Author's note: Hi, there! Welcome back (or simply welcome if this is the first of my stories you're reading)! This story is the third in a series. The first two are Four Strangers at a Street Corner and School of Thought. It would be helpful to read those first, but I'll explain anything that's absolutely vital to know so you can probably get along without reading them. Of course, that also means there're spoilers for them here, so just a fair warning.
This story happens about a year and a half after School of Thought. It's kind of a big time gap, but honestly, that's about how big all the time gaps between stories in this series will be. I've got a lot of years to cover, because Frank and Joe need to be certain age in the final story, and I want to spread the stories out rather than having them all in one big lump.
So, if you read School of Thought when I published it, you'll know that I took a break from posting to get lots and lots of work done on this story, maybe even have it finished before I started posting it. And with two months to work on it, I should have a whole lot done, right? Nope. See, I spent the last two months writing about eleven chapters and hating every moment of it. Part of it was that the story changed dramatically from when I started to when I got to about chapter ten. At that point, I knew that I was going to have to do major revisions on all the previous chapters, but I thought it was still salvageable. Still, I hated the idea of sitting down to work on it, so finally I realized that there was a lot wrong with that original version, including that it was trying to be about three stories stacked up in a trenchcoat, and the only way to rectify the situation was to start from scratch. So, that's what I'm doing, and that's why I technically only have chapter 1 written. I will be posting as I write, as usual, after all. That's okay, though. I know exactly where this story needs to go, and I'm enjoying writing it this time around, so it's all for the best in the end.
There are some warnings in order for this story. First off, there is some violence, which is only natural, considering the villain is a serial killer. Honestly, serial killers kind of bother me (even just in stories), so it won't hurt my feelings if you don't want to read it. I think it's important that this is the kind of villain involved here, though, so that's why I'm sticking with that in spite of all the things I've changed about this story. There will also be some philosophical and even theological discussions here and there (these will become more frequent later in the series). If that bothers you, I don't blame you for skipping the series for that reason, either. The only thing I do ask is that if you review (which I sincerely hope you do!), you be respectful.
That being said, thanks for reading and thanks in advance for reviewing! Enjoy!
The Thirteenth Day
Friday, April 23
Spring was really going in earnest now and today there were even some hints of summer in the air. Iola Morton tilted her head back and breathed in deeply as she sat and let the breeze toss her dark hair and watched the groups of boys throwing a football around in a little clearing down below the Morton farmhouse a few miles outside the small town of Bayport. They weren't really merely boys anymore. All of them except Jerry Gilroy were eighteen now and in a few short weeks would be graduating from high school and then going on to college or whatever their plans might be.
A little pang of loneliness stung Iola's soul, dampening a little of the joy she was feeling to just be outside and be alive. She was the youngest of her old friend group from kindergarten days and the only girl. She was a grade behind the others, and while they would all be graduating, she would have one more year of high school. Of course, she had made friends in her own grade, but she had grown apart from them, especially in the past year and a half. Her only girl friend who was still particularly close was Callie Shaw. She wasn't a whole two years older than Iola, but she had been two years ahead of her in school and she, along with several of Iola's other friends, were already graduated and in college. It had been lonely enough this year without them; next year was hard to think about.
Iola quickly tried to shake the feeling off. She had spent a great deal of the last year and a half feeling sad and sorry for herself, though she had a much better reason than that simply her closest friends were heading off to college. At the end of August the year before last, she had been the victim of a grenade-thrower. The incident had left her mostly paralyzed from the waist down. Before that, she had always been active in sports and passionate about dancing and riding horses, but even if her interests hadn't been so active, it would have been a bitter pill to swallow. It had taken a long time, but she was recovering nicely now—mentally and emotionally, anyway, which she was beginning to realize was more important even than recovering physically. Even on the physical side, things weren't as bleak as they had looked at first. She had a little bit of feeling in her legs, enough that she was working on relearning to ride a horse. Her other sports would never be exactly the same, but she was learning about how they could be modified so that she could still take part in them to some degree. That in itself had been a huge boon to her morale.
But she wasn't completely recovered yet, and she knew that if she spent too long thinking about these things, her spirits would crumple, so she turned her attention back to the impromptu football game. Considering there were only four boys playing, it wasn't a bad game. Iola's older brother Chet and another of their friends, Biff Hooper, were both on the football team at Bayport High, although, of course, the season was over and since they'd both be graduating, they weren't really on the team anymore. Chet was a good player, but Biff was an excellent one and he had managed to get a sports scholarship playing on a college team. The other two boys had been on the junior varsity football team their first year of high school, but they had both left that behind to pursue other interests. One of them was Jerry Gilroy who had since gotten on the track team as a shot putter. The other was Joe Hardy.
Iola smiled as she watched him pass the football to Biff, who was on his "team". Joe, along with his older brother Frank, was Iola's oldest friend. They had moved here years ago, before Iola could remember, but Frank and Joe's parents had struck up a friendship with Iola and Chet's parents, and so the four kids had been playing together since before kindergarten. Joe had also been the first boy that Iola had ever had a crush on—in real life, anyway, actors and singers didn't really count—although it had taken several years and a lot of awkwardness before they both realized they felt the same way about each other. Now they had been dating for the past year and a half. In fact, the day Joe had asked Iola out on their first date was the day of Iola's incident.
That wasn't entirely a coincidence, either. Frank and Joe had been working on a mystery then. Their father, Fenton Hardy, was a private detective and a retired lieutenant from the NYPD. The boys had inherited both a talent and a passion for solving mysteries from him. Although Frank was only nineteen and Joe eighteen, they already had an impressive resumé of solved cases to their names. Their cases frequently turned dangerous, but that incident had been the first time that anything really terrible had happened to them or one of their friends. Iola knew that Joe really did care about her, but sometimes the worry crossed that perhaps guilt was a factor in why he was dating her. Most of the time, she knew that wasn't the case, but every once in awhile, the thought reared its ugly head to disturb her peace.
"All right! Touch down!" Biff's shout shattered Iola's thoughts and she was brought back to the light of the spring day as she watched Biff dance around in the unofficial end zone as if he had just won the Super Bowl. Iola laughed and felt as if a cloud had just passed by, darkening the sun for the moment and then leaving things even brighter and cheerier than they had been before.
"Okay, okay," Chet said. "Big deal. You guys won."
"Am I detecting a little envy there?" Biff teased him.
Chet gave a good-natured harrumph. "Better leave the detecting to Joe, Biff."
"Speaking of," Jerry broke in, since he was more interested in the Hardys' detective careers than a friendly game of football, "do you have any new cases yet, Joe? It was, what, Christmas break when you solved that last one."
"Yeah." Joe flicked a strand of blond hair out of his eyes. He had let it grow a little longer in the past year than normal, much to the disapproval of his aunt Gertrude Hardy, who lived with Joe and his parents. To be completely honest, Joe didn't like it as much as he thought he would, but Aunt Gertrude gave him such a hard time about it that he didn't have any intention of having it cut just yet. "That's pretty much the way it's been since Frank's been in college. It's like we both need to be around to attract mysteries all over the place."
Biff scoffed. "I doubt that. It's probably that something really big is building up. You know, the calm-before-the-storm-type of thing."
Joe grinned. "I hope so. It's about time we had a big case."
"Just as long as it's not too dangerous," Chet commented, "and doesn't start till after graduation. It would be just like you, Joe, to miss your own graduation because you're working on some mystery."
"No promises," Joe said. "You gotta take whatever mysteries come your way."
"Well," Iola spoke up, "if you do stumble on a mystery before school's out and miss all your finals and have to redo your senior year, I can't say I'd mind having you around a little longer too much."
"Uh, yeah, but if they thought they could make me redo senior year, I'd just drop out and get my GED," Joe replied. "I'm not going through this again."
"Like your parents would really let you do that," Biff said.
"Anyway," Jerry added, "the school wouldn't make you redo the whole year. You could probably talk them into letting you make up finals or something."
Just then, Joe's phone gave off a notification that it had received a text. He pulled it out and saw that the message was from his brother and read: "Hey, Joe, I might have just found a mystery for us." Joe's grin spread even bigger as he announced, "I might just have to find out what the school would do about that."
The weather in Gresham, about sixty miles away from Bayport, wasn't much different. It was warm and sunny and pleasant, but Frank Hardy's thoughts weren't quite so warm, sunny, and pleasant as he trekked across the campus of Clairmont College where he was majoring in criminal justice with a minor in forensic science. Finals were only three weeks away, and he was starting to feel the crunch of all the things he needed to do before then.
He was too busy thinking about it all that he hardly heard a familiar voice calling his name. Even when he did hear it, it took a moment to register. Then he turned and saw that it was Callie Shaw calling to him.
"Wake up!" the pretty blonde told him, laughing as she said it. "I called to you three times. I was starting to think you were avoiding me."
"Oh, sorry," Frank said, a bit awkwardly. He liked Callie a great deal and he had even back in high school, but he hadn't worked up the nerve to ask her out just yet. He wasn't really afraid she would say "no"—he was afraid of that to some degree, but he was almost more afraid that she'd say "yes" and then, somehow, something would go wrong. Even so, seeing Callie drove all his other concerns away, even if it did make him embarrassingly nervous. "I wasn't trying to avoid you."
Callie grinned. "You know I didn't really think that, right? I was just teasing."
"Oh. Right. I knew that." Frank passed his hand over his face as if he was trying to clear his thoughts and say something intelligent instead. The only thing he could think to talk about was finals. "So, um, you worried about finals at all?"
"Not too much." Callie shrugged. "Probably not as much as I should be, but worrying about it won't make me get any better grades. How about you?"
"I'm kind of worried, I guess," Frank admitted. "I'll be glad when it's over, at any rate."
"Me, too. Say, do you have any big plans for the summer?"
"Not really. Dad's letting Joe and me both have internships with his detective agency. That will keep us pretty busy."
"But not too close to home," Callie said. She sighed. "You'll probably be traveling all over the world on some exciting case while I'll be stuck in Bayport working."
"So, you are going back to Bayport for the summer," Frank commented, suddenly feeling lighter. It would be much nicer at home with Callie there. "Do you have a summer job lined up?"
"Yeah, in that little antique shop in the mall. It'll be fun, just not quite as fun as what you'll be doing, probably."
"We might get to see each other then. If there's a burglary or something like that, we'll come around to check if the thief used that shop as a fence. The owner's pretty good about not buying from people he doesn't know he can trust, but we always check anyway."
"I'll be sure to take notes on anyone who comes in to try to sell anything," Callie promised. "But I hope it won't take a burglary for you to come and see me."
"No, of course not. I'm really glad you're coming home this summer. Bayport would be awfully lonely without you."
"Yeah, you, too," Callie agreed.
"Could I walk you to your next class?" Frank asked.
"I don't actually have any classes for the rest of day, but if you still want to walk, that would be fine with me."
"All right," Frank agreed, and the two fell into step.
They fell into step with each other and started to talk about their classes. Callie, for her part, wasn't particularly interested in criminal justice. Her passion was for art and she was still holding out hope of transferring to an art school at some point. If anyone else had started talking to her about criminal justice, she probably would have been bored. However, it was impossible to be bored listening to Frank talk about it. This sort of thing was his passion, and Callie loved the way his face and eyes lit up while he talked about it. It made him look even more handsome than ever, which was not an easy feat, since with his dark hair and deep, thoughtful brown eyes, he was easily the most handsome man Callie had ever met.
Better still, he didn't do all the talking himself. He was also an eager listener as Callie talked about one of her art classes and a new technique that she was practicing. Frank was a little better versed in art than Callie was in criminal justice, and so he was able to ask questions and make it clear that he actually cared what she had to say. In this way, a couple hours passed before either even realized it. The first blunt interruption of reality into their walk was Frank's phone ringing.
He took it out with the intention of simply silencing it if it wasn't anyone that was likely to be calling about something important, but when he saw the name on the screen, he stopped. "That's weird."
"What?" Callie asked.
"It's Mario Beretta," Frank said. "I haven't heard from him in…well, since that case. I guess I still have his number in my phone. I wonder what he wants."
He answered it as Callie thought back to that case involving Mario Beretta. She had barely met Mario, but the whole case was one that wasn't easily forgotten. Lisa Prito, the sister of the Hardys' good friend, Tony Prito, had gotten involved in a weird cult calling themselves School of Thought. Tony had been sure that the group was up to no good and asked the Hardys to try to figure out what was going on. At the same time, an old enemy of Fenton Hardy's, Evangeline Moretti—or Eva Moriare, as she now called herself—had been out for revenge. She had had several other people on her list for revenge, including Fenton's old partner from the NYPD, Mitch Johnson, whom she had succeeded in killing. Fenton's current partner in his private detective business, Sam Radley, had also made the list, as had Mario. Mario wasn't much older than Frank and Callie, only two or three years, and he had only been six when the incident for which Eva was determined to get vengeance had happened. In an attempt to make it easier to protect him, Mario had actually stayed with the Hardys for a couple of weeks. In the end, both School of Thought and Eva turned out to be involved in a secret society called Black Rose, although very few details about Black Rose were known. It also hadn't been possible to protect everyone, as that was the case where Iola had gotten injured.
It only took Callie a second to think of all of this, and it had all raced through her head by the time Frank had finished saying, "Hello?"
"Hi, Frank," Frank heard through the phone. "This is Mario Beretta. You remember me?"
"Yeah. Of course. What's up? I haven't heard from you in a long time."
"No kidding. How have you been?"
"Not too bad. How about yourself?"
"Pretty good. I guess you're wondering why I called and you probably already figure that I want something. I was wondering if you could do a favor for me."
"Yeah, probably," Frank said cautiously. He had learned from experience that rashly agreeing to do favors was a good way to give yourself a lot of headaches. "What do you need?"
"Do you remember me talking about my brother, Angelo?"
"The one who you never heard from?"
"Yeah, that one," Mario said. "He's still never contacted us in all this time. I've been trying, whenever I get the chance, to see if I can find out where he's at. It's taken a long time, but I finally might have gotten a lead. Someone might have seen him over in Southport. That's not too far from Bayport, is it?"
"About seventy-five miles or so," Frank replied. "You want us to try to track it down?"
"If you could and have the time and everything. I would myself, but I've got a lot of school work and it's far enough away that I would maybe have to be gone for more than a weekend. Besides, you and Joe know more about running down this kind of thing than I do. I'd be glad to pay any expenses you have…"
"Hey," Frank cut him off, "you don't have to talk us into taking a mystery. We'd be glad to help. As a matter of fact, I'm going to school in Gresham right now, and that's only about fifteen miles away Southport. I could head over there tomorrow."
"That'd be great. Thanks!"
"Who might have seen him?"
"Well, I'll admit, it's the type of thing that he said that she said that someone said, but it leads back to a woman named Susan Ferris. Apparently, she has a son—I haven't been able to get his name—who's been hanging around with someone named Angelo who fits my brother's description. I know it's vague and it's going to be a job just tracking down this Susan Ferris since I don't have her address or phone number, but I'd really appreciate it."
"We should be able to find her. Southport's a small town. I'll give Joe a call right now. I'm sure he'll be willing to drive up."
After Frank had hung up, Callie raised her eyebrows. "I only heard your side of that, but it sounds like you've got a mystery over in Southport."
"Right," Frank said as he sent a text to Joe to make sure he got the message in case he wouldn't answer his phone.
"And you're going over there tomorrow?"
"Uh-huh. Say, do you want to come?" Somehow it was much easier asking Callie to come along on a sleuthing mission than to ask her on a date.
Callie hesitated. If it was anyone else, she would have never considered accepting the invitation even for an instant. Even with Frank, she wasn't terribly keen on the idea. Of all the towns in the area, Southport had the worst crime rate. There were even rumors that there was a serial killer currently operating in the area. Still, with both Frank and Joe along, it couldn't be too dangerous. Besides that, their friends Phil Cohen and Tony Prito were both attending the community college there.
"Would you bring Phil and Tony along, too?" Callie asked.
Frank was a little confused by the request, but he replied, "Yeah, if they're free. That would be a great idea."
"Well, then, with four guys along, it should be safe enough. I'll go."
"Great!" Frank replied, just as his phone rang again, this time with Joe calling.
"Hey!" Joe said the instant Frank answered the phone. "I just saw your text. What's the mystery?"