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Encrypted

By leyapearl

Action / Mystery

Friday

"I'm in!" The dark-haired FBI agent dropped the axe he had used to break through the wall, kicked a few loose boards away, and forced himself through the opening. "Hand and knees, guys. There's not enough room to stand up straight."

"Send in Malone," another agent said. "She doesn't need that much room."

"Can it," Agent Malone yelled back. "Focus, gentlemen, and I use that word loosely. We've got a job to do." She crawled through the opening after the first agent, putting a hand over her mouth and nose against the stench of bodily waste. "Jeez," she muttered, "you think someone would've noticed this." She grabbed a flashlight from her pocket and flashed the beam around crawl space. "Travis, you got anything?"

The first agent's voice came back through the darkness. "Nothing yet, Kara," he reported. "There's not much more space in here to... Oh, shit."

Malone's head jerked up. "What? Travis, what'd you find?"

"A body," Travis replied. A beat, then the light illuminated a prone figure. "It's a male, mid-twenties, dark hair." He swore again. "Wait." Malone could hear him fumbling in the dark. "There's a pulse! Get an ambulance!" His shout spurred the agents on the other side of the wall into action.

"And someone go to the mail room, and get Joe Hardy," Malone said in a grim voice as she exited through hole in the wall. "Tell him we think we've found his brother."


Joe Hardy paced the hall outside the room where his older brother was being examined, throwing anxious glances at the door every few seconds. "What's taking so long?" he grumbled. Finally, he stopped and just stared at it, willing it to open. "Come on," he said aloud, "let me in." He had already called his parents and their close friends with the news of Frank's recovery. Now he needed to see Frank with his own eyes to prove to himself his brother really was safe and alive.

The door creaked open and a doctor stepped out. "Mr. Hardy?" Joe looked up. The man was fairly young, maybe only in his early thirties with a shock of bright red hair and kind brown eyes. "I'm Robert Finley," he said. "I'm one of the psychiatrists on staff here."

"Psychiatrist?" Joe asked in a flat voice. "Why a psychiatrist?" His voice rose in anger. "What's going on? When can I see my brother?"

"Mr. Hardy, please," Dr. Finley said, "you'll see him in a few minutes. I just wanted to prepare you for what you're going to find."

Joe could feel a coldness steal into his chest. "Prepare me," he repeated tonelessly. "Prepare me for what?"

Dr. Finley's expression was sympathetic. "Your brother has lost a lot of weight. His captors gave him enough food and water to keep him alive, but that's it. We've got him on an IV to get nutrition into his system."

"What are you not telling me, Doc?" Joe asked, his voice quiet but tinged with anger. "My brother's been missing for three months, and you're keeping me here in the hallway rather than letting me see him?" His hands tensed into fists at his sides. "What's going on?"

The doctor scrutinized Joe's expression, then sighed. "Mr. Hardy, your brother is in a catatonic state." He paused. "He's alive and awake, but he's unresponsive to stimuli. We're hoping he comes out of it on his own. We don't want to injure him further by trying to bring him out of it right now." He looked Joe in the eyes. "I'd like you to go in and talk to him. Sometimes hearing familiar voices can help."

Joe stood frozen in place. "And if it doesn't?"

"There's medication we can administer. ECT has also been shown to work." Dr. Finley took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Given his current physical state, we'd like to avoid those options if at all possible."

Joe nodded, his face pale and worried. "Can I see him now?" he asked. Dr. Finley answered by turning and opening the door to Frank's room, letting it close once Joe had walked in.

The room was light and airy. Frank lay in the bed, his head turned toward the wall opposite the door, his fingers moving slightly on the bedclothes. Joe could see his brother's cheekbones standing out in sharp contrast to the rest of his face. His eyes were dull and lifeless as he stared at the wall. He looked frail and weak and... not there.

"Frank?" Joe's voice cracked as he said his brother's name. There was no response, no indication Frank even knew he was no longer being held captive, that he was safe and Joe was in the room with him. Joe wanted to punch the wall. He wanted to find whoever did this to Frank and beat him into oblivion. He wanted his brother to look at him. "C'mon, Frank, I know you're in there. Talk to me, 'bro."

The door opened. Joe heard the handle engage and turned to see who was there. Agent Malone stood in the doorway looking at him. "How is he?" she asked. Joe shrugged and turned back towards the bed. "We're putting guards at the door. We'll need a list of people who are allowed in. If you have them, photos of those people would be helpful." Malone sighed. "Look, Mr. Hardy, I know I'm not your favorite person right now, and you may have a hard time believing this, but my team is as concerned about your brother's safety as you are."

Joe snorted. "And that's why it took you two months to agree to send me in to look for him? He took this damn case because your people asked him to, and then you ignored me when I told you he was in danger, that contact had been cut off." Joe turned around. "And now you have the gall to tell me you're concerned about his safety? Keep your damn guards. I'll make sure he's safe."

Malone's voice betrayed no emotion. "The guards will be along in a few minutes. Let us know when he's able to talk to us. We'll need his evidence to get this guy behind bars." She turned back towards the door. Without turning around, she said, "Your brother knew the risks when he accepted the assignment, Mr. Hardy. I'm sorry this happened. It's not a something we like, but getting hurt is part of the job. I'd think you of all people would understand that." With that, she pushed the door open and stationed herself in front of the window with her back towards the room.

Joe closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and tried to control his shaking hands. He turned back towards Frank. "I don't know how you work with her, 'bro. Every time she opens her mouth I just want to shut it for her. She makes my teeth itch." He walked closer to the bed. "And I don't care what she says; this is her fault." Joe put his hands on the rail of the hospital bed. "Come back to us, Frank. Mom and Dad are on their way. They'll be here soon." His voice took on a pleading tone. "Snap out of it, big brother. Come on. Look at me." He paused. "Please, Frank."

The figure on the bed didn't respond. Frank Hardy just sat and stared blankly at the wall, his mind elsewhere, his fingers twitching gently against his legs.

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