, but it runs a close second."

Anna wrinkled her nose. "I'm not sure I'm up for something that heavy right now, but you go ahead. I'll just have a salad."

Once seated, Joe started feeling the lack of decent sleep from the night before. Note to self, he thought, drowning my sorrows in alcohol? Not such a good idea. He pushed away the memory of why he'd been drinking, put his elbows on the table, and lowered his chin to his hands. The heat from the pizza oven was making him drowsy, and he found himself starting to doze.

"Joe. Joe?" Anna was shaking his arm. He started. "Your phone is buzzing."

Joe shook his head, feeling bleary and overheated. He grabbed the cell from the tabletop, scrolled through the text message, and rolled his eyes. "Frank," he explained. "He wants to know if I fell asleep during dinner." A sigh escaped his lips. "I guess he was right. I am kind of tired." He grimaced. "Just don't tell him I said so."

Anna's eyes held a speculative look. "It sounds like he's right a lot," she said.

Joe nodded. "He's a genius" he said in a matter-of-fact tone. "It makes being around him frustrating sometimes." He paused and chuckled. "Wow. That sounded awful. I don't mean it that way." His eyes grew distant. "We rank on each other a lot, but Frank's the one person I know I can always count on. He's always got my back. Always. He's just a bit of a mother hen." He brought his eyes back to Anna's. "Don't tell him I said that either, please. He'd probably use four-syllable words when he yelled, and I'm not up for trying to decipher insults right now."

She smiled crookedly at him. "I won't. His checking up on you is actually kind of sweet." She paused, her fork moving the food around on her plate. "He thinks I need more protection."

Joe reached across the table and took her hand. "You have more protection now. I'm not leaving you alone until we get this guy. You have my word."

"Anna?" From the corner of his eye, Joe could see someone approaching their table. He tensed, sure he'd seen the guy before. Mid-thirties, sandy hair, brown eyes, otherwise unremarkable. Photographer? he wondered, trying to place the face and voice. "Nice to see you outside the theater."

Anna's face opened in welcome, her eyes sparkling. "Hey, Brian, how are you?"

Joe's memory unfogged. Brian Jackson, the play's stage manager. It was odd seeing him without his headset and the myriad sheets of paper the man carried everywhere. He was looking at Joe with raised eyebrows, and Joe realized he'd been asked a question. "Uh, sorry, I guess my mind's stuck in the sheets." He leaned down and grabbed his bag, then stuffed his phone in his coat pocket. "Speaking of which, we should head home now."

An odd look passed over the stage manager's face as he backed away towards the door. He turned to Anna. "See you at rehearsal," he muttered.

Once he was gone, Anna grabbed Joe's arm. "Joe, what were you thinking?" Indignation flooded her face. "Stuck in the sheets? He going to think all we do is have sex!" Her voice was an angry whisper.

"That's not what I meant!" Joe spluttered, his face turning red. "He's always carrying around all that paper..."

Anna rolled her eyes, a giggle escaping her lips. "I think it's time you get some sleep Mr. Hardy." As embarrassed as Joe felt, he had to admit, it was good to see the anxiety leave her face. He nodded in agreement, and they left the restaurant.

The night air was cool, and, for once, the street was empty of reporters and photographers. Joe took off his jacket and wrapped it around Anna's shoulders to keep her from getting chilled. They hadn't gotten far when they heard a voice. "Dude, you got the stuff?" Joe shifted so Anna was on the street side of the walkway, away from whoever it was. "They said you had it. I need it bad. I haven't had a hit all day."

"You got the wrong people, friend. We don't have anything you want." Joe put an arm across Anna's back and started walking faster. He heard the swooshing of some object through the air, pushed Anna several feet ahead of him, and leaned to the side, narrowly avoiding getting hit.

"He said you had the stuff!" The man was high as a kite, clearly lying about not having had a fix. And enraged. He picked up his weapon – a baseball bat – and swung it at Joe again. Joe heard Anna dialing 9-1-1 on his cell phone. All he had to do was keep the guy occupied and away from her until the police showed up. "Where is it? I need it now!" Another swoosh as the bat came dangerously close to his close to his nose. "Now!"

"Anna, run!" Joe called. He had to get her away from this. From the corner of his eye, he saw the bat coming at him again and feinted to the left, his exhaustion sending him down just a fraction of an inch too far, and he stumbled on a bit of uneven pavement. Sirens rang in the distance. Good. Get the cops here ASAP, he thought. As he straightened up to move, the bat caught him on the side of his head. He felt the force of it as it crashed by his ear. A blinding light flashed behind his eyes, then blackness.

Frank almost ran through the emergency room. One of the nurses gave him a cursory glance, then raised four fingers at him. He nodded his thanks and continued on his way, only stopping when he heard someone call his name. "Frank. I'd like to say it's nice to see you again, but..."

"Dr. Fitzgerald. How is he?" Frank cut across the doctor's greeting, needing to get information about Joe's condition.

The doctor stroked his beard. "He regained consciousness briefly in the ambulance, but not since then. He'll be here until he wakes up again, then we'll admit him so we can keep an eye on him overnight. At the very least, he has a mild concussion and will need to limit his activity for a few weeks. We'll know more when he comes to."

Frank closed his eyes and let out a breath. "Do you know what happened?"

"The girl who came in with your brother said the attacker was high. There's an officer outside the room waiting until he can give a statement." A passing nurse handed him a note. "I'm sorry. I have to go see another patient. Call when he opens his eyes." He touched Frank's shoulder as he passed. "I'm sure he'll be fine."

Frank nodded, and headed towards room four. After showing the officer his license, Frank was allowed in. Anna stood by Joe's bed, her face white, tears in her eyes. Frank put a hand on her shoulder. "Are you all right?"

"Joe saved me." She swallowed. "Frank, the guy was crazy. He thought we had drugs. Joe pushed me out of the way, and I called 9-1-1. Joe stayed between us, ducking and trying to grab the bat, but..." She was shaking now. "When he hit the ground, I threw Joe's bag at the guy." Her breathing became faster. She turned to Frank. "He didn't even blink. He just grabbed it and ran off."

Frank smiled in spite of himself. "Throwing the bag was a good idea. You probably saved Joe's life. If he'd taken a second swing..." The smile faded. "Thank you."

Their attention shifted as Joe groaned and shifted on the bed. "Where?... Oh, no." Joe put a hand up to his head. "What happened?"

"You were attacked," Frank responded, pressing the call button on the side of the bed. "Do you remember anything?"

"No." Joe closed his eyes and reopened them. "We had dinner, then..." He shook his head gingerly. "Nothing. Is Anna all right?"

"I'm right here," she said, squeezing his hand. "I'm fine. He didn't touch me. You kept me safe."

Joe's head sank further into the pillow. "Good. So when can I leave?"

The door opened, and Dr. Fitzgerald entered the room. "Not until some time tomorrow, my friend." He checked Joe's pulse and eyes. "We've got a bed upstairs with your name on it."

"Is it all right if I stay with him?" Anna's voice was quiet. "He's in here because of me. I want to make sure he's all right."

The doctor glanced at Frank who nodded. "It shouldn't be a problem. Just give us a few minutes to get him settled. Angel can tell you which room," he said to Frank. A nurse and an orderly arrived and started wheeling the bed through the door.

"We really have to stop meeting like this, Mr. Hardy, or people will start to talk," the nurse teased as they left the room.

Anna started to follow them out into the hall, when Frank lightly tapped her shoulder. "Have you thought about my suggestion?" he asked. "Joe's going to be out of commission while he recovers."

"Yes." Her voice was low, but steady. "But won't it be obvious you guys are protecting me when you show up as my P.A.? I mean, people know you're detectives. And brothers."

"I've got an idea to cover that." He pulled a business card from his coat pocket. "Joe won't let them keep him past noon. Once he gets released, call this number. I'll tell you where to meet me so I can fill you in. Why don't you head to the nurses' station and find out what room Joe's in? I need to make a call. I'll be along in a second."

Once she had left, Frank pulled out his cell phone and dialed a number. "Marisol? Frank Hardy. Are you busy tomorrow morning?"

"You're sure he said here?" Joe knew his voice sounded testy, but he couldn't help it. The nurses at the hospital had woken him every hour on the hour to check his vitals, and now he was absolutely exhausted. All he wanted was an ice pack, some aspirin, a bed, and not to be at the office on a Sunday afternoon.

"He was pretty clear," Anna said. "This is where he wanted us."

Joe snorted, regretting the action almost immediately as it made his head ache more. "Only Frank would feel the need to be here now. He probably just needs my signature on some insurance papers." He closed his eyes for a moment, his stomach roiling. "We can hit my place after this. I hope you don't mind a quiet afternoon. Once I get some sleep, we'll get settled in your place."

Anna touched his shoulder and leaned closer to him. "Joe?" she whispered. "Should the door be open?"

Joe's eyes flew open. The door to the office was cracked open an inch or so. He peered through the space, and his jaw dropped. Leaning over Chet's desk was a tall, slender man in skin-tight black jeans, an oversized plaid shirt, and high top sneakers. His black hair was cropped close to head in back but looked like it hung over his face in front. I so don't need this right now, Joe thought. He waved Anna to the side. "Stay here." Gently, Joe put one hand on the door, pushing it open. As silently as he could, he walked into the office, fists in front of him.

"I know you're there, little brother. You need practice sneaking."

"Frank?" Joe ran a hand over his forehead as the man turned around, not believing his what he saw. Frank's brown hair had been dyed an inky black, except for the fire-engine-red fringe that hung over his face. Chunky black plastic glasses framed his eyes, and a small, gold hoop hung from his left ear. "Okay... What happened to you?"

Frank shrugged. "I let Marisol have free rein." He tugged at the waistband of the jeans. "She may have gone overboard just a bit." He turned to Anna. "So, what do you think? Does this" – he indicated his changed appearance with a wave of his hand – "cover your concerns?"

Anna stared at him from the doorway. She gulped loudly. "What about Pierre? He's heard you talk."

"I can manage." Joe stared. Was it his imagination, or did his brother's voice sound different? Frank noticed the look, and smiled. "It's a matter of relaxing my vocal chords a bit. I just need some practice so it sounds natural." His expression changed to one of concern. "I suggested this to Anna yesterday while you were out, and now..." Frank's voice returned to its normal depth and cadence. "You need time to recover, so we'll switch roles for a while. I'll take over the protection detail, and you come back to the office."

"So, what? Anna's breaking up with me to go out with you?" An edge slipped into Joe's voice.

"No." Anna came up beside him and put a hand on his shoulder. "He's going to be my personal assistant." She smiled at him. "You still get to play my boyfriend." She turned to Frank. "What do I call you?"

Frank held out his right hand to her. "John Franklin, ma'am," he said, using the other voice.

Joe held up a hand. "How is this going to fly?" He turned to Anna. "I'm sorry to have to bring this up, but no one who knows you is going to buy that you'd let a man you don't know into your home."

Anna swallowed and turned to Frank. "He's right. Pierre knows how... uncomfortable I get."

"I don't think it will be a problem," Frank said. "As long as we don't say anything, people will just assume whatever they want. I'm okay with that if you are." She nodded.

Joe let out an unhappy breath. "No. I promised to keep you safe. I have to be there."

"You are keeping me safe. You're giving me your brother." She put a hand on his cheek. "If this is still going on once you're fully recovered, we can renegotiate." Finally, Joe nodded. The solution didn't thrill him, but it would enable him to keep his promise. Right now, that was all that mattered.

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