View Full Version : Fonziebirds: In Enemy Hands
Chapter One- The Drug
The car pulled to a halt at the rear of the building and three men got out. One of them, his metal rimmed glasses catching the glare of the street light nearby, bent and spoke briefly to a fourth man who was sitting immobile in the car. When he had finished the fourth man, slightly stiffly, also got out of the vehicle.
To casual eyes they were businessmen, perhaps attending a business meeting – although a casual observer might think it strange for a business meeting to be held in the small hours of the morning. The four approached the side door of the building where they were met by a policeman who blocked their way.
“Good evening, sirs. Can I help you?”
The man who had emerged last from the car stepped forward.
“It's alright, Officer Kirk. Are any of my people still here?”
The policeman leaned forward and peered into the man’s face. As recognition dawned his expression changed and he stepped back.
“Professor Garrity, Sir. I didn’t recognise you. Besides, the confound Journalism Department is empty. Professor Thomas was the last to leave and he went about four hours ago – with the weekend and Bank Holiday we weren’t expecting to see anyone now until Tuesday morning.”
Officer Kirk looked questioningly at the three silent strangers standing in the shadows behind the Dean of UWM.
“Everything's in order, Officer Kirk. These men have some urgent business to conduct. It's of the utmost importance and can't wait. I'll let you know when we're finished.”
Gesturing dismissively to Officer Kirk, Professor Garrity turned to the side door, operated the security locking mechanism and went inside, followed closely by his companions. Behind them Officer Kirk, after watching the door close, radioed an update to the Chief of Police and continued with his duties.
Within the College campus, the tall men with curly brown hair spoke softly to the Journalism Professor, who was now standing stiff and immobile next to the door.
“Thank you, Professor Garrity. That was well done. Now, we'll go to your office and you'll carry out the remainder of my instructions.”
The older man nodded once and then moved off, followed silently by his three shadows.
Half an hour later, Officer Kirk was summoned to the side door of the Journalism Department by a call on his mobile communicator. He arrived to find Professor Garrity just completing the security coding on the door. In the background, half hidden in the shadows with their coat collars pulled up against the autumn rain, were his three companions of earlier.
“Thank you, Officer, we’re finished here.” said Professor Garrity before the policeman could say anything. “I’ve locked up as normal and we’ll be on our way. Goodnight.”
Without waiting for an acknowledgement, Professor Garrity turned on his heel and left with the other three men. Officer Kirk, having watched them enter Professor Garrity’s car and drive away, entered another report with his controller and once more resumed his rounds.
At Garrity Manor the next morning, Professor Garrity’s valet found the Professor deeply asleep when he came to wake him for breakfast. Growing alarmed at his inability to rouse his master, a doctor was called. Shortly afterwards, Professor Garrity was rushed to the nearest neurological unit and admitted to intensive care where he remained unresponsive to treatment.
On Tuesday morning when UWM opened its doors for classes, the Dean found the college funds to be missing a sum of fifty million pounds. Investigations traced the sum to an electronic movement of funds authorised by Professor Garrity during his locking up of the campus the previous evening. The funds had been transferred to a bogus offshore account from where they had since been withdrawn and the account closed.
Far away in the South Pacific, Howard Tracy sat in his office talking to the video picture of Lori Beth Creighton-Ward that was looking out of the picture frame that sat on his desk.
“So, you don’t think Professor Garrity was a voluntary member of this gang, Lori Beth?”
“No, Mr Tracy, I don’t. My folks’ve known Professor Garrity for years and I’m convinced that he’s completely trustworthy – no matter how badly things look for him.”
“But the Police say his behaviour that night appeared completely normal.”
“Mr Tracy, the policeman on duty that night may have thought that Professor Garrity was acting completely normally but believe me, for the Dean to transmit fifty million pounds to an unknown bank account without good reason he was anything but completely normal. It would be as normal as for one of your sons to take one of the International Rescue machines off the island without telling you about it first.”
Howard grunted in acknowledgement of the simile.
“I guess. So, what do you want me to do for you, Lori Beth?”
“It’s more Al’s help, I need than yours, Mr Tracy. The doctors are at a loss to discover what's wrong with Professor Garrity. At first, they thought he had had a stroke but all tests for that've now indicated otherwise. This sudden malady must be related to his behaviour that night but the doctors don't know how. If I can get a copy of their report to you, would it be possible for Al to go over it to see if there's anything that occurs to him that the doctors have missed?”
“Sure thing, Lori Beth though I don’t know that Al’ll be much help – his strength is more in engineering than medicine.” Howard thought for a moment. “Get the records sent through, Lori Beth. I’ll get Al to take a look at them and if needed I’ll use a couple of other contacts I’ve got that might be able to help.”
“Thanks, Mr Tracy. I appreciate it. Lori Beth out.”
Just outside the entrance of the Staimer Scientific Laboratories in Katherine, Northern Territory, Australia, Doctor Liam Brady slowed his car to a crawl as it approached the security gates, giving the security guard plenty of time to recognise it. As he neared the barrier the red and white striped bar slowly rose to allow him admittance and the guard waved his hand as the car passed by.
Mechanically, his eyes never leaving the road, Doctor Brady waved his hand in acknowledgement and drove on. Parking his car in its normal slot he passed into the building, ignoring the reception desk as was his wont and made his way to the secure research block where he had his laboratory. Once within the extensive area he made his way to the control room that was already occupied by another white-coated scientist.
“Hiya, Liam. You’re on time, mate.”
“’Morning, Bill. Anything new?”
“Nah, everything’s fine as usual. No stress. I’ve had difficulty staying awake it’s been so normal.”
Bill loaded his books and papers back into his bag and then removed his lab coat and hung it in one of the lockers that lined one wall of the room.
“I’ll leave you to it mate. I’m off to shake the soil of this place off my shoes and get some clean wilderness air in my lungs. Richardson's coming in for the next few days, I won’t be back till next week.”
“Fine. I’ve got plenty to be getting on with here anyway. Have a good break.”
Turning away, Doctor Brady opened another of the lockers and took out his own lab coat from where it hung. As he did so his colleague gathered the last of his belongings and left the room. As soon as the door clicked shut behind him Liam Brady’s stance changed. His arms, which had just emerged from the sleeves of the lab coat, dropped to his sides, his back stiffened and his features became impassive and flat. Crossing the room to the door with a slightly stiff gait he operated the full range of high- security locking mechanisms that were only usually used when the room was being left fully unattended for a prolonged period of time. This done he then re-crossed the room to several large banks of dials and controls. Working at a deliberate, seemingly unhurried pace he operated a series of switches on the consoles, ignoring the flashing amber lights that soon began to appear.
Having finished here he moved further to an adjoining subsidiary control room and again manipulated a number of the controls and switches in one of the security cabinets, again steadfastly ignoring the increasing number of flashing amber lights that began to blink from the control panels.
After a few minutes, apparently satisfied with his work he seated himself at one of the tables in the room that were provided for the working notes and papers of the scientists who normally occupied the laboratory. He sat rigidly upright for several minutes, his hands resting on the table top in front of him, his eyes glazed over as they stared unblinkingly into the distance. Gradually a change started to come over him. His eyes began to drift closed and his body began to relax, his shoulders slumping forwards. As his weight shifted his hands and arms moved forwards on the table until his forehead came to rest on the tabletop. His eyes were now fully closed and his breathing gradually lessened and became more and more shallow as he passed into full unconsciousness, totally oblivious to the multiple red flashing alarm lights on the consoles around him and to the alarm klaxons that had started to sound in the nearby facility.
Chapter Two- It Happened Again
Howard Tracy noticed the blinking red light on his desk from the corner of his eye. Clearing his throat he broke into the heated discussion that was taking place between the two scientists in San Francisco and London.
“Doctor Blain, Doctor Thomas, let me stop you there.”
Silence fell as the disputing scientists heeded their benefactor’s voice and ceased their discussions.
“Much as I appreciate your comments on this matter it is clear that there is still much work to be done. May I suggest that you continue your discussions by the usual routes and let me have details of your findings as they arise. Once we can agree on the findings we can decide how to proceed. However for the moment you must excuse me.”
As the two scientists opened their mouths to object, Howard lifted his hand to stop them.
“I'm sorry, gentlemen. Another urgent matter's come up and I must attend to it immediately. I'll come back to you again as quickly as I can. Thank you for your time.”
With that, Howard finished the conference call, pushed himself back from his desk and headed towards the lounge. As he entered the room the tell- tale vibrations through the floor and walls alerted him to the exit of Fonziebird One from its hanger as the high powered aircraft sped on its way to another rescue.
“Son, what’s going on?”
Warren a.k.a Potsie was seated behind Howard’s desk and looked up as his father entered.
“A scientific laboratory in Australia, Dad. Something’s gone wrong with their manufacturing processes and the chemicals are mixing in the wrong proportions. One of their scientists has collapsed in the control room but all the security doors are locked. The plant’s set to explode within the hour and the local emergency services don't have the equipment to get through the heavy security in time.”
“Where are all your brothers?”
As he spoke the eyes on Potsie’s portrait flashed, accompanied by a matching bleeping sound.
“Go ahead, Fonzie.”
As Potsie operated the vid-link the portrait changed, revealing the features of his older brother.
“Fonziebird One, changing to horizontal flight.”
“F.O.N.Z. And oh, Fonz?”
“Make sure you don’t prang my bird.”
Fonzie’s smile was wide and his eyes shining as he signed off – it was not often that one of the younger siblings of the Tracy family got the chance to fly the high-powered rescue ‘plane and when they did they relished it.
As Potsie turned to speak to his father, the eyes on Ralph’s portrait lit up. Operating the link again the portrait changed to reveal Ralph in uniform at the controls of the large rescue machine with Richard a.k.a Richie just visible in the background.
“Fonziebird Two requesting permission to launch.”
“Fonziebird Two, you're clear to launch. Good luck.”
Potsie stood and joined his father at the lounge windows where he was watching the exhaust trail of Fonziebird One dwindling to a point in the distance.
“Too bad you had to miss the rescue, son.”
“Yeah. Well someone had to man the desk and we weren’t sure when you would be able to get away from the call. How did it go?”
“They’re still debating. They agree Al’s findings may be indicative but indicative of just what they can’t agree on.”
Both men turned as Marion entered the lounge carrying a tray that she set on a low table.
“Coffee, Mr Tracy, Mr Warren?”
The two Tracy men smiled at the female servant and stepped towards her.
“Thank you, Marion. That'd be just great.”
Potsie and Howard sat down to wait as Marion poured them each a strong, black coffee.
As Arthur 'Fonzie' Tracy slowed his approach to the Staimer Scientific Laboratories he could see the car park that had been cleared for the use of International Rescue. At the entrance were three security cars and around the perimeter the area had been cleared for a number of meters beyond which a huge crowd had already gathered to see what they could of International Rescue. As he sat the scout machine down on the tarmac and killed the engines the three cars were already heading towards him.
By the time that Fonzie had left his seat and opened the access hatch one of the cars had disgorged its occupants – four burly security men – who immediately took up vigilant watching positions. One was stationed under the extreme tip of the nose cone, one under the extreme tip of the tail and one each under the tips of either wing. They stood almost to attention, their backs to each other, their faces scanning the surrounding area. At their waists were belts holding communication devices, automatic pistols and a variety of other equipment that might be useful to them. Sparing them barely a glance, Fonzie turned to the men who had left the other two cars.
“International Rescue at your service. Thanks for complying with our security requirements. If you could help me shift my gear so that I can set it up we can talk on the way. My colleagues'll be here soon, whoa.”
Nodding the men from the laboratory moved forwards to give their assistance.
Ralph knocked off the gas supply to the cutting gun he held.
“That’s it, Rich. We’re through.”
Together the brothers each lifted one of their legs and, in tandem, struck the door. With a loud crash it caved inwards and fell to the floor. In seconds they were at the side of the still figure at the table. Richie removed one of his heatproof gloves and touched two fingers to the pulse point on the man’s neck.
“He’s still alive. Come on, Ralph, let’s get out of here, this plant is due to go up any second.”
Taking the inert body of Doctor Brady between them they laid him on the stretcher that they had brought with them, lifted it and began making their way towards the door. They had just reached the passageway when the floor shook beneath them, throwing them temporarily off balance.
“Move it.” Ralph’s voice was tight with a combination of exertion and uneasy anticipation as he regained his balance and continued forwards. From within the helmets of their protective suits came the disembodied voice of Fonzie Tracy.
“Ralph, Rich, the plant’s starting to blow. You’ve got to get out now!”
Needing no second urging the brothers picked up their pace as much as they could, now near jogging down the corridor. Before they reached the next doorway, however, there was a second, much louder explosion as the side of the passageway exploded inwards, throwing men and stretcher against the opposite wall of the passageway from where they tumbled to the floor.
Chapter Three- In The Lab
Outside the main building, Fonzie called out frantically to his brothers.
“Ralph! Rich! Do you read me? Answer please!”
Silence was the only thing that came back to him from the microphones of the Mobile Control console as his throat tightened and a cold hand of fear closed around his heart.
“Ralph! Can you hear me? Are you Okay?”
Against the backdrop of another explosion from one of the buildings of the laboratory and the wail of fire tenders and ambulances that were constantly arriving at the site Fonzie could hear only the silence that met his pleas for some sort of confirmation that his brothers still lived. Looking up at the complex his heart sank further as he took in the roiling clouds of smoke, laced through here and there with the red tongues of fire, that now rose above the ruined research facility. Walls were crumbling and caving in around the site of the first explosion. It would not be long before the remainder of the facility was in a similar state.
Returning his gaze to Mobile Control he noticed for the first time the protective suit that Richie had dropped at his feet as he and Ralph had headed towards the building a few minutes before.
“Mobile Control to Fonziebird Five. Come in, Chach.”
“Fonziebird Five to Mobile Control. Go ahead, Fonz.”
“Chach, I’ve lost contact with Ralph and Rich. The complex is exploding but they’re still in there. I’m going to put on a hot suit, take the Fire Fly and go in after them. Carry on trying to get them while I get suited up would you?”
“F.O.N.Z, Fonz. Let me know when you’re in Fire Fly. I’ll let Potsie know what you’re going to do.”
As Fonzie turned from the console and started pulling on the protective suit he realised with a shock that he must now be experiencing what Potsie had experienced so many times before – the position of the middle man. Although not as cut off from the situation as Charles a.k.a Chachi now was, hanging above the globe in Fonziebird Five and totally unable to help, he was here, safe at Mobile control, while his two brothers were somewhere inside a burning, exploding complex, almost definitely hurt and possibly already dead.
Now he was beginning to appreciate the unenviable position Potsie held. Second oldest brother, field commander, mobile control anchor man, occasional emergency rescuer and all too often emotional support to his younger brothers. He was beginning to appreciate it – but he did not envy it at all.
As these thoughts chased themselves through Fonzie’s mind, in the shadow of Fonziebird One the four security men moved. From their belts, they each took a small device capable of emitting and registering infrared light beams. The two officers stationed under the wings of the aircraft turned to face each other, in a direct line immediately under the widest part of the craft. One aimed his beam at the device held by the other. When it was registered as received the second man nodded success to his colleague.
The procedure was repeated between the remaining two sentries standing under the nose cone and the engines of the craft. When it too had been completed the officers returned the devices to their belts and turned back to their previous stances as vigilant guards of the International Rescue machines. Fonzie, now fully enclosed in his safety suit, jogging back towards the cordoned off car park to retrieve the Fire Fly, noticed nothing – his thoughts fully occupied with worry for his two brothers.
Richie groaned and rolled onto his back. Halfway over a solid object behind his back stopped him rolling any further or finding comfort. His decision to open his eyes to find out why his bed had suddenly become so lumpy was accompanied by an urgent voice sounding in his ears.
“Fonziebird Five calling Richie. Come in, Rich, can you hear me?”
“Chachi?” Richie was confused and disorientated. Why was his brother in his bedroom?
“Thank the stars! You’re alive.” the relief in his brother’s voice was clear “Are you Okay? How’s Ralph?”
Memory flooded back into Richie’s mind. The rescue, explosions.
Richie forced himself to his feet and, ignoring the heap of rubble on which he had been lying, began to look for the two men he had been with. Right next to him lay the figure of the scientist they had rescued, now starting to stir. A few feet further away Richie caught sight of Ralph, face down in the middle of the passageway. Stumbling over, Richie gained his brother’s side, knelt beside him and gently turned him over.
“Ralph? Ralph, can you hear me? Come on, Ralph, wake up!”
As he watched his brother’s eyelids flickered open and light blue eyes fixed slowly on the anxiously watching Richie.
“The complex is going up,” Richie grabbed his brother under his arms and helped him to stand “Come on, we’ve got to get out.”
The brothers made their way back to Doctor Brady who was now fully conscious and struggling to his feet. Richie reached out to steady him and turned on the outside microphone that would allow him to communicate through the heatproof suit.
“Doctor Brady, we’ve come to help you. Can you walk? We must leave now.”
In return, Richie received only a look of complete confusion. Seeing that explanation would take longer than they had available Ralph reached out and grasped the scientist by one arm and tried to encourage him forwards. Doctor Brady, however, pulled his arm away and backed up against the wall of the passage, stumbling over pieces of rubble and almost losing his footing in his confusion.
“What.................what’s going on? Who are you? What's happening?”
Ralph approached the scientist, his hands held out in front of him to show he was a friend.
“Easy, Doctor Brady, easy. There’s been an accident, an explosion. The laboratory complex's damaged and we’ve come to help. If you’d just come with us we can....”
The man looked around him, taking in the shattered corridor, the piles of rubble lying at their feet and at the rapidly thickening clouds of smoke and dust that were billowing around them. He put a hand up to his head, brushing over his face and hair.
“My God, I remember now. The controls, I moved them.”
Richie and Ralph shot each other a puzzled look.
“You moved the controls?” questioned Richie, forgetting for a moment the need to leave in the surprise of what he had just heard. “Why did you do that?”
“I.......I......I don’t know. I don’t remember.”
“Well, we’ll sort that out when we get out of here. For now we have to leave.”
Ralph moved towards the man and again grasped one arm and tried to encourage him to move forwards. Doctor Brady took a couple of steps and then again wrenched his arm out of Virgil’s grasp.
“It’s all my fault!” A combination of panic and despair filled the doctor’s face. “Don’t you see? It’s all my fault. I did this.”
His eyes were wide, the irises appearing as small islands of colour in a sea of white. He looked wildly from side to side as if seeking a way out of the panic of realisation that had caught him. “I’ve got to reverse it, got to fix it.”
He stumbled away from his rescuers to the hole in the side of the wall. As Richie and Ralph looked on in disbelief, too dumbstruck to move, the crazed scientist began to pick up pieces of shattered masonry and tottered back to the breached wall and tried to fit them back into the gaping hole.
“Ralph! Rich! Where are you? What are you guys doing?”
The concerned voice of Chachi broke in on them.
“Chachi, we’re Okay.” Richie pulled himself out of his abstraction to reassure his absent brother. “We’ve hit a small delay here but we’ll be out in a minute.”
“Okay, Rich, just see that you are. Fonz’s heading towards you in the FireFly so make your way back to the main entrance and he’ll meet you there.”
Ralph and Richie crossed to where Doctor Brady was still trying to pack the fallen rubble back into the shattered wall.
“Come on, man, we’ve got to leave.”
As Ralph once more took the scientist's arm and tried to lead him up the passageway the other man turned abruptly away from him.
“NO! I MUST FIX THIS. LEAVE ME ALONE!”
The man was red in the face now from exertion and emotion and was starting to cough from the effect of the smoke he was constantly inhaling. A fine sheen of sweat covered his skin and his eyes were fever bright, the pupils just tiny pricks of black against blue. As he turned to pick up another boulder he seemed to have immediately forgotten their presence.
“Golly gee, Ralph, I don’t like this. There’s something odd going on here.”
“We don’t have time for this, Rich.” Ralph had half turned around to face his fellow redheaded brother. “It looks like we’ll have to force him to leave. Come and......”
At his brother’s cry of alarm, the older brother turned back towards the man they had come to rescue only to be met by a large lump of concrete smashing down towards his head.
Chapter Four- The Guy's Nuts
The fact that Ralph didn't have his back full on to the descending block of masonry possibly saved his life. Instead of crashing with full force upon his skull as it was intended to do, the block of ruined building missed his head by a fraction of an inch and instead spent its force on his left shoulder. Shocked by the suddenness of the attack, Ralph fell beneath its weight, landing on his knees and then dropping forwards onto all fours. An agonised cry escaped his lips as he landed and his vision started to dim and fade into black at the edges as a wave of pain enveloped his shoulder and arm.
“Listen up, Bucko, I'm gonna.......”
Words failed Richie as he saw the blow fall and he leapt at his brother’s attacker, dealing him a thundering blow to the jaw that knocked him backwards and off his feet. Richie followed him up, ready to give out more punishment but the scientist’s eyes were closed and his body was still. Clear of the immediate threat, Richie turned back to his older brother who was still on his knees. Although he was also supporting himself with his right arm, the left dangled uselessly beside him.
“Ralph! Are you okay?”
Coming to kneel on one knee besides his brother, Richie reached out and touched him lightly on his back. He instantly withdrew his hand when Ralph’s head snapped up with a hiss of pain.
“Don’t.” Ralph looked at his younger brother through pain clouded eyes. “Come round the front and give me a hand up, will you?”
Instantly, Richie complied and Ralph reached out his right hand to him. Taking the strain, the younger redhead allowed himself to be used as a climbing frame as his brother struggled to get his feet back under him. For a second, Ralph stood swaying gently, fighting the nausea and pain that swept over him then, taking a deep breath, he looked up to find Richie watching him closely.
“Ralph?” Anxiously, Richie sought reassurance from his injured brother.
“Don’t worry, Rich, I’ll survive. Let’s get out of here. Where is he?”
Richie nodded towards the still form lying a few feet away. Ralph eyed the unconscious man for a moment then turned back to his brother.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to help you. Do you think you can carry him?”
Hesitating briefly, Richie nodded and stepped towards the scientist. Taking care to protect his weakened back as much as he could he grasped one of the scientist’s arm, dragged him upright and then ducked under his chest. Using his well-developed leg muscles, he straightened slowly, taking the dead weight over his shoulders. Once he was vertical, he turned towards his brother who was waiting nearby, cradling his damaged left arm with his right hand.
Wasting no more words, the two brothers started slowly back up the corridor towards the main entrance where they had come in.
“Come on, guys. Come on. Where are you?”
Fonzie tapped his hand impatiently against the casing of the FireFly machine. He had arrived in what was left of the main entrance hall less than a minute before but to him it seemed that he had been waiting for hours.
“Chachi, where are they now?”
“You should be able to see them any second now, Fonz. The auto-locator puts them about eighty feet south west of you, approaching slowly.”
Another deep rumble and shaking of the FireFly evidenced a further explosion somewhere in the research complex. More plaster and brickwork fell from the surrounding walls and ceiling as the already weakened structure deteriorated further towards a state of chaos. Fonzie did a rapid calculation.
“Chach, these buildings aren’t going to last much longer. Monitor my location will you? I’m heading towards them – let me know if I go off- track or get close enough to squash them.”
Turning the FireFly slightly in it’s tracks, Fonzie pointed the machine across the rubble strewn, smoke filled hall and headed towards some doors that lay in a general south west direction. Barely had the FireFly begun to move before one of the doors was pushed open from the other side to reveal a figure in a heat protected suit. The figure used it’s body to prop the door open as a second similarly clad figure emerged, carrying a third body over its shoulder. Instantly, Fonzie flashed the bright lights of the FireFly and opened the outside microphone.
“Ralph! Rich! Over here”
The two suited figures paused a moment to glance in his direction and then started forward again. Fonzie stopped the fire fighting machine as close to his brothers as he dared and then clambered out. As his feet touched the ground, he reached out to help Richie with the prone figure of the scientist. Taking the bulk of the weight from his tiring brother, he lifted the man back into the machine, deposited him on one of the seats and secured him in place with a safety harness. Turning he found Ralph already slumped in another seat, Richie standing over him, gently easing his older brother’s head out of the helmet of the protective suit. Closing the door, Fonzie resumed his place in front of the controls. Within seconds, the FireFly was turning around to begin heading out of the ruined buildings.
“FireFly to Fonziebird Five and International Rescue base.”
“Come in, FireFly, this is International Rescue base.”
“Reading you strength four, Fonz.”
“I’ve got 'em. All three of 'em.”
“Good work, Fonz,” the relief in Potsie’s voice was clear to all. “Are they Okay?”
“Well,” Fonzie paused and looked round briefly from the controls. “Not exactly.”
“What do you mean ‘not exactly’?” Howard’s gruff voice filled the cabin, “What’s wrong?”
Before Fonzie could respond, Ralph broke in from the seat behind.
“We’re okay, Dad, really. The guy we came to rescue is alive” he glanced briefly to his side where Richie was checking the man’s pulse and received a small nod in confirmation, “Albeit's unconscious, Rich’s okay and I’ve just got a sore shoulder.”
“Why, what happened?”
Before Ralph could respond, Richie jumped forward, leaning over Fonzie's seat in his agitation.
“Doctor Brady attacked him!”
“What!” the exclamation came from three throats in synchony.
“The guy was crazy,” Richie was agitated and angry and in no mood to mince his words. “He told us that this is all his fault as he was the one that threw the controls that caused the complex to explode in the first place. Then he started to try to rebuild the place piece by piece.”
Fonzie quickly looked back over his shoulder to check with Ralph that their young brother wasn't having a joke at their expense. Sitting back in his seat and leaning his head on the rest, Ralph looked pale and sick but, catching his brother glancing at him, he gave a barely perceptible nod in confirmation of Richie's words.
“When Ralph tried to grab him to pull him away, the guy picked up a piece of wall and tried to brain him with it. I tell you the guy must be nuts.”
“But that's crazy!” Chachi's voice came from the space satellite “When I picked up the call, they told me this guy was one of their best scientists. Why would he want to do a thing like that?”
“A breakdown perhaps?”
Fonzie glanced back again at the silent figure behind him. Unconscious, he was certainly harmless enough but the human psyche is a strange thing. Pushed beyond it's limits the soul of a human could unleash powerful emotional forces that may have been long held in check but which could be incredibly destructive when the long accepted barriers were broken. Who knew what forces may have been acting on this man for months only to have finally broken his resistance in such a destructive manner.
“Perhaps, Fonzie and perhaps not.”
Howard's voice was quiet and thoughtful.
“Richard, there's an emergency medical kit in the FireFly, isn't there?”
“Sure, Dad. Why?”
“Fonzie, how close are you to the authorities now?”
“The FireFly's just clearing the last of the complex, Dad. We should be with them within a minute.”
“Good, you've got time. Richard, before the FireFly stops, I want you to take a blood sample from Doctor Brady and bring it back here for Al to analyse.”
“Sure, Dad.” Richie started moving towards the compartment where the kit was kept as he spoke. “But why?”
“Let's just say I've got a hunch. Ralph?”
“Make sure you get your shoulder checked thoroughly by a doctor before you head back. I don't want you flying if you're not fit.”
Ralph didn't even grimace as he agreed to his father's request. Over his head, Richie exchanged a worried look with Fonzie.
An hour later, Fonziebirds One and Two took off from the danger zone, leaving behind the still burning ruins of the Staimer Laboratories that were being doused in a mixture of water and foam by the fire response vehicles. As the silhouettes of the rescue machines dwindled to tiny dots against the midday sky the four security guards who had stood vigil underneath Fonziebird One came together in a group and compared their readings. After a minute, their leader nodded in satisfaction. It would be enough.
Chapter Five- Potsie Gets Fixed
The following afternoon, Potsie entered the lounge of his home to find Ralph sitting in one of the chairs at the back of the lounge. An open 'Teen Life' magazine lay on the floor next to him where it had landed after falling from his right hand. His head was back against the rest of the seat and his eyes were closed. Potsie bent and picked up the magazine and placed it on the nearby table.
Ralph’s eyes were open and fixed on his older brother.
“Ralph. How’re you feeling?”
“Sore, tired.” He rubbed his shoulder as he sat up in the chair “Didn’t get too much sleep last night.”
Ralph’s shoulder had been dislocated by the blow he had received the previous day and some of the muscles had been badly strained. Rather than going to hospital, he had opted to have the shoulder re-located under the deadening of a local anaesthetic given by one of the paramedics who attended the emergency. His arm had then been tightly bound to his side to prevent accidental movement during the return flight. Richie had had the unenviable task of flying Fonziebird Two home under the watchful eyes of his older brother who had scrutinised his every move.
“Some, but mainly I just couldn’t get comfortable lying on my back instead of my side.”
“Well, you need to rest up. When another emergency call comes in, we need you fit and ready to fly.”
“Don’t I know it! The way Rich put Fonziebird Two down yesterday, it’s a miracle she’s still in one piece.”
“Hey! I heard that, Bucko!” Their younger brother stepped in from the balcony outside the panoramic windows “That was a perfectly good landing considering I had a back seat driver in the cabin criticising my every move.”
“I wasn’t criticising. I was just offering advice.”
“Advice! If that was advice then I’m an.......”
But what Richie thought he was, they never found out. At that moment the eyes on the portrait of the youngest of the Tracy siblings began to flash in time to a series of soft, insistent bleeps that came from their father’s desk. With a few quick strides, Potsie crossed the room and opened the communication channel with the space station.
“International Rescue to Fonziebird Five. Go ahead, Chach, what have you got?”
Chachi's dark haired youthful face replaced his portrait on the wall.
“Potsie, we’ve had an urgent call from Mr Williams at the weather station in Charity Springs, Northern Territory.”
“Williams?” Ralph broke in. “Not Tony and Bob's dad? They came from near there, didn't they?”
“You're right, Ralph, they did.” Potsie turned back to his youngest brother. “Is this the same Williams, Chach?”
“It sure is, Potsie. Bob’s really sick. Williams has been in contact with the state hospital and from the symptoms they think he could have severe appendicitis. He needs to get medical attention as quickly as possible but Williams says the flying doctor won’t be able to get there, pick up Bob and then get him to the hospital fast enough. He wants to know if we can help?”
“What are you waiting for, Potsie?” Howard’s voice came from the doorway where he had just entered the lounge. “Away you go.”
Potsie crossed quickly to the wall hiding the entrance to the hanger of Fonziebird One, operated the opening mechanism and vanished from sight as the section of wall turned on it's vertical pivot, leaving another section of identical wall, complete with lampshades but without Potsie, in its place. Barely minutes later, Ralph, Richie and Howard watched from the balcony as Fonziebird One vanished into the distance.
“What's going on, guys? Where's Potsie off to?”
The three Tracy men turned to find Fonzie standing behind them in the lounge, dressed in his usual black leather jacket, black T-shirt, blue jeans and black boots with his hair wet and dripping and a damp towel slung over his shoulder.
“Did the alarm go off while I was doin' my hair? I didn't hear it.”
“No, Fonzie. There was no need. This is a simple call that Potsie can handle himself.”
Quickly, Howard brought Fonzie up to date with what had happened.
“Pity, there's no need for Fonziebird Two this time. With Ralph laid up, I was hoping I'd get a chance to fly her before I have to head back up to the station. Flying One and Two on rescues in the same month – now that would be a chance not to be missed.”
“Don't count on it, Bro. If a call comes in that needs Fonziebird Two, I'll be ready for it, don't you worry.”
“Now, Ralph, you remember what the Doctor said.” Richie chipped in quickly with his eyes full of merriment. “No flying or heavy duty for at least a week. You oldies have to take it easy and rest up a bit when you're injured. Time to step aside and let the younger generation save the world for a change.”
“Why you little...........oldies! I'll give you oldies!”
As he spoke, Ralph leant down to a nearby chair, picked up a cushion and threw it at his grinning younger sibling. Unfortunately, he wasn't quite quick enough as Richie saw what was coming and ducked at the last minute. The laws of physics being what they are the cushion continued to sail through the air until something else stopped it. The something else was Fonzie's face. Taken by surprise he staggered backwards and then overbalanced as his leg caught against one of the chairs. Pitching backwards, he wound his arms like windmills to try to maintain his balance but failed miserably, losing his footing entirely and landing up on his back on the floor. As he lay at the feet of his brothers, both Ralph and Richie burst into laughter at the sight of Fonzie sprawled out before them.
“Oh, you think it's funny, do you? Well let's see how long you carry on laughing once I've finished with you.”
Jumping up, Fonzie charged at Richie. At the last second, he lowered his head, ducked his shoulders and caught his younger brother about his waist, lifting him up and backwards off his feet. Although Fonzie was older yet shorter than his brothers, the clothes that he wore at home hid the powerful chest and shoulder muscles that he had built up over the months in the gym area provided in the obiting space satellite. The rest of his muscles were toned and well exercised so overall he was one of the strongest of the Tracy siblings – a fact that his brothers tended to forget in the month long stretches when he was away from home. Consequently they tended to understimate just how dangerous he was to provoke – as Richie now found again to his undoing.
The two brothers landed with a loud thump in the middle of the lounge floor and started rolling around as Richie frantically tried to dislodge his older brother from the position he had taken on top of him. Alas it was to no avail. Soon, Richie was rolling and roaring in fits of helpless laughter as Fonzie pinned him down by brute force and tormented him by tickling him in all of the highly sensitive spots that he had catalogued over the years. Nearby, Howard and Ralph stood and watched with broad grins covering their faces, relaxed and cheerful in the happy family atmosphere.
Potsie opened the viewing port and looked over towards the Williams' homestead as he approached the old wooden built home. Everything looked quiet and peaceful as it had when he had left this small family unit some months ago. He tried to banish the feeling of disquiet that had been haunting him since he had settled into the flight after leaving Tracy Island. He remembered the two cheerful boys who idol-worshipped the International Rescue organisation and who had brought a measure of pride and protectiveness out in all of the household when he had taken them home to the secret island base after the false alarm call last year.
Their wide-eyed wonder and youthful exuberance had come as a breath of fresh air to the older members of the family who, for once, had come face to face with representatives of the rest of the world and had learned from the honest mouths of two children, just how much their efforts to help the world were appreciated. The thought that one of these boys was now seriously ill and in need of urgent medical attention caused his abdomen to tighten with worry as he brought the fast jet in at a low altitude to land it as close to the house as he dared.
Within seconds of cutting the jets, he was out of the access hatch and striding towards the quiet house. Mr Williams was presumably inside getting Bob ready for the journey so they could leave almost immediately. As he reached the wooden front door and lifted his hand to knock, the door opened before him. Inside stood a man Potsie didn't recognise. Of average height, middle aged with curly brown brown hair that was almost thinning and almond shaped hazel green eyes. Potsie had no time to notice more. Even before he could speak, the stranger raised his hand, levelled a gun at Potsie and pulled the trigger.
Perplexed, Potsie stood in the doorway and looked down at the scarlet blob that had appeared in the middle of his chest.
Funny, for a chest wound, I'd have thought there would be more blood. The thought sounded absurd even as the words passed through his brain. I wonder if....
But the thought went uncompleted as his brain closed down, his eyes rolled back in his head and his body dropped to the floor and lay still.
Chapter Six- No Sign Of Potsie
“Hey, Dad, isn’t it about time we heard from Potsie? He must've got Bob loaded up to go by now.”
Howard looked up from his desk where he had been reading a magazine, a sudden frown creasing his face.
“You’re right, Richard, it is.” Turning to the communications desk behind him, Howard opened the communications system that would link him to Fonziebird One.
“This is International Rescue calling Fonziebird One.” He waited for a few seconds, his frown deepening as no reply came. “This is International Rescue calling Fonziebird One, come in, Potsie.” Again, he paused and again silence was his only reply. “Calling Fonziebird One, come in, Potsie. Do you read me?”
From behind him, Howard heard movement as his other three sons moved to gather around his desk. Swivelling to face the portraits of his sons hanging on the opposite wall, Howard switched to another channel and spoke again, his voice now curt with a sudden anxiety.
“International Rescue Base calling Fonziebird Five. Come in, Chachi.”
Almost immediately, Chachi's portrait changed to a live video- feed as Howard’s youngest son responded to his call.
“Fonziebird Five to International Rescue base. What’s wrong, Dad?”
“Chachi, have you heard from Potsie since he landed at Charity Springs?”
“No, Dad. I was just thinking it was about time that he checked in. Why?”
“I’ve can’t get a reply from Fonziebird One. Try a direct contact with Potsie on his chronometer, will you?”
“Sure thing, Dad.”
Howard and his sons waited silently as Chachi turned away to carry out the instruction. At a distance, they could hear his voice as he tried to establish communication with his second oldest brother via the portable transmitter that was built into his wrist watch. Their tension mounted as Chachi tried again and then again to get a response and they already knew the result when his now clouded face appeared back in the video screen.
“No response, Dad. I’ve tried three times – the channel’s working fine but he just doesn’t answer.”
“Chachi, do an automatic locator fix on his current position.”
The young astronaut nodded and looked down at a panel in front of him, out of sight of those watching, as his hands flashed over the controls. Seconds later, he looked up again, his expression slightly lighter but still puzzled.
“Automatic locator puts him still at Charity Springs, Dad. Maybe he’s still in the house with Mr Williams and the boys and for some reason, his watch communicator isn’t working?”
“That’s unlikely, ain’t it, Dad?” Fonzie broke into Howard’s thoughts. “We’ve never had one go wrong before – at least not without some sort of shock or accident. And anyway, Chach says the channel’s working.”
Howard sat silently for a moment, considering what had happened. He was starting to get a bad feeling in his gut about this situation. Potsie had been as taken with the Williams’ boys as the rest of the household when he had met them last year. Although he didn’t comment on it at the time, when Potsie had made the routine call to let them know he had arrived at the homestead, Howard had heard the worry that his son carried for the condition of the young boy he was going to help. Howard knew that Potsie would have been keen to get the child to hospital as quickly as possible but his last contact had been over ten minutes ago with no explanation for the delay. No – something was not right.
Howard’s head snapped up as Chachi’s voice cut through his thoughts.
“Potsie’s signal's moving – he must have taken off in Fonziebird One.”
Immediately, Howard opened the channel again.
“International Rescue base calling Fonziebird One, come in, Potsie.”
The knot of disquiet in Howard’s gut multiplied as no reply came from the rescue ship that held his son.
“This is International Rescue calling Fonziebird One. Respond please!”
When no reply came, Howard turned back to address Chachi, his expression now bleak and severe.
“Chachi, try his chronometer again and this time use the visual alarm as well as the vibration.”
“But, Dad, if he hasn’t replied to.......”
“Just do it, Chachi!”
Howard’s voice was sharp as he cut across Chachi’s protestations. Something told him that they didn't have time to waste. As he tried to silence, the alarm bell that was now clanging inside his head, Howard heard Chachi in the space satellite trying to get a response from his brother.
“This is International Rescue calling Warren Tracy. Come in, Potsie. Do you read me?”
Howard unconsciously held his breath, waiting, hoping. Then.
“International Rescue calling Warren Tracy, come in..........what the.........! Who are you? Where’s Potsie, I mean, Warren?”
Howard almost jumped out of his seat at the unexpected question that carried from the space station.
“I said who are you? Where.......? What the......?”
“Chachi! Chachi, respond. What’s happening?”
Chachi looked back down at his family once more, his face showing anger and worry.
“Dad, someone’s using Potsie’s chronometer but it wasn’t Mr Williams. This guy must've seen the visual alarm and activated the two way communication by mistake – he looked just as startled to see me as I was to see him.”
“Did he say anything?”
“No, Dad. I’d barely seen him before he closed the channel. “
“Dad, Potsie wouldn’t have given his chronometer to anyone.” Ralph leaned over Howard’s desk, his brows knitted in worry for his brother. “He needs help.”
“I know, Ralph, I know. Chachi?”
“Check the position locator for Fonziebird One. Where is she at the moment and where is she heading?”
Chachi’s eyes widened in alarm as he read the information off his monitors. Rapidly, he re-checked before speaking.
“Dad – the auto-location device on Fonziebird One isn’t registering!”
“What?” Howard’s voice was a bellow as he came to his feet in consternation “What do you mean not registering? It’s GOT to be registering. Those devices are never turned off!”
“I don’t know why, Dad but it’s just not there. I’ve widened the search well past the area that Potsie could've reached by now but there’s just nothing.”
“What about his chronometer, Chachi?”
“It’s moving rapidly – it must still be in Fonziebird One at the speed it’s doing. The locators show it as having just crossed the Australian coastline and heading north west. No, wait! It’s slowing and losing height.”
The Tracy men waited anxiously as Chachi relayed the reports to them.
“Eight thousand feet.............seven thousand...........six thousand. Dad, the height’s falling too rapidly and too steeply – it’s going almost straight down. It’s as if Fonziebird One is in free fall straight towards the ocean!”
Chachi’s voice was rising in alarm now as he relayed the readings back to his family on the island retreat. The four Tracy men stood in silence, watching the young astronaut’s face as he watched the information on the panel in front of him.
“Four thousand......three. It’s not slowing down, Dad, it’s miles out to sea and there’s no land around. One thousand feet, five hundred, two hundred.”
Chachi’s countdown fell away into silence but in the heads of all of those listening the countdown continued to its end. Four faces in the lounge were deathly white as Chachi finally raised his eyes to look at them, confusion and disbelief plain to see. His voice was little more than a whisper when he finally spoke.
“It’s crashed. It just kept going, it didn’t slow down 'til it hit the water, it didn’t stop. Fonziebird One's crashed.”
Chapter Seven- Danger At Charity Springs
For a moment, Howard’s world stood still as his brain struggled to take in the words of his youngest son. Fonziebird One crashed. No slowing before it hit the water, no attempt to stop it.
“Fonzie! Richard! Launch Fonziebird Two. Pod four.”
Nobody moved for a second, so great was their shock at the events of the last few minutes.
“Boys!” Howard’s voice was like a gunshot in the silent lounge. “Now!”
Mutely, his sons shook themselves, looked at their father and nodded. Richie stepped towards the painting that hid the entrance to the hanger of Fonziebird Two.
“No, Richie. Fonzie can pilot Fonziebird Two. You’ll be needed in Fonziebird Four.”
“Dad, I can.....” Ralph leaned towards his father, his blue eyes desperate with worry for his brother.
“You can sit down, Ralph.” Howard stood and moved away from the desk.
“You’re not fit to fly. I’m going with Fonzie and Richard. You’ve got the desk.”
Howard moved away in the direction of the passenger lift for Fonziebird Two. His three sons stood nonplussed behind him. Sensing there was again no movement, Howard turned and stared at all of them.
“Move, boys. Your brother’s life may depend on it.”
Fonzie checked the instruments of the large rescue ‘plane again – the fifth time in the last minute that he had done so.
“We’re approaching the crash site now.”
The atmosphere in the cabin of Fonziebird Two was tense and filled with anxiety. Only the minimum words that were necessary had been spoken since the rescue ‘plane had taken off to get to the spot where the space satellite had recorded Potsie’s transmitter as meeting the sea. Each of the occupants of the craft had been brooding and lost in their own thoughts. Howard rose from his seat and clasped his fourth son on the shoulder as he passed him.
“Come on, Richard. Let’s get ready.”
Wordlessly, the normally garrulous brother stood and followed his father back to the entrance of the pod. Richie sat and watched the ocean flash by beneath them. The sea glistened and winked in the now late afternoon sunlight. He found it hard to believe that it had only been an hour and a half ago that he had been swimming in the pool with his ginger-haired brother, with the rest of the family safe nearby. Now he was here, piloting Fonziebird Two off the coast of Australia, looking for the wreckage of Fonziebird One and in all probability the dead body of his second eldest brother. At the last thought his heart clenched in anguish and he closed his eyes and swallowed hard to control the emotions that threatened to overwhelm him.
“Don’t think of it, don’t think of it. It will all be alright. Just concentrate and do your job. Do your job.” He repeated the words to himself as a type of mantra, forcing his thoughts back to the job in hand and away from the darkness of grief that he felt like a black shadow around him, waiting to engulf him. Checking the instruments again he slowed the ‘plane and brought it to a hover over the ocean.
“Fonziebird Two to Fonziebird Five and Fonziebird Four. Over the last recorded position now. Preparing to drop pod.”
“Is there any sign, Fonz?”
Fonzie dropped his glance to the panel in front of him and then, not believing what they told him, stood to do a brief visual surveillance of the area before replying.
“Dad, there’s absolutely nothing. Not a single piece of wreckage to be seen anywhere.”
“But that’s incredible!” Richie’s youthful tones were almost squeaky with disbelief. “Even if Fonziebird One went straight in, the water here's so shallow that it would have hit the bed less than a second later. The explosion would've scattered wreckage over at least a dozen square miles. There’s got to be some sign.”
“Never mind that now, Richard. Let’s get Fonziebird Four down there and take a look. Fonzie, we’re ready to go.”
“F.O.N.Z. Dropping pod now.”
Fonziebird Two was now hovering barely ten feet above the tops of the waves. At the flick of a switch the large green pod separated from the remainder of the massive rescue craft and dropped down to bob gently on top of the sea. Almost immediately the door of the pod started to open and in less than a minute, Fonziebird Four had disappeared into the sea.
“Fonziebird Four to Fonziebird Five.”
“Fonziebird Five to Fonziebird Four. Go ahead, Rich.”
“Chach, do you still have a signal coming in from Potsie’s transmitter?”
“Yeah, Rich. I’ve got it at a depth of three hundred metres, at a reading of 76.04 magnetic from your present position.”
“F.O.N.Z, I’m on my way.”
Silence reigned in the small aquatic craft as Richie, his face impassive, the boyish light-hearted look replaced by the serious, focussed concentration of a trained aquanaut, guided the craft to the target area. His eyes strained to see into the gathering gloom of ocean ahead of him.
“Fonziebird Four to Fonziebird Five.”
“I read you, Rich. What can you see?”
“Nothing, Chachi. I don’t get it, I’m at the co-ordinates you gave me but I’ve scoured the seabed in the area and there’s not a sign of Fonziebird One anywhere.”
“But according to my readings you’re right on top of Potsie’s transmitter. There’s got to be something there.”
Howard came forward from where he had been changing into a diving suit and stood behind Richie.
“Right, I’m ready. Let’s go.”
“F.O.N.Z. Chachi, we’re going to take a look outside.”
“We? Dad as well?”
“Yes, Chachi. Whatever’s happened to Potsie, I’m not about to let Richard go and find out all by himself.”
Grim faced the two men helped each other put on the air tanks and face masks, checked each other’s equipment and then entered the airlock. As the tiny room flooded with water they stood in silence, each silently contemplating what may await them outside.
Some distance above them, in Fonziebird Two, Fonzie sat doing the same. The three way channel was open and he had heard all of the transmissions between Fonziebirds Four and Five. With nothing else to do other than wait he turned the problem over in his mind.
There's no way that Potsie'd take off in Fonziebird One without telling us – not voluntarily anyway. So maybe it wasn't voluntary? Fonzie sat and bit his lower lip. Not voluntary – so was he hijacked? Forced to take off? Fonzie thought of his brother, of his stubbornness and determination to achieve things – and of his strength of character and refusal to be intimidated by anyone. No, not forced to take off – no-one could force Potsie to do something he didn't want to do. Okay, so maybe Potsie was unconscious and carried into Fonziebird One then it was taken by his attackers? Again, Fonzie paused in his ruminations. No, that won't work – what about the security system? Potsie would've to disable that for them to be able to get into One in the first place. And anyway, Potsie'd have to be conscious to fly Fonziebird One – no-one else could fly that bird without practice. A thought suddenly occurred to him.
“Yo, Chach – before Potsie’s transmitter started losing height, what speed was it doing?”
“I’m not sure, Fonz, I didn’t make a note of it. Why?”
“Are you sure it was Fonziebird One? Could it have been another plane instead?”
There was a pause before Chachi replied and when he did so, his voice was hesitant.
“It could've been. It was accelerating but was still going slow enough that it could have been a normal jet. What does it matter? It still hit the water.”
“No, kid. Potsie’s chronometer hit the water. It doesn’t mean the plane did.”
Fonzie’s voice was flat and depressed and as Chachi slowly understood what his oldest brother was saying his eyes clouded in outrage.
“You mean someone jumped Potsie, put him on a plane and then dumped him into the sea? But.......but.... that means.......”
“I know, kid, I know.”
Neither brother spoke again as they waited to hear from the divers below. The seconds dragged to minutes but for Fonzie and Chachi, the wait was more like eternity.
“Fonziebird Four to Fonziebird Two.”
Richie’s voice cut through the stillness and jerked Fonzie to attention.
“Fonziebird Two to Fonziebird Four. Come in, Rich. What've you found?”
“We found Potsie’s chronometer but there’s no sign of Potsie, Fonziebird One or anything else. We’re heading back to the surface.”
Ten minutes later, Fonziebird Two slowly circled the homestead of the Williams family and any hope that had remained that Fonziebird One might still be where Potsie had landed her was lost. A short distance from the house the ground was scorched by burn marks, giving mute testimony to the landing and take-off of the fast rescue plane. The house and surrounding landscape was empty of any evidence of human or animal life. Cutting the jets, Fonzie set Fonziebird Two down gently next to the marks left by its sister craft. After checking their guns were fitted with the narcotic filled darts rather than the killing explosive alternatives, the three Tracy men left the huge rescue craft, securing it behind them as they stepped out into the Australian evening.
Cautiously, the three men approached the building. Fonzie circled to the right, approaching the building from the rear. Finding the back door closed but unlocked, with no other obvious means of exit he quietly reported to Chachi in Fonziebird Five, who then sent a vibration alarm to the chronometers worn by all three to confirm he was in position. Turning the handle he quietly entered the house. The kitchen was still and empty of anyone else and moving silently he proceeded to move from room to room of the old homestead, searching as he went for any sign of his brother or of the father and two children who lived there.
Approaching a doorway he heard a soft footfall beyond. Ducking back behind the door trim, he raised his gun and, taking care to show as little of himself as possible, poked his head around the frame. Standing in front of him in the hallway, both guns pointing towards him, were Richie and Howard.
The whisper sounded like a shout in the silence. Mutely, they shook their heads. Howard motioned with his gun to the stairwell ascending from his left and nodded at Richie. Quickly, the younger brother slipped past his father and mounted the stairs. As he disappeared upwards Howard and Fonzie turned to the last remaining unsearched room on the ground floor. Pushing the door open with a quick shove, Fonzie entered the room, his father a step behind him. The room was sparsely furnished with a plain wooden table and chairs, a sofa and a couple of high back armchairs. No-one was there but part of the far wall of the room was hinged open, allowing them to see through to what was obviously normally a further concealed room. Sitting against the far wall of the secret room, arms behind them, their legs out in front of them secured with strong tape and their mouths taped shut, were Tony and Bob Williams.
Fonzie and Howard hurried forward into the room and knelt at the side of the two boys, who were wriggling frantically to try to escape their bonds. Resting one hand on top of the boy’s head, Fonzie carefully stripped back the tape holding Tony’s mouth shut.
“Dad! Look after Dad!”
The young boy’s eyes were large and frightened in his dirty, tear-stained face as he nodded his head frantically over Fonzie’s shoulder and tried to push him away with his shoulders. Startled, Fonzie looked over his shoulder and for the first time saw a still figure slumped at the large electronic desk. Leaving his father to free the boys, Fonzie crossed to the desk and bent over the inert form of Mr Williams. Although he was still breathing his pulse was slow and weaker than Fonzie liked. Gently he raised the man from the desk and lowered him to the floor. As he began to examine him, Richie appeared in the doorway.
“There’s no-one upstairs or anywhere else in the house.” He crossed to where Howard was removing the last of the tape from around Bob’s wrists and started removing the tapes from Tony’s ankles.
“What happened here?”
“Oh, Mr Tracy, it wasn’t Dad’s fault. Please don’t be mad at him.”
“Calm down, Tony.” Richie gently bent the young boy forwards to get access to his hands where they were taped behind his back. “We’re not mad at any of you. Just tell us what happened.”
As Tony opened his mouth to speak, Bob, free at last of the restraints that had held him, jumped to his feet, sped past Howard and threw himself on the still form of his father.
“Dad, dad, wake up, Dad. International Rescue’s here. Everything’s going to be Okay, Dad.”
Fonzie reached across and put his arm around the boy, gently trying to remove him from his father.
“He’s out cold, Bob, he can’t hear you. Come on, one side and let me help 'im.”
But the small boy clung desperately to his father’s body.
“What’s the matter with him? Why doesn’t he wake up? He was awake before.”
His eyes were wide and frightened as they looked up into Fonzie’s face, desperately seeking reassurance from the man. Tony, now free from his bonds, arrived on his knees beside his brother and put his arms around him.
“Come on, Bob, let Fonzie help Dad. Maybe we can go and look at Fonziebird One.” Turning his face he looked up at Jeff who had come across and joined them. “Could we, Mr Tracy. Would Potsie mind if we went to look at Fonziebird One? He did come back with you, didn’t he?”
“Fonziebird One?” Immediately the boys had the attention of all of the adults. “Have you boys seen Warren?”
“No, we didn’t see him. We heard Fonziebird One and then he went out and left us alone. Then, Fonziebird One went off again. We didn’t see anyone else until you all arrived.”
“He left you alone? Who did?” Howard reached down and encouraged the two boys to stand. “You two come over here and tell me what’s been going on around here while Richard and Arthur help your father.” With his arms around their shoulders, he led Tony and Bob back through the revolving part of the wall into the sitting room beyond and sat them down on the sofa. “Now, start at the beginning, Boys.”
Chapter Eight- The Truth Comes Out
“So Bob was not ill after all, Mr Tracy?”
“No, Joanie, he wasn’t. It looks like it was a bogus call to get Fonziebird One out there so this man could kidnap Potsie and steal Fonziebird One.”
Howard, Fonzie and Richie had returned to the island base of International Rescue after leaving Tony and Bob with their father at the state hospital. Mr Williams was deeply unconscious and the boys had begged to be allowed to stay with him, as he was their only blood relative. The hospital authorities would ensure that they were cared for until their father recovered...........or until other arrangements needed to be made.
“Williams should have let us know something was wrong when he called. After getting the boys out of that mine last year and saving his precious photographs for him he should have warned us.”
Chachi’s eyes blazed as he looked down from the vid-portrait on the wall, his face creased with anger.
“Now hold on, Chachi. I’m as worried about Potsie as you are but maligning the innocent won’t help. From the looks of things, Williams wasn’t responsible for his own actions when he called and we still don’t know if he’s even going to recover.”
“What do you think was in that injection the guy gave him, Dad?”
“I don’t know for sure, Richard, I’m hoping Al'll be able to tell us more once he’s analysed the blood sample. My guess is it was some form of mind-control drug. Tony and Bob said he made that call to us a few minutes after the injection – that must have been enough time for the drug to work and turn him into a tool of his attacker.”
“He must have used the drug on Potsie as well.” The lounge fell silent. Ralph stood in front of the desk with his two brothers and Joanie, his face betraying the anger he felt against his brother’s abductor. “That would be the only way that he would get Potsie to take off in Fonziebird One without letting us know first. That must have been the guy that Chachi saw using Potsie’s chronometer – he must have seen the visual alert flashing and wondered what it meant and then activated the comms link by mistake.”
“Does it matter how he got him to take off or how he used the chronometer?” Richie’s voice was impatient as he broke in. “Both Potsie and Fonziebird One are missing. We’ve got to find them fast before this creep hurts Potsie any more or discovers all our secrets and finds out who we are. International Rescue'll be finished if our identities leak out. How are we going to find them, Dad?”
“We’ve already got all of the listening stations around the world looking for any trace of Fonziebird One, Richard. A plane like that will be difficult to hide for long.” Howard looked up at his youngest son. “Has there been any response from them yet, Chachi?”
“No, Dad. I’ve told them all to contact us as soon as they find something that might help.”
“Good, keep listening, Son. Now the rest of you – we’ve got to find these people fast – and more importantly find Potsie. I want all of our agents alerted immediately, wherever they are. We need any information they can give us about anyone that has been showing any prolonged interest in International Rescue lately or anything that they hear that might help. Meanwhile, I’m going to contact the World President.”
The protests were immediate and loud, the brothers crowded around Howard’s desk all talking at the same time. Howard brought his hand down onto his desk and there was instant silence.
“Now listen, Boys. Your brother's missing and International Rescue's facing a major breach in security. But as vitally important as those two things are there is something else important here that we can't lose sight of.”
He looked grimly from one to the other, holding their gaze for a brief moment before moving onto the next person.
“We don’t know the motivation of the person who has done this but we can't presume that it is anything other than malevolent. One of International Rescue’s machines and operatives has fallen into what we can only presume are enemy hands. I've got no doubt that he'll now do whatever it takes to make Potsie reveal everything he knows about this organisation including the Fonziebird machines. That information's dangerous. The technology in those machines would be an extremely potent weapon in the hands of anyone who chooses to use it.”
Howard held up his hand as his sons strove to interrupt.
“I know Fonziebird One's only one machine – but one is enough – more than enough. We must let the World President know what is happening so they can be prepared. We’ve no way of knowing what this criminal's planning but after what happened with those two spies who masqueraded as International Rescue to steal secret plans, I’m not taking any chances. I don't want innocent people to suffer at the hands of technology stolen from International Rescue – not if I can do anything about it. Besides, they may be able to help us.”
“Help us, Dad?” Fonzie frowned as he looked at Howard. “How?”
“Their forces cover a fair bit of this globe, Fonzie, in many of the inhospitable terrains where our agents simply don't go. Fonziebird One'll have to be kept somewhere and somewhere inhospitable and remote would be likely as a hiding place. The World Army may well be our best chance of finding Fonziebird One, and with it, Potsie.”
Howard looked down at his desk and picked up the chronometer that sat there. As if to draw his second eldest son back to him from wherever he had been taken, Howard closed his fist over it and brought it up to his chest. Swallowing once, he looked back at his remaining sons.
“Now get to it, Boys, your brother’s depending on you.”
The next hours passed slowly for the occupants of the Tracy villa. Although all of the International Rescue agents had been alerted, none knew of anything that might help and could only promise to call in as soon as they did. Lori Beth set Tom to contacting all of his old ‘colleagues’ from his life of crime to see what the criminal underworld knew of the abduction of Warren 'Potsie' Tracy and Fonziebird One. The World President was shocked to learn that an International Rescue machine had been captured and promised the help of the World Army in checking for places where the machine could be hidden.
Re-calibrating the sensors of Fonziebird Five to try to detect any of the components of the rescue ship yielded no help – there was nothing that was specific enough that could be tracked. Waiting was now the only course open to them.
Fonzie raised his head from his arm as the sound of a soft footstep reached his ears. The lounge was in semi-darkness, lit only by two small table lamps, one next to the sofa at the back of the room where Fonzie himself was stretched out, the other at his father’s desk where Ralph sat with his head resting in the heel of one hand, eyes closed. His night vision affected by the proximity of the lamp Fonzie could see only darkness beyond the circle of light cast by the lamp.
“That you, Red?”
“No, it’s not. Why are you two still up, don’t you know it’s nearly three o’clock in the morning?”
Fonzie sat up and swung his feet to the floor as Howard stepped further into the lounge, frowning at his two sons.
“I thought you both went to bed hours ago?”
“We did but we can’t sleep, Dad, not with Potsie out there by himself with who knows what happening to him.” Ralph raised his head and looked at his father through bloodshot, weary eyes. “What if he manages to call in? Someone’s got to be here – he might not have much time to talk.”
“If Potsie manages to call, Chachi'll tell us.” Howard looked across to where Fonzie was still sitting on the sofa, his mouth opening to object further. “I know you’re worried about your brother but when we get a line on him, I need you both at your best, not so tired you can’t stay awake. Now, off to bed with you.”
With a reluctant nod, Fonzie slowly stood up and moved towards the sleeping area. As he drew alongside his father, he stopped and looked at Ralph who hadn't moved.
“Both of you.”
Ralph hesitated a moment longer then rose from the desk. As he drew level with Fonzie, Howard placed a hand on each of his son’s shoulders. Blue and brown eyes looked back into the brown eyes that regarded them fondly.
“Don’t worry, Boys, we’ll find him.” The hand on each shoulder tightened comfortingly to impart strength and hope. “We’ll find him and we’ll bring him home.”
Silently, Ralph and Fonzie nodded once then moved off towards their rooms. Left to himself, Howard crossed the lounge and stood looking out at the quiet ocean laid out before him. The words were more a prayer than anything else.
“We’ll find you, Fonzie – wherever you are, we'll find you. I promise.”
Several hours later, Howard sat at the kitchen table with his sons, nursing a cup of strong, black coffee. He almost dropped it in surprise as a voice broke into his thoughts.
“Excuse me, Mr Tracy?”
Howard turned in his chair, his sons looking up from their plates, to find the overweight, dark haired, middle-aged, pickle nosed scientist of the group standing in the doorway, looking pale and tired and holding a sheaf of papers.
“Al, come on in. Have you eaten?”
“No, Mr Tracy. I’ve got some news for you.” As he saw the hopeful expressions that appeared on the faces around the table, he hastily added “It's not very good news I’m afraid.”
Howard’s face fell and then hardened as he prepared himself to listen.
“Okay, Al, come and get some food and tell us what you’ve found.”
Richie cleared a patch of table next to him while Fonzie loaded a clean plate with toast and a muffin and then got up to prepare a cup of tea – Al’s preferred drink in the mornings. Al smiled his thanks as he seated himself next to the aquanaut.
“Thanks, Richie, you too, Fonz.” He shuffled his papers, cleared his throat and then looked across at Howard. “As you know, Mr Tracy, Professor Garrity’s doctors found traces of a foreign substance in his blood but Doctor Blain and Doctor Thomas could not agree on what that substance was. However, the blood sample that Richie took from Doctor Brady also held a foreign substance as did that of Mister Williams.”
The middle-aged scientist paused to take a drink from the cup that Fonzie had placed in front of him. Richie continued to eat, giving the impression that he was only partially listening to Al but Howard, Ralph and Fonzie all sat as still as stone, waiting for him to continue. Slowly, Al put down his cup and returned to his sheets of paper, reluctant to met the eyes of his employer.
“As the the blood samples of Doctor Brady and Mister Williams were taken much closer to the time when the injections were carried out, the samples were much easier to analyse and we, how can I say this? We think that we have managed to identify what they were injected with.”
The Tracy men waited for Al to continue but the overweight man just sat and looked at his papers, as if desperately trying to find something different in them. His fingers shook slightly and he frowned deeply, desperately seeking the words to convey his news. Puzzled, and increasingly concerned, Ralph, Richie and Fonzie exchanged worried glances before turning back to their friend. Howard’s gaze hadn't left Al’s face and as he observed the older man’s discomfort his heartbeat increased and a knot of dread began to form in his stomach.
“Okay, Al, let’s have it. What is this substance?”
When Al looked up, he didn't meet Howard's eyes but instead looked nervously over Howard's shoulder, seeming to focus about five feet behind him.
“Doctor Thomas's already working on finding an antidote that that may be able to counteract the effects of the drug. He’s got a great deal of expertise in the area as you know, Mr Tracy. Doctor Blain has greed to give him whatever help he can and they are hopeful that.....”
“Al.” Howard's voice was gruff and strained as he sought to stop the flow of words coming from the scientist. “Al, son...............I need to know. What is this substance?”
Drawing a deep breath, Al focussed on the eyes of his employer. Howard drew in a sharp breath as he saw the mixture of dismay and fear displayed on the face of the scientist.
“The the exact scientific name doesn't really matter. It's a combination of a derivative of a so-called truth serum widely used during interrogations in the last century and of a mind-control drug, devised by an Australian scientist, an Ian Master. It's got the ability to enable someone to control the physical actions of the subject in much the same way as hypnotism does. However it’s side-effects led to it being outlawed and banned from use twenty years ago.”
Howard's blood felt as if it had been turned to ice in his veins
“What side effects?”
“The drug was used experimentally on life-term prisoners in Britain, Finland and Australia as the World Justice System was trying to find some alternative to the death penalty. As a result, only very few examples of its use have been documented and studied.” Al paused and shuffled his papers again, dropping his eyes down to them once more. “Of the fifty people on whom this was previously known to have been used, only twenty recovered fully after the first administration of the drug.”
“Recovered fully? What of the others?” Howard’s voice was grim as he asked the question, sure that he did not really want to know the answer.
“Of the remaining thirty subjects, twenty suffered mental traumas and lapsed into prolonged periods of unconsciousness. When they awoke they had suffered some physical or mental impairment as a result of brain damage caused by the drug.”
“What sort of ‘impairment’, Al?”
Al turned towards the blond beside him, his face grave.
“The damage inflicted varied from individual to individual. Basically the drug appeared to damage the transmission of signals along the neural pathways in the brain but which pathways were affected appeared to be somewhat random. A few were affected in their sight, having it severely damaged or even destroyed altogether.”
“They were blinded?” Fonzie’s shocked voice was barely a whisper.
Al nodded sadly. “Yep, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep. In others, the damage left the subjects partially or completely paralysed as the motor neurones were damaged.”
Richie, on the other side of Al, sucked in his breath sharply, his own memories of lying stricken in a hospital bed, unable to move resurfacing in his brain. Shifting uncomfortably, Al continued, his words becoming more uncertain and reluctant as he observed the effects of his revelations on his listeners.
“However, it wasn't only voluntary movements that were affected. In the last ten cases the autonomic nerve pathways were damaged. As these control the many automatic processes that occur in the body to keep it functioning the effects of the, uh the disruption caused was somewhat more severe.”
The eyes of his listeners widened with shock as they listened to the dreadful damage inflicted by this noxious drug and as Al hesitated yet again in his revelations their faces started to drain of colour in dread at what remained unsaid. Richie, his voice little more than a whisper, asked the question.
“What about the last ten, Al? What happened to them?”
Al swallowed hard before raising his eyes to meet Howard's eyes once more.
“They didn't survive, Richie. They all died after being given the drug.”
Chapter Nine- Fonziebird One For Sale
There was silence in the dining room as Howard and his sons took in the implications of what they had been told. Finally, Howard spoke.
“How long, Al?”
“How long after being given the drug did they die?”
“The drug worked for about five hours, during which the subjects acted normally and followed the instructions given them. All fifty subjects then lost consciousness for a period of time. Those who recovered fully woke up after several hours. The subjects who only partially recovered were unconscious for up to a week. Those who died.....”
Al's voice trailed off and he dropped his eyes to his papers again.
“Go on, Al. Let's have it all.”
Al nodded and swallowed once more before continuing in a low voice.
“Those who died never regained consciousness. Some died within a few hours, some a few days. In a couple of cases, their life-support machines were switched off after a couple of months after all attempts to wake them had failed and the doctors were certain they were brain – dead.”
“So Potsie may already be dead?” Howard's voice was flat and unemotional, only the anguish in his eyes betrayed the pain that was tearing his heart in two.
“We don't know that Potsie was even given that drug, Dad!” Richie's voice was vehement in its assertion. “Someone else may have flown Fonziebird One, Potsie might have been unconscious, knocked out in some way!”
“No, Richard, we don’t,” his father responded “but Ralph’s right, Potsie'd never voluntarily hand Fonziebird One over to anyone outside the organisation to fly. We all know that craft can’t be flown by anyone without any training. No, Potsie flew off in Fonziebird One and that means he must have been given some of that drug for him to go along with it. That being the case we’re left with the possibility that Potsie's already dead – isn’t that right, Al?”
All attention was turned back to the scientist who was looking very uncomfortable.
“Well, that’s unfortunately possible, Mr Tracy.” As the faces around him fell Brains hurried on “However, Doctor Thomas's fairly confident that he can produce a serum that can counteract the effects of the drug so once we've found Potsie, if he is still under the influence of the drug we can help him.”
“What about any damage already caused, Al? Would the antidote be able to do anything about that?”
“Well, that’s possible, Ralph. It it depends on the exact effect the drug has had on Potsie.”
Howard pushed back his chair from the table and stood up.
“Any other news, Al?”
The scientist dropped his gaze to the table.
“No, Mr Tracy. That’s everything for now.”
“Good. Well, finish your breakfast..and Al?”
“Yes, Sir?” The scientist’s eyes came back up to fix on his employer, to meet eyes that, although clouded by grief, looked back at him with warmth.
“Make sure you get some sleep when you’ve finished eating. You look exhausted.”
Nodding to his sons, Howard turned and left the kitchen.
“Ralph! Quit with the scales, will you?”
Fonzie looked up from the book he was struggling to read as the voice of his second younger brother broke through the continuous flow of up and down notes that came from the piano. It was now late evening, more than twenty four hours after Potsie had disappeared and still nothing had been heard. Howard had disappeared to his study in the afternoon and had not been seen since, leaving Potsie’s brothers to their own devices. All had haunted the lounge ever since. Now the continued inactivity and helplessness were weighing heavily and tempers were starting to fray.
“You know what the Doctor said.” Ralph continued without pause as he glared down at the fingers of his left hand as they attacked the keys. “Daily regular exercise to strengthen the muscles so this ‘oldie’ doesn’t degenerate further.”
At any other time the words might have been taken as a gently prod at his brother for his words the day before but the frustration and anger clearly showing on Ralph’s face was mirrored in the bitten off words thrown out at Richie.
“I remember him saying ‘daily, regular, gentle exercise’ – he said nothing about murdering a baby-grand with hours of musical scales.”
“They’re not scales” Ralph grounded out between clenched teeth, “They’re arpeggios and I haven’t been doing this for more than forty-five minutes.”
“Scales, arpeggios, same difference. Just quit it, will you? It’s driving mad.”
“If you don’t like it, Rich, you know what you can do about it. You’ve got the rest of the house to lounge around in – you don’t have to sit on your butt in here.”
And with that the volume increased as Ralph dropped his right hand onto the key board and began a second set of musical exercises at the same time that his left hand continued with the original set.
“Why you stubborn, mule-headed.”
Richie jumped up from his chair and advanced on his brother, his helplessness and anger redirected against the only target it could find.
“Rich-hard! That is enough!” Fonzie got up from his seat and advanced towards his siblings. Ralph glowered at Richie over the top of the piano, the music momentarily forgotten. “Ralph’s right. If you don’t like him practising then go somewhere else.” He held his brother’s eyes, not flinching at the look that his hot-blooded, copper haired brother threw at him. “You know we’ll let you know the minute we hear anything.”
Richie opened his mouth to reply but before he could speak an insistent bleeping cut the atmosphere in the lounge, claiming the attention of all three men. Richie whirled around to the portraits on the wall behind him but all were unchanged. It was not until he heard his brother’s voice that he realised his mistake.
“This is International Rescue. Come in, Lori Beth.”
The portrait of the dark haired Seattle-born young lady hanging on one of the side walls changed to a live satellite picture of International Rescue’s Milwaukee Agent.
“Morning, Guys – or good evening. Great to see you all again.” Despite the apparent lightness of her greeting the expression on the young brunette’s face made it clear that she was the carrier of serious tidings.
“Lori Beth, you got any news? Should we get Dad?”
“Sure, Fonz. I've got some news that he needs to hear.”
“Let’s have it then, Lori Beth.”
Howard's gruff tones sounded from the doorway where he had just entered the room. Quickly, he crossed and joined his three sons in front of the satellite feed.
“Mr Tracy, the situation's more serious than we thought. Tom's been in contact with a number of his old, er, pals overnight and they've all told him about a rumour going around the higher echelons of the criminal underworld.”
The four men stood in silence, their expressions grim as their colleague continued.
“A mysterious character's contacted the leading figures of all of the criminal fraternities in Milwaukee giving them a personal invitation to a private auction to be held at a secret location in two days time. The location'll be disclosed upon payment of a fee that'll be disclosed upon application.”
“Go on, Lori Beth, I've got a bad feeling about this. What’s for sale?”
“You are right to do so Jeff. This mysterious guy known only as Mestari's offering to sell an International Rescue machine and its pilot together with all of the secrets they hold. The prize'll go to the highest bidder.”
The grounds of the house were quiet, the near complete silence broken only occasionally by the twit of an owl and the sudden scurrying of small feet startled out of cover. The glinting reflections on the damp driveway faded into darkness as the glow of the moon disappeared behind a bank of cloud and a watchful alertness seemed to spread over the landscape. Gradually a faint vibration in the air, that at first seemed nothing more than the dim rumble of traffic far away, began to grow in intensity. After a couple of minutes the air was vibrating and the ground began to tremble slightly. Bushes shook as their inhabitants dived for cover or took flight.
An immense black shape, illuminated only by one strip of light at the front and two dull glowing tubes at the rear, approached from the west, hovered over the large country mansion for a brief moment and then, emitting large clouds of white smoke from its underbelly, sank gradually to the ground behind the building. Almost as soon as it had touched the ground the engines were cut and the gigantic craft fell silent. Two brilliant white orbs of light sprang to life close to the house and a car pulled out of the shadows where it had been waiting and approached the massive machine. An opening appeared in the side of the machine, close to the nearest end of the strip of light but at ground level and the figure of a man was silhouetted against the bright light beaming out into the darkness. As the man stepped outside the light was shut off and two more dark figures followed him out, the last turning and closing the hatch before following his colleagues to the waiting car.
“Lori Beth, it’s good to see you again.” The greeting was quiet and subdued as the leading figure reached the 1957 pink cadillac. “Thanks for your help.”
“It's my pleasure, Fonz. I’m only too eager to do what I can to help Potsie. Now, if you guys'll join me, we'll be on our way.”
Bending their heads to avoid the roof, Fonzie, Richie and Ralph entered the luxurious car and settled themselves on the cushions, Ralph shifting slightly to find a comfortable position as the car moved off.
“Now, before I forget, I've got one of these for each of you.” Reaching into the pocket of the door, Lori Beth extracted three articles, each shaped like a thick pen. “Doctor Thomas has calculated what he thinks'll be the correct dosage for someone with Potsie’s frame and says that the antidote doesn't need to be injected directly into a vein. Injecting it into muscle tissue within a few inches of a major blood vessel'll be sufficient.”
Cautiously the three men took the proffered items and inspected them carefully, checking to ensure they understood how to use them.
“Has there been any change in Professor Garrity’s condition, Lori Beth?” Ralph asked as he sealed the hypodermic away in a zipped pocket.
The young brunette sighed and shook her head.
“No, Ralph. He’s still unconscious although the specialists think that he’s probably gained a slightly higher level of consciousness since they administered the antidote. However, that was four hours ago and he’s already been unconscious for over a week so maybe it’s still too early to tell.” She paused before asking “Has there been any change in the other two poor men?”
“No, not yet." Ralph shifted in his seat again as he answered her. “but then it’s probably too soon yet. Al had difficulty getting the hospital to believe him so there was a delay in getting the antidote made up. It was only given to them about two hours ago.”
The remainder of the journey passed in silence, each of the occupants consumed by their own thoughts. Fonzie was brought out of his reverie by Tom's voice drifting back from the driver’s seat.
“The tower’s ahead, Lori Beth.”
Fonzie spun in his seat and peered out through the windscreen. The cadillac was in a built up area of Milwaukee. Around them were many commercial buildings and office blocks. Directly ahead was their destination – a very wide, tall, office block topped by a curious dome shaped roof, somewhat out of keeping with the surrounding buildings.
“Thanks, Tom. Drive straight past it and then park the car a little distance away where it won’t easily be seen – we wouldn’t want to attract any attention to ourselves, would we now?”
As Tom slowly drove past the main entrance to the building, Fonzie counted at least thirty men in dark overcoats, usually in groups of five of six at a time, heading towards the building or huddled nearby in little groups. In the streets nearby there were a large number of vehicles, most with one way windows, cruising slowly, parked by the kerbs or sheltered around corners off the main street.
“Looks like there’s quite a few interested parties attending this auction.” observed Richie quietly. “We’re going to have our work cut out getting in there without being seen, L.B."
“Don’t worry about that, Rich. I’ve got every confidence in Tom’s abilities to get us in there unobserved. I fear our main problem’s going to be in getting Potsie out of there once we’ve located him.”
“We don’t even know he’s going to be in there!” Ralph looked agitated and uneasy “This Mestari guy’d be nuts to bring Potsie here, right into the middle of all these hoods. Most of those guys look like bodyguards and you can bet your life they’re wearing more than just their clothes under those coats.”
“I think we can assume the Mr Mestari must be fairly secure that he can control the situation or he won’t risk such a venture.” said Lori Beth smoothly. “However, I think we’d better go and join the party before we miss any of the fun.”
Swiftly, the group left the car. All were dressed in black clothing and soft soled shoes and all five carried a gun in their belt. Doubling back on the last part of the route taken by the cadillac, Tom led them into a high fenced yard at the rear of the building adjoining that for which they were heading. Against one wall was a pile of boxes, arranged in such a way as to provide the appearance of a two-dimensional stepped pyramid. Tom hoisted himself up onto the lowest box then used the following boxes as a staircase to reach the highest point, some eight feet off the ground. Here, he extracted a small tool from a black pouch on his belt and knelt down close to a metal plate that was attached to the wall. Puzzled, Richie climbed up and joined him.
“Hey, Tom, I’m sure you know what you’re doing but could you tell me why we’re at the back of the wrong building?”
“With all these guys about, Rich, there ain’t no way we’re gettin’ into that building direct. They’re too wily to allow anyone a chance of slipping by ‘em, so.” Tom grimaced and paused a moment as he concentrated on the task in hand. After a few seconds of concentrated effort the screw, he had been trying to loosen gave way with a sudden flurry of rust slivers, dirt and grime “we’re goin’ around ‘em.”
As he finished, Tom pulled the loosened metal cover away from the wall, revealing a black hole in the brickwork, lined with a metal tube and just about wide enough to admit passage of a human body. Turning to Richie, Tom grinned and thrust the plate at him.
“There you are, Rich, hold this, will you while I get Lori Beth.”
Resting his hands on the top of the boxes, Tom dropped to the ground, landing with far more grace and poise than Richie had thought possible or likely for a man of his appearance. Settling the metal grid down on the boxes beside him, Richie moved over to the spot vacated by Tom and thrust his head and shoulders into the hole. Inside, it was cool and pitch black. Feeling the crates under his feet shake he backed out and turned to find, Tom approaching him with Lori Beth close behind, one hand trailing along the wall to steady her balance. Richie inched sideways away from the opening in the wall to allow them access.
“Oh, Tom, when I said I had every confidence that you would get us into the building unobserved, I was presuming that you would find something just a little bit more convenient. Do I really have to crawl through a wall?”
Despite the seriousness of the situation, the Tracy brothers grinned widely. Lori Beth wore her persona as a rich billionare’s daughter to perfection and it was a perfect disguise for her position as the Milwaukee agent of the International Rescue organisation. However on occasions such as this, when the young heiress was, in truth, keen and eager to join in and get involved with the more practical side of an operation, the juxtaposition of the down to earth requirements of the job with her maintenance of the façade of an heiress was somewhat amusing. Even more amusing was the crest-fallen expression of her partner.
“I tried my best, Lori. Brad assured me this was the only way in if we didn’t want to be seen.”
“Brad, Tom?” Lori Beth’s eyebrows rose as she levelled an astonished gaze at the former safe-breaker. “You’ve been talking to a guy called Brad?”
An interesting shade of pink crept into the cheeks of the older man.
“My old pal, Brad Donnelly, Lori – one of the best house-breakers in the trade. He used to knock of buildings around here regularly – knew where all the best stuff was kept and all the ways in and out of 'em. Ses if we want to get into that there buildin’ without bein’ seen, this is the only way. Now, mind your head, Lori and follow me.”
So saying, Tom ducked and crawled into the opening. Lori Beth watched his feet disappear into the darkness and then flashed a smile across at Richie, where he sat against the wall.
“Oh, well, needs must I suppose. I suppose I’m going to have to wash my hair again when I get home. How tiresome.”
Swiftly, the young woman bent and crawled into the dark opening in the wall. Richie moved back in front of the entranceway and then glanced down at his brothers.
Still grinning, Fonzie and Ralph moved to the lowest of the stacked crates. Fonzie boosted Ralph by using his linked hands as a boosting step to spare his still weakened shoulder. Soon, all five of them were standing inside a large, echoing, boiler room after dropping out of the other side of the access pipe. Silently, Tom led them through the room to a locked door.
“We’ve gotta be careful now. The two buildings share the boiler room. This door leads to the building that those ‘gentlemen’ are meetin’. There’s a staircase leadin’ to the hallway behind the front door. That’s our way in.”
Turning to the door, he again used his lock picking equipment and within seconds they stood at the bottom of a short flight of steps. Silently, they ascended and at the top clustered around a doorway the edges of which betrayed the presence of a lighted area beyond it. Tom opened the door a crack while Lori Beth and Richie arranged themselves to be able to see. The door was at the back edge of a large, open, well-lit, foyer located behind a set of doors. A table was set in the middle of the hallway immediately in front of the doors, behind which three men stood. All were shouldering automatic weapons. A fourth, heavy-set man stood at the doors and, as they watched, a rapping sound came from the main doors. The heavy opened a small eyehole in the door, gazed out for a second and then opened the main door. A group of four men entered, all dressed in heavy, black overcoats and looking every inch criminals. They presented themselves at the table and allowed themselves to be searched by the heavy while the other three watched them closely. Their expressions, however, registered clear outrage at the procedure. After passing the search the visitors were directed to the far side of the foyer to a waiting lift, complete with another heavy, into which they vanished.
Silently, Tom closed the door. They had seen enough. Quietly they retreated down to the area at the bottom of the stairs where, in low voices, Lori Beth and Richie told the others what they had seen.
“So we can’t get over that hallway without being seen?” Fonzie questioned.
“No,” Richie shook his head. “Those guys’d pick us up as soon as we stepped through the door. But we’ve got to get into that meeting. What are we going to do?”
They stood in puzzled, frustrated thought for a moment. Then suddenly, Fonzie’s head snapped up.
“Wait a secondo,” his tone indicating that a light bulb had just sprung to life in his head. Stepping back to the stairwell, he ascended the first few steps, his gaze concentrated on the roof. “I thought so.”
“Fonz, what is it?”
The others stood at the bottom of the stair watching him, impatient to know what he had discovered.
“Hold on a sec, I’ll be right back.”
Leaping up the remaining steps, Fonzie returned to the doorway where he cautiously opened the door a little and stared out across the guarded foyer. He was there only a few seconds before he nodded his head in satisfaction and returned to where the others waited below.
“Well?” Ralph demanded before he had even left the staircase. “What is it?”
“This staircase don’t go any further than the ground floor.” Fonzie said with a grin on his face.
“So? It doesn’t need to – there’s an elevator.”
Fonzie rolled his eyes.
“Think about it, Ralphie. What about when the elevators are out of action? What do people use then?”
“The stairs!” Richie grinned in delight. “There’s got to to be another stairwell somewhere.”
“And there is. It’s next to the elevator. You can see it from the doorway.”
“But that’s no good either,” Lori Beth frowned in confusion. “If we can’t cross the foyer to take the elevator then we can’t cross the foyer to use the stairs either.”
“Sorry, Lori but Fonzie’s right.” Tom had been hovering on the fringe of the circle, listening silently but now he stepped forward to join the group fully “this space’s got a corridor leading from it. That’ll lead to the bottom of the other stairs and we can get up to the meetin’ without bein’ seen that way.”
“Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s go!”
Ralph took two steps away from the huddled group, anxious to find the meeting at which his brother was to be auctioned off like a slave but then froze to the spot as an only too well-known sound began to rumble through the floor and walls of the building in which they stood. Ralph, Fonzie and Richie stared up at the ceiling as if willing themselves to gain superhuman sight and be able to penetrate through the layers of metal and stone that lay above them and then looked at each other with a mixture of relief and disbelief.
“What?” Lori Beth and Tom looked from one to the other of them in consternation “What is it? What’ve you heard?”
Ralph set off at a run down the corridor, not waiting to answer her, Fonzie hot on his heels.
“Fonziebird One.” Richie grabbed her arm and dragged her along after the others, leaving Tom to follow. “That’s Fonziebird One.”
Chapter Ten- Potsie The Assassin
When Richie, Tom and Lori Beth caught up with Ralph and Fonzie, they were standing near to the door leading out onto the eighth floor of the building. Fonzie was talking quietly into his watch while Ralph was carefully looking through the glass of the door.
“Yeah, that’s what we thought too. So I’m going to go up to the roof to see if I can find him while Ralph and the others check out the auction.” There was a pause for a moment, the reply too soft for the others to catch “Yeah me too, little brother, me too. Tell dad we’ll call in again as soon as we get the chance to tell him what’s happened.” With that he closed the channel and looked up as the other three mounted the last of the steps to join them.
“What’s happening? Are they here?”
Lori Beth was a little breathless, her dark brown hair now starting to escape the bands that held it back, disturbed by crawling through the access channel and then by the fast jog up the stairs. Ralph stepped back from his post by the door.
“They seem to be meeting in a room down the hall from the elevator. We’ve seen several people leave the car and head that way since we got here.”
“Any sign of Potsie?” Richie slipped past Tom and Lori Beth and cautiously peeped through the glass as Ralph had been doing, careful not to expose too much of his head to view from the other side of the door.
“No.” Fonzie’s voice was quiet and calm and belied the anxiousness that was coursing through his veins at the thought that they might be so close to their eldest brother once again. “From the vibrations and noise, we think Fonziebird One must have landed on the roof. It’s possible he’s still up there and only his captors have come down to conduct this charade. I’m going to look while the rest of you check out the show.”
“Is that great, Fonz? Maybe we should stay together? We don’t know how many of them are up there. By yourself, you could get into trouble.”
“Don’t worry, L.B, I’ll be fine – they’re the ones that need to watch out. If Potsie's up there then this is our opportunity to get to him and Fonziebird One at the same time. Without either of them in his clutches, this Mestari’s game goes all to pot. You four be careful though. As well as Mestari there’s a whole bunch of other hoodlums in there. They may not be armed but don’t take any chances.”
Ralph and Richie nodded silently and moved to open the door, checking that Tom and Lori Beth were close behind them. After checking his gun was fitted with the knockout darts that would render a man unconscious before he hit the ground, Fonzie turned and disappeared up the stairwell.
Once out in the hallway the four moved quickly away from the stairwell towards a set of double doors from where they could hear the mumble of low voices. Richie split off from the others before they reached the doors to investigate a small passageway off to the left, Tom and Lori Beth drifting after him. Peeking around the edge of the nearest door, Ralph looked into a large room carpeted and curtained and about half-filled with groups of chairs arranged around randomly scattered circular tables. Most of the chairs were empty as groups of men stood around the room, looking suspiciously at those around them and quickly returning to their own conversations. At the far end of the room was a raised stage, the wings obscured from view by curtains. The whole place had the appearance of a room set aside for casual entertainment and conversation.
As Ralph watched, a middle-aged man with curly brown hair and hazel green eyes made his way to the middle of the stage from the right hand side. Almost immediately silence fell as the men stopped their conversations and turned to face the stage.
“Gentlemen, I'm Mestari. Thank you for coming here tonight.”
Ralph jumped at a light tap on his shoulder.
“Rich's found another way in.”
Tearing his eyes away from the room, Ralph followed the blond and retreated around the corner of the room and up the small side corridor. There he found a door almost hidden in the shadows cast in the enclosed area. Inside was a much smaller room, on the opposite side of which was another door. Richie and Lori Beth were already standing by the door, watching through the slight crack. Ralph stepped up behind them and positioned himself so that he could also see out.
“...of the unique offer open to you tonight I'm sure that you understand the reason for the security precautions in place downstairs.”
At this an angry murmuring went up from the crowd. From about halfway back a cultured voice rang out.
“So you say.” The crowd pulled back slightly to reveal an elegantly dressed, red-haired man, with a well cut, expensive suit. “However I see neither an International Rescue craft nor any International Rescue personnel. It's well known that they have the best security in the world – even the World President doesn’t know who they are or where they come from. Do forgive us if we seem a little..” He paused, considering his words “...doubting. Perhaps you would be so good as to provide us with some evidence?”
Assenting voices and the nodding of several heads showed the same thoughts were widely held.
“A reasonable request, Mister Price.”
The man looked taken aback at the use of his name.
“Oh yeah, Mister Price, I know your name – as I know the names of you all.” Mestari opened his hands to encompass all within the room, “and knowing you, I knew that you would be wise enough not to take my word for this. That is why I have brought the pilot of the Fonziebird machine here with me tonight.” Without taking his eyes off his audience, Mestari stretched out his left hand to the side. “Come on, Kid. It's time to let these good gentlemen see you.”
Utter silence fell in the main room and all eyes followed the gesture. Looking across the stage, Ralph noticed for the first time a curtain of material separating off the far end of the stage from his view. The curtain shivered for a moment before being pushed aside as a figure stepped out from behind it and, somewhat stiffly and mechanically, walked onto the stage. The soft cries of dismay that came simultaneously from Ralph, Richie and Lori Beth were thankfully masked by the gasps of astonishment that came from the audience.
His face was pale and tired; an appearance emphasised by the five o’clock shadow that covered his neck and jaw. His eyes were flat and devoid of expression, two pale pools of blue, the pupils only pinpricks in the centre, staring straight-ahead and acknowledging nothing. His uniform, the eye-catching off white of International Rescue with a dark blue trim, was an immediate identifier for the crowd but Ralph didn't need it. There, in front of him, unmistakably, was his brother - Warren a.k.a Potsie.
Potsie reached Mestari and stood passively by his side, his eyes staring out over the hall. For a moment nobody spoke. Then
“Well, you appear to have a man in the uniform of International Rescue” The cultured voice of Mister Price was speaking again “but I still see no International Rescue machine.”
“But you will, Mister Price. Lights!”
At Mestari’s order, the room went dark and a lighted screen appeared on the wall behind his head. A buzz of excited conversation filled the hall as the projection revealed a camera shot of a large room, in the centre of which stood the silver blue scout craft of International Rescue. From around its stilts appeared the form of a well-built man carrying an automatic weapon. Movement from the back of the machine revealed the presence of another guard. Richie instantly ducked back into the main body of the room, raising his chronometer to his lips.
“Fonz, it’s Richie, do you read me?”
Almost immediately, Fonzie appeared, his face a little flushed and his voice a little breathless.
“Go ahead, Rich, what’s the problemo?”
“Where are you?”
“Just getting to the top of the stairwell. There’s about thirty floors, it’s taken me a while to get here.”
“Fonz, Fonziebird One’s up there but there are at least two armed guards with automatic weapons.”
“That's uncool.” Fonzie bit his lip. “How do you know?”
“They’ve got a live feed down here. We can see the guards as well as Fonziebird One.”
“Any sign of Potsie?”
“He’s down here too but it looks like he’s still being controlled by Mestari.”
“Still? He was taken three days ago, how come it’s not worn off yet?”
“I don’t know. For now I’m just grateful he’s still alive.”
“Any way of getting to him?”
“Not at the moment. He’s in full public view. We’d have to take on the whole room to get him out of there”
“Then I guess it’s down to me.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Get rid of those guards and get to Fonziebird One. If I can at least get that out of here then Mestari’s got one less card to play with.”
“Fonz, don’t be stupid!” Richie hissed. “Those are full battle weapons they’re toting. You’ll be cut to pieces as soon as they see you.”
“Then I’ll just have to make sure that they don’t see me.” Fonzie moved as if to cut off the communication.
“Fonz, wait!” Richie was desperate to stop his oldest brother doing something foolish. “Don’t forget the feed. As soon as you set foot in that room everyone here will see you and then you’ll have all the rest of the crooks in this place to deal with – we won’t be able to stop them all.”
“You’ve got a point, Red.” Fonzie paused and thought for a moment “I presume he’s using the live feed to prove that he’s really got Fonziebird One?”
“Too right. They didn’t believe him even when he brought out Potsie.”
“Then I guess as soon as they’re convinced he’ll shut it off while he gets down to business. I’ll leave it for five minutes. Let me know if the feed stops. If it’s still going I’ll go in anyway – I’ll just have to be as careful as I can.”
Richie looked sceptical but could tell by the glint in his oldest brother’s eye that he was not going to be put off from his course.
“F.O.N.Z but hold off for a while.”
Richie turned back to the door. He didn't have long to wait. Mestari was still speaking.
“No, my friend won't tell you his name or any of the secrets of his organisation until I tell him to. After all, that’s what one of you will be paying for – I’m sure you wouldn’t want your competitors to know for free what you will be paying good money to get.”
Again there were general murmurings and nodding of heads to show assent.
“However, what I can say is that once our business here's concluded, it'll be my pleasure to take the successful bidder to see this magnificent aircraft ‘in the flesh’ so to speak. But for now, it is time to open the bidding.”
With that he clapped his hands twice, the live feed snapped off and the lights came on. Richie ducked back into the body of the room.
“Fonz, go! He’s turned it off.”
“F.O.N.Z.” The drak haired man’s face was taut with intent but his eyes looked back steadily at his younger brother. “See you later, whoa.”
“Fonz, just take care. We don’t want anything to happen to you.”
“Don’t worry, it won’t.”
The line was cut and Richie again turned back to watch through the crack. The bidding was going surprisingly slowly. Each of the groups of men seemed to be unsure of how to proceed in such an open affair. No-one but Mestari and his men downstairs were armed and acts of intimidation and violence were out of the question. After a few minutes of lack lustre bidding and response Mestari raised a hand.
“Gentlemen, please. I can't help but think that you aren't taking this matter seriously.” The crowd turned its attention to the kidnapper. “Out of respect to your country, to what I may call my ‘Alma Mater’ I've brought before you, the cream of the criminal establishment in this land, an unparalleled opportunity to obtain the secrets desired by the entire world. And yet, here we are and you can't offer me more than a measly pittance for the secrets that your counterparts in the rest of the world would be falling over themselves to obtain.” He fixed the audience with a glare. “I have to tell you gentlemen, that unless your offers improve radically I'll exercise the sellers prerogative to take his goods elsewhere and you will have lost the opportunity of a lifetime. Now, shall we continue?”
Once again the bidding began and this time the pace was fast and furious. Behind the door, Lori Beth signed to Ralph and Richie and the three of them withdrew into the room to confer.
“Well, it seems that we had better act now before poor Potsie becomes the property of a Sotuhern bad guy. Shall we begin, guys?”
Before they could reply a clamour went up from the auction room. Tom, who had replaced them at the door when they had retreated to confer, called back to them.
Hurrying back to the butler’s side he opened the door a little wider. Mr Price, while still on the main floor of the room, had moved to the right hand, opposite side of the stage from where the uninvited attendees were watching. In his hand was a gun that he must have managed to smuggle past the guards at the door. The gun was trained on Mestari and Potsie. At various points around the edges of the room a half dozen men had appeared, carrying automatic weapons that were trained on the other occupants of the room.
“Unfortunately, Mr Mestari.” Price was speaking. “I’m afraid that we must bring your little gathering to a premature end.”
“I don’t know why you’re doing this, Price but you’re making a major mistake.” Mestari was glaring at his opponent “Don’t think that you’re going to get your hands on my prize by brute violence.”
“I'm afraid that Mister Price sends his apologies as he was unable to be here this evening.”
The room’s occupants watched in astonishment as “Mr Price” reached down to the right hand side of his neck with his left hand and then literally ripped off his face. The features of another man were revealed beneath the latex mask, a man with short dark brown hair and brown eyes.
“He's been ‘unavoidably detained’ by the World Police.” The previously cultured English tones of ‘Mr Price’ had been replaced by a noticeable American drawl. “You might as well surrender now, Mestari – we’ve already taken out your men downstairs and the building is surrounded by cars and police aerial forces – you’ve nowhere to run.”
“Oh, but I think I have.”
Mestari’s quiet comment reached Ralph’s ears just as chaos broke loose. All eyes had been watching the exchange between Mestari and the policeman, none had been observing Potsie. At his last words, the kidnapper stepped back behind Potsie and clapped his hand on his captive’s back.
Instantly, Potsie pulled his gun from his belt and fired at the policeman and then turned and ran with Mestari towards the door where his friends were standing. Around the policeman, a cloud of white gas and smoke erupted. Many of the occupants turned and tried to flee from the room, falling over chairs, tables and each other in their haste to escape. Those in the vicinity of the smoke collapsed first to their knees and then to their faces and lay still. The armed men around the room fired rounds into the ceiling to try to get order but the fleeing criminals only moved more quickly to escape the room and their own arrests.
Mestari thrust open the door to the small room and then came to an abrupt stop, non-plussed at finding four people standing before him. Potsie, arriving an instant later, pulled to a halt beside him, his gun pointing at the small group. His face was blank, showing no sign of recognition. For a moment there was silence as each side regarded the other in shock. Ralph recovered first, his gun in his hand as he stepped towards the two men.
“That’s far enough Mestari, stop right there. Pots, it’s okay, we’ve come to take you home.”
The blank expression that covered Potsie’s face slipped as he shifted his gaze to Ralph and a flicker of recognition appeared briefly in his eyes. Then it was gone and the blank mask of indifference that had previously covered his face returned. His eyes were as cold as stone as he released another gas pellet from his gun. This one bounced off ’s shoulder and the almost instant cloud of gas enveloped Ralph, Lori Beth and Tom. As Richie saw the other three crumple to the ground and felt the gas begin to act on his senses, he jumped at Potsie and tried to wrest the gun from his grasp. His mind shrieked in disbelief as his brother drove a fist into his abdomen, knocking the wind out of him. As he fell to his hands and knees two joined fists came down on the back of his neck and the red haired sibling of the Tracy family knew no more.
From his vantage point behind the door to the stairwell, Fonzie looked through the glass into the large open area where Fonziebird One stood. Only one of the guards was in sight, his back to the door as he paced away across the floor. Extracting an item from the belt at his waist, Fonzie clasped it securely in his left hand and then, holding his gun before him, silently opened the door and slipped inside. To his right, by the wall, he could see the doors to the elevator that served this floor. To the left, a bank of controls that presumably operated the moveable, domed roof that presently covered the building and hid Fonziebird One from external view.
His boots giving no sound, Fonzie ran quickly towards the guard, aimed and fired. The silencer built into the gun ensured the noise was no more than a slight popping sound. As soon as the darts struck, the powerful drug within them took effect and the guard crumpled and folded to the floor. Fonzie scooted forward and caught him but unfortunately was not quick enough to stop the guard’s weapon from clattering against the concrete floor. From behind Fonziebird One came a voice.
“Bill, is that you? Is everything Okay?”
Cursing softly, Fonzie laid the supine form down on the ground and frantically looked around for a hiding place but he was out of time.
“Put your gun on the floor and raise your hands. Now!”
A hard-faced guard was coming towards him, his weapon levelled and ready to fire. Dropping his gun, Fonzie raised his hands above his head, quickly moving the item in his left hand to hold it behind his fingers and hide it from view.
“Hold your fire.”
“Back off, slowly.”
Carefully, Fonzie took a few steps until he was far enough away from the unconscious man that his friend was satisfied. Watching him carefully the man approached and knelt on one knee by his comrade, checking his pulse with one hand.
“He’s only unconscious,” Fonzie offered. “He’ll be fine in an hour or so.”
“It’s as well for you that he is. I’d have ignored orders and killed you right here if he was dead. Now, turn around and head for....”
He broke off and glanced down as a low moan came from the man on the floor. Recognising his chance, Fonzie whipped his hand down, hurled the contents at the ground in front of the guard and then did a rolling dive to the side, bounding to his feet and running for the cover of Fonziebird One. Taken by surprise the gunman had no time to avoid the capsule that had exploded on contact with the ground, releasing a cloud of white gas that enveloped the two men. He gave one choking cough as he tried to rise to his feet, and then fell to the ground.
Fonzie skidded to a halt underneath the body of Fonziebird One. Looking back, he saw that his ruse had worked and nodded in satisfaction. Taking a deep breath he ran back to the nearest guard, caught him up in a tight grip and dragged him back into the stairwell. Pausing only long enough to take another lungful of clear air, he returned to the main room and retrieved the second guard. Extracting some pieces of strong, thin wire from another pouch on his belt he tied them to the stairwell handrail by their wrists and ankles and then returned to the rooftop where the narcotic cloud had now fully dispersed. Quickly, he assessed the controls that operated the retractable roof and within seconds the dome was folding itself backwards, revealing a clear, starlit night.
At the access hatch to the scout craft, Fonzie pressed his hand against the identity plate and keyed in the security numbers. Nothing happened. Frowning he keyed them in again, more slowly this time, ensuring he made no mistake. Again nothing happened.
“Arthur Tracy to Fonziebird Five.”
“Come in, Fonz. What’s happening?”
“Chach, Potsie’s changed the security key on the access door to Fonziebird One – I can’t get in.”
“What? Why would he do that? Is he there? Have....?”
“Chach, I ain’t got time for all this.” Fonzie’s words were hurried as he turned away from the access hatch. ”I can’t fly Fonziebird One out of here if I can’t get in and Potsie’s downstairs with Mestari. I’m guessing he hasn’t changed the code on the equipment hatch so I’m going to get the auto-locator working again and then go back to the others. Tell Dad what’s happening and I’ll call again as soon as I can.”
“F.O.N.Z. Take care.”
Chachi cut the line and Fonzie reached up to the security device for the equipment hatch under which he now stood, placed his hand on the identity plate and then keyed in the code. This time a hatch on the underside of the craft opened and dropped down to the ground, revealing a short flight of steps moulded into its inside surface. Quickly, he entered the craft, closing the steps behind him as the automatic motion detector operated the lighting system. Most of the portable equipment from the craft was still present, although it had presumably been inspected as some of it was no longer stored in its normal position.
The auto-locator device was on the opposite wall. Not only had it been turned off but it had also been partially dismantled. Groaning in exasperation he turned to a nearby locker and extracted the tools required to carry out the necessary repairs – this would take longer than he expected.
So caught up in his task was he that he registered neither the sound of heliplanes circling the building above him and the wail of sirens drifting up from the street below, nor the sound of running feet and of the pilot's access hatch being opened. The first indication he had that he was not alone was the thunderous roar of the VTOL rockets bursting into life.
“What the hell! What's going on?”
As Fonziebird One lifted from the platform, Fonzie struggled to keep his balance. A loud explosion nearby resulted in the rescue craft being thrown into a steep, vertical climb. Thrown from his feet, Fonzie landed awkwardly against one of the portable pieces of equipment. His head struck against an edge and he fell into darkness.
Chapter Eleven- Now What?
As Richie regained consciousness, he became aware of muted voices nearby. At first the words were jumbled, making no sense. He could only tell that although most of the voices seemed to be male, one was female. Even as the thought occurred recognition came. The refined, cultured tones of the dark haired young woman who was part of International Rescue, and the lower, crazy voice of one of his older brothers that brought with it a wash of comfort and familiarity – Ralph. Good, he was fine then. Richie relaxed momentarily in relief and then was shocked back to full awareness as total clarity returned and he remembered what had happened in the room at the side of the stage.
Richie opened his eyes and sat bolt upright – or at least he would have done so if his body had not rebelled against him. As soon as he lifted his head more than a few inches the back of his neck gave out a bolt of fire that caused him to moan in pain and stop moving. There was the sound of movement nearby as someone came to his side and wrapped an arm around his shoulders, helping him to sit up and lean back against a wall.
“Rich, thank god! I thought you were never going to wake up. Are you okay?”
“Ralph, where is he?” Richie looked up at his brother. “Where's Potsie? Is he here?”
Ralph shifted his position so that he was fully in front of his brother, rested his hands on his shoulders and stared directly into his eyes.
“Potsie's not here, Rich, remember?” Ralph's eyes darted to the side and there was a tiny movement of his head backwards. “It's just you and me and Lori Beth and Tom, remember?”
Richie paused for a moment, confused, and then glanced over his brother's shoulder. At the other side of the room he saw Lori Beth talking to the blond haired man who, while giving her part of his attention, was watching the two of them with clear, blue eyes.
“Yeah, yeah, I guess so. I forgot. So what happened?”
“Don't you remember?” Ralph's face was clouded with concern now, uncertain how much of what his brother was saying was for the benefit of the stranger and how much was true. “Mestari and his 'friend' came through here and used gas against us to get away.”
“He used gas against you, but he slugged me over the back of the neck.” Ruefully, Richie put a hand to his neck and massaged it, reminded now of the ache which had replaced the first bolt of pain he had felt on waking. “Brother or not, next time I see him, I'm going to make him sorry.”
“He slugged you?”
Ralph was stunned. He only remembered a cloud of gas erupting around him and then his senses reeling as he fell to the floor. When he had awoken along with Lori Beth and Tom some time later and found Richie still unconscious and showing no sign of waking he had been concerned that the gas might have adversely affected him. He had not thought there might be another reason for his brother's continued unconsciousness.
“Yeah, he slugged me – after he punched me in the stomach – boy, is he for it when I catch up with him.”
“Think yourself lucky, that's all he did to you.”
A quiet voice broke in on them and caused them to look up. The blond haired officer from the World Police had left Lori Beth and come to join them.
"Mestari usually makes a habit of killing those who oppose him. His buddy was mighty lenient, letting you live when you stood between his Master and freedom." he paused, assessing them keenly before continuing. "Though if he's your brother that might explain why you got away with your lives."
"I didn't say he was my brother." As Richie moved to stand up, Ralph caught him under one elbow and helped him to balance. "Ralph's my brother and doesn't like me getting into fights - but this time I've a score to settle."
"You'd be better off taking your brother's advice." the man's face was grim and serious "Mestari's bad news. Leave him to the authorities."
"If you don't mind me saying so, Officer," Lori Beth's soft voice came from behind him, "the authorities don't seem to be doing a very good job of dealing with Mr Mestari. Do you think he's been eluding you for some time?"
"We've been chasing him for a while, yes," the man turned to face Lori Beth. "but influencial as you're Lori Beth Crieghton-Ward." and here he inclined his head politely to the young heiress. "I don't think even you have the resources to be of any help in this affair – unless you've got more powerful friends than it seems." he finished, fixing the Tracy brothers with a hard stare.
"As I have already told you, Lieutenant," Lori Beth smiled sweetly. "Ralph and Richie are friends of mine. They're visiting Wisconsin for a short period and when they learned that I was determined to come here, they insisted on accompanying me to keep me out of trouble. I really think that..."
Lori Beth was interrupted by a tap on the door. It opened to reveal one of the men who had appeared in the auction room with a machine gun.
"Lieutenant, we've found two more of Mestari's men on the roof."
Ralph and Richie's heads snapped around and their questions came at the same time.
"What about Fonziebird One?"
"Was there anyone else there?"
The lieutenant looked at them quizically.
"Why? Were you expecting someone else?"
The brother's mouths snapped shut and they looked at each other in indecision. Seeing he wasn't going to get a reply the lieutenant turned back to the man at the door.
"Well? You heard them. Was there anyone else?"
"No, sir, not exactly."
"Not exactly? What does that mean?"
"Well, someone must have been there. They were tied up in the stairwell. But there's no-one there now."
"You're sure? You searched the whole roof?"
"We've searched the whole building sir. There's no-one here now except for our own people and these four."
"What happened to all the men at the auction?" Richie was confused - how long had he been out? And where was Fonzie?
"We caught them as they tried to leave the building. We've got a number of questions we'd like to ask them. What about the International Rescue craft?" The lieutenant turned back to his subordinate, "I presume Mestari and his buddy used it to get away?"
"Yes, sir. The heliplanes tried to shoot it down....."
"Shoot it down!"
"They tried to do what?"
Ralph and Richie looked aghast and Lori Beth paled as she heard the words. The man shot them a startled look and continued
"But they missed and it got away. It took off so fast they couldn't get a fix on it - air control haven't been able to trace it."
"So he got away." The blond lieutenant turned back to the waiting foursome and looked at them silently for a minute before turning back to his subordinate. "Alright, officer, return to your post."
The man saluted and withdrew from the room, leaving the five alone.
"I'm sorry. It looks like your brother managed to take care of two of Mestari's men before getting caught himself. If he's lucky, Mestari might find out who he is and decide to ask your father for ransom before he kills him." The face of the policeman was softened by genuine regret as he addressed the brothers. “Let me know if he does - I'll do what I can to help.”
"Really, Lieutenant, we don't know what you're talking about." Lori Beth stepped astutely into the stunned silence before either Ralph or Richie could reply. "As I've already told you, there's only the four of us here and . . . . "
"We saw you entering the building next door, Miss Allen. We know there were five of you." The four exchanged uncertain glances and then stood silently, waiting for his next words. "You are a well-known figure, Miss Allen," explained the lieutenant "and your car's pretty . . .eye catching. Next time you go somewhere and don't want to be noticed, use something else. We wondered who your companions were when we saw them. When you told me about your 'friends' dad Howard Tracy, it all made sense. Old man Tracy's one of the wealthiest people on this planet. We'd wondered if Mestari would offer anyone honest the chance of buying the International Rescue machine. With you hearing about the auction from your partner's former associates, it made sense for Tracy Enterprises to send along some representatives for back room negotiations." The lieutenant turned back to the Tracy brothers who were wearing dumbfounded expressions "That is what you're here for right? You and your other brother - Potsie, was it? The blond one who was with you?"
Ralph found his tongue at last.
"You . . . er . . . .you could say my dad's got an interest in the machine, yes. But he'd never agree to paying money to a criminal. We were going to try to 'persuade' Mestari to give up peacefully and Potsie's real name's Warren."
"Peacefully!" The lieutenant gave a snort of laughter. "You certainly don't know much about the criminal mind do you, Mr Tracy? Giving up peacefully is certainly not what Mestari or any of his kind would do. Like any rat caught in a hole, he'll fight to escape - remember that - it might save your life one day. And your father might need to re-think his ideas about paying money to criminals - or at least offering to. If Mestari does try for ransom, the minute your father refuses then your brother'll be dead for sure. At least if he's willing to play along for a while it would give us a little time to do what we can."
"What can you do?" Richie had been silent so far but now he could hold back no longer. "You said you've been after Mestari for some time but you've not caught him yet. What makes you think you would be any more successful if he was holding one of my brothers hostage? If you couldn't catch him tonight when you knew he was here and had the building 'surrounded' how the hell do you plan to catch him when he's got the whole world to hide in?"
"Mr Tracy, please, this is not helping. If you'd just . . . ."
"I won't just anything!" Richie's face was red with fury and his eyes flashed dangerously. "I've had enough of this. I'm leaving and I'm leaving now and you hadn't better try to stop me. You might think my brother's as good as dead but I don't and I'll be damned if I'm going to wait around here any longer. If I've got to search the whole damned world to find him I will and no-one's going to stop me, Bucko."
With that, Richie pushed past the officer and stormed to the door, followed closely by Ralph.
“Howard Tracy's got five sons. Three of them I know were here tonight. I wonder if I would be too far wrong in guessing that a fourth one was here as well.”
At these words, Richie and Ralph stopped in their tracks and whirled to face the officer who held up his hands apologetically and dropped his voice as he continued talking.
“As brothers, you've all got a fairly close physical resemblance to your father. When I saw it and remembered the face of Mestari's 'friend', I couldn't help wondering if maybe you had another interest in the business being carried out here tonight? One a little closer to home perhaps?”
Their faces darkening in consternation, Ralph and Richie moved back towards the officer but before they could say anything he quickly continued talking.
“What you don't tell me, I don't know and my bosses aren't interested in guessing games so I've nothing to tell them. However, assuming you have the right resources, if you were to going looking for your brother...” he paused and left the word hanging for a moment. “I don't think you'd need to search the whole world. Just part of it."
Richie marched back to the officer until they stood nearly toe to toe and glared into his face.
"And what's that meant to mean?"
"As an officer of the World Police, I can't agree with you going to look for him yourself of course but once you leave this room, you're a free agent."
He looked at Richie with a question in his eyes. Richie's eyes narrowed and he gave a brief nod in acknowledgement.
"For your own good therefore, I can only advise you to give up any plans you may have of looking for your brother as 'private individuals' and to let those 'with the right resources' do the work instead."
Richie's face, which had calmed somewhat at the lieutenant's earlier words, flashed back to fury and he looked for one second as if he was about to hit the man. Ralph, however, stepped up beside his brother to lay a restraining hand on his shoulder.
"Thanks for your advice. What would you advise us to do in the meantime?"
"I'd recommend that you take a holiday and try to relax. Some place where you can avoid any more trouble. Make sure to steer away from any of the places where the more dangerous criminals hang out.”
“Well, I’d avoid Canada right now. It’s definitely not a healthy place to visit.”
"Canada's known as America Jr and it might be a shame to miss." answered Ralph neutrally. "Can you be more specific?"
"All of it in general but above all else, I’d warn you away from Finland – that’s definitely a no go area right now."
Ralph nodded and stepped back, dragging Richie with him.
"Thanks for the advice. We might just take it."
Tom, who all this time had been standing silently in the background, listening but never interfering, opened the door and stood aside to allow his employer to pass. As she reached the doorway, she turned and graced the policeman with a smile.
"Thanks, Lieutenant, you've been so helpful. Good luck in your endeavours."
"Thank you, Miss Allen."
"Yeah." Richie stepped up behind the heiress and held out his hand. “Thanks.”
Smiling, the Lieutenant took the proffered hand and shook it.
“My pleasure. Good luck.”
Richi nodded in acknowledgement and stepped through the doorway. Ralph and Tom followed him out and the four headed towards the elevator car. Suddenly, Richie stopped and turned in his tracks to face the officer who was just turning away.
"Say, what's your name anyway?"
The man turned and grinned briefly at the young man.
"Svenson, Lieutenant Adam Svenson."
“Fonz! Come in, Fonz. Answer please!”
Ralph stared helplessly at the face of his chronometer, willing it to change to show him the features of his oldest dark haired brother but there was no response.
“Where is he?” Richie paced beside his older brother, “Why doesn't he answer?”
The four of them had left the building as quickly as possible and were heading back towards Lori Beth's car. As soon as he deemed it safe, Ralph had begun trying to contact Fonzie, desperate to know if his brother was safe.
“I am afraid Lieutenant Svenson may have been right.” Lori Beth's soft tones came from behind them as they rounded the corner of the block where they had left the cadillac. “It looks as if Mr Mestari may indeed have captured the Fonz and taken him away with Potsie in Fonziebird One. Shame that tracking device no longer works.”
The two brothers exchanged a glance then Ralph raised his wrist back towards his mouth.
“Ralph Tracy calling Fonziebird Five. Come in, Chach.”
“Ralph! Finally! Any longer and I was gonna call you myself.” Their youngest brother's worried voice carried to them clearly on the early morning air. “Have you got Potsie?”
“Chach, I need you to locate the Fonz for me. Where does his chronometer signal say he is?”
“Isn't he back with you?”
“No. I don't have time to explain, Chach. Just tell me where he is.”
There was a few seconds silence as the youngest Tracy sibling initiated the search as requested. Then, Chachi's alarmed face appeared back on Ralph's chronometer.
“Ralph, I don't get a reading for him at all.”
“He's not in the vicinity?”
“He's not in the vicinity, he's not in Milwaukee, he's not even in Wisconsin!”
Ralph and Richie looked at each other as their brother confirmed Lori Beth's suspicion. Now they had two brothers missing. Still, at least this time they would have a means of tracing them. However, even this hope was shattered at Chachi's next words.
“I've widened the search to cover the whole world. Ralph, there's no signal from the Fonz's chronometer at all. What's going on down there? Where's the Fonz?”
By now, the four had reached the car. Tom held the rear door open and Lori Beth stepped elegantly into the machine, followed closely by Richie and Ralph. Tom took his place behind the wheel and started the car.
“Chach, I need to speak to Dad. Put me through to base.”
“What about the Fonz and Potsie? Where are they?” Chachi's voice rose in alarm at his brother's evasions.
“Chach, we don't have time for this. I need to talk to Dad now. Stay on the line and listen in but for pete's sake put me through!”
Chachi's jaw set mulishly and Ralph saw the rebellion in his brother's eyes at his curt tone, but thankfully, Ralph nodded tightly and silently made the connection. After a delay of some seconds, Howard's face replaced that of Chachi in the chronometer.
“Ralph, what the devil’s going on there? Where are Potsie and Fonzie?”
Taking a deep breath, Ralph recounted the night’s events to his father. As his tale progressed and Ralph covered the encounter with Potsie, his father’s expression grew more and more grim. When he admitted that the World Police had been unable to find either Mestari, Potsie or Fonzie, could hold back his agitation no longer.
“Gone! Gone where? Chachi!”
“There’s no trace of Fonzie’s chronometer?”
“No, Dad, he seems to have just vanished.”
“He can’t have vanished! Wherever he is, he’s with his brother. He’s our only trace to Potsie and we can’t fail them. I want you to keep that trace for Fonzie going around the clock understood? He’s got to appear somewhere!”
“Okay, Dad, I understand.”
“The World Police believe Mestari may be hiding in Finland.”
“Finland?” Howard’s face changed instantly, a sudden sparkle of hope appearing in his eyes. “What makes them think so?”
Ralph completed his telling of the night’s events, carefully detailing the nuances of the final exchange with Lieutenant Svenson.
“And you think he was serious?”
“Yeah, Dad. I’m sure he was trying to help. I trust him.”
“I hope you're right, Ralph. His guesses about Potsie's identity make a breach of International Rescue's security almost a certainty if you're wrong. For now, we're just going to have to trust him. Our priority at the moment is finding Potsie, Fonzie and Fonziebird One.” Howard activated the internal house telecom that would allow him to communicate with the scientist in his lab. “Al.”
“Yes, Mr Tracy?”
Those in the cadillac exchanged puzzled looks, wondering what had sparked the change in Howard’s demeanor.
“Those medical trials twenty years ago. Where did you say they were held?”
“Australia, Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Finland, Mr Tracy.”
“Finland! And the scientist who invented the drug.”
“Ian Master, Mr Tracy.”
“Yes, Ian Master. He was an Australian, you said?”
“He wasn't educated in Britain by any chance was he, Al?”
“Well, I couldn't be sure, Mr Tracy, not without checking.”
“Do that would you, Al? Find out everything you can about him. Particularly everything you can about any links he had with Finland and any details about his present whereabouts.”
“Right away, Mr Tracy.”
“Where are you now?”
“We're leaving Milwaukee and driving back to my apartment, Mr Tracy.” Lori Beth answered before Ralph could reply. “I think we should visit Finland.”
“Not without me, you don't.”
“Ralph, Richard, bring Fonziebird Two home as fast as you can. By the time you get here, I’m hoping either Al or our agents in Canada should have come up with something more concrete for us to go back with.”
“But, Dad, Potsie and Fonzie need help now!” Richie looked mutinous at the delay.
“That's an order, Richard! I know Potsie and Fonzie need help but the two of you can't take on Mestari and his hoods by yourselves.”
“They won't be alone, Mr Tracy.”
“Thanks, Lori Beth – your help'll be much appreciated. However, you'll still return to base first.” Howard's voice rose as Richie again started to object. “Ralph's still not fully fit to fly Fonziebird Two. Knowing him, I guess he did some flying on the way over there.” Ralph coloured as his father's guess hit home. “So now he's already tired and once we've got Potsie and Fonzie back, there'll be Fonziebird One to bring home as well. We can't guarantee that either Potsie or Fonzie are going to be fit to fly when we reach them. With Ralph already tired, it's out of the question for him to fly all the way home and good as he is, I'm sure even Richard would admit he couldn't fly both craft at the same time.”
The silence in the car confirmed that the logic was irrefutable.
“I want you to concentrate on the World Army channels. Let me know about anything and everything that emanates from or mentions Finland, Mestari or anything else that may be relevant. Understood?”
“I also want you to keep a track of all of our signals for as long as this goes on, Lori Beth and Tom included. I've lost contact with two of my sons already. I'm losing track of no-one else.”
The communication links were cut and each turned to their allotted task.
Chapter Twelve- Tracking Fonzie
When the numbness of unfeeling existence thinned and began to lift, the first thing of which Fonzie became aware was the unremitting pain that was his head. As he opened his eyes to get his bearings, the second thing he noticed was that he was blind. Completely, totally and utterly blind. There was no difference in the darkness that surrounded him whether his eyes were open or closed. Panicked he threw his arm out to grasp something, anything, to ground him from the feeling of falling into free space that immediately filled his body. With his eyes wide open, desperately seeking any light in the darkness, the blindness of darkness became the blindness of light as the automatic movement sensitive light mechanism of Fonziebird One's hold came into operation and his optic nerves were flooded by stimuli.
Groaning he threw himself onto his stomach to block out the stark whiteness. That proved to be a sad mistake. The sudden movement and change of position caused his head to throb as if all of the blood in his body had just concentrated itself above his neck. In addition his brain was assailed by dizziness such that he felt his head was literally flying in circles around the inside of the craft. The combination of the two sensations was more than his stomach could bear and he barely managed to get his hands underneath to push himself up before his stomach forcibly heaved and ejected all of its contents onto the floor in front of him. As he had not eaten for some hours he dry heaved several times before the nausea passed.
At the end he knelt on all fours, eyes closed, with his head hanging down, panting for breath. The angle of his neck, however, only increased the pain and pressure in his head and with a groan he forced his head horizontal. As the throbbing eased he opened his eyes but immediately regretted the action as the walls of the storage bay danced around him, drawing close and then pulling away in some rhythmical, intricate dance never before seen by human eyes. Bemused, Fonzie watched for a few seconds, wondering how Potsie would react to knowing that his precious Fonziebird was possessed by the spirit of a dancing hula girl but then quickly snapped his eyes shut again as his stomach began to threaten a repeat performance. Swallowing down the nausea, he concentrated on balancing on three limbs, moving one hand up to knock away the poker that was trying to bore its way into his brain. He winced and hissed as his hand came into contact with his skull. There was a fair sized lump almost directly above his right eye and the top of his hair felt stiff and hard while the under layers were damp and sticky. Bringing his hand down again he found his fingers coated in semi-congealed blood.
Oh great. Head wound, dizziness, nausea and possible concussion. Just great. Well, I guess it’s time I contacted base and let them know the good news.
Slowly and carefully he allowed himself to roll to one side until his back was resting against the nearby storage cage. Swallowing down the resultant wave of nausea he raised his arm and activated the communications section of the chronometer.
“Arthur Tracy calling International Rescue.”
He paused, wiping his sleeve over his face to remove the last traces of his illness. He sat quietly, closed his eyes and allowed himself to gradually relax, hoping to lessen the pain in his head. Just for a moment, with the quiet hum of the air circulation system in the background, he could imagine himself sitting in one of the lounging chairs around the pool at home, with his brothers splashing in the water nearby and the sound of the piano softly drifting down from above. Just as he fell asleep, a dribble of water ran down his face and he sat up to protect himself from the brother that was trying to disturb his rest. It took him a second or two to realise why he was sitting on the floor in Fonziebird One and another second or two to remember what he had been doing. Frowning, he wiped away the new streak of blood from the side of his face and called again.
“Arthur Tracy calling International Rescue. Come in, International Rescue.”
This time he tried to keep his arm in place to give him something on which to concentrate but this proved more tiring than he thought it would be and he let it drop while he waited for a response. He jerked awake as his head nodded sideways, unsure how long had passed and unsure whether he had received any response to his call.
C'mon, get up, Tracy. Get on your feet. That’ll keep you awake.
Trying to keep his head as still as possible he pushed himself forwards and then used his hands to lever himself upright. As he achieved the vertical, his vision was throbbing pink in tandem with the blood throbbing in his ears. Turning, he grabbed the edge of the basket and held on tightly until his head decided not to explode and the pressure dropped towards normal again. Breathing hard he tried the communicator once more.
“Calling International Rescue. This is Arthur Tracy. Come in please.”
The silence that met his call caused a tremor of alarm to settle in his stomach. Urgently he changed his call.
“Calling Fonziebird Five. Come in, Chach. What’s going on?”
Silence was his only reply. Fonzie’s thought processes gradually woke up and his adrenalin levels began to climb.
Oh great. Don’t say the darned thing’s smashed.
Dropping his arm slightly, he struggled to focus on the chronometer properly. Failing to find the right distance immediately, like an old man with failing eyesight, he moved the watch backwards and forwards in front of his face. After a few seconds, his eyes focussed and the intact, undamaged face of the watch met his gaze. He examined it carefully but there was not even a scratch on it.
“What the.....? Now why the heck won’t you work? Calling Fonziebird Five. This is Arthur Tracy. Respond please.”
The continued silence that met his pleas finally convinced Fonzie that, for whatever reason, he was not going to be able to communicate with his family using his chronometer.
“Well, I guess you’re all on your lonesome here, Fonz. Guess we’d better go find out what’s happening in the big, bad world.”
Pushing himself away from the equipment cage, Fonzie half walked, half staggered to the entrance hatch of the equipment area. Operating the opening mechanism, he took his gun from his belt and cautiously stepped down the ramp that dropped from the underside of the rescue plane. As he reached the bottom, he stopped and stared around him.
“Well, wherever you are, I guess you ain't in Milwaukee no more, Fonz.”
Fonziebird One stood in a large, rectangular, metal lined echoing space. The area was mostly empty, with only one or two vehicles parked at the far end. About thirty feet in front of the nose of the plane were tall, floor to ceiling doors, closed tight. Fonzie stepped out from under the belly of the craft and looked more closely at the spacing of the Fonziebird machine and the doors through which it must have come.
“Whoa, Pots,” Fonzie whispered softly. “Are you some pilot! There can't be more than a foot’s clearance on either side of the wings. Even doped up, you managed to get your 'bird in here and then turn it 'round once it was inside.”
Fonzie shook his head in disbelief of the skill of his brother and regretted the action instantly as his head took the movement as permission to fly in circles around his shoulders again. He staggered over to the metallic strut that supported the wing of the silver scout craft and allowed it to support him as well as his head continued to spin. After a dozen seconds the wave of dizziness passed and he felt safe to lift his head. Releasing the pole, he took a few steps forward until he once more stood under the security panel for the access to the flight compartment. Grimacing against the pain and dizziness that he knew to expect, he reached up and again tapped the security code into the panel. Once again, he was met by failure.
Well – it was worth a try.
Not overly surprised, he looked around him until he spotted what looked like an access door on the far side of the hanger. Making up his mind he made his way, as quickly as he could and in as much of a straight line as he could manage, towards the door. Too much time had been lost already. He had to find his brother. The door, when he reached it, was another heavy, sealed metal door, somewhat similar to the security doors that he had passed through hundreds of times at the various military establishments that he had lived in or visited over the years. Fortunately, however, this door was not locked and as Fonzie operated the opening mechanism the doors slid openly silently, to allow him passage into a series of quiet, empty passageways that lay beyond.
Hefting his gun in his hand for comfort and in anticipation of what might come, he stepped through the opening and, for lack of any better choice, took the passageway that lay directly in front of him. Intent on his task he did not notice a silent alarm blinking red on the passageway side of the open door.
Howard turned as he heard footsteps coming up behind him. Al and Joanie caught up with him as he waited at the top of the stairs leading down into Fonziebird Two’s hanger.
“Al, have you got anything?”
“Yes, Mr Tracy.” The scientist handed him a sheaf of papers “I've managed to find some things that might be helpful.”
“I believe so, Mr Tracy, or at least a possibility. A region of hills in north-west Finland. The details are in here. I'll contact you with anything else.”
“Good, Al. Thank you.”
Howard turned to the dark haired young lady standing beside him.
“And I’ve brought some food for everyone, Mr Tracy.”
“Thanks, Joanie but somehow I don’t think we’re going to be much in the mood for eating.”
“Oh but, Mr Tracy, you should eat to keep up your strength.” Joanie’s words of protest spilled out before Jeff could continue. “Ralph and Richie haven't eaten since breakfast and it'll be a few more hours before you all come back from Finland with Potsie and Fonzie. And besides ” Joanie's almond shaped eyes looked up at him with a pleading expression. “We wanna help.”
Looking down at her earnest face reminded Howard that he wasn't the only one that was worried. Softening his expression, he smiled and reached out to take the large receptacle of food that she was holding.
“Thanks, honey.” With his free arm, he reached around her shoulders and pulled her to him in a comforting hug. “Don’t worry – we’ll find them safe and bring them back – you’ll see.” Turning away, he started down the steps.
“Al, keep the others safe and keep an eye on the proximity alert. We don't want any unexpected visitors while we're away from home.”
“Yes, Mr Tracy.”
Howard made his way down the stairs and crossed the hanger floor to the small access door that sat in the middle of the huge, secret doors built into the side of the cliff that were used by the heavy rescue machine that normally lived in the hanger. As Howard stepped out into the deepening twilight, the steady drone of Fonziebird Two’s engines could be heard approaching from the north-east. Within moments, the large rescue craft appeared flying low and steadily towards the landing strip. Using its VTOL jets, it manoeuvred over the landing strip so that it was facing back out to sea and settled gently on the runway as Howard strode towards it from the cliff-face. Just as he drew level with the craft his chronometer vibrated with an incoming message. The distressed face of his youngest son caused his heart to sink further.
“Chachi, what’s up, son?”
“Dad, the hospital in Katherine's just advised that Doctor Brady died an hour and a half ago. He never regained consciousness.”
The burden of worry and fear that had been sitting on Howard's heart for the last three days settled more firmly in his breast, threatening to force him down into the abyss of darkness and grief that lurked beneath his feet. Fiercely, he refused to yield and mentally tightened his grip on the only lifeline he had at the moment – Potsie wasn't dead yet. Until he held his son's body, he won't give up on him. He forced himself to ask the next question.
“Any more news of the other two?”
“Mr Williams appears to be stable but unchanged. The Pfhister Hospital in Milwaukee reports Professor Garrity’s consciousness levels are still gradually increasing but at the moment he hasn’t woken up either.”
“Well I guess there’s nothing we can do to help except wait and pray. Keep me posted if anything changes.”
Chachi opened his mouth as if to say something and then thought better of it and closed it again. After a second, he nodded tightly.
His eyes were bleak as he closed the channel.
Howard resumed his walk to the large, green Fonziebird where the door was open and Ralph, Richie and Lori Beth stood waiting for him. As he approached, they exchanged concerned glances with each other.
“Mr Tracy, what happened?”
As Howard climbed into the machine and settled himself in a seat, he gave them the latest news relayed from the space satellite.
“Sheesh, I only gave him a tap. I never meant to kill him.”
Howard's eyes shot up to find Richie looking at him sadly, his body heavy with regret.
“It wasn't your fault, son. Don't you ever think that it was.” Howard was vehement in his statement as he leaned forward and gripped his son firmly by the shoulder. “The responsibility for Doctor Brady's death lies with the crook who poisoned him in the first place. You were only defending your brother and you did nothing wrong. Do you understand me?”
“Yeah, Rich, that's a stupid idea,” Ralph was standing by his younger brother now “I mean, all you did was punch him once and one punch from a pint-sized squirt like you couldn't have done that much damage.”
Ralph's attempt at humour went largely unnoticed provoking only a small smile from Tom. Richie appeared not to have heard and sat looking back into his father's face.
“I'm not letting you off on this one, son.” Howard's voice was deep and serious as the ex-astronaut sat before his second youngest, “I'm not having you carry the guilt of this man's death around with you, do you understand? It's not your fault.”
For another second or so, Richie sat quietly looking back at his father and then he broke into a smile and shrugged his shoulders.
“I guess so, Dad.” Turning back to the instruments of Fonziebird Two, he called back over his shoulder, “So, do we know where Mestari's taken Potsie and Fonzie?”
Howard hesitated, not fully convinced by Richie's answer but unsure whether to pursue the matter any further right now. Eventually he sighed, part in relief and part in resignation. This was something he would need to make sure was fully sorted – but not now. Now he had to turn his attention to other things. He picked up the sheaf of papers that Al had given him.
“Head for Finland, Richard. I'll tell you more in a while.”
Richie manoeuvred the large green machine back down the runway towards the take-off ramp as the other occupants of the craft settled in to wait as Howard began to turn the pages.
Fonzie crept along the passageways as silently as he could but his footsteps echoed back at him off the metallic surfaces. There were many rooms and side passages. The rooms he checked were mainly empty with the exception of the odd table or chair. The complex had evidently been built to house many people but an efficient air circulation system hummed in the background and there was no dust. It was impossible to tell how long it had been since the complex had been populated or whether occupation was to be a future event.
Fonzie couldn’t remember how long he had been searching but he was rapidly growing tired and the pain in his head was not appreciating the continued activity. He didn't know where he had to go to find Potsie. There were no maps and what labels he found on the doors of the rooms he passed were cryptic and uncommunicative. The complex had multiple levels and all the corridors in the same level were colour co-ordinated. As soon as he had stepped out from the hanger where Fonziebird One was located, he had entered a series of pale orange corridors.
After some exploration that yielded nothing he had descended a set of stairs to find himself on a level where he was surrounded by bright yellow. This level had been more extensive than the one above and required more exploration before he was sure that he had checked everywhere. Eventually he had admitted defeat and descended to the current level, which was characterised by walls the colour of jade. From time to time, he had to stop and rest for a few seconds and when he did so he tried his watch but he could get no communication with the outside world. Finally, as he came to another junction of passages he stopped and rested his throbbing head against the nearest wall and closed his eyes.
This is hopeless. I ain’t gonna find Potsie like this. Desperate beyond reason, he lifted his head and spoke to the ceiling.
“God, if you’re out there, I’d sure appreciate a hand right now. How about showing me which way to go huh?”
So far as he could tell there was no answer. Sighing in resignation, he chose a passageway and commenced walking. He had gone only a few steps before he rounded a corner to be faced with another metallic security door – the first that he had encountered since leaving Fonziebird One. Hoping that this presaged a change in his fortunes, he opened the door and stepped through – to find himself in a corridor unlike those he had passed through before. This was rock lined, dank and badly lit, indeed, this was more like a tunnel than anything.
Perplexed he paused to consider his options and in the silence he caught the faint murmuring of voices from the tunnel ahead. Gripping his pistol tightly, he started forward into the dimness. He had gone only a couple of dozen steps before the closed in feeling of the tunnel was lifted and he felt air moving around him. Putting out a hand, Fonzie groped for the side wall but was dazzled by the sudden eruption of light all around him. Startled he flung his arm over his eyes to block out the light and, as he did so, felt the familiar tingling of his chronometer vibrating on his wrist.
“So this researcher, Master created this serum and then approached the World Government to see if they would endorse it so he could get it patented and make a fortune selling it to them?”
“That’s about the size of it, Ralph.”
Fonziebird Two was cruising high above the Pacific, heading for the North American continent and then onwards across the Atlantic towards the massive European landmass. After giving directions to Richie, Howard had read out the findings of Al’s investigations to the other occupants of the huge craft.
“So when most of the guinea-pigs either died or were seriously damaged his work would have been totally discredited.”
“Exactly, Richard and in the scientific world a shattered reputation is usually a death-knell to anyone’s career prospects.”
“So that’s why there’s no record of him for the next twenty years.” Lori Beth's quiet voice added to the debate. “The poor guy couldn’t get anyone to take his work seriously after such a terrible mistake.”
“It would seem so, Lori Beth. But I wouldn’t waste too much sympathy on him,” Howard’s voice was stiff with anger and disapproval. “Anyone can make a mistake but, hard as it is, it’s not impossible to get over it. With the right attitude and hard work you can usually manage to convince someone to give you a second chance. No, this guy wasn’t too keen to admit his mistakes. When the trials failed and his serum was discredited, he destroyed his lab and his notes and went underground. From the bits and pieces that the World Police can fit together this figure, ‘Mestari’ appeared in the criminal world for the first time about a year later. For the ..........”
“Fonziebird Five calling Fonziebird Two.”
Howard leaned forwards and flipped the communications switch.
“Go ahead, Chachi.”
“Dad, I'm getting a tracing signal from Fonzie's chronometer.” Exclamations of relief came from the occupants of Fonziebird Two and Howard held up his hand for quiet as his youngest son continued “I've been trying to reach him for the last few minutes but I can't get any response.”
“Where's the signal coming from, Chachi?”
“From a low mountain range about thirty miles north of the settlement of Enontekio in Finland, Dad, International map reference.” Chachi's voice faded a little as he turned his head away to read from another screen. Those waiting in Fonziebird Two heard a startled exclamation and then his voice came back to them, agitated and slightly panicked. “Dad, his signal......it's gone. It's just disappeared from the screen.”
“Recheck it, Chachi, quickly!” Howard barked at the microphone. “We can't lose him again. Find it, son!”
Fonzie's relatives and friends hardly breathed as his youngest brother, far above the earth in the orbiting satellite, rechecked the sensitive equipment in front of him. From the speaker they could hear him muttering as he worked.
“Come on, where are you? Where are you?” and then finally, his voice heavy with despair, Chachi came back to them. “I'm sorry, Dad. It’s gone. It's just vanished.”
“Did you get the exact co-ordinates before it disappeared?”
“Not exactly, Dad......but I can give it to you within about a ten mile radius.”
“Good. Give the co-ordinates to Richard and keep monitoring in case it reappears.”
Fonziebird Two flashed north-eastwards as Richie increased the speed of the large rescue craft to the absolute maximum.
Chapter Thirteen- Fonzie's Being Held Hostage
Fonzie barely had time to cover his eyes before a hand grabbed his arm and forced it down and behind his back. Before he could react, a hard blow landed on his other wrist shocking the nerves into releasing the grip of the gun. Now unarmed, his other arm was also restrained and he was shoved forwards from behind. Nearly losing his balance he stumbled into the light, struggling weakly against his captors until a vicious punch in his side caused him to keel over in pain. Only the hands twisting his arms behind his back kept him on his feet.
As his eyes adjusted to the sudden brightness, he found himself in a large cavern, illuminated by a bright light hanging from the roof and decorated every so often by splashes of green paint on the walls. A large bruiser type was on either side of him, pinning his arms behind him. He could sense a third at his back. Across the cavern were two figures standing side by side. As he approached he made out one of them to be a middle aged, bespectacled man about 6'3" tall with curly brown hair. Beside him was Potsie's unmistakeable figure, still dressed in his International Rescue uniform that now appeared rumpled and dirty. Potsie's chin and next were covered in day long stubble and his skin appeared pale and ill.
“Potsie! Thank God!”
Fonzie lurched forward, trying to reach his brother, but a cruel yank on his arms stopped him abruptly and sent sharp pains of agony through his shoulders. The pressure applied to his arms left him bowed over at the waist, craning his neck to peer up at his brother. Potsie wasn't even looking at Fonzie, his gaze was straight ahead, unblinking, apparently oblivious to everything happening around him.
“Pots? Don't ya know me?”
Fonzie’s heart sank at the glassy appearance of Potsie’s face. There was no sign of recognition at all.
“Oh, so you know my friend do you?” the brown haired man gazed at Fonzie with curiosity. “So who are you? Hmm?”
Fonzie glared at the man, hate and loathing rolling off him in waves.
“What have you done to him? You’re Mestari, ain’t you? Have you given him more of that serum?”
“You know my name and you’ve found out about my serum as well? Aren’t you the clever one. You may well come to regret knowing so much about me my friend.”
The man walked forward until he was directly in front of Fonzie and gazed steadily into Fonzie’s eyes. Determined not to be intimidated, Foznie stared back into the man's eyes but what he saw there made him swallow in sudden fear as the hairs stood up on the back of his neck. Mestari reached out to run his fingers down Fonzie’s neck, along one shoulder and down his arm. Fonzie tried to back away from his touch in disgust but was restrained by the fierce grips that were still forcing his arms behind him.
“You’re dressed the same as those other interfering gatecrashers we had to deal with.” Fonzie’s eyes widened slightly at the implication. “I suppose you were with them and then stowed away aboard my Fonziebird. How inconsiderate of you...............and how very foolish.” He turned away abruptly and started walking back towards Potsie. “Bring him.”
The thugs on either side of Fonzie pushed him forward. He took a couple of steps and then faked a stumble, pushing against the man on his right to try to unbalance him. His guards, however, were evidently waiting for such a move and were quick to react and in seconds, Fonzie was firmly held again, his arms stretched out on either side of him. At the commotion, Mestari stopped and turned and now approached him again with a mocking light in his eyes.
“Don’t think you can escape, my little pigeon. You walked into this trap and now you’re caught. Struggling will only make things worse for you.”
At this moment the chronometer on Fonzie’s wrist vibrated again, as it had been doing intermittently for the last few minutes. This time however, one of the thugs had his hand over it as he restrained Fonzie and he started suddenly in surprise, drawing the attention of his overlord.
“What’s the matter with you?”
“His watch. It moved.”
Mestari jumped to Fonzie’s side and grabbed his wrist, holding it up so the watch was at eye level.
“So, you have one of these toys as well, do you? Complete with communications device I don’t doubt.” The man shot a look at Fonzie. “Who are you? Are you part of International Rescue as well?”
Caught with no way to escape, Fonzie had no answer and strove to make his face as blank as he could as he looked straight back into his captor’s face, to betray as little information as possible.
“Nothing to say? Well, we’ll have to see what we can do about that. But for now......”
He unclasped the watch, dropped it to the ground, set his heel against the clear face and then bore down with all of his weight, twisting his heel as he did so. The chronometer, although built to withstand shocks, knocks and pressure, was not built to withstand deliberate, malicious intent to destroy. The reinforced face shattered and the heel went through the mechanism until it reached the rocky floor of the cave beneath. Fonzie watched in dismay as the chronometer crumbled into little more than dust.
The follow-up blow caught Fonzie by surprise as he was coming back to his previous position. Unable to maintain his equilibrium, he rocked back on his heels and staggered, half-turned away from his assailants. A well-aimed kick caught him on his rib cage and propelled him into the wall of the cavern. Too weak and dizzy to save himself he made full contact with the wall and sank to the ground with a loud groan.
Mestari and his men had taken Fonzie deeper into the hewn passages, their path illuminated by cabled electric lighting in the roof. Potsie walked alongside the criminal, ignoring everything and everyone, his face impassive. The path they took gradually descended into the strata until, after a short while, they came to the top of a steeply sloping rock incline at the bottom of which the ground flattened out. The incline ran along one side of the wall of what proved to be a fairly large cavern used for storage, as evidenced by a number of crates and boxes that were piled against the opposite wall and at various places around the cavern.
From here the structure of the terrain changed, the rock appearing more porous. The passageways they travelled along were typified by walls pockmarked by holes and in a number of places the walls resembled nothing so much as a sponge, pitted with numerous small caverns, ledges and tunnels, many above head height and opening into darkness. It was impossible to see how far these indentations in the rock extended and the small party did not dawdle. The path they followed was now marked by splashes of blue on the walls and some of the side routes that joined the main path were also marked in blue. From some of these, Fonzie could hear the sounds of voices but they met no-one.
After some minutes walk, the party stopped in a cavern about the size of a large room and he was forced over to the far wall. Then the beating started. Mestari didn't even give him a chance to say anything until he had taken a sample of the punishment that would reward him for failing to answer future questions. The three thugs took it in turns to strike him, two holding him while the third gave out the punishment. At first, he tried to fight back but grips on his arms were too tight and he had no option but the take the brutal blows. After the first few, the restraining arms were unnecessary as he was barely able to stand, never mind fight.
The questions, when they came, centred around who he was, what he knew of Potsie and International Rescue and who else knew he was there. His replies, when he gave them, had not been best judged to earn him friends – all they had earned him had been more punishment.
Now, as he slumped leaning against the wall fighting to draw oxygen into his damaged body, he knew that he would not be able to last much longer against this treatment. The right side of his face was badly swollen and his eye was partially closed. Blood ran freely from where his head had met the cavern wall on the several occasions when he was thrown into it and he was finding it difficult to focus. His body was on fire from the abuse that he had sustained. His chest hurt with every breath that he took and he did not doubt that he had multiple fractured, if not broken ribs. His abdomen was equally painful, speaking of internal damage that he did not want to think about. Clearly, Mestari didn't plan to keep him alive once he had the information he sought.
Fonzie raised his head and sought the face of his brother. Potsie was still standing by Mestari's side, as he had been since the beating began. He was not even watching what was happening but staring blankly at the wall of the cavern somewhere above Fonzie's head.
Fonzie's voice was barely a croak as it passed his bruised and bleeding lips. His previous attempts to garner a response from his brother had all failed. This one didn't look as if it would be any different.
“Potsie, you got to snap out of it.”
“You're wasting what little time you have left.” Mestari's voice was mocking and arrogant. “He can't hear you, I've made sure of that. My serum turns him into my being, my possession. I'm his Master and he'll respond only to me. I suggest that if you want to preserve your worthless life, you tell me what I want to know. Now, I'll ask once more. Are you a part of International Rescue?”
“Are you nutso?” Fonzie's voice was filled with venom and hate. He forced himself up onto his knees and leaned against the wall – too weary to try to gain his feet. “You're a failure, Mestari. If you were any good at all, you'd already have all the answers you want. Your serum's a failure and you're a failure as well. Go to hell. I ain't tellin' you nothing.”
Something snapped in the brown-haired man's face. An enraged look filled his eyes and he glared at the smaller dark haired astronaut.
“Don't you dare say I've failed. I've achieved more success in the last five years than you would achieve in a score of lifetimes.”
“Success!” Fonzie spat out the word in derision, and ignored the trail of blood that dribbled from his mouth with the words. “Success! What success? You steal a potion that someone else invented and that has already killed ten guys and......”
“Someone else invented!” Fonzie's words were cut off as Mestari's eyes almost popped from his head. “Is that what they're saying?” he advanced towards Fonzie, stopping a short distance in front of him and glaring at him. “Is it?” he demanded, a fleck of spittle propelling itself from his mouth with the words. “That I stole my OWN SERUM!”
Fonzie blinked, enlightenment dawning slowly.
“You? You're Ian Master? It's your serum?”
“Master?” The use of his true name seemed to calm the man a little and a quiet chuckle escaped his lips. “Ian Master? Yeah, that was my name.” He turned and walked back to where Potsie still stood, still as a statue. “That was my name, then. When they didn't recognise me, didn't see my true genius. Now, I use the name my friends the Finns gave me – Mestari – far more appropriate, eh?”
“Mestari?” Fonzie frowned slightly, seeking the connection.
“Oh, don't tell me, my little pigeon, that there's something you don't know?” Mestari's voice was mocking again, a cruel smile twisting his lip. “Don't disappoint me and tell me that you don't appreciate the delicious foresight my parents had in naming me and that only my people here in Finland actually recognised?”
Fonzie's brain worked slowly, dragging through the clues given him. Master, Ian Master, Mestari, Finland. Suddenly his many long hours of learning languages in the isolation of Fonziebird Five came up with the answer. He almost laughed at the simplicity of it.
“Master, Ian Master, Mestari – master – Mestari. The word for 'master' in Finnish is 'Mestari'.”
“Yeah,.........master. And as you can see,” Mestari gestured towards his men who were waiting quietly to one side, and then waved towards Potsie. “Here, I'm the Master.”
After his pronouncement, Mestari had stood with his arms outstretched, for all the world as if waiting for a round of applause. Fonzie's words hit him like a wave of cold water. The man almost gasped as they penetrated his hearing.
“What did you say?”
“I said you're nutso.” Fonzie repeated, the pain that permeated his body claiming his attention and blinding him to the effect that his words were having on the man who stood before him. “Your serum killed ten guys and seriously damaged twenty more. You've robbed a bank, blown up a research station and shanghai'd an International Rescue operative. The World Government'll come down on you so hard, there won't be enough left to scrape up! If you weren't mad, you'd know it as the truth!”
“The World Government haven't found me in ten years and they won't find me now. But just to convince you that I can do what I want.” He took out a gun from the pocket of the jacket he wore and turned to Potsie.
Slowly, Potsie turned his head and looked at the man. His eyes focussed and travelled down to the gun held out to him. As Fonzie watched Potsie reached out and took the gun and stood, awaiting further instructions. Mestari turned towards Fonzie, an unfathomable look in his eyes.
“Is there anything else you want to tell me?”
Unable to speak, with a feeling of dread slowly creeping up his spine, Fonzie shook his head.
“Point the gun at our friend here.”
The words were like a shout in the quiet of the cavern. Fonzie watched aghast as Potsie's hand began to move upwards.
“No, no.” he breathed in disbelief as he realised what was intended.
“You see, my little pigeon, our friend here's really all I want. You are just – surplus to requirements – so to speak. I can't let you leave here – surely you understand that?” The tone of his voice was that of a teacher reasoning with a student but the cold glitter in his eyes betrayed the depth of his madness. “So as you're not willing to help me at all, then I'll let my pal here kill you.”
Potsie's arm was still lifting slowly, but very slowly, almost as if he was held back from doing as he was bid. As Fonzie looked across at his brother's face, he was startled to see small beads of sweat starting to appear on Potsie's forehead. His hand, holding the gun, was shaking, as if under great tension. It was almost as if Potsie was fighting within himself.
“Potsie, no.” Fonzie's voice was barely a breath as he watched his brother.
“Well? Get on with it.” Intent on watching Fonzie's reaction, Mestari hadn't noticed that his instruction hadn't been immediately carried out, “Point the gun at him.”
Fonzie looked on in despair as his brother's arm bent at the elbow, bringing the gun to a horizontal position and slowly began to track towards him.
“No, Potsie, no, don't do this. It's me.” Fonzie watched his brother's face, desperately willing his brother to hear him. His heart leapt in his breast when he caught a change in Potsie's eyes, as if a barrier had lifted. Instead of the cold, blank expression that had been there before Fonzie was sure that he saw turmoil in his brother's eyes – confusion as his eyes clearly focussed on the gun and then tracked across to where Fonzie knelt against the wall. As hope erupted in his chest, Fonzie forced his abused body to move and stumbled to his feet. “Come on, Potsie, come on, you're there. I know you can hear me. Don't do this.”
Startled, Mestari glanced at Fonzie and then quickly looked back at Potsie. The beads of sweat were obvious now and were coalescing into small rivulets that were starting to run down his face. It was evident that a struggle was going on in the body of the young man – a struggle to throw off the chain of control that held him.
“No, you're mine!” the words were sharp and edged with disbelief, “You listen to my voice, not to his. I'm your master, not him. Point the gun at him.”
Alerted that all was not well the henchmen began to move out of the silent stances they had taken when their leader had begun to question Fonzie. Uncertain what to do they took a few steps forward, tightening the circle around their captive.
“No. Leave him. I'll handle this.” Mestari's hazel green eyes glittered dangerously as he motioned sharply to his men. Exchanging glances they hesitated for a moment and then shrugged and stepped back, clearing the path between Mestari and his captive once more.
“Point the gun at our friend and get ready to shoot him.”
The sweat continued to flow down Potsie's face, his hand continued to tremble, but the gun began to move more quickly. Higher and higher, his arm came until the gun was trained fully on the horrified figure of his smaller yet older brother. As the barrel settled on target and Potsie's forefinger came to rest on the trigger, Fonzie saw a look of horror fill his brother's eyes – a horror that, could he but see it, was reflected in his own face.
“No, don't do it, Potsie, don't do it.”
Coolly, Mestari turned to regard him, a calculating smile on his lips.
“If you want to live – tell me what I want to know.”
Aghast, Fonzie stared at his tormentor. He had no illusions. He knew that Mestari didn't intend to let him live. But he was sure that, for whatever reason, the soul of his brother was free to see and observe what his body was being forced to do, but was helpless to do anything about it. The thought that Potsie would be forced to shoot him down in cold blood and that he'd have to live with that for the rest of his life filled Fonzie with horror and despair. Assuming Potsie lived through this ordeal and somehow came to be released from the thralls of this demonic drug, Fonzie knew that he wouldn't be able to live with himself for having shot his older brother.
Shooting another look at Potsie, Fonzie started as he caught a sudden movement in Potsie's eyes as they flicked suddenly from him to the depths of the cavern. Suddenly, as clear as daylight, he realised the only course open to him – desperate and hopeless though it was, it was the only way he could see to ensure that his death did not come at the hands of his brother. Without warning he ducked and ran towards the far end of the cavern. His change from wounded prisoner to fleeting deer was so sudden his guards were caught flat-footed and were too slow to stop him as he dodged past their arms.
Mestari's howl filled the cavern but it was cut short by a thunderous roar as the gun discharged. The bullet caught Fonzie high and flung him to one side. At that particular part of the cavern, there was a drop in the floor level, caused by an ancient upheaval in the rocky layers. His body struck the wall and then dropped three feet to the lowered cavern floor.
Mestari looked sharply at Potsie but the young man's face was impassive again, any emotions he felt hidden behind the stony mask. Clicking his fingers to summon his men, Mestari stalked across the cavern to the lip of the dropped level. The still figure of the failed escapee lay in the shadows.
Barely were the words out of Mestari's mouth before Potsie dropped lightly to the lower area. He approached the still form and knelt on one knee beside it, reaching out a trembling hand to seek a pulse on the pale neck. His back turned to those waiting behind, the agonized expression that filled his face went unseen by his captors.
“Is he dead?”
The words cut the gloom and covered a muffled sound that came from the kneeling figure. Seconds elapsed as two wills warred within the captive's body, as each strove to dominate.
“Answer me! Is he dead?”
With the utterance of that single word the battle of wills ceased and the expression that had filled Potsie's face vanished, the cold mask of the automaton falling fully back into place. When Potsie's figure rose and turned to meet the gaze of the one who sought to dominate him, there was no trace left in his features to show that Potsie's true and original character had ever been present. Stiffly, he strode to the ledge, rested his hands upon it and pulled himself up to the higher level and then stood stiff and silent, awaiting instructions. When Mestari swept past him with an imperious word of command, Potsie followed him like an obedient slave without a single backward glance.
Chapter Fourteen- Potsie's Choice
Potsie was caught in a nightmare that felt as if it had no end. The darkness that had surrounded him for so long was back and for once he welcomed it. For what seemed like an eternity he had been striving to see, to feel, to be part of the world once more but after what he had just experienced he allowed the darkness to claim him again without so much as a struggle. He no longer knew how long he had lived in this limbo of existence. Was it a week? A month? He could not tell and for now, he did not care.
He had shot his brother! He had shot Fonzie! He, Warren Scott 'Potsie' Tracy, the second eldest of the Tracy brothers, had shot his older sibling, one of the closest people to him in the world. One of those whom he would give his life to protect!
He had held the gun in his hand. He could feel it – for maybe the first time since this whole nightmare had begun he had actually been able to feel something, a physical item, cold and hard and brutal in his hand. He had come back from the darkness and seen Fonzie's broken face in front of him, bleeding and hurt. He had seen the pleading in Fonzie's eyes – pleading, for what? Mercy? Had he been pleading for mercy from his brother? Pleading for his life? Potsie did not know. He could recall only the voice – the voice that had come to dominate him and control him. The voice telling him to take the gun. And he had taken it, and pointed it at Fonzie.
He had not wanted to shoot him. God knows he had not wanted to. He had fought against his own nerves, his own muscles until the heat released from the battle had caused his body to break out in sweat from the exertion. Every thought, every energy he could summon he had directed towards the hand that held the gun and the arm that was gradually moving it upwards to take his brother in its sights. He had looked at his brother, seen by Fonzie's face that he realised that Potsie was fighting, doing what he could to resist the insistent voice that was controlling his body. He had watched as Fonzie staggered upwards to his feet – ye Gods there was so much blood tracking all down his face, coming from his head and his mouth – how much punishment had he taken before Potsie had come back to himself and taken in the scene before him? How much other damage had there been to the rest of his body that he had not been able to see? How long had he stood by and done nothing while his brother was beaten not ten feet away from him? How much had Fonzie understood? How long had he been calling out to Potsie for help? Surely he must have thought that his brother did not care? That his brother had deserted him?
He could not stop it. He had been slowing the movement of the gun as much as he could but when that voice had come again the little strength he had to resist had weakened and the movement had quickened. He had known then that he would not be able to stop himself shooting his brother when he was told to do so. Fonzie had known – he saw it in his eyes when he looked at him. Fonzie had known that he would die that day at the hands of his own brother. That last ditch attempt to run had been all he could think of. Run, Fonz, Run. Get away. Don't let me do this to you. He would have given his life to have been able to speak at that moment, to have been able to beg his brother to go, to run. Fonzie had understood. He had tried but it had not been enough. When Mestari shouted, the last shred of control had been ripped away from Potsie and his finger had closed on the trigger. At the last minute, he had tried to jerk the gun off target but he had been too slow, and it had not been enough.
If he could, Potsie would have thrown back his head and howled in rage and despair. But he could not. He was trapped inside his own body, unable to move or talk of his own volition. Able only to think. And think he did. He thought of the stillness of the normally tall, lithe form of his smaller dark-haired brother as it lay in the dirt at his feet. As it lay still where it had dropped after sliding down the cavern wall, the eyes closed, unmoving behind the lids. He thought of the paleness of the skin of his brother's neck – one of the few parts of exposed skin that was not already darkening with bruising from the beating he had sustained. He thought of his own hand, shaking from the battle he fought within himself, reaching out to rest on the neck to find the pulse and finding....
Potsie tore his thoughts away from the scene – unable to bear the thought of how he was going to tell his father and his family when he saw them again – for he would see them again. With that thought Potsie found the inspiration that he needed. He found the target to focus on, something other than the darkness and the numbness that had filled his senses until now. Fonzie had come. Fonzie had found him. Somehow, Fonzie had found him. That meant there had to be hope – the rest of his family could not be too far away – they would be looking for him and he would be ready when they came. Now he had to concentrate on taking back his body from the automaton that was using it.
Gradually, Potsie did a mental survey of his senses, assessing what he could feel or sense. At first there was nothing, just the blackness of the limbo that he already knew but gradually, as he concentrated, he became aware of a regular shaking, a vibration coming from his feet. He could feel his feet as they met the floor – faintly, very faintly, as if his whole lower body had fallen asleep on him – but he could feel it. He was walking. Encouraged he concentrated on his leg muscles and was relieved when after a few seconds he began to perceive the rhythmical contraction and relaxation of muscles as his legs paced forwards but disappointingly no matter how hard he tried he could not seem to affect the movement. He could not slow it or speed it up – it just continued.
Turning to other areas, Potsie could just about sense the brush of his fingers against material and reasoned his arms must be hanging at his side. Concentrating on his arm muscles he found he could just force a small amount of movement into his arms so his hands began to swing weakly – causing an increase in the brushing sensation meeting the nerves on his hands. Trying again he was almost certain that he managed to get his fingers to contract – he could feel the soft touch of his fingernails against his palms.
Relief swept over him as Potsie realised this state of limbo was not permanent – he could feel more now than he had been aware of before, and he was gaining a small amount of control over his hands. Things were changing. Buoyed up with hope he turned his attention to his other senses.
Hearing provided the most information. Earlier he had only been able to hear the voice of his captor, giving him orders and controlling his body. Even though he had seen Fonzie's lips move he had been unable to detect any sound. Now, however, the muffler that had fallen over his senses appeared to be weakening. As he listened he could hear footsteps – faint, as if coming to him from a distance or through a partition, but becoming clearer with every passing second. Multiple footsteps, scrunching on an uneven, hard floor that reflected the sound. Echoes came back to him, resounding off nearby surfaces, multiplying the effect.
The darkness that surrounded Potsie was dissipating. As he thought about it he was amazed that he had previously given no thought to the fact that he was effectively blind – his progress seemed to have been steady and unwavering and it was only now, as the darkness around him became muted into a lighter shade of dark grey, that he realised that he had no idea where he was or what his surroundings were. As his thoughts were suddenly flooded with the automatic fears of this realisation he felt a sudden pressure on his left arm and the vibrations from his legs and feet ceased.
The single word came at him from the ether and before he had time to think about it he became aware of a change in his orientation. Nerves along the backs of his legs and his buttocks informed him that he was now seated on a hard surface and he felt the muscles in his lower back tightening to hold him upright.
“Leave us alone.”
Footsteps moved away and Potsie felt the gentle movement of air across his cheek as a door closed.
“Buffoons!” The word was loaded with derision and contempt. “I don't know why I hired them. They can't keep a budgie in a locked cage.”
Potsie would have jumped if he could as a flicker of colour crossed the blanket of pale grey that was now his sight. Desperately concentrating he sought to make out more but further details eluded him.
“They'll be the first to go when I've got the power I deserve.” The voice continued on from a distance, straining slightly as if its owner was stretching to reach something. There was the clinking of a number of glass items knocking together and a jolt on Potsie's left arm, just above his elbow as something long and smooth knocked against him. Potsie barely noticed as, at the same moment, the blanket of grey dissolved into a wispy mist that danced and wove in front of him, tantalising him with glimpses of colour and definition that hovered behind the curtain of obscured sight.
“Soon they'll recognise me for what I am. Soon they'll see the genius of my work. My work!” A loud crash accompanied the phrase as a door was banged shut. “I'm not a thief! I haven't stolen anything! What right have I got to steal someone else's work? No-one's on a par with me. NO-ONE!”
The voice was further away now and the sound of several containers banging together gave evidence of the state of mind of the speaker.
“They were fools! All fools! It was my chance to shine. My chance for my work to be seen on the world stage after years of research. And what did they do? What did they DO?” another bang echoed through the air as Potsie tried to will messages of movement through his shoulders and upper arm muscles. “They TRIPLED the dose! TRIPLED it! And they wondered why it didn't work!”
The sound of several items being dropped into a container came from Potsie’s left and then footsteps, as the voice approached where he sat.
“All my work, all my study, wasted, gone for nothing. And my name disgraced, made a laughing stock! Well, now they'll see. Now they'll know that my serum works, and works well!”
A hand roughly grabbed Potsie's left wrist, lifted his arm up and banged it down on a flat surface for emphasis. As a second hand pushed up his sleeve, Potsie switched his attentions solely to the fingers of his right hand and concentrated on developing the movement that had already begun in them.
“You're the beginning, my friend, only the beginning. Brady was a weak-willed fool. He didn't have the gumption to play the game on a world stage. He accomplished his task and now I'm well rid of him.”
The fine mist finally evaporated leaving Scott sitting on a stool, at the side of a table, in a room set up as a laboratory. From the corner of his vision, Potsie saw the owner of the voice turning away from him to take something from a container on the table.
“Once the powers of this world understand that even the secrets and agents of the great International Rescue can't stand against my serum then they'll see the potential I hold. The World President himself won't be safe. Those interfering busybodies interrupted my auction in Milwaukee. It's a shame,” there was a pause as the man concentrated on his task for a few seconds, holding something up to the light with both hands, “I would have liked to honour the country that gave me my home for so many years. But, no matter.”
One hand replaced something on the table as Mestari turned back to Scott. There was an object in his right hand but Potsie, try as he might, could not shift his field of vision from the wall directly opposite where he sat. “I'm sure the warlords of the Asiatic states would be willing to pay handsomely for your machine and for the information you can give them.”
A hand gripped his left wrist again and pulled it forward, extending his arm slightly and the other hand came to rest on his upturned lower arm.
“Surely, their serums will not be as painless as mine.” A sharp jab in the skin of his arm told Potsie what Mestari had been holding in his right hand “But at least you'll be well used to needles by then, won't you, my friend.”
The thumb of the scientist rubbed the injection site roughly to disperse the injected material as he withdrew the needle.
At that instant the door of the room crashed open and Mestari jumped to his feet.
“What's going on? How dare....?” His voice faded into silence as his mouth dropped open.
“Take your damn hands off 'im!”
“No, this can't be!” Mestari took a step forwards, his eyes wide with disbelief. “You're dead!” He took a half-step backwards and started to turn towards Potsie. “You said he was dead!”
A fist of solid bone rocked into his face and knocked him off his feet and back against the wall where he staggered and slumped sideways as his eyes glazed slightly and lost their focus. The voice that met his ears was rough with disuse.
Chapter Fifteen- I'm Back, Baby
Potsie held onto the edge of the table he was leaning against as if his life depended on it. He had forced his body's muscles to help him to stand and had managed to launch the punch at Mestari but the follow through momentum had nearly toppled him. At the last moment he had managed to twist at the waist and throw his weight towards the only support within reach. As he stood, leaning against the table and trying to persuade his legs to co-operate with him an arm locked around his shoulders, lending him balance and support.
“Hey, Pots, are you okay?”
His brother’s voice was in his ear but Potsie stood with his head hanging down, unable to move or to reply. Swiftly the pressure on his shoulders was increased and he was turned around by force until he was half-leaning against the table. A hand came into view and tilted his head upwards.
“Potsie, can you hear me? Do you know who I am?”
Potsie looked into the worried face of his brother and tried his best to force a grin onto his face. The result was more a grimace than a grin but the change of expression coupled with the obvious awareness in Potsie’s eyes caused the older brother to release the breath he had been holding in a loud sigh. Not daring to risk nodding his head, for fear that if he succeeded he might not be able to raise it again, Potsie blinked slowly. Then, as his brain processes caught up he did a rapid visual examination of the man before him. His gaze took in the badly swollen face, the closed eye and the trails of dried blood that trailed from hairline to chin before coming to rest on a sticky, shiny patch standing out on the black sweater.
Fonzie’s face broke into a smile of relief.
“It’s okay, Potsie, I’m fine. The bullet clipped the top of my shoulder. The cave wall did more harm. You were nearly out of sight when I came to. Now, can you walk?”
With more awareness of his muscles every second, Potsie risked a shake of the head at the same time as another word.
Potsie’s face fell slightly then he smiled again.
“Okay, so I’m going to have to help you. No problemo. Now, let’s get you sat down for a minute.”
Fonzie stood close to his first younger brother and wrapped one arm firmly around his waist.
“We’re going to move two steps to your right, Okay?”
Carefully, Fonzie moved to the side, bringing his brother with him. Potsie managed to force his legs to move just about enough to aid his brother and he was soon sitting back on the stool at the side of the table. As Fonzie began to withdraw his support, after making sure that his brother would be safe to remain upright, his attention was caught by the rolled up sleeve on Potsie’s left arm. Alarmed he caught Potsie’s wrist and held his arm still, bending to examine the trace of blood from the fresh injection site. Quickly he scanned the rest of the arm, his keen sight picking out traces of other puncture marks. His face paled and he looked up into his brother’s face.
“He used more serum on you?”
It was barely a question and Potsie blinked tiredly. Now that he was sitting down again he was aware of a familiar numbness starting to creep through his body.
Fonzie cast a venomous glare over his shoulder at the figure that was stirring against the wall but said nothing. Reaching to his belt he unzipped a small pouch and extracted the device given him by Lori Beth. He turned back to his brother with a tight smile as he placed it on the table.
“Well, it’s a good job I came prepared then, ain’t it?”
He dragged a second stool out from under the table and straddled it, taking Potsie’s left hand in one of his own.
“I guess you’re well tired of needles right now, bro but I’m afraid I’ve got one more for you.” No reply came from Potsie but under his hand Fonzie felt Potsie’s muscles tense and a weak jerking movement as Potsie tried to pull his hand free. He looked up to find a pair of slightly wild eyes fixed on the outstretched arm and an expression of uncharacteristic barely restrained fear on his brother’s face. Fonzie’s heart pulled as he beheld the vulnerability before him and he reached up a hand and gently touched Potsie’s cheek to get his attention.
“Hey, Pots, Warren, it’s me.” He kept his voice low and calm but was unprepared for the start of alarm that crossed Potsie’s face when the back of his fingers made contact. “It’s okay, Pots, it’s just me, the Fonz.”
Potsie’s eyes flicked back to Fonzie and were caught by his brother’s concerned gaze.
“That’s right, Potsie, it’s me. You know me, don’t you?”
Fonzie watched in consternation as Potsie looked at him without apparent recognition and then breathed in relief as the flashback faded and his brother’s expression began to clear. As the confusion lifted Potsie’s arm became still.
“That’s it, Pots, take it easy, relax. You know I won’t hurt you. It’s the Fonz.” Fonzie left his fingers on Potsie’s cheek for a second more to reassure him and then allowed his hand to drop. “It’s okay, Potsie. It’s an antidote to the serum, Al says it will help.” Seeing his brother was fully aware again, Fonzie returned his attention back to the device on the table. “I need to get this into you and then we can get out of here.”
Steadying his hand on Potsie’s arm, Fonzie rested the tip of the hypodermic against Potsie’s skin but before he could break the skin a moving weight landed on him from behind, knocking him sideways along the table.
“NO! NO! He's MINE! You can't have him.”
From the corner of his eye, Fonzie caught a glimpse of his attacker as he fell to the floor and landed heavily with the weight of the other bearing down on him.
‘Mestari!’ Curses flowed through Fonzie’s mind as he fought to dislodge the man who was now perched on top of him ‘Damn him! I should've tied him up when I had a chance. There’s no way in hell he’s getting his hands back on Potsie – I’ll kill him first!’
Fonzie redoubled his efforts to get free but although obviously smaller but stronger than Mestari, he had been taken by surprise and was hampered by the damage to his shoulder. More serious than he had given Potsie to believe, the wound was severely restricting his use of the arm.
Potsie watched helplessly as Mestari pinned his brother to the floor on his back and rained down punches on him. Try as Potsie might, he could not shake off the renewed paralysis that had claimed his legs and was deadening his arms into numbness.
Mestari changed his tactics and fixed both hands around Fonzie’s throat. Desperate to release himself from his attackers grasp Fonzie brought both legs up hard and fast and drove his knees into Mesatri’s back. The sudden attack caused the man to arch backwards in pain, releasing his grip. Seeing his chance, Fonzie drove forward with all his might with his uninjured arm, catching the rogue scientist under the chin and sending him sprawling sideways.
Fonzie clambered to his feet, looking around him for a weapon but he was too slow. Rolling sideways, Mestari grabbed the stool on which Fonzie had been sitting and brought this up into Fonzie’s legs. Instantly, his knees buckled and Fonzie fell across the table, knocking a dozen different flasks and containers of various sizes and shapes to the floor, where their contents began to mix together in a slimy, nauseating mess. One thing, however, did not fall. Fonzie’s right hand landed against a solid object a little larger than his hand. Automatically he grasped it and, as a hand fell on his shoulder and dragged him around to face his attacker again, he brought his arm around smartly, catching Mestari at the temple. The scientist was unconscious before he hit the floor.
Fonzie leant against the table for a few seconds to catch his breath and control the waves of pain and dizziness that were assaulting him before bending to check for a pulse. Having found one he managed to extract some wire from the container on his belt and awkwardly tied the man’s hands behind him. Moving lower he used more wire to restrain Mestari's ankles and then, with his good arm, dragged the unconscious body back against one of the table legs, and supported him there with his legs while he used the remainder of his wire supply to secure him against the far end of the table, where he would be slightly hidden from the door when it opened.
Happy that there would no further interruptions from their enemy, Fonzie made his way back to Potsie who was watching with worried eyes from the stool.
“Fonz, are you okay?”
Fonzie’s near inability to use one arm had not escaped his first younger brother and Potsie wanted nothing more than to examine the patch of blood on his brother’s shoulder. Unfortunately he was now totally unable to feel his arms.
“I’ll survive.” Fonzie’s words were curt and clipped, betraying the fatigue and pain that was now permeating his whole body. “Let’s get you sorted then we need to find our way back to Fonziebird One and get the hell out of here.”
He picked up the hypodermic from the side of Potsie’s arm, to where it had rolled when he had lost his grip on it earlier. Selecting part of the muscle running down the inside of Potsie’s arm, he quickly injected his brother. Rubbing the injection site as he withdrew the needle, he looked back up at his brother’s face.
“There you go, Pots now all….”
The words died in his throat. Potsie’s eyes were wide and alarmed again but they were looking straight ahead, not at Fonzie.
“Potsie? Potsie, what’s wrong?” Fonzie glanced around the room but could see nothing amiss. Returning his attention to his brother he was dismayed to see a growing expression of fear covering his face. He grasped Potsie’s shoulder in alarm and shook it slightly. “What’s wrong, Potsie? Talk to me!”
Slowly, Potsie’s eyes came to focus on his brother and a look of what Fonzie could only interpret as despair filled their depths.
“Fonz, don’t leave.”
Non-plussed, Fonzie stared at his first younger brother.
“Of course I ain’t gonna leave – I’ve only just found you. WE are going to leave, together.”
Slowly, Potsie shook his head, struggling to speak.
“No. Dark – so dark.”
Perplexed, Fonzie looked around – the lights were full on, the lab was illuminated. What was Potsie talking about? Then, with a dreadful certainty, Fonzie looked back at his brother. Potsie’s eyes, although looking towards Fonzie, were glazed over and Potsie’s face was impassive and immobile once again, as it had been when Fonzie had first seen him.
“Potsie, Potsie!” Alarm coursed through Fonzie and he reached forward, waving his hand in front of Potsie’s eyes. There was no response. Abruptly, he gripped Potsie’s shoulder with the hand of his good arm and shook it hard. “Potsie! Can you hear me? Answer me, dammit!”
Instantly, Potsie’s eyes focussed on Fonzie. His mouth opened but the one word uttered caused Fonzie’s flesh to creep in horror.
Stunned, Fonzie sat with his mouth hanging open for a second before he managed to gather his thoughts. Carefully, forcing down the growing panic and schooling his voice to the level controlled tone used in the midst of the worst rescues, he picked his words and addressed his brother again.
“Potsie, do you know me?”
“You saved my butt.” The voice was level and flat, unemotional. The voice of a mindless automaton. No flicker of recognition showed in Potsie’s eyes, which stared straight back at Fonzie.
Fonzie thought quickly. He could not waste any more time. More than enough had been spent already fighting off the attack of Mestari – his friends might return at any moment and Fonzie was in no condition to fight them off as well.
Fonzie stood and crossed to the door which he had closed on his entrance to the room. Carefully opening it, he stood so he was hidden from view to anyone outside and listened carefully. Hearing nothing he risked a glimpse down the passage. All was still and there was no-one in sight. Returning to his brother he took Potsie by the elbow to help him to stand.
“Okay, Potsie, let’s go.”
Much to his amazement, Potsie rose immediately and without effort, standing still as a statue before his older brother. Fonzie shook his head in a mixture of dismay and amazement at the complete control the drug had over his normally strong willed, first younger brother and then his lips quirked in a sudden smile as a thought occurred to him. ‘Shame we couldn’t use some of that potion on Chachi sometimes - it sure would be useful when he’s being brattish.’
The thoughts of his family’s faces brought Fonzie swiftly back to the present and, his face settling into grim determination, he crossed back to the door, pausing only briefly to ensure that Potsie was following and not sparing a single glance for the unconscious Mestari lying where he had been left. As the two brothers silently left the room, neither were aware that the glutinous puddle of spilled chemicals had begun to bubble and smoke.
Chapter Sixteen- Am I Nutso?
As quickly and quietly as he could, Fonzie led his brother back down the tunnel he had followed him through a short time before. Crossing the cavern where his interrogation had taken place, Fonzie suppressed a shudder and kept his eyes averted from the area where he had been beaten. A step behind him, Potsie silently kept pace, his face calm and impassive, showing no reaction to the many concerned glances thrown at him by his older brother.
The large cavern was clear of inhabitants and Fonzie swiftly led them back into the system of caves and porous passages that preceded it. They were fortunate and encountered no-one although, once again, Fonzie could hear the faint sound of voices reverberating out of some of the side passages as the two brothers passed the openings. They had been travelling through the passages for some minutes when a sudden gasp behind him caused Fonzie to stop and turn to check on his younger brother. Potsie was bowed over, supporting himself with his right arm braced on the wall and his left pressed against his thigh. Hurrying back to his side, Fonzie rested one hand lightly on Potsie’s back to get his attention and was shocked to feel the heat radiating through his brother’s clothes.
“Yo, Pots, what’s wrong?”
There was no response from his brother but Fonzie could feel shudders coursing through the body beneath his hand. Potsie was breathing heavily, taking in large gulps of air and holding them for seconds at a time before releasing them, his eyes squeezed shut in pain.
“Potsie?” Fonzie dropped to a crouch beside his brother, looking up into his brother’s face. “Warren, can you hear me?”
Potsie didn't answer but he raised his left hand, blindly reaching out towards his brother. When his hand found Fonzie’s shoulder, it latched on to the strong muscle block, the fingers digging in convulsively as more shudders ranged through his body.
“Okay, Pots, okay, take it easy. I’m here.” Fonzie stood again, reaching his right arm around Potsie and locking it around his waist. “Come on, let’s get you sat down.”
Potsie gave no indication of having heard or understood, continuing to gasp and shudder beneath Fonzie’s arm but as Fonzie tried to lower Potsie to the floor, he met only resistance, his brother refusing to move from his bowed over position. Just as Fonzie was considering trying to drape Potsie over his shoulders and carry him onwards a loud klaxon echoed through the underground passageways, the suddenness of its alarm causing Fonzie to jump in shock.
“Whoa! They must have missed us.” Fonzie looked frantically up and down the passage, fearing pursuit would find them immediately but for now there was no-one in sight. From what he remembered, there was still some distance to go in these passageways before they would have cleared what seemed to be the inhabited portion of the cave system. The dizziness, pain and sheer exhaustion that had been with him since his beating he had so far managed to push to the back of his mind, in his desperation to get Potsie away. However even this short break in the pace had allowed sufficient time for those sensations to assail him again and he was already having to concentrate on standing up. Add to this the sudden indisposition of his brother and it made their re-capture certain if they attempted to continue with their present course. They had no choice. They must hide.
Desperately he looked around him. The passageway was empty, barely wide enough for two to walk abreast. The side passages were out of the question as most were obviously inhabited. Rubbing the back of his neck to relieve the pain and stress he lifted his head as he desperately tried to think what to do. His gaze fell on one of the recessed ledges that ran along just above head height at this part of the tunnel. Quickly stepping to the side of the tunnel, he clambered up onto a rock outcropping so that he could see over the lip of the ledge. It looked better than he had dared hope. The ledge went some way back into the darkness, further than he could see and increased in height as it went backwards. It was almost a cavern in its own right. There would definitely be room for them both – if he could get them up there. Stepping back, he stood facing his brother.
“Potsie, look at me!”
He had to raise his voice to make himself heard above the raucous noise of the klaxon and used his best NASA command tone, hoping that the serum in his brother’s bloodstream would make him compliant for the next few minutes. Fortunately it seemed to work. Potsie’s head came up and pain-glazed eyes locked onto Fonzie’s face. Fonzie bent his knees slightly and laced his hands together about a foot off the floor in front of him, the fingers of his right hand lending support to the much weakened fingers of the left.
“We’ve got to hide. I’ll give you a help up onto that ledge.”
There was a moments hesitation and then Potsie straightened, put his foot into the mounting stirrup made for him and launched himself at the wall. The added height given by the push Fonzie gave to his foot enabled Potsie to throw his arms over the ledge and then to drag the rest of his body over. As soon as he could see that Potsie was safe, Fonzie jumped at the wall, used the rock projection as a boosting step and managed to get his right arm and shoulder over the edge. As he landed his damaged left arm jarred against the rock, causing pain to explode through his arm, chest and neck. Frantically he tightened his hold with his right arm but he could feel himself starting to slip backwards towards the tunnel as the pain from his injuries threatened to overwhelm him.
Suddenly, a hand reached over and hooked itself under his right arm, hoisting him further onto the ledge. Kicking his feet, Fonzie managed to gain some purchase on the uneven wall with his toes and pushed upwards as hard as he could. A second hand grabbed his sweater and more power was applied to drag him over the ledge. Fonzie gasped in pain as his damaged body was dragged over the rock and he felt the first hand shift its grip to his hip to pull the lower half of his body upwards. His centre of gravity passed the top of the ledge and his built up momentum carried him onwards, landing heavily on his right side. Unfortunately, the slope in the floor was steeper than he had thought on first observation and he continued to roll, barely registering that a pair of arms were locked around him and another body was rolling with him. Ceiling followed floor, followed ceiling as the two brothers rolled together down the slope and landed up with a resounding thump against a solid wall.
In the tunnel below no sooner had the last vestige of, the Tracy brothers vanished over the lip of the ledge than a half dozen burly men, and a number of women, all dressed in scruffy, military style clothing, came trotting around a bend in the tunnel and passed the place where the two brothers had stood only moments before. Not a single eye was lifted to the ledges running along the channel and the alarm klaxon, still reverberating through the tunnel system, hid the noise of rolling bodies and disturbed stones that came from the hiding place.
Fonzie opened his eyes and looked around him. A little of the light from the tunnel made it into this recess but it was still dark and heavily shadowed. His whole body ached fiercely, each part of his torso and limbs reminding him of the various hurts he had acquired over the last few hours. Remembering his brother, Fonzie tried to sit up to better take stock of the situation only to find that his arm and leg were pinned to the ground, small rocks and stones uncomfortably digging into the underside of his limbs. Turning his head sideways, Fonzie was alarmed to find the still form of his older brother lying next to him, pinning him to the floor.
“Warren Scott Tracy, are you okay?”
Fonzie eased himself free and then leant over his brother’s body. Potsie’s eyes were closed, his face covered in sweat. Alarmed, Fonzie shook his brother's shoulder, called his name, tapped his cheek, but all to no avail – all of his attempts to get a response failed miserably. Sitting back on his heels to think, Fonzie took a moment to register the sudden silence that fell as the klaxon ceased its remorseless screaming. Sighing at the peace that followed, Fonzie began to slide his uninjured arm under Potsie's shoulders and then stopped abruptly as the steady rhythm of pounding feet began to reach him from the tunnel.
Quickly but gently lying Potsie down again, Fonzie slid down next to him, hugging the floor with his body and dropped his head, turning his face to monitor his brother as he waited in the dimness. He rested one arm on his brother's chest, close to his face, ready to cover Potsie's mouth if he showed any signs of reviving at the wrong moment. The running feet came closer and soon passed the entrance, travelling from left to right, coming from the caves where he had rescued Potsie and heading up the tunnel, towards the area where Fonziebird One had been left. Fonzie waited until the line of heads had disappeared and the echo of their feet had died away before he moved. After quickly checking on his brother again, Fonzie extracted a small torch from another of the pouches on his belt and moved away into the back of the recessed area, looking for another way out or somewhere they could hide.
Ducking his head to avoid bashing it off the roof, he followed the wall as he carefully progressed into the gloom. The cavern was asymmetrical, the nearest wall running smoothly from ceiling to floor and continuing on across the back of the cavern while at the far side there was a gap in the darkness where he expected the wall to turn back towards the tunnel. Cautiously edging his way forward, Fonzie found a twist in the cavern with a small set back area, almost like a separate cave joined to the side of the main opening. If he had not been inching around the walls step by step he would never have found it as it was well back into the blackness of the cave, entirely hidden from the weak light sifting in from the tunnel. Here as well, all of the walls were pock marked and perforated by the holes that characterised this strata and there were still other, mini tunnels breaking the wall surface at various points, but all were too small for a human to fit into. There was no other way out of this area apart from the small entrance from the larger recess.
Fonzie returned to his brother’s side, raised him to a sitting position and then slid in behind him, propping Potsie up against his chest while he slid his arm further around Potsie's chest so that he could lift him. Struggling a little, he regained his feet, dragging his brother upwards with him. Fonzie was not sure if Potsie was completely unconscious as, although his head lolled forward onto his chest, he seemed to be making some small attempt to support himself, his legs stumbling and dragging along beneath him as John half-carried, half-dragged him through the bottleneck into the smaller opening. Laying him down near a corner, Fonzie checked him over as best he could in the limited light available. In the starkness of the torchlight, Fonzie was taken aback by his brother's appearance. Besides the rough day old stubble and the pale, sickly appearance of his skin, dark shadows were starting to appear under his eyes and the only real colour in his face was in his cheeks, which appeared flushed. Resting the backs of his fingers against Potsie's forehead, Fonzie was not surprised at the heat he found. Moving his hands down to Potsie’s torso, he found the rest of his body was still very hot and every so often small tremors flashed along his frame, causing his muscles to contract and relax in quick succession. His pulse was fast, much faster than Fonzie was happy with but there was nothing he could do about it here.
Passing his hands gently but rapidly over Potsie's body, Fonzie checked for any damage that might have been caused in their precipitous entry to the cavern but fortunately, Potsie seemed to have escaped unscathed. Shaking his brother and calling his name evoked no response and, after doing what he could to make Potsie comfortable, Fonzie turned to assess his own situation.
Sitting down beside Potsie's head, Fonzie held the torch between his teeth and, with his right hand, gently tried to pry the torn fabric of his sweater away from his left shoulder. He hissed in pain as the drying blood that caked the garment tore at the skin around the wound and he felt the leaking of warm liquid over his fingers. The agonising, shooting pain which had nearly immobilised him as he tried to struggle up here out of the tunnel had gradually been reducing to a steady ache but now the pain threatened to return as he tried to check the damage done to his arm. A particularly sharp pain caught him by surprise as his finger slipped into the wound in his flesh made by the bullet and he had to bit down on the torch to keep from shouting out as a tongue of fire shot through his shoulder. Breathing as deeply as he was able, around the torch, Fonzie rested his head against the cavern wall, waiting for the pain to pass before continuing his examination. A few minutes later it was clear that the damage did not appear as bad as he had initially feared. Bloody, painful and for the moment debilitating yes, but the blood loss had already slowed enough to allow clotting to start and the wound, although clean through his shoulder, did not appear to have cut anything critical. Experimenting carefully, Fonzie found he could send signals down to his fingers and touching his left hand with his right revealed no immediately obvious loss of sensation. His guess was that the loss of mobility was down to the shock of the wound and the bruising and inflamation around the wound itself. Maybe the motor nerve had been bruised but it certainly did not seem to have been cut as he had first feared when he could barely use the arm to protect himself against Mestari.
Lifting his sweater, he gazed down at the mass of blue and black bruising that mottled his chest and abdomen. The skin was not broken and he was able to breathe unhindered, well - apart from the pain, so he was certain that his lungs were not punctured. A couple of ribs creaked suspiciously when he applied any kind of pressure to them and the swelling around some others made it practically certain that the ribs were broken, albeit still in place - he could not bring himself to touch them for further confirmation. His abdomen was bruised but there was no sign of major internal bleeding that he could see – it appeared that his rigorous workouts in the space station had not been in vain and his abdominal wall muscles had managed to protect him from major damage.
Happy there was no immediate likelihood of him keeling over and leaving Potsie unprotected and alone, Fonzie thought for a moment. They would have to wait for the hue and cry to die down before attempting to move on any further. Fonzie could only hope that Potsie would regain consciousness before then and be fit to move. In the shape he was in himself, Fonzie knew he would have precious little strength left of his own to aid his brother. Coming to a decision, he raised Potsie's head and shoulders slightly from the floor, scooted underneath him and made himself comfortable so that his aching body could rest propped up on one side by the wall. Cradling Potsie's head in the crook of his uninjured arm, Fonzie leant his head back against the cavern wall, snapped off the torch, closed his eyes and tried to rest.
“NOOO! FONZ! NOOOOO!”
The cry, at full volume and right next to Fonzie’s ear, brought him awake with a jump. In the darkness, he could see nothing but his arms automatically tightened around the body that was writhing against him. Arms and legs seemed to be everywhere as Potsie squirmed around, desperately trying to free himself. Fonzie shook his brother hard, trying to break through the barrier of confusion that held him.
“Pots! Pots! It’s okay. Calm down, I’m here. Calm down, will you. Stop fighting me.”
His actions, however, seemed only to antagonise the situation for, at his attempt to restrain his brother Potsie’s struggling increased, arms hitting out in an attempt to fight him off.
“Let go . . . . let me go . . . . got to get away, get out. It’s so dark . . . .so dark. . . . Fonz . .. .Fonz, I’m sorry . . . .I didn’t mean to . . . . couldn’t stop. Didn’t mean to…..let me go.”
Realising he was not going to get through to his brother, Fonzie loosened his grip and started feeling around on the floor by his leg for the torch. He could feel Potsie still partially lying over him, shaking and shivering, his words now becoming disjointed and unintelligible. Potsie’s fingers found the slim pencil light and closed around it gratefully, flicking on the mechanism. After the encompassing darkness, the light seemed to almost blind him and he had to force his eyes to stay open as they slowly adjusted to the glare. When he could see again, Potsie was lying across his lap, shaking uncontrollably, his eyes wide but focussed on nothing. His body was bathed with sweat, his breath coming in short, ragged gasps. Bending over him, Fonzie held his head gently with one arm, using his other hand to stroke his face and his hair to try to calm and reassure him.
“Potsie, calm down, listen to me. It's da Fonz. Take it easy, Potsie, relax. you're safe now, you're safe.”
For a moment, Fonzie thought he had broken through as Potsie's head turned towards him, his eyes partially focussing on his brother, one hand reaching up tentatively towards him.
“Fonz, Fonz. . . . .is that you?”
Thankfully, Fonzie grasped Potsie's hand, holding it firmly in his own to give his brother an anchor in the real world.
“Sure, Pots, it's da Fonz, I'm here. Take it easy, you're safe now.”
Instead of relaxing, Fonzie continued to stare up at his brother, his eyes full of despair.
“Fonz, I’m sorry. So sorry . . . . couldn’t stop . . . .tried . . . . drug.” Potsie's agitation increased and he tried to free himself of his brother's embrace, his hand fighting to be free of the grasp that held it. “Got to get away . . . get out. . . so dark, so dark . . . can't see . . can't move . . .got to get away.” He tried to roll away from his brother's arms, his legs and arms starting to flail around, his hands clenched weakly into fists and aimed at the unseen enemy that held him. “No . . .no more, . . not again. Leave me alone . . I won't tell you . . let me go. . . . Got to get out . . . Ralph!”
Fonzie started, surprised as Potsie called their brother's name and temporarily released his hold on Potsie, allowing him to roll out of reach.
“Ralph, you're here . . . help me . . help get away. No . . . no . . not the gun . . . no . . Ralph!”
Potsie’s voice was cut off as his body momentarily became rigid then he began to jerk and twist and convulse, his head bouncing slightly off the floor as his neck muscles contracted. Fonzie jumped forward and caught his brother, gently rolling him over onto his back and then releasing him so that his hold did not cause his brother to injure himself any further pulling against his restraint. Potsie’s body continued to convulse uncontrollably, shaking and twisting and shuddering, blood running down his face from the cuts inflicted a second before, his limbs stiff and rigid, his fingers twisted into claws. All Fonzie could do was watch, leaving his brother room to move but ensuring that he did not hurt himself against the cave walls. Occasional moaning sounds came from Potsie but mainly he was silent, his mouth open and his eyes half-lidded.
Fonzie counted to fifteen before the fit finished and Potsie’s body collapsed into an unmoving heap. Reaching out tentatively, Fonzie rested his fingers on his brother’s throat, relieved to find a pulse – fast and irregular but strong. He moved to gather Potsie back into his arms but froze as the sound of feet reached his ears. Snapping off the light, Fonzie stood silently in the blackness, his heart pounding in alarm and then edged carefully towards the opening. The feet were coming back down the tunnel, stopping every so often for a few seconds and then moving on, coming gradually closer. The sound of low voices reached his ears but the distortion of the cave system prevented him from hearing the words clearly – it was not until they were very near that he realised they were not even speaking in English. Disgusted at his own obtuseness, Fonzie shook his head in disbelief, unconsciously leaning forward to try to hear the words clearly enough to make sense of them.
The ambient light in the cavern brightened suddenly as someone shone a torch over the rock edge, trying to probe the depths of the darkness. Barely breathing, Fonzie stood stock still, hugging the wall with his body and praying that Potsie would not move or make a noise. The ambient light grew brighter as the beam scanned the near section of the recess and someone spoke. There was a brief exchange of comments and then the sound of someone climbing on rock. Cursing inwardly, Fonzie inched forward in the opening, preparing to make a stand against whoever was coming to find them. More scrabbling against rock told him his opposition had doubled. His blood ran chill at the sound of a weapon being readied for use. Desperately, Fonzie considered surrendering in the hope that Potsie would remain undetected but he knew that would not happen and hardened his resolve – these guys wouldn’t get their hands on Potsie again – not if he had anything to do with it.
The crunch of footsteps came closer and Fonzie had crouched down, ready for a leap on the man drawing near, when the rock around him came to life. The ground under his feet shook, throwing him hard against the wall, at the same time that a number of deafening explosions reverberated through the tunnels. Dust and stones fell from the roof above him and Fonzie turned and threw himself over his brother’s still form, cradling Potsie’s head with one arm and covering as much of his brother’s body with his own that he could. Nearby, he could hear the rumbles and thumps of falling rock and his own body was peppered by countless stones and small rocks as a cloud of dust rose up to cloak them. As a loud alarm klaxon rent the air and reverberated around the cavern, Fonzie wondered whether they had escaped Mestari only to die in a collapsing cave system.
01-31-2005, 04:21 AM
Chapter Seventeen- Come On, Potsie
The shaking of the rock continued for what seemed like minutes as Fonzie lay protectively over his brother’s body, his eardrums almost bursting with the reverberations of the alarm until it suddenly and ominously fell silent. When the shaking and heaving of the rock finally ceased Fonzie kept his position, unsure if all of the loose rocks had yet fallen. From nearby he heard movement and he lay, unmoving, his ears taking in the sounds of stumbling bodies and alarmed voices.
Lifting his head, he could see the ambient light had decreased and, as he watched, it diminished and vanished altogether as the sound of scrambling feet disappeared. He waited for several minutes before he dared to move further, then, pushing himself away from his brother, he sat up dislodging small pieces of rubble from around him as he moved. Once upright he activated his torch and quickly checked his brother for any damage. Although still unconscious his breathing appeared to be easier and his pulse had returned to normal, although he was still very hot. All of the roof-fall had missed him as he lay under the protection of Fonzie’s body.
Gaining his feet, Fonzie made his way to the opening of the side cave and, taking care to shield his torch with his hand, poked his head around into the larger cavern. The cavern had shrunk severely in size, much of the roof having collapsed, boulders and rocks now covering the area where he had lain by his brother’s side a short time before. As he moved nearer, Fonzie’s attention was drawn to an arm sticking out from underneath one of the larger boulders. Knowing it was hopeless, Fonzie knelt anyway and checked for a pulse then rose and turned away, his face a mixture of relief and sadness.
Cautiously he approached the tunnel, listening carefully before sticking his head over the ledge. The passage was empty in both directions. Whatever the alarm may be it seemed to have drawn their enemies away and left the route clear for escape. Climbing to his feet, Fonzie made his way back to the cavern. As he turned the corner into the small cavern movement caught his eye and he hurried to his brother’s side just as Potsie’s eyes began to flicker.
“Pots? Pots, can you hear me?”
Slowly, Potsie's eyes opened fully and focussed on his older brother and then filled with alarm. Using his arms and legs to propel himself, Potsie scooted backwards away from Fonzie until he was brought up short against the rock wall of the cavern.
“No, no. Stay away from me. No more. No!”
His eyes were wide with fear and he scrabbled frantically against the wall, as if trying to burrow through the wall itself in his attempts to lengthen the distance between himself and his brother. Impulsively, Fonzie reached forwards to grab Potsie’s arm and pull his brother back towards him but as soon as he moved Potsie pressed even further back against the cavern wall. Fonzie stilled his movements and then slowly opened his hand, presenting it, palm outwards, for inspection.
“Pots, calm down. It’s me, da Fonz.”
Although Fonzie kept his voice calm and measured, it at first seemed to have little effect on Potsie and he remained squashed back against the wall, his hands by his side, gripping the wall of the cave and his eyes darting from side to side as if seeking a way out.
“It’s okay, Warren. Everything’s gonna be okay. I’ve come to take you back…”
He got no further as Potsie’s frantic attempts to escape redoubled.
“No. No. I’m not going back. Not ever. Not back to the dark, not to the dark. Can’t move….can’t think. I won’t go back, I won’t.”
“No, Pots. Not back to the dark.” Fonzie hurried to cover his misstep. “I’m taking you home. Back to the island. You remember the island, don’t you, Pots? You remember Ralph and Rich and Dad, don’t you?”
All the time, Fonzie kept his voice soft and low and carefully, slowly inching towards his brother. “We’ll go back in Fonziebird One, Potsie. You and me.”
“Fonziebird One?” At the mention of his craft, Potsie’s eyes stopped roving the darkness and locked back onto his brother’s face. “Fonziebird One?”
“Sure, Pots, Fonziebird One.” Fonzie inched closer, his hands still outstretched towards his brother. “We’ve got to get back to her and stop Mestari from taking her….”
Potsie’s reaction to the rogue scientist’s name caused Fonzie to mentally curse himself for his slip.
“Mestari! Where?” Potsie’s head snapped round as he scanned the darkness left and right “Where is he? Where’s Mestari? We’ve got to stop him.”
Fonzie, kneeling now right in front of his brother, grasped Potsie’s shoulder and shook him to gain his attention.
“Warren, it’s okay. It’s okay. He ain’t here.”
Fonzie moved his hand to the back of Potsie’s neck and forced his brother’s face towards his own, making his words strong and clear. Slowly, Fonzie’s words penetrated the fog of confusion that was blanketing Potsie’s mind and the dark haired man’s attention was focussed on the pale blue eyes only inches from his own. Potsie’s eyes flashed backwards and forwards in front of his brother’s steady gaze, checking the face before him for confirmation, confusion and alarm fading and being replaced by uncertainty.
“Not here? Mestari’s not here?”
Fonzie shook his head firmly, paling somewhat at the instant giddiness and nausea produced, and re-iterated again firmly.
“No, Potsie. Mestari is not here. You’re safe now”
Recognition was replacing the uncertainty and Potsie drew back a few inches to better focus on the face before him.
“Sure, Pots,” Fonzie's heart lifted in relief at his brother's recognition. “How do you feel?”
“How do I feel?” Potsie's brow creased in confusion. “How do I......? I don't know. Tired, confused.” Potsie paused and looked around him. “What's going on?”
Studying Potsie's face to gauge his reaction, Fonzie answered cautiously.
“We're in a cave, Pots. We’ve got to get back to Fonziebird One.”
“Fonziebird One?” Potsie's gaze, which had again begun roving around the edges of the gloom that surrounded them, returned to Fonzie's face, the faint echoes of a frown evident. “What’s Fonziebird One doing in a cave?”
Inwardly dismayed, Fonzie schooled his expression to remain calm and reached down to grasp Potsie's left forearm with his right hand.
“Never mind that now, Warren. I'll explain later. Right now, we need to get moving.” Gently, he exerted pressure to start raising his younger brother to a sitting position. “Do you think you can walk?”
“You trying to call me decrepit or something?” The slight tone of amusement in Potsie's voice would have reassured Fonzie but as the second oldest Tracy brother began to climb to his feet, any comfort Fonzie had felt was dashed as Potsie's knees buckled under him, dropping him back to the ground in an unceremonious heap at his feet. Only Fonzie's grip on his arm kept him from losing his balance and rolling onto his back. Surprise filled Potsie's face as he turned his eyes to his brother. “Guess you might be right. What have I been drinking lately?”
Concern now eating at his mind, Fonzie forced a grin and dropped to a crouch.
“Obviously, something a little too strong for your constitution, oh ancient one. Let's take it slowly then.” An idea popped into Fonzie's head and before he thought about it he reached into the now badly soiled and crumpled sash that still hung from his brother's shoulder and opened the small hidden compartment just inside the seam. From it, he extracted one of the edible personal transmitters that all of the members of International Rescue habitually carried with them when away from base. “Here, Potsie,” he opened Potsie's hand and dropped the small device into his palm “under the circumstances I think you'd better take this.”
Fonzie had acted on impulse when the thought had come to him and, even as he passed the transmitter to his brother, he expected an explosion of indignation and a flat refusal of co-operation from Potsie to this blatant attempt by one of his younger brothers to try to tell him what to do. A knot of ice appeared in his stomach when his younger brother, the one who had always made it his own personal mission to protect his brothers, merely looked at the false candy for a moment, nodded and popped the device into his mouth, chewed once and swallowed. Inwardly shaking his head in dismay Fonzie once more gently pulled on Potsie's arm, forcing his damaged left arm behind Potsie's back for the little support it could give.
“Right, let's try this again, dig it?”
Together, the two siblings came to their feet. As they reached vertical, Potsie's knees again threatened to give way beneath him but this time, Fonzie's grip on his arm and around his back kept him on his feet. He stood swaying and trembling for a moment and then raised smiling brown eyes to his brother.
“You see? Nothing to it.”
Fonzie nodded and smiled in reassurance, trying to push away the alarm he felt at the weakness in his brother's body. Turning to the side, he took a step towards the opening to the main cave area.
“Okay, let's go.”
Fonzie was taken by surprise as the stillness of the figure beside him nearly robbed him of his balance as he tried to encourage it forward. He glanced at Potsie, to be met by an all too familiar frown.
“I might be slightly dizzy but I'm not stupid.” Potsie pulled his arm from Fonzie's grasp, the effort unbalancing him and causing him to totter sideways to the cave wall for support. “I might not fully understand what's going on around here, but if I need to swallow one of Al's transmitters then I'm sure as heck not taking another step until you've swallowed one too.”
Hastily, Fonzie stepped towards his brother, reaching out to grasp his arm again.
“Warren, we ain't got time for this.”
Pressing himself back against the wall, Potsie batted away his brother's hand and grinned back at his older sibling.
“Then the sooner you stop arguing, tough guy and do as you're told, the better.”
Exasperated, but at the same time both relieved and amused, Fonzie gave up the fight, reaching down to the belt around his waist. Turning it inside out close to the fastener he grasped a short stretch of the thick material between his fingers and constricted it with a slight twisting motion. A previously invisible split appeared in the belt, revealing a tiny hidden pocket, inside which another of the small transmitters was safely stored. Removing it, Fonzie put it in his mouth, chewed briefly and swallowed. With a grin, he reached back towards Potsie.
Balancing himself with his brother's arm, Potise pushed himself off the wall of the cavern and the two brothers turned towards the exit.
High above the Baltic Ocean, Fonziebird Two streaked north-east, heading for the Scandinavian coast. On board, four members of International Rescue sat in a tense silence, eagerly looking for the first glimpse of the land mass that would indicate they were drawing near to their goal. The silence was broken only by the soft snores emanating from the rear-most seat in the cockpit where Lori Beth's butler sat sleeping.
“Fonziebird Five calling Fonziebird Two.”
The voice of Howard's youngest son caused the occupants of the flight compartment to jump. Richie got to the communication switch first.
“Fonziebird Two to Fonziebird Five. Come in, Chachi, what's wrong?”
“Rich, I'm picking up a signal from the area where Potsie's last transmitter signal originated – it’s from one of the personal emergency transmitters.”
Ralph and Richie exchanged glances as Howard leant forward in his seat.
“Only one signal, Chachi?”
“Yeah, Dad, just the one.”
“Alright, son. Have you got the co-ordinates?”
“Yeah, Dad. The signal's coming from International map reference HN6918/DE2115.”
“Is it moving, Chachi?”
“No, Dad. It seems to be static but if. . . hold it!”
The few seconds silence seemed to stretch to an eternity before the excited voice of the youngest Tracy brother floated back into the cabin.
“Dad! There’s a second signal just started. It’s at exactly the same location as the first but there’s definitely two.”
Smiles of relief broke out on the faces of all four of the listeners as Chachi continued.
“That’s them, Dad, it must be. Potsie and the Fonz must both be okay.”
“Alright, Chachi. Keep monitoring those signals and let us know the minute anything changes. We’ll get there as soon as we can.”
As the young astronaut signed off, another call came through the speakers.
“Base to Fonziebird Two.”
“Fonziebird Two to base, come in, Al.”
The visual screen on the communication panel revealed the features of the Italian scientist back at the tropical island base of International Rescue. From the background behind him, Richie and Ralph could see that he was in the lounge of their home and both brothers grinned at the incongruous thought of Al seated behind their father's desk. No such thoughts seemed to have occurred to the ageing astronaut however, as he leaned forward in anticipation of the reason for Al's call.
“I've been monitoring the transmissions, Mr Tracy. The co-ordinates that Chachi gave come from the region of one of the few mountains in Finland. A peak called Halti.”
“That makes sense, Al. That's the same region we're already heading for already.”
“Yes, Mr Tracy, it is. But my researches since you left have found some further information that relates directly to this exact location.”
“Okay, Al, let's have it.”
“In the early 1940s when the World Government was first established, there was a huge movement to dismantle many of the secret underground bunkers and rocket silos that had been built up during the militaristic stand-off's in the last 2 decades.”
“I know,” said Howard gruffly. “Tracy Island was one of them.”
“Exactly, Mr Tracy. Well, the peak called Halti was another one.”
“A rocket silo?”
Ralph and Howard exchanged anxious glances. Much as they were determined to find both Potsie and Fonzie, they were not equipped to take on a military arsenal.
“No. The inside of the mountain was excavated and set up to be used as a safe underground bunker that could be used government and military officials from the Scandinavian or European areas in the event of an overwhelming military threat. They were built to be safe from nuclear attack and fall-out but were only big enough to shelter a limited number. It was thought that, if they were ever needed, most of the fighting forces would be already dead and they would only be used until it was safe to emerge again.”
“So this place isn't likely to be heavily armed?”
“We can't tell, Mr Tracy.” Al evidently saw Howard's frown of concern and hurried on “The bunkers were dismantled with the establishment of a World Government in the mid 40's and the bunker has been left deserted since that time.”
“Well, an old military bunker would be a good place to hole up if you wanted to avoid notice,” put in Richie from the pilot’s seat. “Sounds like that’s where we’ll find them.”
“Yes, Richard, I think you’re right. Head for the co-ordinates Chachi gave you.”
Far below the surface of the Hilo peak, Fonzie stopped, tightening his grip on his brother’s arm to stop him from moving on. The two siblings had been moving slowly through the tunnels, gradually backtracking their steps towards Fonziebird One – or at least Fonzie hoped that was what they were doing. Together, they had managed to half-climb, half-drop down from the shelved recess where they had been hidden and had begun making their way back through the tunnel system. However it had rapidly become apparent to Fonzie that something in Potsie’s system was reacting badly to either the serum or the antidote or to both concoctions that had been forced into him.
The descent to the tunnel floor had re-awakened all of the pains and weaknesses in Fonzie’s body that he had so far been steadfastly pushing to one side in his search for and liberation of his brother. The dizziness and nausea from his head wound had returned with a vengeance but was as nothing compared to the pain that enveloped his torso every time he breathed. He was breathing as shallowly as he could, while still taking in enough oxygen for his needs, but every time his lungs expanded his chest was racked by sharp, agonising pains as his damaged and bleeding body begged for respite. Every step was an effort and the only thing that was keeping him on his feet was the need of the stumbling figure of his brother beside him.
The steady, pacing rhythm that Potsie had travelled with when Fonzie had followed him down this tunnel sometime earlier had entirely vanished. Now Potsie was stumbling along at Fonzie’s side as if he had not slept for a week, his head lolling randomly on his shoulders and his eyes half-closed. Fonzie had reached out a steadying hand to Potsie’s elbow when the dark-haired younger brother had stumbled clambering over fallen rocks that partially blocked the tunnel shortly after they rejoined it but the hand had become a fixture. As the two brothers cleared the slope of rock that rose to the next level of the cave system, Potsie was more than half-leaning on Fonzie and the older brother was finding it increasingly difficult to keep his younger brother upright.
“Hold it, Pots. I think we need a breather.”
Fonzie lowered his younger brother down onto a rock and stood in front of him as Potsie leaned wearily back against the passage wall with his eyes closed. Fonzie brushed Potsie’s forehead with the backs of his fingers. The skin was still far too hot and damp from a sheen of sweat. Potsie gave no indication that he had even felt the touch and Fonzie’s fingers moved down to the pulse point on his neck.
Potsie’s voice was weak and subdued, alarmingly different to the strong, assured, ‘in control’ tone that was normal for the field commander of International Rescue. Fighting hard against the knot of fear that was sitting in his stomach, Fonzie forced his voice into a cheerful façade of unconcern.
“Glad to hear it. I don’t want to have to carry your carcase all the way back to Fonziebird One. How do you feel?”
The strained, hoarse tone of Potsie’s reply garnered a snort of derision from Fonzie.
“Fine? And I’m the King of Siam!”
At that, Potsie’s eyelids opened and a faint flicker of amusement quirked the corner of his mouth upwards.
“Ah, that would explain why you look like death warmed up, big brother. Siam disappeared over year ago.” His eyelids flickered shut again. “Is there far to go?”
Fonzie looked up the tunnel, gnawing his lip as he strove to remember his previous walk through these passages.
“I don’t think so,” he replied honestly. “not in these caves anyway. Once we get back to the main complex area we...….” He broke off suddenly and his head shot back towards the way they had come, sniffing cautiously. “Whoa.”
His words were scarcely more than a breath but Potsie’s eyes shot open in alarm as he struggled to sit upright.
“What? What’s wrong?”
Fonzie pushed him back against the wall. “Stay put. I’ll be back in a minute.” and with that he turned and vanished back down the tunnel.
“Fonz! Fonz, what's wrong? Come back”
With a subdued groan, Potsie hauled himself to his feet and stood wobbling for a few seconds before heading back down the tunnel. He got no further than a couple of steps before Fonzie was back at his side and had turned him around again.
“Come on, Pots. We got to get out of here.”
“Fonz,” Potsie stopped in exasperation, jerked his arm from Fonzie's grasp and turned to face his brother. “What's going on?”
His older brother was in no mood to be trifled with however and seized his arm again, propelling Potsie forwards.
“Fire.” Fonzie's words were hurried and concise. “and the smoke’s getting stronger by the second. Move it.”
Without another word, the two siblings stumbled away up the tunnel.
The looming bulk of the massive, green aircraft dwarfed the conifers that covered the slopes of the tallest range of hills in Finland. It approached slowly from the west, five eager pairs of eyes scanning the terrain from the elevated cockpit windows.
“Ay carumba! That's some hole!”
The startled exclamation from the Brooklyn-born butler drew all eyes to the port side of the 'craft.
“What happened here?” exclaimed Lori Beth in shock.
Beneath the aircraft the ground was distorted by a huge depression. The trees that had covered the hillside lay fallen in all directions, their trunks and boughs interlaced, some leaning against each other like drunks in mutual support, others lying horizontal in death, the large circles of dirt and earth still attached to their, now aerial, roots.
“Some sort of underground explosion?” guessed Ralph.
“Chachi, have there been any reports of recent earth tremors in this area?” asked Howard as he surveyed the scene, his brows drawn together in concern.
“No, Dad,” the youngest astronaut's voice came back to them after a few seconds delay. “The nearest monitoring station is a hundred and fifty miles away but has no reports of any seismic activity anywhere near your area.”
“How far away is the entrance to this bunker, Al?”
The Italian scientist's voice came through the three way communication link as he watched the live feed of the scene below being transmitted back to him at Tracy Island.
“There were a number of entrances to the bunker, Mr Tracy but the main entrance is shielded by blast-proof doors and should be on the exposed face of the escarpment that you are approaching. The complex itself runs for some distance in every direction so you're probably over some of the complex itself already.”
“Could these trees have been affected by something happening in the complex, Al?” asked Ralph, his voice tight in sudden anxiety.
“From the evidence that I'm seeing, Ralph, I'm afraid that that does seem to be the logical conclusion.” replied Al sadly.
“The Fonz and Potsie are down there!” The pitch of Richie's voice rose in distress as the young man turned the rescue craft away from the scene of destruction below them. “We've got to find them.”
“Let's find those blast doors, son,” Howard squeezed the shoulder of his second youngest son, steadying him with a firm grip of reassurance “and somewhere clear of the trees where we can land Fonziebird Two. Then we can find your brothers.”
The smoke of the fire had caught up with them now, catching in their throats and causing them to cough and gasp as they strove to draw in breaths of air. The light in the tunnel was becoming dim as the smoke rose from the lower levels and snaked along the roof above their heads, clouding around the lamps and subduing the little light they gave.
Potsie's foot caught on the uneven floor and he stumbled forward to his knees, catching his weight on his hands as he fell. Fonzie, pulled off balance, sprawled over him, his weight knocking Potsie flat. For a second or two, Fonzie just lay there, gasping for breath and trying to control the spasms that radiated throughout his body, until the fact that he was lying over his brother’s body penetrated his pain hazed mind. Pushing himself up with his hands, he rolled to one side, grasping one of Potsie’s shoulders and pulling him with him until his brother was lying in his arms. Potsie’s eyes opened as he turned but they were distant and unfocussed. Dreading that his brother had been overtaken by the serum again, Fonzie waved his hand in front of Potsie's face.
“Yo, Potsie, are you alright? Can you hear me?”
Fonzie had to bend to hear Potsie's reply, his voice weaker than Fonzie had ever hear it before.
“Too tired. Can't do this. Must rest.”
“No, Pots!” Alarm thrilled through Fonzie's heart as he started to push Potsie upwards “Come on. We can't rest here.” Frantically, he stumbled to his knees, pushing Potsie up before him so that he was leaning against Fonzie's body. “That fire's getting worse and I'll be damned if I'm leaving you here.”
Up on his feet now, Fonzie wrapped his arm around the leaden body of his brother and began to haul him manually to his feet. His back and shoulder muscles burned with pain at the effort but Fonzie ground his jaws together and exerted every ounce of his waning strength to bring his older brother upright.
“Leave me, Fonz.” Potsie's body was slack and unresponsive, his head lolling sideways and his arms limp at his sides. “I can't go on. Too tired. Go.”
“No way, Pots, not going to happen. Now,” Fonzie gave one final haul and caught his brother about his waist and drew him to his side “you can either walk or” Fonzie took a step forwards and physically dragged his brother with him “I'll drag you. Either way you're coming with me. Which” he took another step, dragging his brother beside him. “is it going to be?”
“Fonz, I can't....”
“CRUD!” The expletive came out hot and fiery, matching the burning fire of resolve which gleamed in the eyes of the normally quiet and restrained Tracy brother as he jerked the form next to him fully upright, forcing him to stand fully on his own feet. “You never gave up in your life, Warren Scott Tracy and I'm damn well not about to let you give up now. I didn't survive having you stand by and watch me being nearly being beaten to a pulp and then taking a shot at me to boot only to then have you lay down to die like some rookie private on his first route march when we're so close so getting out of this joint. Now get your tail in gear, Warren and shape-up!”
The words struck home and Potsie's head jerked up, his eyes wide and shocked. Within them, Fonzie could see a deep pain and dismay as the realisation of his words sank into Potsie's heart but he had no time to regret the sharpness with which he had spoken. The smoke was thickening around them and it was becoming steadily harder to breathe. Not waiting for a reply, he tightened his grasp around Potsie's waist and took another step. The desperate beating of his heart was eased somewhat when his younger brother, without a word, moved with him.
As Fonziebird Two crested the hill, Ralph let out a cry of relief and pointed forwards, over his brother's shoulder, to the rolling hills that fell away before them.
“There, Rich. There's a flatter piece of land there, that'll take her.”
“What about these blast doors?” Richie gradually brought the large rescue craft around to check the ground before setting the immense aircraft down. “We've still got to get into that complex.”
“Don't worry, son.” Howard was looking back at the hillside they had just cleared and his face was set like flint. “I think we've just found them.”
As Fonziebird Two slowly swung round, facing back the way it had just come, all of the occupants could see the exposed face of the Hilo peak. Unlike the heavily forested side from which they had approached, this side of the hill was windswept and bare. Winding its way up the hill was an overgrown, unmaintained track that had, at one time, been a worn roadway. Now it was in places little better than a sheep track. The track ended at a steep wall of rock – a wall of rock where the middle section was wiped clean of the vegetative matter that covered the rest of the face and resembled nothing so much as two very large, badly disguised doors.
Moving together, the two brothers reached the final cavern of the cave system, the same cavern where Fonzie had been taken captive by Mestari. Coughing continuously now, their eyes streaming with tears, they staggered forwards across the cave to the tunnel opposite, where the subdued lighting of the tunnel was somewhat brighter. Side by side, they advanced, their hands reaching out to the side walls for support. The light rapidly increased in strength until they were standing screwing up their eyes in front of the open security doorway that led back to the main complex area. Fonzie went through first, quickly followed by Potsie and the two siblings thrust their combined weight against the door to swing it shut, sealing out the noxious smoke. They stood panting for a minute, wordlessly leaning against the door and looking at each other then, with a clap on his brother's shoulder, Fonzie turned and started along the green corridor before them.
The journey back to the hanger where Fonziebird One had been left passed in a haze to Fonzie. He was not even aware that he knew the route but his feet seemed to lead him and he was content to follow, too busy trying to keep himself and his brother vertical to give much thought to where they were going. The change in colour of the corridors gave the impression that he was flying through a rainbow and as his feet seemed to be the only part of him that was not in pain at the moment it did not seem too unreasonable to his confused brain to think that he was indeed doing just that.
Sooner than he had thought possible, he was operating the opening mechanism on another security door and stepping through, bringing his now semi-conscious brother with him. There before him stood the magnificent sight of Fonziebird One and he paused for a moment, swaying on his feet, to drink in the sight.
“There you go, little brother, there's your baby.” He adjusted his arms around Potsie, renewing his grip and pulling his brother forward into the middle of the hanger area . “Now, I just need you to wake up long enough to give me the new security code and then I can get you on board and get us both out of here. So, what about it huh?”
“Oh, I really don't think I can let you leave just like that, pigeon.”
Fonzie nearly dropped Potsie in shock as four figures appeared at the far end of the hanger, close to the nose cone of Fonziebird One.
“After all, stowing away aboard my Fonziebird was one thing. Stealing my merchandise, wrecking my home and then stealing my aeroplane is quite another.”
Mestari, dishevelled, covered in dust, red-eyed and bloody, one arm hanging by his side and limping badly on one leg, approached slowly from the edge of the hanger, holding a gun that was levelled on the two brothers. The three men behind him appeared in little better condition but they followed silently, their faces blank and hostile, guns in their hands.
“Move to the 'plane but don't try anything stupid. You may have dodged one bullet but believe me, you won't dodge the next.”
Fonzie remained stock still, too confused and drained to be able to process the turn in events. Just when he thought they were about to get out, the madman turns up again. Next time, International Rescue or not, I swear I'll put a bullet through his brain. It was a comforting thought, but one that Fonzie doubted he would ever have the chance to carry out.
“You ain't goin' nowhere Mestari.” Certain that he was facing imminent death, Fonzie had no intentions of complying with the scientist's request. “Potsie's out of it and I'd rather destroy the 'plane than let you have it. You've lost.”
“Oh, have I?” Mestari gestured briefly with the gun and, with small whine of hidden motors, the huge, metal doors began to slide back, letting in a strip of late afternoon sunlight, “We'll see about that. Now, move over to my Fonziebird and take our friend with you. I'm getting out of here and you're coming with me.”
As Fonzie stood his ground, refusing to move, Mestari cocked the gun and shifted his aim so that it was pointing directly at Potsie.
“You may be willing to throw away your life in a heroic gesture, pigeon but I don't think you'll be quite so cavalier about throwing away the life of your brother.”
Fonzie's breath hissed as he drew it in sharply. He had hoped that by some miracle Mestari had missed that comment but it appeared that although his sanity was questionable, his hearing was not.
“So, if you don't want me to drop him right where he is,” Mestari was speaking through his teeth, a vein jumping in his forehead as his finger began to tighten on the trigger of the gun but Fonzie's attention was caught by a flash of movement from the side of the now open doors “then . . ”
As the shout came, Fonzie dived to the side, carrying his brother with him. As he fell he heard the retort of a gun, followed a split second later by multiple volleys of gunfire. His landing was bad, his right elbow getting caught beneath him and his ribcage landing with full force on top of that. His chest was torn by an agonising fire and as the darkness that he had been fighting off for the last few hours finally caught up with him he was aware only of the fuzzy shape of figures running towards him and of the warm, metallic taste of fresh blood in his mouth.
02-16-2005, 10:02 AM
It seemed to Fonzie that a great weight had been lifted off his chest and, for what seemed the first time in a long period, he was able to inhale freely again. The sense he had of almost being drowned, of trying to inhale air and managing only to breathe in liquid, had passed and now he lay, relaxed and drowsy, content to float in a comfortable darkness that filled him with peace.
For what seemed an immeasurable amount of time, Fonzie floated along but gradually his awareness shifted and the comfortable drowsiness thickened and congealed into a heavy, groggy feeling that he recognised. He had been here before, several times, mostly since the establishment of International Rescue. Fonzie knew this state of existence only too well, even if he could not right now remember what had caused it.
"Anaesthetic," he pondered sleepily, "I was been given an anaesthetic. I wonder why." Slowly, he wandered through his memories, trying to account for the requirement for an anaesthetic but after a few seconds all he had decided was that the headache that had just come to his attention was growing worse with every second that he tried to remember. Giving up the idea as a bad job, Fonzie left his mind to go blank and let time wash over him.
His mind, however, seemed to have other ideas. Now freed from searching for memories his brain began to detail and catalogue what it could feel. Soon, Fonzie was aware of a dull ache around his left shoulder and arm and the continuing ache that seemed to encompass most of his head. Thinking of his head brought Fonzie's attention to his other senses and his brain instantly alerted him to a steady bleeping coming from nearby that he had no difficulty in recognising as a heart monitor.
"Then I must be in the infirmary." The thought was followed by his eyes flickering open to take in his surroundings. Lying flat in bed, Fonzie got a blurred view of a typical, white, clean ceiling which, as his eyesight gradually focussed, singularly failed to resolve itself into anywhere that he recognised. Turning his head to his right, he was not overly surprised to find a figure sleeping in a chair by the side of the bed, although the fact that the figure was his father did give him pause for thought. A little further away, lying in another bed was the sleeping figure of his younger brother. Potsie looked decidedly paler than usual but bore no obvious sign of damage that Fonzie could see.
"We're definitely in a hospital of some sort," decided Fonzie. "but not on the island. Interesting." Opening his mouth to call his father, Fonzie found his throat to be so dry and rough that not even a squeak came out. His father was too far away to touch and for a moment, Fonzie was at a loss as to what to do. Spying a glass of water, complete with ice, on a cupboard at the side of the bed he sat up and began to reach for the drink.
A small cry of pain was all that made it past Fonzie’s parched throat as the whole of his chest, back and abdomen went into spasm. The white hot agony caught Fonzie by surprise and he froze in a half-upright position, his mouth open and his eyes screwed shut as he vainly tried to draw breath. He heard an exclamation from nearby and felt two hands on his shoulders trying to push him back against the pillows as his father’s voice encouraged him to ‘relax’, ‘take it easy’ and ‘just lie back’. Those were all things that Fonzie would have dearly loved to do but right at that moment he was certain that the super glue that was holding his muscles in a rigid vice would surely shred any muscle that dared to try to elongate itself enough to allow him to comply. From nearby a monitor began to bleep as the rising carbon dioxide levels in his blood triggered an alarm and the now terse voice of his father ordered someone to summon aid.
The spasm continued for another few seconds and then, as suddenly as it had come, it was gone. All of the muscles that had previously been clenched tight relaxed at the same instant and Fonzie’s limp body collapsed back into his father’s arms, his chest heaving in relief as his father lowered him to the bed. Opening his eyes, he found Howard anxiously peering down at him but he was too busy trying to restore his breathing to normal to answer Howard’s requests for assurance that he was alright. Somewhere a door banged open and rapid footsteps approached the left side of the bed followed shortly after by a light haired man with a competent, authoritative air who took his wrist and looked down at him with a smile.
“Ah, so you’re back with us, Arthur. Your colleagues have been quite concerned about you. Now, what’s the problem?”
Fonzie tried to talk but his voice again failed him. He caught a movement in the corner of his eye and his father, who had been hovering on the right hand side of the bed, took something offered to him from behind and then turned back to Fonzie, his hand going behind Fonzie’s head to lift it from the pillow as a glass of water was pressed to his lips. Gratefully, Fonzie sipped the cool, refreshing liquid and mentally sighed in contentment as the roughness of his throat found instant relief. As he drank, he heard his father explain to the doctor what had just taken place.
“Sounds like muscle spasms. Did you try to move, Fonzie? To sit up maybe?”
As Fonzie nodded weakly, the doctor tutted his disapproval.
“That was a bad idea, young man – as you just found out. You body has been badly battered and one of your lungs was perforated by a rib, not to mention the other four broken or cracked ribs and both bruised kidneys. You're going to be in bed for a number of days I’m afraid and after that you mustn’t do anything too strenuous or taxing for several weeks to ensure that your body heals correctly.”
Seeing a movement at the foot of the bed, Fonzie looked down and his eyes widened in surprise as he found Potsie standing there, dressed in a hospital robe, watching him with a strange expression of regret on his face as the doctor continued.
“The bullet wound was clean and only really damaged the muscle but once you’re up and about, you’re going to have to work on that to build up its strength again.”
At the doctor’s words, Fonzie was astounded to see Potsie’s expression change to one of – was that shame? As he watched a different picture came to him in his mind’s eyes, a picture of Potsie, his face impassive but his eyes reflecting horror and dread, pointing a gun at his heart. Fonzie’s shock must have been reflected on his face as Potsie coloured, turned on his heel and headed for the door. Fonzie’s view of him was blocked as the doctor leaned across him.
“Now, as you’re awake we’ll take the opportunity to check out this head of yours and make sure you’ve not done too much damage to your brain.”
Over the next few minutes, Fonzie’s head and eyes were examined and studied to the nth degree and he had questions asked of him until his head spun. He was not sure if Howard was in the room or not, his field of view being blocked by the doctor. Finally the examination was over and, with a joviality that had long ago worn thin on the rapidly tiring Tracy brother, the doctor took up a hypodermic from a tray by the side of the bed, swabbed Fonzie’s arm and then injected him.
“Well, you seem to be on the mend my friend. This will ease the discomfort I’m sure you are feeling again by now and make your journey home more comfortable. Good luck.”
With that he was gone. Dazed and rapidly growing sleepy, Fonzie lay back with his eyes closed. A little while afterwards a quiet movement by his side roused him and he opened his eyes to find his father moving the chair nearer and sitting down.
“Dad,” Fonzie asked drowsily, “where’s Potsie?”
Howard’s face was tired and careworn and showed his years but his eyes were warm and smiling as he looked down at his son.
“He’s just outside. He needed some air. How are you feeling?”
Fonzie ignored the question and returned one of his own.
“Is he okay? Did the serum .. . . “
Howard cut him off.
“Potsie's just fine, tired, but fine. We’ll talk about it all later when we get home. For now you just need to rest. Ralph'll be here soon and then we’ll leave.”
The room was starting to fade into the background and Fonzie was fighting his eyes to keep them open and focussed.
“Need to talk . . . Pots . . . .so . . .tired . . .Can’t . .”
As his eyes finally closed and his breathing deepened and levelled out, the door to the room opened slowly and a dark head was poked round it. Seeing his brother was asleep again, Potsie quietly walked to stand behind his father’s chair.
“Did you contact your brothers?” Howard asked without looking round.
“Yeah. Rich's just reached base and Ralph's dropped Lori Beth and Tom off. He should be here in about thirty minutes.”
“He's fine now he knows Fonzie's awake.”
Howard nodded in response, his eyes still on the sleeping figure in the bed. There was a moments silence before Potsie spoke again.
“How is he?”
“Concussion but his skull’s intact and there doesn’t seem to be any permanent damage. The swelling around his face should be going down soon but it’s going to take a while before he’s back to full strength. The doctor says it’s safe to move him.” Howard paused and then glanced up at his second oldest son. “He wants to talk to you.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet he does.” commented Potsie, his voice quiet and subdued as he sat down heavily on the second bed.
Howard looked at his second oldest son quizzically, who was just sitting, watching his sleeping sibling with a peculiar expression on his face. As Howard watched, wondering what was passing through his second eldest son's mind he suddenly recognised what he was seeing. Potsie's face was covered in guilt. Astounded, Howard switched his gaze backwards and forwards between his two sons, trying to fathom the cause. He cast his mind back to the little he really knew about that had been happening to Potsie and Fonzie over the last few days. His thoughts were thrown into turmoil when Ralph's words came back to him, “He didn't know us, Dad, he just didn't know us. Whatever Mestari's given him has completely taken him over.”
“Potsie?” called Howard softly.
Potsie's head turned towards his father and a thrill of fear ran down Howard's spine as he saw the haunted look that filled his son's eyes.
“What happened down there, Potsie? How did your brother get hurt?”
Potsie looked down at his feet refusing to meet Howard's eyes. He was silent for so long that Howard thought he would not reply but then his voice, quiet and hesitant, drifted up from his down-turned face.
“It's kind of a long story, sir and Ralph'll be back soon. Maybe it would be better if we left it till tomorrow when me and the Fonz can tell everyone at the same time. Save repetition.”
Howard's eyes widened in dismay and disbelief and for a moment he could not speak. Potsie glanced up quickly at his father's face and Howard's heart lurched at the pain he saw there.
“Son,” Howard's voice nearly broke but Potsie quickly ducked his head and looked back at his feet without replying. Swallowing down his grief at the hurt that had befallen his sons, Howard breathed deeply and forced his voice back under control. “Alright, Potsie. Get some rest. I'll wake you when Ralph arrives.”
With a short nod, Potsie slipped back beneath the covers and lay down on his side, facing the opposite wall, denying his father sight of the despair covering his face.
For the next little while, Howard sat in the hospital chair, his gaze alternating between the sleeping forms of his sons.
It was late at night on Tracy Island when Fonziebird Two returned. Potsie and Fonzie had slept the whole way home, watched over by either Howard or Ralph as the other piloted the rescue craft back to base. They were met by Richie who had returned hours earlier with Fonziebird One, Al and Joanie but neither of the sleeping siblings awoke as they were transferred to the sick room. By the time Al had checked them and settled them to his satisfaction, it was the small hours of the morning and the family dispersed to bed, leaving Joanie and Al to divide the remainder of the night watch in the sick-room between them.
Now it was late afternoon. Potsie, although being washed out and both physically and emotionally drained, appeared to be physically unhurt. He had woken up mid-morning and, after being checked over by Al, had been allowed to get up, shower and get dressed. Fonzie, waking shortly after Potsie, had been allowed a light meal of soup and had then dozed on and off until his father and brothers had come down to the sick-room to go over the events of the last few days.
Howard, Ralph, Richie and Potsie sat in chairs around Fonzie's bed while a live feed from the space station, connected to the television set mounted on the wall across from the bed, allowed Chachi to join them from the space station. Fonzie sat propped up against a bank of pillows, his dark hair showing through the bandage wound around his head and his left arm in a sling, immobilised against his body. Howard had gone over the events immediately following Potsie's disappearance, the location of his chronometer and discovery of Tony and Bob with their father in the homestead.
“Have we heard anything more about Mister Williams' or Professor Garrity's condition, Dad?” asked Richie. “Surely they should have woken up by now?”
“Yes, son, we have. I forgot to tell you with all the concern about Fonzie and Potsie. Chachi heard from the hospitals while Fonzie was in surgery. Williams and Lord Silton have both regained consciousness 'though the last I heard they were both still pretty drowsy and confused. Chachi, have there been any updates since?”
“Yeah, Dad,” Chachi's youthful face looked down at them from the television set. “Mister Williams seems to have recovered with no ill effects and the state hospital is considering letting him go home sometime tomorrow if everything continues okay. Professor Garrity seems to be suffering from some loss of mobility in his right arm and they'll be running tests on him over the next few days.”
A silence fell over the room for a few seconds and then Howard briefly explained Al's report of the characteristics of the drug used on Potsie and Lori Beth's information of the proposed auction before handing over to Ralph to cover the happenings at the 'auction' in Milwaukee.
“ . . and then this guy Price reaches down his neck and then rips off his face.” Ralph was well into his retelling of the events when Richie broke in, his voice animated and amused.
“Yeah, I couldn't believe it. It was just like a film taking place right in front of your eyes. I wondered if he was going to turn into 'The Invisible Man' or something from a B horror movie. I thought Mestari's eyes were going to pop out of his head.”
Howard and Ralph chuckled at Richie's addition to the story and Ralph continued to tell of the confrontation between the World Police officer and Mestari. Fonzie, however, from his vantage point on the bed, fixed his gaze on Potsie, whose bright blue eyes, wide and unblinking, were staring out into the distance. As Ralph's report of the events covered the use of the gas pellets to spread confusion and panic in the auction room, an expression of dismay covered Potsie's face and as Ralph went on to tell of Mestari's flight into the room at the side of the stage, Fonzie could stand it no longer as the dismay suddenly changed to surprise and shock.
“Potsie? Are you alright?”
Instantly, Ralph stopped speaking and all eyes in the room were fixed on Potsie.
“Potsie? Son?” Howard, from his chair next to Potsie, reached out a hand and touched Potsie's arm. “Are you with us?”
Howard sucked in his breath sharply as Potsie blinked, his gaze shifting slowly to Howard and then turning to fall on Ralph. Once again, his eyes were filled with the haunted look that Howard had seen in the hospital and an expression of confusion and hopelessness, that Howard could not recall having seen for many years, covered his face.
Ralph, startled by the look levelled on him by his older brother, was not sure what to say.
“Pots? What is it? What's wrong?”
“I shot you,” Potsie’s voice was tight with emotion. “I remember now. We were in a room, Rich was there,” his eyes flicked quickly to his copper haired brother for confirmation before returning to Ralph. “and Lori Beth and Tom. You were just standing there . . and I shot you.”
“Pots, it’s okay,” Ralph quickly interjected. “It was only gas. We’re fine.”
“That’s not the point, Ralph,” Potsie replied vehemently, his words sharp. “I could have killed you. If it had been bullets instead of pellets I would have killed you. Just like the Fonz.”
“Potsie, what are you talking about?”
Ralph and Richie looked at each other in confusion and looked up at their oldest brother where he sat on the bed. However, in Fonzie’s head, a light had just come on.
“So that’s what you meant! Well that explains it.”
Puzzled now, the gazes of Howard, Ralph, Richie and Chachi were all diverted to Fonzie, and away from Potsie, who slumped forward, his arms resting on his thighs and his head hanging down.
“Fonzie,” Howard was growing steadily more alarmed as he looked between Fonzie and Potsie, dreading what tale the two brothers had to tell of their time in Mestari’s lair. “what do you mean? Explains what?”
Still watching the bowed head of his younger brother, Fonzie quickly explained how sick Potsie had become while they were hiding in the cave system and of his confusion and words when he had suddenly woken up in the dark.
“I thought he was hallucinating or thinking Ralph was me but he must have been remembering the encounter at the auction.”
“Why would your brother confuse you with Ralph? You weren’t even there at the time.”
The room fell deathly silent as Howard waited for his reply. Richie and Ralph looked at each other, questions and a growing unease in their glances as their brother's silence continued. Fonzie sat propped up on his pillows, his gaze still focussed on Potsie’s dark head where it hung from his shoulders.
“Fonzie?” Howard’s voice was calm and even but the rapidly ageing billionaire felt far from calm. A whispered dread had entered his mind in the hospital room and it had not gone away over the intervening hours, if anything it had grown.
“Tell them, Fonz,” said Potsie, his voice sad and hollow. “Tell them the truth.”
“Pots, it wasn't your fault. You had no control, it was the serum.” Fonzie leaned forward in the bed, reaching out to his brother.
“Control or no control, it makes no difference,” Potsie's head came up sharply as he glared at his brother. “It was still my finger that pulled the trigger. It was still me that tried to kill you.”
Cries of shock and amazement came from the other three brothers at this revelation but Fonzie was concentrated on the man in front of him and spared them not a glance. Grasping the bed covers with his only good hand, he curled his fingers tightly around the material, using it as an anchor to haul himself off his pillows and half dragged, half threw himself towards where Potsie sat at the bottom of the bed.
“Warren, you've got to stop . . .”
Fonzie got no further as the sudden and energetic movements demanded more of his body than it was ready or able to give at that moment. As both Richie and Howard, seated on either side of the bed and closest to Fonzie, sprang from their chairs to force him back on his pillows, Fonzie's damaged body was wracked by explosive and violent coughs. He would have fallen forwards onto the bed, so far had he managed to force himself upright, save for the arms of the two men on either side of him. Instead, he lay helpless, face down, coughing and heaving and choking, his lungs and diaphragm now starting to go into spasm and his face rapidly turning bright red. Alarmed, Howard and Richie righted him and held him upright, as he continued to cough and splutter while Potsie, who had also jumped to his feet when Fonzie had got into difficulties, stood helpless by the side of the bed. Ralph turned towards Al, who had been sitting silently at the desk in the background since the debriefing started. Al, however, was nowhere to be seen.
“Al,” Ralph jumped to the open doorway and yelled down the corridor “Al, where are you? Fonz needs help.” Getting no immediate answer, Ralph also disappeared out of the room to look for the Italian scientist, his face frantic with worry.
Back on the bed, the coughing had slowed a little and Howard and Richie gently sat Fonzie back against the pillows, where he lay with his eyes closed, breathing rapidly and with some difficulty, his face now changed from red to grey, his hand trembling where it lay on the bed covers. Richie was leaning close to his brother’s ear, murmuring quietly in reassurance.
“I did this,” the low muttered comment was loud enough for Howard to catch and he looked around sharply to find Potsie standing beside him, looking down at his brother with anguish in his face. “This is my fault. I wish he'd given me the full dose. Then at least I'd probably have been dead before I could shoot Fonzie.”
At this, Howard rounded on his second oldest son, taking him by his shoulders and shaking him hard.
“Now you listen to me, Warren Scott Tracy and you listen good. I don't know all that happened down there but I do know enough to know you would have shot yourself before you'd harm any of your brothers. Whatever it was Mestari forced you to do it was against your will and I won't have you wishing yourself dead on account of something you had no control over. Do you hear me?”
Potsie just stood, his eyes fixed on Fonzie, who was still struggling to restore his breathing to normal and control the intermittent coughs that still caused his frame to shudder violently. As he watched, Al, followed closely by Ralph, came running through the door, a container of oxygen and breathing apparatus with him from the room which doubled as an operating theatre. Setting the cylinder by the bed he quickly squeezed in besides Richie, who moved away to give him more room, and began to fit the mask over Fonzie's head.
“Do you hear me, Potsie?” Howard shook his dark haired son again, not about to release him without an answer. Tearing his eyes away from the scene around the bed, Potsie looked back into his father's face, his eyes tormented with guilt and sorrow.
“I let this happen to him, Dad. I just stood by and let it happen. I’m as guilty as if I’d done it myself.”
Howard shook his head, torn between anger and frustration.
“No, Potsie. You would have given your life to protect your brother. I know that, Fonzie knows that and if you’re honest with yourself you know it too, don’t you?”
Potsie stood silent, his eyes looking into his father’s face but his thoughts examining his own soul. In a corner of his brain, he knew that his father was right, knew that he was blaming himself for something that had been out of his control. However in his heart, there was only darkness and dismay and a weariness so heavy that he could not throw it off. Knowing he was lying, to his father and to himself, he forced a false, weak smile onto his face.
“Yeah, yeah, I guess so.”
“Good. No matter what's happened to you over the last few days, I want you to know that I have every confidence in you and I always will. Just you remember that.”
Satisfied, Howard nodded and turned back to Fonzie. Al was sitting on the side of the bed, one hand holding the mask firmly in place, the other holding Fonzie's wrist and taking his pulse. Ralph and Richie were hovering nearby, watching anxiously. Eventually, the scientist turned back to the waiting family, the tense, anxious look that he had worn on his entry to the room now more relaxed.
“Al?” Howard asked anxiously.
“He's alright, Mr Tracy. Only it would be better if he didn't try to do any talking for the next little while and he really shouldn't be moving quickly at all.”
“Okay, Al. Thank you.”
Al nodded and quietly slipped back to his chair at the back of the room, leaving the men of the Tracy family to retake their seats around the bed, Ralph and Richie murmuring encouragements to Fonzie as they sat down.
“Right, Ralph, go back to what happened after the auction and Potsie can carry on when you've finished.” ordered Howard. Richie opened his mouth as if in protest, keen to hear more of Potsie's revelation but one look from his father silenced him and he subsided back into his chair. Ralph took up the tale again, quickly telling of their encounter with Lieutenant Svenson and their flight to Finland via Tracy Island. When he had finished, all eyes turned to Potsie.
“Potsie,” Howard questioned cautiously. “do you want to start?”
Potsie hesitated, looking over to Fonzie for confirmation before replying. Fonzie’s colour was more or less back to normal, although at the moment ‘normal’ constituted pale and tired. He still wore the breathing mask but as Potsie looked at him he nodded, reaching up to remove the mask.
“I don’t think there’s much point in me starting, sir,” Potsie replied quietly. “Mestari shot me with some sort of drug as soon as I arrived at the homestead and the next thing I remember is seeing Ralph, Rich and the others and shooting them. After that I don’t remember anything until I met the Fonz again in the caves.”
“You don’t remember anything?” questioned Richie in disbelief. “But, Potsie, there were two whole days between you being kidnapped and the auction. He couldn’t have kept you drugged for the whole time surely? Didn’t you eat? Or sleep? Did he tie you up?”
“I said I don’t remember anything, kid, alright?” Potsie turned sharply on his brother, his eyes flashing with sudden anger. “Just darkness. I couldn’t move, couldn’t feel. I didn’t know if I was awake or asleep. I couldn’t think for most of it – I didn’t even know I couldn’t see until the damned stuff started wearing off. The only thing I could hear was his voice giving orders and I couldn’t do a thing about it! I didn’t know if I did what he told me except by what he said. Now if you don’t want to believe that, that’s just fine by me. Just don’t ask any more damn fool questions.”
Taken aback by his brother’s outburst, Richie just sat, staring at Potsie, opening and closing his mouth as if to say something but nothing came out. Howard, his brows constricted in a deep frown, laid his hand on Potsie’s arm.
“Hold on there, son, take it easy. Your brother was just asking a question. There’s no need to bite his head off.”
Potsie glared at his brother for another moment and then turned to his father. As his gaze met Howard’s, he blinked once, twice, then raised a slightly shaking hand and wiped it over his face. A quiet sigh came from the young man and when he looked back at his father the sudden anger was gone as quickly as it had come.
“I guess so.” He turned towards his younger brother, true regret in his face “I’m sorry, Rich. It’s been a hell of a week and I guess I’m still sore about it all.”
Richie, whose expression had changed from surprise to anger, opened his mouth to reply but stopped when Ralph’s hand descended on his arm.
“Rich, let it go.”
Ralph’s quiet voice caused his younger brother to look over at him and, catching a small shake of Ralph’s head, he bit his lip and then nodded briefly at Potsie in mute acceptance of the apology. Breathing a sigh of relief, Howard turned to Fonzie.
“Okay, Fonzie, if you’re up to it, I guess it’s over to you.”
Nodding, Fonzie took a few seconds to order his thoughts and then commenced his narration at the point where he separated from his brothers on the stairs. Pausing every so often to take sips of water from a glass by the bed, he continued until he reached the point of his capture by Mestari and the subsequent attempt to elicit information. Richie, his face once more filled with shock and disbelief, opened his mouth to comment but Fonzie, seeing his expression, forestalled him.
“Potsie couldn’t do anything about it, Rich,” his voice was weary as he leaned back on the pillows and closed his eyes. “That poisonous stuff Mestari had given him meant he couldn’t as much as move a muscle without Mestari ordering it. He couldn’t have moved to save his life.”
“I sure as heck moved to take yours.” muttered Potsie to himself, his head resting in his hands. If Potsie had not intended his words to be heard by anyone else, he did not achieve his aim. Three heads swivelled to fix gazes on him and the silence was brittle until Howard spoke after swallowing the lump of apprehension in his throat.
“What happened, boys?”
Before Fonzie could utter a word, Potsie began to speak. His voice was flat and monotonous at first, as if he were reading a statement with which he profoundly disagreed but as he continued his words came more haltingly and at the end, his voice wavered with emotion.
“Mestari ordered me to shoot him. I did everything I could to stop the gun but I couldn’t, I just couldn’t. I tried and tried but I could only slow it down and even that wasn't enough. I could only stand there and pray that the Fonz would understand. That he’d know that I couldn’t stop it and that he’d run before it was too late. . . . And then he did . . . .and Mestari yelled . . . and I . . I . . I . shot him. I shot my own brother.” Potsie raised his head and looked across at Fonzie’s face, whose eyes were now open and watching him closely. “I’m sorry, Fonz. I’m so sorry.”
Fonzie smiled and nodded back in acknowledgement. “It’s okay, Potsie.” His smile was warm and reassuring but its warmth did not reach Potsie’s face which remained clouded and troubled. “I know you had no choice.”
“What happened next,” questioned Richie uneasily. “how did you get away?”
“I lied to Mestari, told him the Fonz was dead and we headed back to his lab.”
Potsie resumed the tale, telling of his gradual re-awakening from the control of the drug, and of John’s intervention and fight with Mestari. As Potsie’s memory faded at the point where the new injection of serum took effect, Fonzie took over again and then, between them, the two brothers covered their escape into the tunnels, their elusion of their pursuers and their eventual return to Fonziebird One.
“I thought we were too late when I saw you both fall,” said Howard as their report concluded, his voice uneven with the remembered fear. “I was sure Mestari had killed you both.”
“What happened to him?” asked Fonzie, his voice now barely above a whisper, his eyes once again closed as his head rested on the pillows.
“We took them down with the knock-outs,” said Richie, his face full of anger at the memory. “They were lucky we didn't kill them for what they'd done.”
“Richard.” Howard growled warningly, looking sternly at the young man. Richie glared mulishly at his father before continuing.
“While Ralph and Dad brought you two here, Lori Beth and Tom helped me tie them up.” Richie paused and Ralph, sitting next to him saw a familiar glint of merriment appear in his brother's blue eyes.
“Rich, what did you do to them?” asked Ralph, a mixture of unease and amusement surfacing in his mind. Richie turned large, innocent eyes on him.
“Do to them, Ralph? Nothing. We called the nearest corps of the World Police like Dad told us to and then dumped them out on the plain to await collection. It wasn't our fault the land was little more than a briar filled bog in places.”
Thin smiles appeared on the faces of Ralph, Chachi and Howard as Richie continued.
“They were too heavy to carry so we had to drag them most of the way. Most unfortunate as they always seemed to get stuck in the thorny patches and their clothes were absorbent. Then, once they'd been collected we high-tailed it to the hospital, where you, dear brother...”
Richie turned back to Fonzie but hesitated as he saw by the peaceful expression on his brother's face that sleep had once more claimed him. Howard, following his gaze, signalled silently to the rest of his sons not to disturb the injured man and slowly stood up. Nodding, Ralph and Richie followed his lead and, after subdued farewells to Chachi, closed the link to the satellite and turned to the door. Al stepped forward from his desk at the back of the room and quietly drew Potsie and Howard to one side.
“If it's alright with you, Mr Tracy, I'd like to take a blood sample from Potsie and run a few checks on it.”
Surprised, Howard looked at his second oldest son who shrugged his acquiescence.
“Okay, Al, if you need to. What are you looking for?” asked Howard, a little uneasy at the request.
“I'm concerned that Potsie had a fit after Fonzie gave him the antidote. None of the others did so and I'd just like to check to make sure no harm has been done.”
“Harm, Al,” asked Howard sharply. “What harm?”
“I don't really know, Mr Tracy. I didn't have too much time to fine tune the antidote formula before it had to be used and as Potsie's a pilot then I want to make sure he's A OK before he flies Fonziebird One again.”
Howard frowned for a minute then nodded his head.
“Okay, Al, go ahead. But let us know the minute you find anything. Potsie needs a few days to recover from this mess anyway but I don't want him flying again until I'm certain he's fit for the job.”
Howard turned to his second eldest son to forestall the objection that he knew was coming his way. He stopped cold when he saw Potsie calmly turning up the sleeve of his sweater without a word of complaint. Grimly, Howard waited as Al drew the blood sample and then, after making a final check on his sleeping son, turned and silently followed Potsie from the room.
Dinner that night was a subdued affair. Potsie ate little, picking at the food on his plate and moving it around with his fork, his thoughts clearly elsewhere. There was a little desultory conversation between the others interspersed by frequent silences as Potsie’s family and friends exchanged worried glances and shot concerned looks at the brooding, dark haired brother. Most of Potsie’s first and only helping was left on the plate and he refused desert – an occurrence which left his father frowning and his brothers with open mouths – before excusing himself from the table, pleading the requirement for sleep.
Potsie lay on his bed in the dark watching the weak shadows cast on the ceiling by the moonlight, as the louder noises of the villa carried faintly through the wide panoramic windows standing ajar along one side of the room. Ralph was playing the piano, the soft strains of one of the old masters floating gently on the breeze, a clear indication that Potsie was not the only one with things on his mind. Ralph’s preferred taste for evening relaxation was jazz, the Miles Davis-ish pieces of his repertoire usually only surfacing when his mind needed distraction from other things. A soft tap at the door announced the presence of a visitor and with Ralph at the piano and Fonzie in the infirmary it was not difficult for Potsie to guess who it must be. Snapping his eyes closed, Potsie turned his head away from the door and forced his body to relax, waiting for what he guessed would follow. When a second tap went unanswered, there was a soft click as the door was opened and a sliver of light shone into the room from the corridor beyond.
“Potsie,” The voice was soft but carried easily to the still figure on the bed. “Son? Are you awake?”
Potsie didn’t move, keeping his breathing slow and even and mentally instructing his body to stay relaxed. There were a few soft footsteps into the room and Potsie was aware of a presence approaching from the foot of the bed. He desperately tried not to tense in anticipation of the gentle touch that was certain to come. The presence stopped nearby and the room was still for some seconds. Then, as Potsie began to feel as if he were about to scream, the footsteps retreated to the door and there was another soft click as the light was cut off. Potsie continued the pretence for another minute before opening his eyes and scanning the deserted room. Only when he was certain he was once again alone did he go back to studying the shadows.
It was dark all around him and Potsie could see and hear nothing. He stood silently, waiting, knowing something was about to occur but unable to do anything to bring it about or to stop it. A cold, sick feeling of helplessness and despair filled his being together with a dread of what might be about to happen. Then, from a distance, he heard them. The sickening thumps and slaps and thuds that told of things landing hard on human flesh. He heard groans, and moans of someone in pain but still he was in darkness. He tried to move but his feet were glued to the floor, his arms listless at his side.
Slowly, so slowly, the darkness thinned to a grey mist and then to a faint wisp before disappearing altogether. There in front of him was the sight he had known he would see – the bloody, beaten figure of his brother, lying on the ground facing him. His face was covered in blood, one eye completely closed, blood lining his lips, spilling down his chin mixed with spittle and tears. His clothes were torn, hanging in strips from his body, revealing the weals and cuts of his abuse. One arm was clutched to his chest, the fingers swollen and twisted, cruelly broken and battered.
As he watched, Fonzie became aware of him and dragged himself to his knees – reaching out a hand imploringly. The fingers on this hand were also broken but blood dripped from it, running in a crimson streak down from the hem of his sleeve and pooling in the palm before dripping onto the floor.
“Pots, help me.”
Fonzie's voice was weak and hoarse from screaming. His eyes were pleading with him, begging him for help. Him, Warren Scott Tracy, his brother. Asking him to stop this torture, to help him, to free him from his tormentors and captors. Potsie just stood there and watched, unmoving.
“Pots, please. Stop them. Help me.”
The hand was still there, reaching out to him. The hand that used to have long, delicate fingers, practised and accurate on sensitive equipment, now bent and bruised and distorted.
“Please, Pots. It's me, da Fonz, your brother. Please. Help me.”
Inside, Potsie was shaking. Inside he was sick. Inside, he was desperate to help, to move, to shout, to do anything. But he did nothing. Except watch.
A hand came into view. A hand holding a gun. And then a voice. His voice. The voice of his tormentor, his controller . . . his . . Master.
Two words. Two simple words. That's all it took. And Warren Scott Tracy, second eldest of the Tracy brothers, protector and defender of the younger sons of the Tracy family as well as his older brother, reached out and took the gun, betrayed all he held dear and turned it on his brother. Still Fonzie looked at him, begging him, pleading with him to help. Still the blood dripped down. Still the gun moved towards it's target.
“No, Pots, no. Don't do this. It's me, da Fonz. Don't.”
The gun was level, in line for his brother's heart. Slowly comprehension dawned on Fonzie's face, followed by fear, and betrayal. Slowly, Fonzie turned away, denying his brother the sight of his face as the bullet left the barrel. In slow motion, Potsie saw the bullet move across the gap, heading straight and true for his brother's body. Deep within him a cry broke out, a cry of denial and despair.
The bullet stuck home, the force of it spinning Fonzie around. As his brother turned in slow motion, his face came back into view and as the anguished eyes of Potsie watched, the face and head morphed. The hair darkened, changing from dark brown like his own to brown then red and curled. The battered features of the face broadened, the skull becoming wider and shorter and deeper and the cheeks developed freckles. The eyebrows darkened to the same colour as the hair and when the eyes appeared, open in shock, rapidly glazing over into death, they were the blue eyes of his musical brother. When the shattered, abused body hit the ground, it was Ralph, not Fonzie who lay at his feet.
With the passing of his brother's life came the end of the paralysis that had held him still and Potsie staggered backwards away from the scene of horror, the gun dropping from his numbed fingers and falling to the floor to lie with the barrel pointing towards him. Loosing his footing, Potsie's stagger became a stumble and he was falling, falling, backwards and down into a pit of darkness that gaped open behind him.
The bump of the landing vibrated through him and Potsie's eyes shot open, his heart beating as if he had just been sprinting, his breathing rapid and his body slick with sweat. Scrambling backwards, his shoulder came up hard against an obstruction and he threw his arms around it to ground himself. Still gasping for breath he looked around him frantically, looking for his brother's body – or was it bodies? He found only the moonlit shadows of his bedroom, the bed before him rumpled and disturbed and the sheets trailing down to the floor, partially tangled around his legs. Gradually, his panic began to subside as his confused brain recognised the shadowed forms around him. His heartbeat began to slow as he forced himself to take slow, deep breaths, using long minutes to take in the reality around him.
Uncurling his fingers from the chair leg to which he was clinging he unwound the sweat soaked sheets from his legs and pushed them away from him with his feet then turned and used the chair as a climbing frame to help him to stand. His legs and hands were shaking and his body trembled, the residing panic now being replaced by minor shivers as the sweat evaporated, taking his body heat with it.
He switched on a bedside lamp dispelling the lingering darkness and grabbed his robe from the floor before heading for the en-suite bathroom. There he briefly washed his face in cold water, waiting while the lingering traces of the nightmare lifted and he was confidant that he was fully awake. Returning to his room he dropped a towel from the bathroom along the crack at the bottom of the door, dragged his chair up to face the window and then sat down and waited for the sunrise.
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