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Rick Brant fanfiction adventure
Chapter Two: HIGHWAY ROBBERY
Rick suddenly found himself sprawled out on the cold hard ground several yards from the banged-up coupe, which had stalled and jerked to a standstill near the riverbank. His head was spinning, spots danced in front of his eyes, and he gaped around in bewilderment. He heard a groan and turned to see Scotty struggling to sit up just a few feet away, a hand to his cheek and a trickle of blood rolling down from his nose.
"Scotty, you okay?"
Scotty opened his mouth to speak but his words were squelched by the slamming of the doors of the big sedan that had been chasing them. It had stopped not ten feet away. Three men jumped out, all of them wearing dark overcoats and wide-brimmed hats pulled down low. One of them, the driver, immediately leveled a gun at the boys.
"Alright, you eggs, stay where you are!" There was venom in his tones and his eyes held a mean glint. "We'd hate to have to hurt you any more than you already are."
Rick scowled, twisting up painfully into a sitting position, and he and Scotty exchanged feverish glances. What had they gotten themselves into now? Scotty nodded slightly, letting Rick know he was okay. Then Rick placed his hands flat on the ground to steady himself. The wind had been knocked out of him and he found himself sucking in huge gulps of air.
"Shake a leg," the gunman grunted to his accomplices. "See what kind of goods are in that coupe."
Rick blinked in confusion a couple times before he could comprehend that he and Scotty were being robbed. He watched as the other two men began to ransack the wrecked car, stiffening when he saw them pull the shopping bags out of the back seat.
"Hey, those are Christmas gifts!" he exploded.
The man with the gun laughed harshly and leered at the boys, showing rows of chipped uneven teeth. "Expensive gifts, too, I'll betcha. Parking your car at the Plaza is a dead giveaway that you got plenty of cash money to spend."
"So you did follow us from the hotel," Scotty spat angrily. "What made you think you'd be able to stop us?"
The thug chuckled in grim conceit. He pointed his gun at the rear end of the rental car. "That was duck soup, chum. Jersey plates, car rental decal on the back window. That spells 'Newark Airport' to me. And there sure are some nice lonely roads out this-a-way."
The other two thieves had opened the trunk of the coupe. Finding nothing of value within, they slammed it shut and carried the shopping bags over to the sedan.
"Guess this is it, boss," one of them said. "There's some nice stuff in these bags. Not a bad haul."
With a low snicker, he and the other man placed the shopping bags into the back seat of the big black car.
Rick clenched his fists in anger, staring in speechless amazement at the robbers. He and Scotty had spent a lot of money on the gifts, especially the bear claw necklace for Barby, which he knew they'd never be able to replace. And they wouldn't have another chance to go Christmas shopping! They were leaving for Canada in the morning.
Scotty had pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket and was dabbing at the blood dripping from his nose. He looked at the men with contempt. "How'd you know we'd been shopping?" he demanded.
The leader of the highway robbers lowered his gun a few inches and spoke with a condescending disdain. "Don't know much about a stake-out, do you? We saw you get out of the taxi and go in the hotel carrying those bags with Fifth Avenue store names on 'em. So we just sat and waited for you to pull out of the garage."
One of the other men snorted, then his voice rang out with humor. "Tell 'em about it! This is our busy time of year, ain't it?. Cripes, we work twelve hours a day or more during the Christmas season!"
He let out a loud guffaw and the other two thugs joined in for a hearty laugh. Then the 'boss' with the gun said, "Get the ropes and tie these boys to the bumpers of that coupe. We don't want 'em running out to the pike and getting the cops on our trail."
Several lengths of rope were retrieved from the sedan's trunk and Rick and Scotty were forced to get up on their feet and walk over to the rental car. Rick's head was reeling and he ached all over, and he knew that Scotty probably didn't feel any better. The last thing they needed now was to be tied up to the car in the cold and the falling snow!
His eyes spat daggers at the three men as he was forced to sit down on the ground next to the coupe's back bumper. "Are you guys crazy? We'll freeze to death out here!"
"We won't gag you," the boss jeered in his hard-as-nails tones. "We'll give you a break. After all, you made this heist easy for us by pulling off the road and driving back here. If you holler loud enough, someone'll hear you, sooner or later."
Rick's wrists were securely bound to the heavy metal bumper with the stout ropes. Scotty was then shoved to the front of the coupe, almost on the water's edge. They pushed him down to the ground and tied his wrists to the front bumper. Rick could see only Scotty's legs because of the opened passenger door.
When the men were done, they turned away and tossed back a couple taunting goodbyes as they strode to the sedan. Then they climbed into the big car and, moments later, its engine roared to life. The car backed up and turned around, then shot forward down the dirt road. Rick and Scotty were left alone in the falling snow, bound to the bumpers of the damaged rental car.
For a minute or two there was complete silence. Then Rick's voice rang out, "Jeez! What do you make of it, Scotty? I've heard of highway robbery, but who'd think crooks would follow you all the way out here from Fifth Avenue?"
"I don't get it," Scotty retorted angrily. "If they watched us get out of the taxi and go into the hotel, how would they know we parked our car in the garage and would be coming back out? We could have been registered guests and staying overnight, for all they'd know."
"Good point." Rick tugged aimlessly at the ropes binding his wrists. "Maybe they saw us pull in earlier? They may just play a waiting game, watching to see who goes in to park, goes shopping, then comes back out in their car."
Scotty grunted. "Could be. It was sure worth their trouble, anyway. We spent several hundred dollars on those gifts. Did you happen to get their license plate number? I didn't even think of looking."
Rick puzzled a moment, then rolled his eyes in chagrin. "I didn't think of it either. Everything happened so fast and my head feels like I got a concussion. Guess I'm not thinking clearly."
"That makes two of us." Rick could hear the slow burn of anger in Scotty's voice. "This is bad news. We wrecked this sharp-looking coupe and lost all our Christmas gifts!"
A sudden thought tugged painfully at Rick. "And the extra bear tracker collar in the shopping bag, too!"
Scotty groaned in response. "Right! I forgot all about it. And now we're both half-knocked out from being thrown from the car, and tied up in this desolate spot where no one will ever find us. We may as well be on the moon!"
"And even if we do get out of here," Rick added, "we won't be able to fly the Cub home. It'd be too late by the time we get to the airport." He looked up at the bleak sky and grimaced. "It'll be dark in a couple hours and we'll never get back on the road by then."
Rick's yellow Piper Cub was not equipped for night flying, nor was he experienced at it. It appeared that they were trapped in this miserable lonely spot with no hope in sight.
Then Scotty suddenly let out a wild hoot. "Wait a minute! The bear tracker! You're wearing the tracker collar on your arm. Barby will know where we are!"
A grin crossed Rick's face and a tide of relief washed over him as he once again became aware of the snug coil of the collar around his arm. He started to laugh. "Man, it totally slipped my mind!"
Then both boys were laughing heartily as relief and hope made the dire situation they were in seem suddenly not so perilous.
Rick breathed out a happy sigh. "Whew! Barby is probably right now wondering why we've stopped along the river."
Scotty hooted again. "Yeah, just a quick stop to do some fishing."
"If it gets any colder," Rick snapped back, "it'll be ice fishing."
"If the river freezes, that's okay," Scotty went on.. "Just so it doesn't rise. A few more feet and I'll be in it!"
"Don't worry. We'll be all right." The flame of hope now sparked in Rick's eyes. "Barby will know that something's wrong. There's no way we'd stop out here. She knows we have to fly home before dark." He flexed the bicep of his arm to feel the snugness of the collar again, feeling like a goose for having forgotten about it. "Barby will tell Dad we've mysteriously stopped. He'll call the police and we'll be rescued...."
"Hopefully before we turn into icicles," Scotty cut in with a grim chuckle.
Rick looked up to the gloomy sky again with its increasingly thickening snowflakes fluttering down. He was grateful that it wasn't particularly windy. That would have made the cold feel much colder and the ordeal of being bound to the car by the riverbank even more threatening.
"Try to move around," he suggested. "Can you stand up? I think I can. I'm not quite so dizzy anymore."
Fortunately, Rick's wrists were tied to the bumper in front of him and not behind his back. Leaning against the bumper and trunk, he pushed himself to his feet. But it cost him some effort. He was breathing hard and felt dizzy again in the stooped-over position.
"Ho!" he gasped, leaning heavily against the back of the car. "I feel like I just took on Notre Dame's entire defensive line."
There was a series of grunts and groans from Scotty. Then, "Confound it! I'm up on my knees but now my head's spinning. This'll drive me batty!"
"I'm on my feet," Rick told him, "but not too steady. Maybe I can cut these ropes on the bumpers' edges if I can get some slack."
"Good idea. And I'm going to shout. I'll put this booming voice of mine to good use."
Rick smiled as Scotty started yelling, "Help! Help! Help!"
"They ought to hear you all the way back home on Spindrift Island," Rick laughed.
"That's the idea. And somebody has got to be around here somewhere. At least I hope so. And I intend to make them hear me!"
Scotty continued his shouting and Rick kept on pulling and tugging at the ropes. He groaned in exasperation, wishing this awful ordeal was over and done with, and that he and Scotty were back home - safe, sound, and warm.
"Hey there, Mr. Scott," he called out. "I guess this is good practice for being outdoors up at Hudson Bay."
"Yah, right," he heard Scotty jeer back. "Only problem is, we're dressed for Christmas shopping on Fifth Avenue, not for polar bear tracking in the subarctic."
"So right you are," Rick agreed, shivering in the leather bomber jacket he wore for flying the Cub. "Brrr! So right you are........"
They would be staying at Fort Churchill up in Manitoba, a Canadian military base near the town of Churchill and the shores of Hudson Bay. Rick knew that the military would outfit them in all the latest cold weather gear worn by the soldiers for their maneuvers. They'd probably be as warm in the subzero northern cold as they would be basking in the sun on a south Florida beach. Certainly much warmer than they were right here and now!
Time passed slowly as the boys struggled with their bonds and tried to warm up by jiggling around the best they could. Rick was just beginning to get a little slack in the rope that bound his left wrist when he realized that Scotty had stopped shouting for help.
"Hey, did you fall asleep?" he asked.
"No, sir! It's too cold to sleep. I'm just resting my voice. There's no one around to hear me anyway. Heck, I may as well sing."
"Please don't," Rick shot back with affected fright. "Lest you forget, I'm here. I'd hear every miserable note of it."
Scotty noisily cleared his throat. "Good. Talk about a captive audience!"
With that, he burst into song, a warbling rendition of The White Cliffs of Dover that rang out over the wetlands like a gorilla's mating call. Rick cringed, but he couldn't help laughing. The lovely ballad that had been a victory call to millions during the war was never intended to be delivered in that manner.
"You sound worse than Bob Hope and Martha Raye, together," he called out.
Scotty ended the verse he'd been warbling. "Humphh! In that case, buster, you'll now have to endure my down-home-hillbilly version of G. I. Jive."
"Oh no," Rick groaned, as Scotty segued into a bouncy country rendition of the popular swing tune about the woes of military camp. But he smiled in satisfaction as he looked around at the desolate riverside landscape. Scotty always had a way of bringing some humor into a stressful and dangerous situation. He hoped, however, that he wouldn't have to listen to all of Scotty's favorite songs that he had learned in the Marines. Somebody had better come to rescue them, and soon!
But time dragged on, and Scotty sang on and on, as the sky began to darken and the snow fell harder. Rick's fingers, even though gloved, were numb from the cold, and he felt completely exhausted and aching all over. He'd given up trying to loosen the ropes after having little luck at it, and was now sitting on the ground again, shivering and listening to Scotty's grating vocals.
It was too late now to fly the Cub home. It was already dark. It seemed like they had been there for hours and hours. Was help never going to arrive?
"Come on, Barby, " Rick muttered to himself. "Come on! You've just got to have figured out by now that we've stopped!"
Several minutes later as Scotty was just revving up an especially hoarse and boisterous Chattanooga Choo Choo, Rick suddenly heard the wailing of a siren in the distance.
"Yippee!" he cried, pushing himself back up to his feet. "Scotty! It's a siren. Out there on the pike!"
Scotty abruptly stopped singing. The wailing siren was loud and clear. "It's the police! Coming for us! They can throw me in jail, for all I care. Just so the heat is on!"
Both boys began to yell at the top of their lungs as the blaring siren drew closer and closer. The whining wail seemed to hover in a spot, then move on, at times diminishing as it moved further away, but then it would come back in their direction again, growing louder.
"They're searching," Rick said. "Must be other roads along this way that lead into the woods. Hey, it sounds like they made a turn and are coming down the dirt road toward us!"
The siren was indeed closing in on them. Soon they saw the bright beams of headlights twisting and turning through the darkness of the woods. Rick stiffened and his nerves began to tingle. Then he and Scotty were shouting again, their voices hoarse and strained but filled with exultation.
"Ho! Here we are!"
The car with the blaring siren shot out from the trees and brush and its headlights fixed directly on the damaged coupe with the boys bound to it on either end. Rick blinked and averted his eyes to avoid the sudden bright glare as the vehicle, a Newark police car, pulled up to a skidding halt a few feet away. The front doors flew open and two burly police officers jumped out. For a moment they were stunned and stood there gaping in surprise at the boys. Then they sprang forward, quick concern flashing in their eyes.
"What goes on here?" snapped the officer who had been driving. "What happened to you fellows?"
"Highway robbery," Rick was quick to answer. "We were Christmas shopping in Manhattan. Three crooks trailed us all the way out here in a big sedan. We headed down this road to get away, but it sure was a mistake."
"You bet it was," Scotty broke in. "They followed us and shot out a back tire. It set us into a spin and we side-swiped that tree and were thrown from the car."
"Then they stole our Christmas gifts," Rick added in disgusted tones, "and tied us up to the bumpers. Right out here in the cold and snow."
"No good so-and-so's!" The driver of the patrol car growled as he pulled out a pocket knife and hurried over to Scotty. "Stealing from shoppers increases every year at holiday time, but it's usually confined to Manhattan and downtown Newark."
"Right," the other policeman agreed, as he too pulled a knife from his belt and approached Rick. "This is a first, out here by the river. You boys could have frozen to death. Good thing we got that call from Whiteside."
"Whiteside?" Rick exclaimed, as the man began cutting the ropes around his wrists.
"Yes indeed, young man. Our station got a call from Captain Douglas at the Whiteside police barracks about twenty minutes ago. Said to look for two boys stalled along the river, right in this very area. Something about a radio tracking experiment gone wrong."
"It sure did go wrong," Scotty growled, as he was helped up to his feet. "We never expected highway robbery to be thrown into the equation."
Rick was cut free and helped up onto his wobbly legs. He had to lean against the car for a few moments before he could take a step forward.
"Better get inside the cruiser, boys," they were urged. "You've been out in this cold far too long."
Walking felt like something they'd have to learn all over again as the policemen helped the boys over to the patrol car and into the back seat.
"Do you need anything from your coupe?" asked one of the men.
Rick leaned back wearily against the cushions. "No. It's a rental car from Newark Airport. The thieves took everything that belonged to us."
"Then just sit back and relax," the driver said, as the doors slammed. "We'll get you to headquarters in a jiffy. Your folks are coming there to meet you. In from some island, I think."
"Spindrift Island," Rick said, as the warmth from the car's heater overwhelmed him. He felt like he could float away into pleasant oblivion.
The other officer turned the heater up a notch. "Isn't that the location of the famous scientific laboratories?"
"Right," Scotty answered, sprawled out on the back seat. "Rick and his family live there. His dad runs the laboratories. I work for them and live there, too." He guffawed loudly and slapped his knee, adding, "Oh, lucky me!"
Rick elbowed him in the ribs as the cruiser sped back to the pike. "Lucky you is right. Look at the adventure you just had. Which you certainly wouldn't have had if you didn't pal around with me!"
Scotty rolled his eyes heavenward. "Oh sure. Chased by crooks, thrown from a car, tied up all afternoon in the winter cold. What a great ball! Next time I pick a friend, I'll make sure he's the son of a librarian, not a famous scientist."
The policemen chuckled at the boys' friendly banter as the patrol car pulled off the dirt road and roared on down the pike toward Newark, which could now be seen twinkling with lights in the distance.
Scotty leaned closer to Rick. "Barby came through," he whispered. "Just like we figured she would. Not only is the tracking system a success, but it already saved our lives!"
Rick grunted in agreement, feeling himself begin to slip away. Scotty was right, the system was a success. Their rescue in the wetlands proved it. But something kept nagging at his mind as the warmth inside the cruiser enveloped him. Something just didn't seem right. But whatever it was, he just couldn't think straight enough to put a finger on it. Then his lids drooped and complete exhaustion overtook him.
"Wake up, Rick. Don't think these Newark police are going to let you sleep the night away. They want a complete report from us about the accident and robbery."
Rick opened his eyes to see Scotty looking down at him. He was standing outside the police car holding out his hand, waiting for Rick to join him.
"And they have a doctor here at the station to check us out. 'Attaboy, rise and shine."
Like in a dream he didn't want to awaken from, Rick reached out to Scotty and let his friend pull him out of the back seat. There was a dull throb in his head and it seemed that every bone and muscle in his body was aching.
He grimaced and forced a laugh. "I hope that doctor has some strong pain pills. I think I'm going to need a few."
Glaring lights lit up the yard in back of the police station and cast weird shadows on the patrol cars and other vehicles parked in the lot. Through the falling snow, the skyscrapers of downtown Newark could be seen looming over the rooftop ahead, their windows bright with light for late office workers and cleaning crews. Rick groaned in dismay as he and Scotty fell into step behind the two policemen who led them to the back entrance.
"What's wrong?" Scotty asked.
"The Cub. We'll have to leave it at the airport for now."
"May as well just keep it there until we get back from Canada," Scotty suggested. "It'll only be a week or so. The mechanics can give it a once over."
"Good idea," Rick agreed. "Dad and Hobart can drive us to the airport in the morning and we'll arrange to store the Cub in a hangar."
Hobart Zircon was a famous scientist who lived with the Brants and worked at the Spindrift Laboratories. He was a big booming man who was afraid of nothing and nobody, and he had accompanied the boys on the expedition to Tibet earlier in the year.
"Don't you wish Hobart was coming with us to Hudson Bay?" Scotty asked, as he and Rick entered the building.
"It'd sure be great to have him join us," Rick agreed. "I know I'd feel better having him along. But we should be okay on our own. What could possibly happen in Canada?"
"There they are!"
Familiar voices rang out in exclamation from down the corridor, and the boys looked ahead to see Mr. and Mrs. Brant and Barby hurrying toward them. Following close behind were Hobart Zircon and Jerry Webster, their friend who was a reporter for the Whiteside Morning Record.
In a moment the group had reached their side and there was pandemonium for several minutes as shouts and cries of greeting were heaped upon them. Every hug and handshake and slap on the back made both Rick and Scotty wince in pain because of their bruises and sore muscles and bones.
"Hold it, already!" Rick laughed in the confusion, as he hugged Barby happily. "We're okay. Really! Just banged up a little."
"I had a bloody nose, but it's all right now," said Scotty, as Barby pulled away from Rick to hug him in turn. "That was good going, Barby. We knew you'd wonder what was wrong and call the police."
Barby looked up to him with wide round eyes, and then gaped over to Rick. "But what happened? All of a sudden you stopped, and then didn't budge. By the river outside of Newark, of all places. After a while I knew something had to be wrong!"
"Yes, Rick," Mrs. Brant worriedly put in. "Tell us what happened."
"We were stalked all the way from Fifth Avenue and robbed," Rick explained, as the two police officers patiently waited for them. He told the others about the stake-out and resulting attack in the wetlands by the lonely pike.
"My gosh!" Mrs. Brant declared, wringing her hands. "That's awful. Who would think something like that could happen nowadays?"
"I'd sure like to get my hands on those birds," Hobart Zircon growled, raising a big fist. "Shoot at my friends and tie them up in the cold? No way! They better hope they don't run into me."
Hartson Brant shook his head in dismay, but there was a glimmer of pride in his eyes as he looked at Rick and Scotty. "At least you boys didn't get hurt seriously. You could've broken some bones in that car crash, or worse. But have no fear, the police will round up those second-rate thieves."
"You bet they will," barked Jerry Webster, who was jotting down notes on his ever-present pad. "I'll write this up for the morning paper with full details. Everyone in North Jersey will be wise to those thugs and on the lookout for them. If they have any brains, they'll stay in Manhattan after this!"
Rick suddenly snapped his fingers. "There was an extra bear tracker collar in one of those shopping bags. The thieves might activate it!"
Barby nodded eagerly in understanding, her blonde ponytail bobbing. "I'll keep the receiving unit on day and night in case they do. I'll be able to get their coordinates and send the law right to their doorstep." She stopped to chuckle. "Well, maybe not that precise, but at least to their neighborhood."
"And hopefully get all our Christmas gifts back," Scotty interjected. "We bought some really neat stuff. Expensive, too. And a very special gift for you, Barby - well, it's one-of-a-kind. It can't be replaced."
"Don't you fret," she returned, eyes sparkling. "People are curious. Those men will surely activate the collar. And I'll track them down!"
"And now we had better let the doctor check you boys out, and make a police report about the incident," advised Rick's distinguished-looking and famous dad, nodding in the direction of the waiting policemen. "Then we can return home to Spindrift Island. You are flying to Manitoba tomorrow and still have plenty of preparations to make."
As they walked down the hall to the headquarters main office, Rick asked Barby if she had come across any information about black polar bears while doing her research.
She looked at him oddly. "Funny you should ask that, Rick. Yes, there is the legend of Nanook noir, the spirit bear, or sometimes called the devil bear. It's an old Eskimo legend. The aboriginal people of the far north have all kinds of spooky superstitions. Then add to that the beliefs of the old French fur trappers and voyageurs, the Cree and Chippewayan Indians, and the resulting half-breeds called the Metis - and you have a whole encyclopedia-full of north country scary stories." Barby shuddered. "One I found really fascinating was the legend of La Mort Rouge."
"La Mort Rouge?" repeated Scotty. "What's that?"
"The Red Death." Barby's eyes widened. "That's what they called the smallpox plagues that ravaged Europe and North America in the latter decades of the last century. It brought horrible death to thousands in Canada's far north, and to this day many of the people remain fearful of it and superstitious. They say that off in remote far-flung places you can still see the sign of the Red Death - a red cloth flag hung from the doorway of an old abandoned cabin in which someone had died from the disease."
Scotty looked at her in wonderment for a moment. Then, with a grin, he faked a nervous shudder. He reached over and clapped Rick on the shoulder.
"Wow! We may have to think twice about this trip," he declared. "Black polar bears and the Red Death! What in the world are we getting ourselves into, old chum?"