Author's note: Welcome! Thanks for reading this fanfiction! I hope you enjoy it!
Before we get started, there're a couple of things I want to note, especially if you've ever read any of my other fanfics. First off, I have changed my username. I was hbndgirl for several years, which was never a username I was particularly fond of. So, in the interests of giving you all a real name to associate with me, I've put Lizzy in front of it. Lizzy is a variation of middle name rather than my first name and very few people in real life call me that, but you can all call me by it, if you like.
Second, there's a bit of a story behind this story. Some of you may have read my earlier series, the Chapters Series. You remember, that overly long, overly convoluted, overly disjointed series full of unlikely plot twists and convenient escapes and practically impossible scenarios? Yep, it's pretty much full of flaws, and I'm painfully aware of it. Yet, in spite of that, it's a series I've always felt had potential, that I've always wanted to be a great series. I've thought quite a bit the last year about rewriting it, and have been working on that off and on. Finally, I decided to just take the plunge and do it. So, that's what this is at the baseline: a rewrite of the Chapters Series. However, it's not like I'm taking each individual book from that series and rewriting it. It's more like I'm taking the overall idea of the series and making it into a new series. So, most of the major plot points of the overarching story are still here. Most of the OCs are back. The individual storylines of each story are completely different, because that's sometimes what happens when you're rewriting. Because of that, I am absolutely leaving the original Chapters Series up and you can read it if you want. The biggest change in this rewrite that needs to be addressed right now is that the original one has Nancy Drew in it. This one does not. The original series was fighting me the entire time, because it wanted to focus completely on the Hardys, but I wanted to force it to spare a little time for Nancy. This time, I'm not trying to fight it, which is a little sad since I'm a pretty big Nancy fan, but it also means I'll have more time to focus on some of the more neglected characters from the Hardy Boys, like Laura and Aunt Gertrude and Tony and Phil. I've got plans for all of them, and I think you'll like them.
Third, this is kind of a pet project for me. I'm working some original books, and I need to devote most of my writing time to them, so until further notice, I'll only be posting one chapter a week on Fridays. I'll probably once in a while give you guys an extra chapter in a week's time, but I don't want to bog myself down too much by promising multiple chapters a week, because this is going to be a BIG project, considering I've got plans for at least six books in it. I also may very well post other fanfics in between chapters of this series, just because sometimes I need to work on something else for a little break and I don't always feel like working on my original books.
Fourth, this series might be a little uncomfortable for some people to read. There will be a lot of violence in it, as well as quite a few religious/philosophical discussions amongst characters. It all is important to the storyline, I promise, but I realize it can be uncomfortable, so don't feel obliged to continue reading if you don't want to. At the same time, please keep any and all reviews respectful to other readers and myself and just generally non-nasty. Just to clarify, if you want to criticize my writing, absolutely go for it, but if you disagree with what I say (rather than just how I say it), please be respectful about it.
Fifth, and finally, this story is a little bit of a strange jumping off place, maybe. You see, Fenton and Laura are the main characters here. It takes place while Fenton is still a detective for the NYPD and Frank and Joe are three and two, respectively. It will give a lot of important background, though, and give me a chance to really work with Fenton and Laura's characters, which should be a lot of fun. As for when, specifically, it takes place, it's a little hard to say, but I'm going to just go with 1998.
I think that's probably it for this overly long author's note. So, with that, I present to you the first book of this new series:
Four Strangers on a Street Corner
An Unlikely Clue
The clock above the front desk at that particular precinct of the New York City Police Department was ticking so loudly that it seemed to permeate Lieutenant Fenton Hardy's brain until the only thing more coherent than "tick-tock, tick-tock" that he could think was to wonder why a battery-powered clock even needed to tick. The young detective rested his elbows on the desk and buried his face in his hands. This was what came of seventeen straight hours on duty.
"Shouldn't you either be working or be at home?" Nicholson asked. He had graduated from Police Academy recently and had been put on duty at the front desk tonight. The thought entered Fenton's sleep-deprived brain that Nicholson was probably finding working the front desk at three o'clock in the morning to be much less exciting than he had expected police work to be.
"Tell that to Moretti and his boys," Fenton replied with a grimace.
"Inconsiderate bunch, aren't they?" Nicholson had a teasing grin on his face as he said it. "On a Sunday, too. The least they could do was wait for a weekday to blow each other up."
Fenton frowned. He knew that many officers used gallows humor to cope with the suffering they saw daily, but Nicholson was too new for that sort of thing. Besides that, he had been parked safely behind this desk and hadn't seen that parking lot that had been used as a battlefield. "There wasn't anything funny about the shape of that parking lot, officer."
Nicholson immediately wiped the grin off his face. "Of course not, Lieutenant. I didn't mean any disrespect. It is strange, though, that it happened on a Sunday morning. I thought these people believed in going to church."
Fenton shook his head, more out of disbelief than disagreement. "They might go to church, but they certainly don't listen to anything that's said there. It's disgusting, really. Sorry. I know I'm supposed to be impartial."
Nicholson shrugged. "Since when was it partiality to state a fact? Butchering each other in the streets over who gets the rights to make a fortune selling drugs is pretty much the definition of disgusting, if you ask me. Speaking of which, have you figured out who the other guys involved in the fight were?"
"Nobody seems to recognize them." Fenton sighed. "Johnson and I have been working basically this whole time to identify them, but no luck so far. We didn't think it would be too hard, considering they appear to be a part of a group that uses a particular tattoo to identify themselves, but no one knows what group it is or at least no one will talk about it. Forensics are working to get us a clear picture of what their faces must have looked like."
Any humor in Nicholson's face was immediately replaced with disgust as his face paled and his lips parted slightly while he registered just what this information meant. He swallowed hard and then tried to change the subject by saying, "Speaking of Johnson, where is he?"
"Asleep. He barely hit the break room and he was out. It's just as well. I figure sleeping through this break is probably as good a use of the time as anything." Fenton sighed again and shook his head. "I know after seven years on the force, I should be used to seeing things like this, but this one's really getting to me."
"I don't see why it should," Nicholson said, recovering a little and trying to cover up the fact that this one detail about the crime scene had made his stomach churn. "I mean, sure, eight bodies killed by machine guns littering up a parking lot would be pretty nasty, but these guys had it coming. Five of them are part of the Moretti Family and the other three are hoods of some sort, maybe even worse."
"That's the problem. We know about Moretti, but we can't stop him, and the same goes for all the other crime families in this city. Now we have these new guys, and we don't even have a clue who they are. And they're not always just killing each other. It would be bad enough if they were, but as often as not, ordinary citizens get caught up in these things. I keep thinking about my two boys. What kind of a place is this for them to grow up in? You know, I grew up in a small town. I want that for my boys."
Nicholson scoffed. "You'd give up being a lieutenant, and no doubt eventually promoted even higher, in the NYPD to be some small town cop?"
"For my boys and Laura, I would," Fenton said without hesitation.
Nicholson shook his head and looked down at his work. He clearly couldn't see how taking such a demotion could possibly be beneficial to a man's wife and kids.
Fenton took a sip of his coffee, one of the first he had had out of this cup. It was already cold, but he kept drinking it anyway. After so many hours without sleep, coffee of any temperature was practically a necessity. He allowed his mind the luxury of drifting back to his old hometown, a place called Northrop, Maine. His father had been a police officer on the small force there, while his mother had stayed at home and taken care of Fenton and his sister, Gertrude, filling what little free time she had with volunteer work and a few clubs. It had been a good place to grow up. Fenton and Gertrude had both had plenty of friends and had spent so many long, lazy summer days of childhood exploring every nook and cranny of that little town. Then, in high school, there had been Friday nights at the movie theater, ice skating on the frozen river in the wintertime, long drives through the countryside, and any number of other activities that would have practically been impossible if he had grown up in the city.
He thought of his sons, Frank and Joe. Frank was only three, and Joe had just turned two a couple weeks ago. They deserved to grow up in a town like Northrop, where they could be safe to hang out with friends or explore the town. The problem was that it would be a sacrifice to go back to a place like that. Fenton would have to take a major cut in pay, and there wouldn't be many options for Laura to take on a job, if she even wanted to. She made it clear that taking care of her sons was her highest priority, and she didn't want to hand that over to strangers at some daycare. Besides that, she and Fenton had made friends here in New York. It would be hard leaving them behind. Still…it was worth talking over again. Maybe they could find a way to make it work.
Fenton was stirred from his daydream by the doors to the precinct opening. Nicholson, too, looked up. It wasn't unusual for someone to come in at three in the morning – police precincts in the city were never really "dead" – but both men were a little surprised at the sort of person who was coming in. It was a little boy, probably no more than six or seven years old. His dark hair and eyes and darkish complexion told the officers that he was probably of Italian descent, which was a fact that stood out to both of them, considering what had taken place earlier that day, or rather the day before.
"What can I do for you?" Nicholson asked him in a friendly tone. "Isn't it awfully late for you to be wandering around on your own?"
"I guess," the boy admitted. He seemed a little scared as he stood in front of the door with wide eyes and feet that were hesitant to come forward.
"What's your name?" Nicholson asked when the boy didn't offer any other information. "My name is Paul Nicholson, and this is Lieutenant Hardy."
"You can call me Fenton, though," Fenton quickly interjected.
"Mario," the boy said.
Nicholson waited a little to give the boy a chance to supply his last name, but Mario didn't say anything. Finally, Nicholson asked him, "What's your last name?"
Mario bit his lip. "Beretta," he said.
"Do your parents know you're here?" Nicholson asked.
Mario shook his head.
"Do you want me to call them and ask them to come here and get you?" Nicholson asked.
Again, Mario shook his head. "They're not home."
Fenton and Nicholson exchanged a glance. Then Fenton asked, "Is there anyone at your home?"
"Just my brother Angelo and my sister Isabella."
"How old are your brother and sister?" Nicholson continued.
"Angelo's eight and Isabella's three," Mario told him. "I think something bad happened to my mom and dad." Tears formed in the boy's big, dark eyes and his fears for his parents seemed to conquer his fear of the two officers as he came a few steps closer.
"Come over here and sit down," Nicholson invited him. He stood up and showed the boy a chair. Hesitatingly, Mario came over and climbed into the chair.
"Can I get you something to eat or drink?" Fenton asked him.
Mario shook his head again. "I'm not hungry." He sniffled. "Can you do something for my mom and dad? My dad didn't mean to be bad."
Instantly, Fenton's mind went back to the mob battle that had taken place that morning. None of the five Moretti men that had been killed had been named Beretta, but that didn't mean that one of the three unidentified men hadn't been the boy's father. For that matter, there were probably other men who had been wounded and possibly have died, even though none of them had shown up in any of the hospitals in the area. But he was getting ahead of himself. Just because the boy's father was Italian and had apparently gone missing today didn't mean that he was involved with Moretti or his enemies.
"We'll do everything we can," Fenton promised Mario. "Can you tell us what happened?"
"I don't know," Mario said. "My dad, he's friends with some real bad men. They wanted him to go with them before church, but he wouldn't go. They came later and took Mom and Dad away. We didn't know what to do. Angelo said I shouldn't tell the police because if you found Dad, you'd him in jail. I just want you to find them, so I waited till Angelo fell asleep."
Nicholson patted the boy's shoulder. "You were smart to come to us. Can you tell us your parents' names?"
"Nico and Mattea Beretta," Mario said.
Then, at Nicholson's prompting, Mario described his parents, as well as the men who had taken them away, as well as he could. They weren't very clear descriptions, but it was obvious from them that, while the Berettas were very Italian, their abductors were certainly not Italian. There were three of them, one of them white with blond hair, another white with red hair, and the third black, and all tall and rough with longish hair. Fenton rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he listened. The descriptions didn't particularly ring any bells, although he'd seen plenty of people who could fit those vague descriptions, but a hunch was forming in the back of his mind. He didn't want to say anything in front of Mario or even Nicholson, but it might worth talking it over with Fenton's partner, Mitch Johnson.
"You and your brother and sister can't just live all by yourselves until we find your parents," Fenton told Mario. "Do you have any grandparents or aunt or uncles who could take care of you?"
Mario shook his head again. "There's Uncle Giovanni, but I don't know where he is. He left a long time ago and he never came back."
"Okay, well, we'll find someone who can take care of you," Fenton assured him. "Do you know your address? We should find Angelo and Isabella and bring them here to the precinct until we can find someone who can take care of you. Also, we might be able to find something at your house that will help us find your parents."
"I can show you where it is," Mario offered.
"Good enough," Nicholson said. "I'll go find someone else…"
"I'm going to go along," Fenton interrupted. "It's just a feeling I have."
"You'll still need some help, so I'll go round up a few people," Nicholson insisted. He stood up and exited the room, leaving Fenton and Mario alone.
Mario looked up at Fenton with tears trickling down his face. "Are you going to put my dad in jail?"
Fenton hesitated. He never liked having to answer that question, especially not when it was asked by a child. In this instance, though, he didn't even know whether the boy's father had broken any laws or not. With "friends" like these men that Mario had described, chances were that he had, but there was no point in saying anything definite, one way or the other.
He was spared having to answer the question for the moment, because he was interrupted by the unceremonious entrance of Sergeant Mitch Johnson, who came stumbling in, looking only slightly more awake than last time Fenton had seen him.
"Hardy, I just got a call," he announced, evidently not noticing the boy sitting in the chair that Fenton was crouching next to. "Forensics just got a possible ID on one of those three guys."
Fenton stood up and pulled him aside. "Not so loud," he told him, nodding toward Mario. "What did they get?"
"A facial match on one of the guys with a driver's license issued to a Robert Hatch from the Bronx," Johnson told him. "Which means we've got an address and everything."
"Great," Fenton said. "We'll get some people from over there to check it out. I've got something here that I think is worth looking into."